Monday, January 20, 2014

Tests for Choice Schools

There as been a flap going on in the conservative edu-bloggoverse about testing and transparency for what Jay P. Greene and folks from his market-loving corner of the eduspectrum like to call "choice schools."

Apparently it has just started to occur to some folks (starting most notably with those dancing fools at Fordham Institute) that when you take government money, it's likely to come with big honking strings attached. In other breaking news, the sun is expected to rise in the East tomorrow. I'm sad now that I didn't start edu-blogging years ago, because I've been telling my pro-voucher friends for years, "You do not want to do this. You hate the government, and as soon as you start taking their money, they will start telling you what you may or may not do. The government does not give anybody free money ever. You do NOT want to do this."

I live just up the road from Grove City College, a small, private liberal arts college that many of my friends attended. They made some small news in 1984 with Grove City v Bell. Grove City had always refused all direct federal aid to avoid all the federal strings, but the feds maintained that since they had students on campus who received federal aid, the school still had to abide by Title IX. In the college's defense, they were not particularly intent on enforcing gender discrimination and the government never claimed a single incident of that discrimination; the college mostly seemed to want to avoid having to open a new Office of Federal Paperwork Maintenance. The case resulted in a sort of split decision-- Grove City would have to comply, but only in the financial aid department, and not the school as a whole.

Until 1987, when the feds passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, which plugged the hole that Grove City had squeaked through.

The moral of the story-- if you want the government to hand you tax dollars, expect paperwork, strings, and meddling bureaucrats to follow.

Which brings us back to our story. Fordham's observation that voucher and choice schools have some 'splainin' and testing and transparency to do, has started a conversation notable for its level of high dudgeon. You can find a look at this conversation (including Rick Hess's latest self-pretzelizations) over at Geauxteacher. I want to spend a few words on Jay P. Greene's argument.

Jay P. Greene (who is not, as far as I know, a relative of mine, which is probably just as well because I think together we would make Thanksgiving at least a bit awkward) has recently discovered some important insights about the new waves of testing produced by the reformatorium.

The term choice school is used to distinguish between Greene's favored schools and old-school private school about which Greene previously wrote this
Existing private schools are not the voice of entrepreneurial innovation. They are the rump left behind by the crowding out of a real private school marketplace; they are niche providers who have found a way to make a cozy go of it in the nooks and crannies left behind by the state monopoly. They are protecting their turf against innovators just as much as the state monopoly.
So "choice schools" schools being pioneered by true entrepreneurs, who, I presume, are properly devoted to cashing in in the service sector, and not so much distracted by that whole educating thing. The market will tell them if they're getting it right.

Therefor, high stakes tests, which Greene has previously argued are extremely valuable and necessary for public schools, are simply not okay for choice schools. And in this piece, he focuses on three important arguments against testing choice schools.

1) The tests don't fully measure the benefits of these schools.

2) High stakes testing does not actually raise the student or school performance.

3) The argument that we should test anyway, despite #2, is silly.

Do those arguments look familiar to anybody?

In another column, Greene responds to Hess's suggestion that his argument is a startling yet magnificent monument to hypocrisy and double-think (I'm paraphrasing), given Greene's history of slamming public schools for low scores on these tests. His argument here is a bit more complex, but the heart of it is that choice schools don't need testing to tell how they're doing because the market will tell them.

In other words, the parents know how well the school is serving their students with out any stupid testing. Add that to your list of familiar arguments that Jay P. Greene now embraces. It's nice to see him embrace the arguments that we have been making for years in defense of our own schools, even if our own schools are not so choice. Welcome to the fight, Jay!

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