PUBLIC SCHOOLS MUST COMPETE FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN

June 30, 2005

Florida public schools showed significant improvement when they were forced to compete under threat of a voucher program, according to Harvard University researchers Martin R. West and Paul E. Peterson.

The researchers examined the impact of Florida?s "A+ Accountability Plan," which assesses school performance on a grading scale from A to F. Under the plan, students attending F-graded schools are entitled to transfer to another public school or are given a voucher for private school.

The researchers found:

  • Students in schools receiving "F" grades perform about 4 percent better in the subsequent year than students in better-performing schools that were not threatened with vouchers.
  • The impact of improvement was even greater (about 6 percent) for African-American students, those eligible for a free lunch and among those with low initial test scores.
  • Furthermore, the threat of vouchers is even more effective at improving schools than simply the No Child Left Behind Act, which merely allows children to transfer to another public school.

New York Times columnist John Tierney gives the example of Florida's Edison High School in Miami, which, due to its "F" grade, was under the threat of competition from the state's voucher program. Over the past two years:

  • A new principal has replaced half of the teachers, and Edison's student-teacher ratio has dropped from 30 to 22.
  • Last year, the average test score at Edison rose dramatically, and was among the largest increases of Florida's schools.

In other words, vouchers force competition on underperforming schools. But teachers unions are fighting the state's program. In fact, lawyers are asking the Florida Supreme Court to halt the program under the guise that it gives taxpayer dollars to religious schools. Florida is currently the only state that provides vouchers for any student in a failing public school.

Source: John Tierney, "Vouchers Benefit Everyone But Teachers Unions," Dallas Morning News, June 9, 2005; and Martin R. West and Paul E. Peterson, "The Efficacy of Choice Threats Within School Accountability Systems: Results From Legislatively Induced Experiments," Harvard University, March 23, 2005.

For study:

http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/West_Peterson_ChoiceThreats.pdf#search='The%20Efficacy%20of%20Choice%20Threats%20Within%20School'

 

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