A counterintuitive take on school reform
One big difference between public and private schoolsand a reason private schools get better resultsis their incentive and ability to identify teachers who improve learning and to get rid of less effective teachers.
Can't the better results also be explained by the fact that private schools have more money and can choose their students?
That's the "Exeter myth." Every city has one or two highly selective elite academies, but the vast majority are not very selective at all and really can't afford to be. And the expulsion rate in public and private schools is about the same, about 1 percent. Most private schools are not in the business of turning away customers or expelling them. In particular, a lot of Catholic schools manage to perform well with remarkably little money.
There's lots of disagreement about whether voucher programs, which allow families to choose private schools using public funds, serve kids well. Why do you favor vouchers?
The "inconclusive research myth" says that we don't really have any idea how vouchers affect the academic achievement of students who receive themthat there are just as many negative effects as positive effects, and it's just a mess, and nobody really knows the answers.
While it's true that researchers disagree about various things in their studiesoften forcefully and in printthere are some common results across all random-assignment studies of vouchers. Whenever you hold a lottery to allocate spots in a program, you have a random-assignment experiment: Everyone applied, everyone had the same level of motivation, and, on average, the two groups will be exactly alike. All eight studies show positive academic effects for voucher recipients. Seven of the eight have statistically significant positive results for at least some subgroups of students on some tests. Results may be mixed in terms of the scope and magnitude of benefits, but none of the studies found evidence that students' test scores were harmed in voucher programs.
President Bush has been criticized for his proposal to grant funding to Katrina victims that they can use at a school of their choice. What do you think?
I think that it's important that we figure out how to provide a quality education to all of the children who were displaced by the storm and however we can do that most effectively, I think we need to consider. We can't let prior practices or old political arguments stand in the way of trying to deliver the best services as quickly and effectively as possible. There was a very large Catholic school population in New Orleans that is all displaced, and there are public and private school systems in Texas and elsewhere that have been overwhelmed with new students. I think there is a logic to the cost-effectiveness of helping displaced families by providing them with the resources to find the best schools for their children, public or private, religious or secular.
Creating small high schools has become a popular reform strategy. But you say it's a myth that small classes produce big improvements. Why?