An olive branch on voucher accountability

Fordham has long been a supporter of results-based accountability for private-school choice programs. In January, we released a “policy toolkit” that recommended, among other measures, that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) be required to participate in state assessments and that those results be made publicly available at the school level (except when doing so would violate student privacy).

This rustled a few libertarian and conservative feathers: the folks at Cato called this “the Common Coring of private schools,” James Shuls yelled “Don’t Test Me, Bro!,” and Jay Greene reversed his lifelong commitment to standards-based reform.  (Many wonks opined in support of our accountability recommendations, too.)

While we didn’t agree with the all of the arguments forwarded by our friends, we did come to see the risk to private-school autonomy and innovation that a test-based accountability system could create. We also understood the particular sensitivity around using Common Core tests for this purpose. So in April, in the National Review, we offered an olive branch:

Without backing away from our commitment to the inseparability of the two tracks of education reform, we see room for compromise on specifics. Yes, some degree of transparency and accountability is essential for all choice schools. We don’t buy the argument that we should leave it to “parental choice alone”; experience in the real world demonstrates (here as in every other market that we know of) that some external quality control is needed if only to protect consumers. But in the case of private-school accountability, it doesn’t have to be the Common Core–aligned tests that states will be using for their district and charter schools (some of which also need “alternative” accountability arrangements). If states will allow schools in the choice sector to use other valid, respected assessments—the kind that make clear to policymakers, parents, and taxpayers whether a school and its pupils are making academic progress from year to year—we won’t complain. It’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing.

In that vein, we’ve now updated our toolkit to clarify our current position: that voucher students should be tested and that states should release the results at the school level—but that nationally normed tests can suffice.

Friends in the choice movement: how about a round of Kumbaya around the campfire? And then let’s get back to work on expanding great educational options to lots more children nationwide.

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