Public accountability & private-school choice

As voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs have expand­ed in recent years, another promising development has been the incorporation into such programs of provisions that hold participating private schools to account for their students’ performance. The newest and largest voucher programs, such as those in Louisiana and Indiana, have gone beyond the familiar “let-parents-vote-with-their-feet-and-judge-the-school-by-whether-anyone-wants-to-attend-it” arguments and are doing more to assure parents and taxpayers that private schools accepting scholarship-bearing stu­dents will meet certain expectations regarding how much those youngsters actually learn.

Yet outcomes-based accountability in private-school-choice pro­grams is hardly a settled matter. Many proponents of such programs dis­agree on how to subject private schools to testing requirements or about how external standards will affect whatever is unique about pri­vate schools and why they’re worth choosing in the first place. Yes, there are risks associated with drawing private schools into public accountability systems, but empirical evidence shows that such downsides can be mitigated if policymakers are smart about how they design results-based accountability in these choice programs.

We’ve assembled this toolkit to help with that design. The Fordham Institute supports private-school choice, done right. That means that policymakers should provide an array of high-quality choices—and hold providers accountable to parents and taxpayers in ways that are reasonable.

Our key recommendations

We’ve written model statutory language aimed at strengthening outcomes-based accountability in private-school choice. Readers will find it at the end of the toolkit. But there are three objectives that form the core of our proposal. We recommend that states

  • Require that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) participate in state assessments;
  • Mandate public disclosure of those assessment results, school by school, save for schools that enroll fewer than ten voucher (or scholarship) students in grades that are tested; and
  • Use a sliding scale when it comes to acting on the test results—i.e., private schools that derive little of their revenue from programs of this kind should be largely left alone, while those that receive more of their dollars from state initiatives should be held more accountable.

For more information, check out the #ChoiceToolkit infographic and download the toolkit.

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