The great Fordham toolkit debate

Whitney Marcavage

The American Federation for Children applauds the folks over at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for stirring up debate about academic accountability within private-school-choice programs via the release of their policy “toolkit” last week. It’s an important conversation to have.

As the only national educational-choice organization that works to elect state policymakers who support parental choice, lobbies for high-quality legislation, and ensures that the laws work for kids, we’ve got a pretty good sense of the policy and political questions regarding accountability in private-school-choice programs. 
We support accountability in publicly funded private-school-choice programs, and our model legislation spells out the very reasonable administrative, financial, and academic accountability measures we believe are necessary to ensure quality, sustainability, and growth in these vitally important programs. Transparency is important for both parents and policymakers, and AFC believes that voucher and scholarship-tax-credit students should take either state assessments or a nationally norm-referenced test and that the results should be reported publicly. It is perfectly reasonable (1) to know whether children enrolled in these programs are making academic progress and (2) to acknowledge and address the issue of whether poor-quality schools should participate in these programs.

It is also important to recognize that the children entering these programs are typically behind their peers academically, regardless of whether they are entering in Kindergarten or higher grades. It is not reasonable to use the snapshot of a voucher student’s first-year test score (state assessment or nationally norm-referenced test) to pass judgment on the school’s performance. It is also important to remember that there are multiple reasons why parents might choose a particular educational environment for their child. All of us in the school-choice movement believe that parents should be able to choose the best educational environment for their child. AFC and many others also believe that parents should be equipped with the most information possible, including information on academic performance, when making that choice.

As Mike Petrilli’s notes in the closing paragraph of his blog post, “The problem with ‘Bad voucher schools aren’t a problem’,” there is plenty of room for discussion about how to ensure quality—and to quote directly, “Such compromises might help to ensure that the educational diversity of the private school marketplace isn’t inadvertently diminished.

Whitney Marcavage is national policy director for the American Federation for Children.

This article originally appeared on AFC's School Choice Now blog.

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