Florida Today Editorial
Our View: Voucher boondoogle
Taxpayer dollars should be used to fund and improve nation's public schools
What, no celebration?
Public schools are generally doing as good or better than private schools in educating students, according to a study conducted by the Education Testing Service for the U.S. Department of Education.
You'd think that good news might elicit some accolades from an agency charged with overseeing problematic No Child Left Behind mandates to significantly improve public school students' achievement by 2013.
The news was released minus banners or balloons and with no comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings earlier this month.
The study analyzed reading and math scores from 2003 in grades four and eight at thousands of public and hundreds of private schools.
Here's what it found:
* Once test scores are adjusted to take into account variables such as income level, race, and parents' education level, differences in student achievement are near zero and of no significance.
Public school students, except for in eighth-grade reading, generally match the performance of private school peers. The exception was in 4th grade math, where public school students did better.
* The report also compared Catholic, Lutheran and what it calls conservative Christian schools to all public schools.
No significant differences were noted except in Grade 8 mathematics. There, students at Lutheran schools did best, significantly better than public school students, while those attending conservative Christian schools did worse than public school students.
Sounds like even-steven to us.
After ETS -- a private, nonprofit that develops and administers millions of achievement tests such as the SAT -- delivered its ideology-free analysis to education officials, they stamped it with a caution downplaying its usefulness.
We smell a skunk.
If the report is of such "limited utility," why waste taxpayer dollars on it?
Perhaps we'd have heard a different tune if the report's conclusions had been more favorable to private schools.
As it is, they fly in the face of claims by "school choice" proponents' that private schools do a better job than public ones, and thus should be funded with taxpayer dollars, through vouchers.
That didn't stop Spellings from announcing a new $100 million plan for national school vouchers called "opportunity scholarships" on July 18, flanked by GOP leaders.
We've argued before that vouchers are the wrong approach to improving education for American children. They divert taxpayer money from struggling public schools.
In the case of Florida voucher programs, that money has been handed to private schools that aren't held accountable or required to meet standards imposed on public schools, including taking the FCAT.
Now it turns out the rationale private schools merit government funding because they perform better is largely conjecture.
The Bush administration -- and Florida lawmakers who stubbornly support vouchers -- need to back off the losing proposition and focus instead on bolstering public education.