Some Thoughts on Yesterday’s redefineED Chat

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of following along on the redefineED website as they hosted a chat with Michael Petrilli of The Fordham Institute. A transcript of the chat can be found here:

The chat was a good Q&A that addressed some of the critiques of Fordham’s “Toolkit” and what the overall goal is for more testing and other so-called accountability measures for students on vouchers. Here are a couple of thoughts that I had following the chat:
1. Do Ohio students really need more tests? Since Fordham has an on-the-ground presence in Ohio, I think it bears mentioning what already exists in Ohio. I’m not aware of any student in a chartered nonpublic grade school, whether on a voucher or not, who isn’t taking a nationally-recognized standardized test beginning in grade 3, with the school choosing the assessment. I’m not aware of any school that does not share those results with parents and do not know why they would refrain from doing so. Also, as mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, all chartered nonpublic high school students must pass all five parts the Ohio Graduation Tests in order to receive a diploma, with Ohio being the only state to have such a blanket requirement for students at secular private schools. Those tests will increase in number and difficulty with the adoption of the new end-of-course exam requirements. It’s likely that those new tests will require curriculum changes at private schools in order to accommodate the new tests, although based on the OAIS v. Goff case, it’s questionable if that’s even constitutional.
It’s clear that in comparison with other states, Ohio already goes overboard with testing for nonpublic school students. With these levels of testing already in existence for all students, it’s difficult to understand why there needs to be a change in the testing mandate for students on vouchers that requires certain tests to be administered to certain students or in some cases all students, in addition to the tests already recommended by the school’s professional staff.
2. Vouchers and tuition don’t always reflect the investment of parents into their child’s education.  This was a question raised by Rabbi A.D. Motzen that wasn’t exactly answered. Voucher amounts can vary based on a school’s tuition and, in the case of the Special Needs and Autism programs, based on a student’s degree of differences, with one constant being that the amount of the voucher cannot exceed the amount of tuition charged. However, the amount of the tuition can, and often does, exceed the amount of the voucher for students who do not fall below the poverty levels set in statute. However, the accountability proposals in the Toolkit do nothing to recognize this. For example, if a student receives a $5,000 voucher for a school that charges $5,000 in tuition, that is a clear-cut case of the state wholly subsidizing the child’s tuition. However, what happens in the case of a student receiving a $5,000 voucher for a school or for services that cost $20,000? In these cases, and cases even less extreme than this, the parent is assuming much more of the responsibility for the tuition than the state is, yet the desire of the parents’s views on accountability would appear to be secondary to the state’s demand for testing. This is fundamentally unfair to the parents and the student, all in the name of “apples to apples” comparisons.
3. Reducing needless regulations is just as important as imposing more for the sake of accountability. As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, Ohio is notorious for regulating its independent schools more than any other state. We believe there ought to be just as much discussion of whether or not some of the regulations on the books, such as the mandatory graduation tests and some credit/curriculum requirements, do anything to enhance the quality of education at nonpublic schools, especially when the students are not on a state-funded voucher.
OAIS and others, including Ohio’s newest Council for American Private Education (CAPE) chapter will work to inform decision makers on the current climate of regulation for Ohio’s private schools and why many of the recommendations found in the Toolkit, while good-intentioned, are not a good fit for Ohio.