Reforming Urban Schools Term Paper

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School Choice Program

This study aimed to determine the impact of school choice through a comparative study of two private schools, which serve primarily, or exclusively African-American students, and a public school.

Data in student achievement in math and reading and data on student attendance were used to determine the impact of choosing a school. Qualitative data derived from interviews with administrators and faculty as well as classroom observation were used to provide additional insight regarding the intellectual climate of the two private schools and the public school.

The focus of this study was on mathematics and reading in middle school students in both public and private schools in Milwaukee, as well as the focus of reform in the state -- reading in Michigan, writing in Vermont and California. This approach enabled me to adequately address my research questions and prove or disprove my hypotheses.

To begin, I conducted structured interviews with teacher educators and other providers of professional development, and district and school administrators in each school. Through these interviews, parental involvement, student achievement, knowledge of African-American culture, and degree of cultural awareness of students was determined. I interviewed teachers from each of the participating schools.

The purpose of the interviews and questionnaires was to obtain information on student performance, ultimately determining the impact of school choice on performance. All student performance reports were submitted without names, guaranteeing anonymity, unless permission was obtained to use names.

Scope and Limitations of Research

This study used a qualitative case study methodology, based on teacher interviews, supplemented by quantitative data analysis of the teacher questionnaires and student performance reports. Analysis of the qualitative data consisted of three stages.

The first stage involved "within case" analysis for each school site and resulted in a case study for each school. This case study was developed by observation of each school. The second stage entailed comparative analyses of the school, in which I compared and contrasted across school findings and analyzed individual school data to generate case study results. The third stage of analysis involved comparisons of the teacher interviews to develop a personal perspective of how the actual people involved in the day-to-day operation viewed the impact of school choice on student performance.

Three are limitations to this study, as the small size and non-representative sample of participants included in this study do not allow me to generalize about performances throughout schools or districts. The questionnaire data, however, taken together with the interview data, does provide insights into the implications of MPCP and student performance.

Previous Studies

Since the introduction of educational vouchers as an alternative for financing and organizing elementary and secondary education, there have been many debates about this subject. Recent evidence about the effects of class size on academic achievement from randomized experiments suggests that the impact of school choice is important. However, the evidence about the research producing these effects is still lacking.

Witte (1996) sums up the general theory regarding the Milwaukee student choice program: "The two eternal issues of American education policy are: (1) How to improve achievement? And (2) Who will achieve at higher rates? The achievement issue was the focus of Milton Friedman's original theory and policy proposal (1955, 1962). Friedman argued that neighborhood effects of quasi-monopolistic public education would lead to inefficiencies both on the consumption and production side. Consumers would be limited to local schools which might not be the best match or option; production would be characterized by classic monopoly overpricing and inefficiency. The answer was to provide all students with vouchers which were the equivalent of educational costs. They could be used in any school for the purchase of education. The results: more efficient production of education and a commensurate increase in student learning. The equity issue was not directly addressed."

Arguments in favor of school choice rely on the idea that competition between schools increases the quality and efficiency of education. Organizational theory suggests that competition from private schools has a negative effect on the organizational structure of public schools.

As a result, it can be suggested that by changing the organizational structure of the public schools, competition from the private school sector may affect student performance in the public schools. This study analyzed the impact of choosing a smaller private school on academic performance in the public schools taking into account the organizational theory's ideas of contrasting institutional and environmental forces.

The relationship between the size of the private school sector and public school resources, particularly student to teacher ratios, was the focus of this study. Students' cognitive growth as measured by student performance reports was used to assess differences in outcomes in the public and private schools.

Findings indicate that school choice has a significant impact on the performance of low-income and minority students.

The issue of school choice has been a contested issue in California since 1980, when a voucher initiative failed to qualify for the ballot as a constitutional referendum (Dianda and Corwin, 1993). When the issue came up again in 1992, specific questions came up about private schools' probable responses to the implementation of a school choice initiative.

To examine the effect of a voucher program on private schools, the Southwest Regional Laboratory sent survey to all private schools in California eligible to participate in a proposed program that would provide families with a $2,600 voucher to pay for tuition at a private school. Questions of interest to educators and policymakers, such as whether private schools will participate in a voucher program, as well as the availability, affordability, and accessibility of private schools to voucher-redeeming students from public schools, were raised in the survey. The 1,004 respondents were intended to represent all private schools in California.

Highlights of the findings include the following (Dianda and Corwin, 1993):

75% of private schools indicate a high likelihood of accepting voucher-redeeming students from public schools;

Low-tuition private schools and religious schools indicated a greater receptivity to vouchers than high-tuition and non-religious schools;

Most private schools are nearly full and would need to expand staffing or space to accommodate new students;

Most private schools willing to accept students are affordable (60% charge less than the voucher amount), however some schools indicated that tuition would increase under a voucher program;

Voucher-receptive schools would require students to demonstrate grade-level achievement for admission;

Minority students have access to private schools, particularly Catholic schools and those charging lower tuition however few students from low-income families or non-English-speaking students attend private schools.

Based on these results, the authors conclude that, because so few private schools will be able to easily accommodate public schools students, a voucher program will affect only a small portion of public school students. Correspondingly, a statewide voucher program will not significantly alter public school enrollment.

The schools most interested in accepting public school students will be low- and moderate-tuition schools and schools with religious affiliations that are geared toward larger classes and higher student-to-teacher ratios. In addition, students who are not doing well academically will find few opportunities in private schools. Finally, under a voucher program, private schools are unlikely to educate many students from disadvantaged or language-minority backgrounds.

Highlights of the findings indicate that students in many voucher programs achieve at higher levels compared to students at similar income levels (Fuller, 1995). Parents who are most committed to education enter the voucher program at higher rates. Parents in the Milwaukee voucher program tend to have higher levels of satisfaction with their schools and their child's educational experience.

However, there appear to be no gains in student achievement associated with participation in the voucher program. Montgomery County has the longest-running magnet program. Parents in the program tend to choose schools where there are children who most resemble their child. In addition, racial-ethnic minority parents tend to know little about the program.

The author states that sharp distinctions exist between choosing and non-choosing families. While the programs provide an attractive option for low-income families, those who choose tend to be better off economically and to have higher educational expectations for their children. The children of the lowest-income families and with the least-involved parents tend to be least likely to participate in choice programs. The details of how the programs are designed, along with selectivity, tend to contribute to the differences in participation.

Basically, the debate about school choice programs centers around one question: Are private schools better than public schools? According to Witte (1992), recent research resulted in information about large differences in characteristics of the public and private sectors. Private schools are mostly religious; most of them are in the suburbs and are smaller and more homogeneous than public schools. Private school students participate in more advanced-level courses and are less involved in school discipline problems than public school students. Students in private schools also score higher on tests.

Still, according to Witte, gains in achievement in high school are modest in public schools and only slightly higher in private schools. All studies reviewed indicated the statistical effects of prior achievement.…[continue]

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