Thursday, March 2, 2017

Vouchers, ISTEP & Other Rabbit Holes

Vouchers, ISTEP and Other Rabbit Holes
By NEIFPE co-founder, Phyllis Bush

NEIFPE members recently created a spread sheet which details how much vouchers have cost Indiana taxpayers since their inception during the Daniels/Bennett years. Even though I assumed that a great deal of money was involved, I am still trying to wrap my head around the $330,548,810.86 that has been spent on vouchers since 2011.

Even though vouchers in Indiana are a done deal, nonetheless, vouchers are a dubious investment with dubious results. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the business model is really important to Indiana legislators. Given that, perhaps we need to consider this:
1. Nearly 90% of all Indiana children (1,010,811) attend public schools.

2. The number of Indiana students using vouchers has jumped from 4,000 students in 2011-12 to 32,686 students last school year.
This ($330, 548,810.86) does not seem to be a very good return on our investment. [Note: The 2016-17 voucher report was just released and shows an additional $146 million for the total voucher cost of $476,548,810.86]

During a recent conversation that I had with a state legislator, I was told that East Allen Community Schools got a pretty big bump in the budget while Fort Wayne Community Schools did not. Apparently, this loss of revenue was based on the FWCS loss of school population. Anecdotally, my observation is that at least some of the losses are because many families are taking advantage of vouchers to flee from public schools. Many are leaving because they are getting a free voucher ticket to attend a private school. Many are leaving because of the negative narrative about failing public schools.

Most of us know that school choice has all sorts of unintended consequences; for example, Nebraska Elementary School in FWCS was located in a high poverty area; however, this neighborhood school was doing all of the things that the reformers have said that “choice” schools should do. Unfortunately, because the school was surrounded by Sweeney Park on one side and Lindenwood Cemetery on the other, when busing services were eliminated from that school, it was unable to bring in more students. Hence, the school population shrank, and unfortunately, FWCS had no choice but to close the school. This little school was a model of what the school choice folks say they want to achieve, and yet…

If you want more evidence of the negative consequences of vouchers, here are some links:
Our legislators keep telling us about how education is the largest portion of the state budget, but if they are really serious about being fiscally responsible, getting rid of the current ISTEP might be a good place to start. I was recently challenged to take the sample 3rd grade ISTEP test. While I am not a math wizard, a good deal of the test made absolutely no sense to me. Perhaps we should challenge all of our legislators to take the ISTEP tests and then post their scores. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out how they might feel to see their scores published? Would they feel the same frustration and shame that many Hoosier children feel? Would they understand and empathize with the consequences these tests have wrought? ISTEP+ Grade 3-4 Online Experience

As I scrolled through the questions, looking at this test through my educator’s eyes, these tests were neither instructionally nor developmentally appropriate. These tests measure fine motor skills and the ability to take tests. The only real takeaway that I could see for these tests was that it was to frustrate kids, to label more schools as failing, and to give test makers another reason to create more test taking software to improve scores.

ISTEP is a flawed test that keeps getting worse with each of its incarnations. Our State Legislature could save all of us a lot of taxpayer dollars if we replaced ISTEP with an off the shelf test like NAEP or almost any other field-tested, well established test.

All of the above makes me wonder why so many politicians/legislators/reformers seem hell bent for destroying public education. Rather than chasing all of the latest and greatest reform schemes down the latest rabbit hole of “choice,” wouldn’t it make more sense to fund all public schools equitably? Wouldn’t it make more sense to trust educators to find solutions to learning issues? Wouldn’t it make more sense to quit politicizing and privatizing education? Our children and our communities deserve better than this.


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