Petrilli: School choice movement better off without ‘awful’ schools


School choice supporters should back more government oversight of private schools that accept vouchers and tax credit scholarships because the choice movement would be better off without schools that are “by any measure awful.”

So argued Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, in a live chat Tuesday with redefinED. Petrilli pointed to the think tank’s work with charter schools in Ohio to ground his position.

“Some parents are choosing schools that are, by any measure, awful,” he wrote during the chat. “ ‘By any measure’ is important. I totally understand that math and reading scores are imperfect gauges of school quality, and I understand that choice schools in particular might be ‘adding value’ in ways that don’t show up on test scores but do show up in terms of other, even more important, outcomes, like high school graduation, college-going, or wages.”

“Still, there are schools out there that might mean well, but where it’s hard to see any kind of learning happening. We would be better off, in the choice movement, without them.”

Petrilli’s comments came a week after Fordham released a legislative tool kit that backed more testing, transparency and regulatory consequences for “voucher schools” – and sparked a flurry of criticism from many corners of the choice community. During the chat, he also politely criticized Florida’s tax credit scholarship program for not including sanctions for persistently low-performing schools. (The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

“Florida’s got the foundation of a good system in place: A well respected scholarship-granting organization (Step up for Students!) and a requirement that participating students take a standardized test, and the results be released. (As I wrote, I would marginally prefer that they take the state test, but it’s not the end of the world that they don’t.)”

“The main thing you DON’T do is act on the information from testing. And I do think that’s a mistake. I would love to know if there are any extremely low-performing schools in your program (based on value-added). Just imagine how much more effective–and popular–your program could be if you weeded those schools (probably just a handful) out!”

You can read the chat in its entirety here: