Tag: vouchers

What about K-12, Secretary Duncan?

Speaking to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, education secretary Arne Duncan said that “he would gladly cut federal red tape if institutions, in return, showed greater progress on improving student performance.” So the secretary supports less government intrusion in education if schools show improvement.

Except he doesn’t. Not at the K-12 level, anyway. Because Arne Duncan has advocated a slow death for the DC voucher program that his own Department of Education shows is… wait for it… significantly improving outcomes while getting government out of the business of running schools altogether.

But maybe that’s the problem. Schools work better the smaller the role government plays in them, but that means we don’t really need a secretary of education at all, do we?

Education Tax Credits the Choice for Independents in Virginia

My last post focused on the general results of a school choice poll in Virginia. Contra conventional wisdom, education tax credits are significantly more popular and less opposed than are charter schools.

Even more interesting is the stability of support for donation tax credits across party identification. A stunning 64 percent of Democrats support credits, with only 21 percent opposed. Independents support credits 65 percent to 22 percent.

Charters are supposed to be the poster child for policies targeting Independent voters. And yet charters draw 59 percent of support from independents and 23 percent opposition.

That’s a swing from a 43 percent margin of support for credits to a 36 percent margin for charters. And vouchers run even further behind with a 22 percent margin of support from Independent voters.

Smart politicians looking for cost-saving and effective education reform would do well to take note of these numbers.

More to come …

What’s the Most Popular Choice Reform in Virginia?

Pop Quiz: What’s the best education policy a moderate politician in Virginia can pursue?

  1. Vouchers
  2. Charter Schools
  3. Education Tax Credits

Conventional wisdom says go with charter schools, because they are a bipartisan, moderate compromise reform that will get you the largest number of Independents and the least opposition. Vouchers are too hot to touch. And what’s an education tax credit … oh, right, they’re too controversial as well

Conventional wisdom is WRONG.

The Friedman Foundation has released another in their invaluable series of state education polls, this time for once-purple Virginia. Their findings are consistent with other polls, and the pattern is worth highlighting.

Charter schools draw 59 percent in support and 26 percent in opposition. Vouchers find 57 percent in support and 35 percent in opposition. Personal-use credits get the support of 59 percent and are opposed by 32 percent.

Donation tax credits are supported by 65 percent of voters and opposed by 23 percent.

Charters, vouchers, and personal-use credits, in other words, are equally popular, with credits and vouchers drawing a bit more fire.  And donation credits are wildly popular with only a rump of opposition.

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Wheel Reinvention

The final guidelines for the Administration’s “Race to the Top” education reform program have now been released. It’s a system that stimulates competition between the states to produce results that the customer (Secretary Duncan) wants, using financial incentives. Déjà vu, anyone?

It’s as though Arne Duncan recognizes the merits of free market forces, but rather than faithfully reproducing them in the field of education, he’s decided to give us his own reimagining of them.

Here’s the problem. There are already 25 years of scientific research comparing real free education markets to traditional public school systems. It overwhelmingly finds that markets do a better job of serving families. But we have no evidence at all that Secretary Duncan’s newly invented system will do anyone any good.

So why go to all this trouble to reinvent the wheel, when the Secretary’s own Department of Education has found that an on-going federal private school choice program—which gets much closer to a genuine education marketplace—is raising students’ reading ability by two grade levels after just 3 years of participation?

History Fun Fact: Ayn Rand Liked Ed Tax Credits

Many thanks to Lisa Snell at Reason for bringing this interesting historical fun fact from 1973 to light: Ayn Rand was a fan of education tax credits:

In the face of such evidence, one would expect the government’s performance in the field of education to be questioned, at the least, [but] the growing failures of the educational establishment are followed by the appropriation of larger and larger sums. There is, however, a practical alternative: tax credits for education.

The essentials of the idea (in my version) are as follows: an individual citizen would be given tax credits for the money he spends on education, whether his own education, his children’s, or any person’s he wants to put through a bona fide school of his own choice (including primary, secondary, and higher education).

Rand’s support for credits is interesting for a number of reasons, not least the fact that she explicitly endorses credits, not vouchers. I’ve had numerous and largely fruitless arguments over which policy is most “free-market” or least distorting. To me it is obvious that credits are the most “free-market” education reform. Now I can skip the arguments and yell, “Ayn Rand!”

Rand’s essay also highlights the fact that education tax credits were, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the most prominent private school policy on the scene. Federal tax credits were a live issue under Nixon and Carter. Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party gave strong and explicit support for education tax credits throughout the 1980’s – with tax credits, but not vouchers, mentioned specifically in the Republican Party platforms of 1980, 1984, and 1988.

The largely forgotten history of education tax credits … interesting …

Throwdown with Charles Murray

In a response to my post this morning, Charles Murray remains unconvinced that changes to our school system could result in dramatic improvements in educational outcomes.

He asks to see the scholarly study showing that a school has miraculously boosted achievement above the norm. In one way, this hurdle is too low, and in another it’s too high.

If we could only point to a single study of a single school, it wouldn’t instill much confidence in the generalizability of the phenomenon. A consistent pattern of scholarly results is necessary for that. On the other hand, asking for “miraculous” improvement is a needlessly high standard. My disagreement is with Murray’s earlier, lower threshold claim that:  “reforms of the schools can never do more than produce score improvements at the margin.”

Let’s call a marginal improvement an increase of less than .15  standard deviations above the current mean (typically considered a “small” effect in the social sciences). Taking that as our litmus test, is there a consistent pattern of scholarly evidence that better school system design can boost achievement by more than .15 standard deviations? Yes.

education markets v monopolies -- coulson

That pattern is presented in the figure above, drawn from my recent review of the global econometric literature comparing educational outcomes across different types of school systems. The figure relates the number of statistically significant findings favoring free education markets over state school monopolies (in white), significant findings of the reverse (in light grey), and insignificant findings (in dark grey). Markets beat monopolies by a ratio of 15 significant findings to 1, across the seven educational measures for which data are available.

While a few of these findings have small effect sizes, many are above .15 standard deviations – some of them well above it. A paper by Tooley, Dixon, Bao, and Merrifield (under consideration by the journal Economics of Education Review), for instance, finds that in Nigeria private schools outscore public schools by double that amount, after controls, while “in Delhi and Hyderabad private unrecognized schools top state-run schools in math instruction by about 2/3 of a standard deviation.” A recent randomized assignment study of the DC voucher program finds that voucher students who’ve been in the program for three years are reading two grade levels ahead of their public school peers (.42 std deviations), though the average voucher is worth only a quarter of what DC spends per pupil on public k-12 education.

These are more than marginal improvements, and they are part of a consistent pattern. That pattern strongly suggests that moving from our current monopoly school system to a free and competitive education marketplace would shift the bell curve of academic achievement significantly to the right, raising the mean achievement substantially above its current level.

No one should be surprised by that. Imagine how far the bell curve for median income across modern nations would shift to the left if all free markets were supplanted with centrally planned monopolies such as have ruined the economies of Cuba, North Korea, and until recently many other nations.

The DNC’s Pure Uninformed Demagoguery

The other day, Sarah Palin cited my work in an oped for the Wall Street Journal.  So when the Democratic National Committee savaged her for it, ABCNews.com asked me for comment.  Here’s an excerpt from George Stephanopoulos’ blog:

“Instead of poll-driven ‘solutions,’ let’s talk about real health-care reform: market-oriented, patient-centered, and result-driven,” wrote Palin. “As the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon and others have argued, such policies include giving all individuals the same tax benefits received by those who get coverage through their employers; providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to purchase their own coverage; reforming tort laws to potentially save billions each years in wasteful spending; and changing costly state regulations to allow people to buy insurance across state lines.”

Cannon, the Cato expert referenced by Palin, has not had any direct contact with the former Alaska governor or any of her advisers.

He did, however, come to her defense on the Medicare issue.

‘Vouchers would not make seniors less secure, it would make them more secure,’ Cannon told ABC News. ‘Everyone agrees that Medicare cannot go on spending as much money as it does now. The voucher idea allows individual consumers to make their own decisions about what they need and what they don’t need.’

‘Giving Medicare seniors a voucher is the most rational, the most humane way to contain Medicare spending,’ he added.

Asked about the DNC’s charge that Palin’s proposal would leave seniors with pre-existing conditions vulnerable, Cannon, the director of health policy studies at Cato, called it ‘pure uninformed demagoguery.’

Cannon says that under proposals he has developed, bigger vouchers would be given to people with pre-existing conditions as well as to people with low incomes.

Actually, I think what I said was that DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse was engaging in pure ignorant demagoguery.  But whatever.

The DNC is even running an ad claiming that Republicans are trying to “cut” and “kill” Medicare, presumably with vouchers.  Never mind that President Obama proposes to “cut” (i.e., slow the growth of) Medicare spending too.

If Republicans were smart – hey, where are you going? – they would be running ads that say:

President Obama wants government bureaucrats to decide whether seniors get health care.  Republicans are fighting to control health care costs and preserve seniors’ ability to make their own health care decisions and choose the benefits that they value most.  Support Medicare vouchers!

For more on reforming Medicare the right way, click here.