Uh… the ‘Quality Controlled’ Schools Are Worse

Sunday’s Washington Post ran a story titled “Quality controls lacking for D.C. schools accepting federal vouchers.” These are the particular failings chosen for the story’s lede:

schools that are unaccredited or are in unconventional settings, such as a family-run K-12 school operating out of a storefront, a Nation of Islam school based in a converted Deanwood residence, and a school built around the philosophy of a Bulgarian psychotherapist.

It is remarkable that more serious transgressions were omitted. Why not mention the schools in which current and former staff brawl in the parking lot, or students start vicious fights at sporting events? Why not discuss the schools spending nearly $30,000 per pupil annually and yet graduating barely half of their students on time?

The reason the WaPo didn’t mention them is that they are not voucher schools. These are District of Columbia public schools and they already have in place all the “quality controls” that the Washington Post seems to prize—on fiscal disclosure, testing, teacher certification, etc.

But though it appeared on the news pages, the WaPo story is really an opinion piece, and one whose central opinion—that government regulations can guarantee educational quality and efficiency—is demonstrably false. Modern public school districts are as heavily regulated, “quality controlled,” and overseen by government as any school system in history. And yet they have suffered a productivity collapse unparalleled in any other field of human enterprise. A complete K-through-12 public education costs nearly three times as much today as it did in 1970, adjusting for inflation, but achievement at the end of high school has stagnated or declined.

If journalists really want to improve the quality and efficiency of education available in DC and around the nation, they might start by recognizing the clear futility of their preferred solution and turn instead to the international research on what works, what doesn’t, and why. In the unlikely event that they take the trouble to do so, they will discover that direct accountability to parents and competition among schools succeed where bureaucratic red tape fails.