Monday, November 04, 2013

Of Vouchers, Integration, and Misleading Statistics

In less than a week, I will give a presentation to an audience at the University Council for Educational Administration’s Annual Convention. My presentation, entitled: “Dis-Integration: School Vouchers and Racially Isolated Private Schools, Legal and Policy Considerations,” makes the claim that school voucher programs, while legal under federal and some state laws, violate the principles of integration. In other words, we should scrutinize school voucher programs a little more closely because of the concerns of creating segregated schools. The threat that school voucher transfers to private schools could possibly result in decreased integration is based in part on the work of Sean Reardon and John Yun. In 2002, Reardon and Yun published, Private School Racial Enrollments and Segregation. In their work, Reardon and Yun found that private schools were just as or more segregated than public schools. This was particularly the case for Black students enrolled in Catholic schools (this matters a lot latter when talking about New Orleans, Catholic schools and school vouchers). Reardon and Yun’s work can be found here.

On October 2nd, while preparing for my presentation, I encountered an article in the online version of the New Orleans newspaper. The article stated that the Louisiana school voucher program, known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program, yielded a positive net effect on integration in the state of Louisiana. The report, published by Education Next, stated that the Louisiana school voucher program increased integration at the schools that voucher students left and had no net effect on the schools that voucher students entered. The report implies that the United States Department of Justice has no statistical support in intervening in the educational affairs of the state of Louisiana. The report alleges that the Louisiana Scholarship Program not only increases integration, but does so in nearly every case. Specifically, the authors cite that the Louisiana Scholarship Program increases integration in 90% of all transfers. Juxtaposing the arguments of Reardon & Yun and Egalite & Mills causes most observers to pause and consider that: greater segregation (this time in private schools) combined with parental choice doesn’t usually equate to greater integration. I, therefore, sought to understand the parameters of the study conducted by Egalite and Mills.

It is worth mentioning that both studies can be reconciled. It is more than possible that parents of Black students might use the Louisiana Scholarship Program to withdraw their children from predominately Black public schools and enroll the students in predominately White or racially mixed private schools. Egalite and Mills don’t actually discuss this matter. What do Egalite and Mills tell us about the Louisiana Scholarship Program? The answer is a resounding, “not much.” The methods section of the study reveals that the authors looked at a mere 841 students out of 4,954 students. The authors justifiably exclude some students, but the exclusions end with the authors’ sampling a mere 17% of the population, the supermajority which live in the New Orleans metropolitan area. The study, therefore, says more about the impact of the Louisiana Scholarship Program in New Orleans than in the entire state of Louisiana.

I will continue to prepare for my presentation. The work of Egalite and Mills doesn’t particularly shunt my beliefs that school voucher programs can harm school integration efforts. That one voucher program, in one unique city/metro area, improves racial integration does not mean that the same can be said in all jurisdictions. Because of the uniqueness of New Orleans, it is not absolute that the effects of students transfers using the voucher program is generalizable to even other cities in Louisiana.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good luck with the presentation. I'd be interested to see the conference paper. It seems to me that integration is a minor issue and probably an annoyance to voucher advocates. Choice is paramount for them, and if choice leads to greater integration, great. If not, segregation is of less concern than providing choice. Such thinking goes back to Milton Friedman in 1955. Studies like the 1 in EdNext obscure the fact that integration has been a declining goal for choice advocates, and in ed policy overall, for some time now.