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Rhetoric vs. Reality

Rhetoric vs. Reality: What We Know and What We Need To Know About Vouchers and Charter Schools

Brian P. Gill
P. Michael Timpane
Karen E. Ross
Dominic J. Brewer
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Rhetoric vs. Reality
    Book Description:

    How can the education of our nation's children be improved? Vouchers and charter schools aim to improve education by providing families with more choice in the schooling of their children and by decentralizing the provision of educational services. While supporters argue that school choice is essential to rescue children from failing schools, opponents claim that it may destroy America's public education system. The authors undertake an exhaustive and critical view of the evidence on vouchers and charter schools. The book is a useful, unbiased primer for all those interested in this controversial topic.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-3255-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
    (pp. 1-32)

    How can the education of the nation’s children be improved? Although experts disagree about whether the average performance of American public schools has declined over time, it is clear that their range of effectiveness varies greatly—from excellent to disgraceful. Public dissatisfaction is widespread: only 20 percent of Americans believe the nation’s public schools deserve A or B grades, and education was the most important policy issue among voters in the 2000 election campaigns.¹ Americans are eager to reform their schools.

    In this context, various reforms have been proposed to improve educational outcomes. One of the most controversial of these...

    (pp. 33-68)

    Chapter One points out that vouchers and charters have several fundamental similarities. Nevertheless, voucher and charter programs can vary widely in terms of policy details. Some of the key policy variables distinguish vouchers from charters, but many apply to both. Differences in policy details are critical for the answers to the key empirical questions raised in Chapter One concerning the five outcome dimensions: achievement, choice, access, integration, and civic socialization. The evidence in Chapters Three through Seven demonstrates that the impact of vouchers and charters cannot be assessed in the abstract; dramatic variations in policy details are likely to produce...

    (pp. 69-114)

    The first question that policymakers ask about voucher and charter programs is whether they will improve or harm academic achievement. Vouchers and charters may have positive or negative effects on conventional public schools, so the question about achievement effects should be asked systemically, both for students who choose to attend voucher/charter schools and for students who remain in conventional public schools. We define academic achievement broadly, to include attainment (measured by advancement in school, graduation, and later participation in higher education) as well as academic skills and knowledge. Ideally, achievement measures would include not only assessments of basic skills in...

  9. Chapter Four CHOICE
    (pp. 115-138)

    One of the key characteristics that voucher and charter schools share is that they are schools of choice. Advocates of voucher and charter schools promote the model of family choice partly for instrumental reasons: they believe that the market incentives associated with a system of choice will produce more-effective schools and better academic outcomes for children. We address the available empirical evidence on this argument in Chapter Three. For many of the supporters of vouchers and charters, however, choice is a valued outcome in its own right. For a wide variety of reasons, parents may value the opportunity to take...

  10. Chapter Five ACCESS
    (pp. 139-156)

    Not surprisingly, the most common form of school choice—choosing a school district in which to live—is used more frequently by middle- and upper-income families than by low-income families.¹ Similarly, middle- and upper-income families are far more likely than low-income families to have the means to pay private-school tuition. Vouchers and charters have the potential to extend choice to low-income families that presently lack options. However, it is also possible that the options they created will, in practice, disproportionately benefit middle- and upper-income families.

    Equity of choice for the poor is indeed the explicit goal of some voucher programs...

  11. Chapter Six INTEGRATION
    (pp. 157-184)

    Historically, one purpose of the educational system has been to promote not only access for all students, but also integration of students by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status within schools.¹ As the long-discredited doctrine of “separate but equal” makes clear, access and integration are not necessarily synonymous. In educational systems using choice-based student assignment, the distinction is critical: even if voucher/charter programs enroll student populations that are fully representative of a community’s demographic mix, whether they enroll those students together in integrated schools or separately in homogeneous schools is a key empirical question.

    In the half-century sinceBrown v. Board...

    (pp. 185-200)

    Both proponents and opponents of voucher and charter schools maintain that the well-socialized, democratically active citizen is an essential outcome of schooling, as important as any other outcome save, perhaps, having basic reading and math skills. In this conviction, they echo two centuries of American educational discourse and are strongly supported by today’s students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Predictably, though, each side in the debate maintains that the schooling system championed by the other side does not and will not produce such outcomes and, in fact, undermines traditional democratic purposes.

    This chapter begins with a brief review of the historical...

    (pp. 201-234)

    Conceptually and structurally, vouchers and charters represent a departure from the common school model that has been the basis for the American system of public education for a century and a half. Voucher and charter laws assume that it is not necessary to have all children in the same public schools that offer the same educational program under the control of government institutions. Instead, vouchers and charters assume that pluralism in the provision of education is acceptable (or even preferable) and that a system based on family choice and nongovernment operation of schools will produce better outcomes for students.


    (pp. 235-266)