The Utah legislature should reject the school choice bill. I say this reluctantly since I believe that a properly designed choice program could be beneficial. The program proposed is not that program.
It is in everyone’s interest that all children become capable, contributing members of society. The question before us is, “Will the proposed school choice program move us closer to that goal, or will it merely give money to parents who choose private schools?”
A review of 13 school choice programs implemented across the country suggests that school choice can be a general benefit to society, but only if it is carefully implemented (Egalite & Wolf (2016) Peabody Journal of Education, 91:4, 441-454.). Consider these findings from that study.
1. Of the 13 projects, only 5 produced average increases in student learning.
2. In one project choice students had significantly lower test scores than those in public schools. Observers speculated that the educational choices outside of the public schools were not good. How will the Utah program ensure that only high quality choices are available?
3. In 5 projects with no average improvement, certain subsets of students, primarily African-Americans, Hispanics, and those from low SES backgrounds, did have increased test scores. How will the Utah program focus on these groups which stand to gain the most?
4. To be effective, choice programs depend on a parent or other responsible adult who will study the educational alternatives and choose carefully the correct one for the child. This condition has not been present for all families in some previous projects. How will the Utah program ensure this type of informed parental involvement?
These questions are not adequately addressed in the Utah program and until they are the proposal should be rejected.
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