Details, details

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Brevity is the soul of wit but a pale ghost of precision. In an explanation of why a modest proposal for parental choice in education in Tennessee is, at best, suspect, and, at worst, a waste of time, some recent reporting is baldly lacking in detail.

Tennesseans are debating the efficacy of a K-12 school voucher bill that would allow 5,000 children attending failing schools (most of which are located in and around Nashville and Memphis) to choose a private school.

The bill would impact 0.6 percent of students attending state district schools. True, the cap on the program grows to 20,000 over two years, but that boosts the impact to a whopping 2.2 percent of student enrollment.

But these aren’t the details of interest (though these percentages would have made for a nice addition). Missing is even a shadow of the improved student achievement for children around the country whose parents have choices in education. Instead, we are offered a “crop of financially mismanaged and low-achieving schools” in the Milwaukee, Wisc., voucher program and new research from Louisiana that found lower scores among voucher students.

To be clear, the recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece does not cite a “crop” of Milwaukee private schools. The story refers to one school enrolling students using vouchers that closed last year. Yet there are approximately 120 other private schools in Milwaukee serving voucher students.

Furthermore, researchers have found that “the [Milwaukee voucher] program had a positive effect on a student’s likelihood of graduating from high school and enrolling and persisting in a 4-year college.” Key detail.

As for the single study available on Louisiana’s voucher system, this report only used one year’s worth of data—all that was available. Also unmentioned is that this study was the first report—ever—using a randomized control trial that found negative effects for students using vouchers.

By 2013, eleven studies using the same high-quality research method had found positive effects for students, while one study had found no impact. These studies range from higher math and reading scores among students in Charlotte, N.C., to higher math scores in Milwaukee. Results are also available from parental choice programs in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Dayton, Ohio, among others.

Tennessee readers, however, go without these facts and are urged to follow the breadcrumb that “other studies” have found “improved public schools” and college enrollment. But why bother, what with the suspicious-yet-incomplete material from Milwaukee and Louisiana?

It’s worth the effort to learn the details for the lawmakers and parents determined to give every Tennessee child the chance at a quality education.

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