Markets for Schooling: An Economic Analysis (Routledge Research in Education)

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Since the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in , the majority of New Orleans public schools have been replaced by charters. At the beginning of the academic year, "more than 70 percent of schools [were] independently chartered" Mock, Advocates of free-market reform have touted the charter schools in New Orleans as a phenomenal success that "saved the public-education system in the city" Mock, , p. But the success of New Orleans charter schools can be attributed, at least in part, to the disproportionately low percentage of the most difficult to educate students served by these schools.

According to Mock , "overall, almost a third of the city's 4, special needs students have been suspended by the Recovery School District" p. Excluding the most difficult to educate students insures that New Orleans' charters will do better than traditional public schools in New Orleans that must serve all students, including the city's lowest achieving and most difficult to educate students.

It is uncertain whether students with disabilities are better served by charters in post-Katrina New Orleans. It is certain, however, that many students with disabilities are excluded by New Orleans charter schools. Similar patterns have been found in other school districts across the US. In Oakland, California, comparable statistics have been reported: 4.

Students with severe disabilities are even less likely to be enrolled in charters than students with milder disabilities. In San Diego, where nearly 10 percent of all students attended charter schools in the academic year, only three students with the diagnosis of mental retardation were served in charter schools, while traditional district schools served more than a thousand such students Hehir, National data on charter schools and students with disabilities reinforce findings from states and local jurisdictions. In contrast, only 9. A report from the Rand Corporation also indicates that students with disabilities are underserved in charter schools.

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This pattern has also been found in other English speaking countries where market-based schooling has taken hold. Although data on charter schools and students with disabilities is limited, the available statistical evidence supports the conclusion that students with disabilities, especially students with more severe disabilities, are significantly underserved by charter schools. But these statistics, based on averages across charter schools, mask a more disturbing trend. As Estes notes, "a small number of schools with unusually high numbers skewed the mean percentage" p.

These include, for example, the Dr. Again, the success of these charters may be, at least in part, a function of systematically excluding students with disabilities, students whose low test scores would adversely affect average achievement scores for these schools. The evidence is clear that, in general, students with disabilities are underserved in charter schools.

Yet, publically funded charters are prohibited from actively discriminating against students with disabilities. There are, however, a number of ways charters discourage students with disabilities from attending.

As noted above, in New Orleans, a significant proportion of students with disabilities have been suspended Mock, In the case of Massachusetts, Howe and Welner found that charters used several strategies to discourage students with disabilities:. The tactic of offering "honest" advice that focuses on students' "best interests" Estes, allows charters to justify exclusionary practices as fair and just.

Even when students with disabilities are enrolled in charter schools they may not be well served although little achievement data exists with which to evaluate their performance Hursh, a. This phenomenon makes it difficult to ascertain how well these students with disabilities are served once they have waived their IEP rights and are no longer officially tracked within the special education system. More seriously, discontinuing students' IEPs can have significant implications for their learning.

Without IEPs, students are no longer guaranteed needed curricular accommodations, modifications, and related services. According to CAST, a nonprofit research and development organization, "current [special education] rules and procedures are the best—and only—way we know to minimize what has historically been grotesque discrimination against persons with disabilities www. It is likely that the needs of some students with disabilities are well served in charter schools. It may also be that some charters identify fewer students with disabilities because they offer high quality programs that make labeling unnecessary.

But many students with disabilities are not well served in charter schools and, more seriously, many charters systematically exclude students with disabilities, thus creating highly segregated learning environments. Students with disabilities are among the most likely to remain in local traditional public schools—"schools of last resort for those who never applied or who were rejected [by charter schools]" Ravitch, , p.

These "schools of last resort," overpopulated with low-achieving, difficult- and expensive-to-educate students, will be hard pressed to provide a quality education to students left behind. The free-market-inspired high-stakes testing and accountability regimen at the heart of NCLB was intended to remedy an "achievement gap" in which poor students, black and Hispanic students, and students with disabilities performed well below expectations.

Specifically, NCLB promised to improve test scores and graduation rates for children "left behind," including students with disabilities. Since 1 reading scores for fourth and eighth grade students with disabilities are relatively unchanged as are math scores for students with disabilities in fourth grade.

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There has been a slight improvement in math scores for eighth graders since but, because of similar gains for eighth grade students without disabilities, the "gap" between students with and without disabilities at this grade level has changed little since the implementation of NCLB NAEP, Dropout and graduation rates for students with disabilities offer another possible measure of the effectiveness of high-stakes testing and accountability policies on the academic achievement of students with disabilities.

National data on dropouts and graduation among students with disabilities since NCLB are, however, difficult to interpret because of lack of agreement about the meaning of "dropout" and differences in standards for graduation among the states. Data from individual states are suggestive, however. For instance, data from New York and Massachusetts indicate increases in the number of students with disabilities failing to graduate from high school since the implementation of high school exit exams in those states Massachusetts Department of Education, , ; New York State Department of Education, It is not just that NCLB policies have failed to improve the achievement of students with disabilities.

These policies have often led to practices that undermine the quality of education offered to many students with disabilities. The testing and accountability mandates of NCLB "define education as a commodity whose production can be quantified, standardized, and prescribed" Lipman, , p. In the context of schooling informed by the logic of the market, quantifiable skills and standardized curricular practices support the need for comparative data for assessing and marketing schools.

Brantlinger argues that in the logic of the market, "knowledge is standardized and commodified so it can be assessed by high-stakes measures" p. This move toward standardization and one-size-fits-all curricula is potentially devastating for students with disabilities. And when students with disabilities fail to achieve in the context of standardized curriculum, standardized assessment, and standardized instruction—all targeted to putatively "normal" students—failure is situated in the minds and bodies of students rather than in the schooling practices that produced failure in the first place Dudley-Marling, Maria de la Lu Reyes offers a useful analogy for illustrating how this works:.

Ultimately, standardized, one-size-fits-all curricula, assessment, and instruction serve the needs of policy makers, publishers and others who would make a profit from schooling, but not the children who have to endure these practices. More than 20 years ago, economists Chubb and Moe argued that free-market schools were a panacea for an American school system that was failing to meet the needs of many of its students, including students with disabilities. However, although there are certainly exceptions, our review of the literature indicates that students with disabilities have generally not profited from free-market reforms including high-stakes testing, and rigid accountability requirements that lead to one-size-fits all curricula that ignore differences in learning styles and abilities and vouchers and charter schools that skim high achieving, less costly to educate students from traditional public schools which are left with fewer resources and more challenges.

Economics and Education

Neoliberalism's valorization of the individual, in which school success and failure are conceptualized in terms of individual responsibility, does little to address systemic factors — poverty, discrimination, under-resourced and overcrowded schools and classrooms — that produce so much school failure in the first place. In this framework, school failure is firmly situated in the minds and bodies of individuals who are expected to "overcome" their physical and mental disabilities with plenty of models provided of people who have done so.

And, when the equality of opportunity fails students with disability, it is the students who are to blame, not the structures of schooling or other factors that privilege students perceived to be "normal" thereby justifying a reallocation of funding to those students who are more likely to make the most significant contributions to the economy see Murray, for an elaboration of this argument.

It could be argued that, given time, the market will select the best schools and best practices benefitting all students whose needs are not being met in traditional public schools including students with disabilities. However, it is our view that free-market based schooling practices are fundamentally incompatible with human difference in whatever form — language, race, culture, gender, disability status, and SES. The tendency toward standardization associated with the demand to achieve economy of scale and maximum profitability will never serve the needs of students who, by definition, do not fit the "standard.

In this context, children are transformed into commodities whose value is determined by test scores and the cost to educate them.

Here students with disabilities, because they tend to produce lower test scores and to be more costly to educate, will have less value. Ultimately, no one's interests are served when concepts of human rights and human dignity are supplanted by measures of economic utility.

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It is, however, highly unlikely that the call for market-based school reforms will abate any time soon. Currently, the Obama administration is calling for expanded testing and accountability measures and many states are expanding charter schools and voucher programs.

So the question is how to insure high quality education for students with disabilities in the current context of free-market schooling. Here we offer a few modest proposals. First, there is a need to rethink the current accountability paradigm that focuses almost exclusively on test scores. For instance, instead of schools, administrators, and teachers being accountable to ever higher test scores we suggest a model of accountability based on the ability of educators to demonstrate to parents and other stakeholders that every effort has been made to push every student, regardless of dis ability, as far as they can go as learners.

And if these efforts are unsuccessful teachers and administrators must show what else has been done to help individual students succeed in school.

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Second, there is a need to broaden evaluation criteria for individual students in all educational settings beyond high stakes tests that offer a highly circumscribed view of student learning. Broadening evaluation to include informal teacher evaluation, reports from parents, and student self-assessment, for example, give children the opportunity to reveal what they know and what they have learned and provide teachers with a clearer sense of how to support student learning. As Simi Linton puts it:.

Goals and standards are shifted not downward but out, to a more flexible and broader means of demonstrating competence. The burden to "keep up" is shifted off the individual student, and the whole classroom environment shifts in its overall procedures and expectations to maximize learning for all. Finally, it almost goes without saying that any school, including charter schools and private schools accepting publically funded vouchers, must be expected to adhere to federal and state regulations regarding the education of students with disabilities.

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But this may also be an opportunity to imagine more than mere a technical compliance with special education laws and regulations that can undermine the spirit of those regulations Fulcher, Similarly, accessibility isn't useful if the curriculum being accessed isn't rich and engaging.