Over at his Ed Week blog, Rick Hess Straight Up, Rick has been writing about the meaning of the findings of a new evaluation of the Milwaukee voucher program, arguing that ‘the bleak results ought not be taken as evidence that vouchers don’t “work,’ but as a reminder of how little attention choice proponents have devoted to creating the kinds of oxygenated ecosystems that can support dynamic markets.” He continues
As controversial as this stance has been with choice enthusiasts, and as inclined as choice skeptics are to regard it as an apologia or an attempt to move the goalposts, I have always thought it a rather unremarkable and commonsensical attitude. After all, it was Milton Friedman who once famously opined that the “market is not a cow to be milked” but is simply a powerful mechanism for channeling human ingenuity, energy, and talent. If markets are dysfunctional, corrupt, or inhospitable to law-abiding enterprises (think of post-Gorbachev Russia), they are more likely to lead to venality than socially productive work.
A terrific debate on a related point is brewing right now among my friends Mike Petrilli, Greg Foster, and Jay Greene on the question of how one ought to think about the merits of school voice vis-a-vis efforts to reform teacher tenure. Mike’s suggesting that abolishing tenure is a more “direct” route, while Greg and Jay are suggesting that they’re complementary strategies in terms of politics and substance. On this one, I’m much closer to Greg and Jay, as I’d simply argue that tenure reform is one strand of the effort to escape industrial-model schooling and create a more dynamic sector, and that choice-based reform is another.
What we have seen in Milwaukee, at least up until quite recently, is the same thing we have seen in states like Texas and Ohio when it comes to charter schooling–a worrisome lack of intention to the rules of the road, hospitability of the environment, presence of formal and informal barriers, incentives for performance, or attention to smart quality control by public entities or private actors. The results have disappointed.