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Testing doesn't scare off private schools accepting vouchers, report says



Tony Bennett, Florida's new education commissioner, has taken the FCAT by the tail when it comes to the issue of requiring private schools that accept state voucher funds administer state tests and be graded as any public school.

He told the Gradebook of his support for the idea back in December, shortly after Gov. Rick Scott floated the concept. And he's reiterated the point in several public appearances since.

The notion didn't seem to carry much weight in the Legislature just a year ago. Rep. Richard Corcoran proposed allowing voucher-receiving private schools to voluntarily opt into the FCAT system, but wouldn't take the next step. Asked why he didn't push the matter, he told the Gradebook, "I don't have to walk into a bar and go up to a six-foot-six guy who looks pretty mean and say, 'You're a piece of (junk) and I want to kick your butt' to know what the consequences are going to be."

But perhaps the fears are misplaced, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The think tank has found that very few private school leaders interviewed would stop taking the vouchers if subjected to additional accountability, as its Choice Words blog points out:

"Researchers David Stuit and Sy Doan find little evidence that policymakers should avoid testing requirements for fear that private schools will avoid voucher and tax credit scholarship programs altogether. In fact, in a survey of school leaders who qualify for four existing private school choice programs, just 25 percent said that state assessment rules figured “very importantly” into their decision on whether to participate.

Of greater concern to these school leaders were laws that forced them to revise their admissions criteria or restricted their religious practices, indicating that private schools were allergic to policies that made them less “private.” But, chiefly, just 3 percent of private schools that opted not to participate in these programs cited government regulations as the most important reason. Indeed, more schools opted out because there weren’t enough eligible students in their vicinity to begin with."

Perhaps the bigger resistance might come from the anti-high-stakes-testing crowd, which opposes the expansion of state testing systems even for the sake of evaluating private schools taking state funds. That's how Florida House Democrats reacted to Corcoran's proposal last year.

Check out the report by Stuit and Doan here. What are your thoughts regarding the idea of requiring private schools that take state voucher funds to administer the state accountability exam and then be graded?

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 1:08pm]


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