In our last blog post “The Implications of Public School Privatization,” I referred to an article by Diane Ravitch that recently appeared in The New York Review of Books. That article claimed that the school privatization movement is largely composed of social conservatives, corporations, and business-friendly foundations. In a recent article by Janet Reitman, in Rolling Stone, “Betsy DeVos’ Holy War,” the author argues that the movement to privatize public schools is also sponsored, at least in part, by those who, like Betsy DeVos, would prefer to de-secularize schools and create institutions that reflect market friendly Christian values.
Betsy DeVos, embodies a nexus of wealth and hyper conservative Christianity. Her goals include support of “school choice” (i.e., voucher systems that direct tax money for public schools toward private and parochial schools) and, according to Reitman, the promotion of the religious colonization of public education, and more broadly, American society. (See also, “Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America’s Schools to Build ‘God’s Kingdom’” Kristina Rizga, Mar/Apr 2017 Issue, Mother Jones.
DeVos, as is well documented, is not deeply acquainted with public education—neither she nor her children attended public schools; she has never served on a school board, nor been an educator. DeVos who hails from a wealthy, Calvinist, Western Michigan dynasty that includes among other resources, her husband’s multi-billion dollar Amway fortune, and her father’s auto parts fortune (among other profitable ventures, her father, Edgar Prince, invented the lighted, automobile sun visor) now finds herself at the helm of the federal Department of Education. She appears to be even less a friend of public education than she is familiar with it. DeVos has devoted a substantial part of her political and philanthropic career to advocating for the privatization of public schools, and her home sate of Michigan has the highest number of for-profit charter schools in the nation. To learn more about DeVos’ plans for public schools in America, you can read this intriguing article “Betsy DeVos’ Holy War,” The resources below offer additional insights into Secretary DeVos and her plans for public schools.
“Six astonishing things Betsy DeVos said — and refused to say — at her confirmation hearing” Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, January 18, 2016
“Education for Sale?” Linda Darling Hammond The Nation, March 27, 2017
“Betsy DeVos: Fighter for kids or destroyer of public schools?” Lori Higgins, Kathleen Gray, November 23, 2016, Detroit Free Press.
“The Betsy DeVos Hearing Was an Insult to Democracy” Charles Pierce, Esquire
“Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America’s Schools to Build ‘God’s Kingdom’” Kristina Rizga, Mar/Apr 2017 Issue, Mother Jones
“Why are Republicans so cruel to the poor? Paul Ryan’s profound hypocrisy stands for a deeper problem” Chauncey DeVega, March 23, 2017
In a recent review of two books, Education and the Commercial Mindset and School Choice: The End of Public Education, which appears in the December 8, 2016 New York Review of Books, Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education during the George HW Bush presidency, discusses the implications of corporate designs on public education. Ravitch begins her review by reminding us that, “Privatization means that a public service is taken over by for-profit business whose highest goal is profit.” In the name of market-driven efficiency, she argues, the “education industry” is likely to become increasingly similar to privatized hospitals and prisons. In these industries, as in many others, corporate owners, in their loyalty to investors’ desire for profits, tend to eliminate unions, reduce employee benefits, continually cut costs of operation, and orient to serving those who are least expensive to serve.
Ravitch sketches some of the challenges posed by charter schools, noting that “…they can admit the students they want, exclude those they do not want, and push out the ones who do not meet their academic or behavioral standards.” She says, that charters not only “drain away resources from public schools” but they also “leave the neediest, most expensive students to the public schools to educate.” Moreover, as Josh Moon recently noted in his article, “’School choice’ is an awful choice,” “If the “failing school” is indeed so terrible that we’re willing to reroute tax money from it to a private institution that’s not even accredited, then what makes it OK for some students to attend that failing school?”
While some argue that charter schools can “save children from failing public schools” research on student outcomes for charter school has shown mixed results. For example, The Education Law Center, in “Charter School Achievement: Hype vs Evidence” reports:
Research on charter schools paints a mixed picture. A number of recent national studies have reached the same conclusion: charter schools do not, on average, show greater levels of student achievement, typically measured by standardized test scores, than public schools, and may even perform worse.
The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found in a 2009 report that 17% of charter schools outperformed their public school equivalents, while 37% of charter schools performed worse than regular local schools, and the rest were about the same. A 2010 study by Mathematica Policy Research found that, on average, charter middle schools that held lotteries were neither more nor less successful than regular middle schools in improving student achievement, behavior, or school progress. Among the charter schools considered in the study, more had statistically significant negative effects on student achievement than statistically significant positive effects. These findings are echoed in a number of other studies.
In Michigan, Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos’s home state, 80 percent of charter schools operate as for-profit organizations. Ravitch says, “They perform no better than public schools, and according to the Detroit Free Press, they make up a publicly subsidized $1 billion per year industry with no accountability.”
Ravitch tells us that the privatization movement is largely composed of social conservatives, corporations, and business-friendly foundations. “These days, those who call themselves “education reformers” are likely to be hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and billionaires, not educators. The “reform” movement loudly proclaims the failure of American public education and seeks to turn public dollars over to entrepreneurs, corporate chains, mom-and-pop operations, religious organizations, and almost anyone else who wants to open a school.”
The Trump administration is likely to further advance a public-school privatization and school voucher agenda. The extent and results of such “reforms” are hard to predict. That said, as Ravitch argues “… there is no evidence for the superiority of privatization in education. Privatization divides communities and diminishes commitment to that which we call the common good. When there is a public school system, citizens are obligated to pay taxes to support the education of all children in the community, even if they have no children in the schools themselves. We invest in public education because it is an investment in the future of society.” How continued privatization of public k-12 education will affect an increasingly economically privatized and socially and politically divided society is not yet known.
One of the most important questions to consider before starting an evaluation is, “How will evaluation findings be used?” There are a number of ways the findings from an evaluation can be used. These include:
- to improve the program (formative evaluation)
- to make judgements about the ultimate value/benefits of the program to participants and stakeholders (summative evaluation)
- to sustain and/or expand the program
- to document and publicize the program’s achievements (outreach and marketing)
- to curtail the program
By being clear about the intended uses of evaluation findings, organizations can choose the most effective and stakeholder-relevant evaluation design. If, for example, a program funder wants to know whether their investment yielded desired outcomes for program participants, it may not be useful to focus the evaluation on gathering data that primarily indicate ways to improve the program’s delivery. On the other hand, if an organization is curious about how its programming is being implemented, and if such implementation is in fidelity with a research-based program design, the evaluation will want to focus more on implementation processes, rather than ultimate program outcomes.
Needless to say, stipulating the use of evaluation findings is closely related to the question of who are the major audiences for the evaluation. See our previous post, Identifying Evaluation Stakeholders. By clarifying potential audiences for findings, organizations and evaluators can identify the most useful evaluation strategy and design. In the next blog post we will discuss a related question, i.e., “What information will stakeholders find useful and valuable?”
- Who are the major stakeholders or interested parties for evaluation results?
- Who wants/needs to know?
- Who will benefit from knowing about the effectiveness of your program’s efforts?
- Make a list of key stakeholders and what they might want to know.
- Current funders
- Potential funders
- Community stakeholders
- Advocacy organizations
- Government agencies
- Colleagues/Internal organizational constituencies
- Peer organizations
- Program managers and program staff
- The “field”/general public
- Political allies
This is the first in a series of blog posts, that outlines the key elements of an evaluation.
There are many things in the world that can be evaluated. You will want to decide and define the specific object (i.e. the “evaluand”) of the evaluation. One useful approach is for program managers, and program implementers to speak with the evaluator, and together, consider these defining questions about what needs to be evaluated:
Whether you are managing a program, funding an initiative, or about to undertake a policy review, you will want to first consider:
What is the “it” that’s being evaluated?
- set of processes or relationships
Once you’ve identified what is being evaluated, it will be useful to consider these additional questions:
- What’s being done? What are the intentional actions that are being undertaken?
- Who does what to whom, and when do they do it?
- Why—for what set of reasons—are these things being done? Describe the need for the initiative or program?
- Who (which people, and which positions) are doing/carrying out the of the program, initiative, policy?
- What resources (i.e. inputs) are involved? (not just money and time, but knowledge, cooperation of others, networks of collaborators, etc.)
- Who (or what) are implementers working to change? What specifically is supposed to change, or be different as a result of the program or initiative doing what it does?
- Describe who benefits (e.g. program participants, beneficiaries, consumers, etc.) and what the benefits are.
By clearly identifying a determinate entity (i.e., “evaluand”) and the effects (i.e., outcomes) of the operation or implementation of that entity, you will help to ensure a successful evaluation. The clearer you can be in describing what the program, initiative, or policy is, the more effective the evaluation will be. Answering the above questions and sketching out a logic model of the program’s operation (which we’ll discuss in a subsequent blog post), will ensure an effective, accurate, and ultimately highly useful evaluation.
Also, for purposes of clarity, it may be useful for program managers and implementers to consider and discuss with the evaluator what isn’t being evaluated. This conversation can help to define the necessary boundaries around the program and will help to prevent evaluators expending unnecessary and potentially costly efforts to design evaluations of things that exist outside the boundary of the initiative, program or policy.