Friday, February 20, 2009

Research-based BS

Paul Peterson is a conservative, Harvard-based professor and school voucher die-hard whose work is funded by the Olin Foundation. Funny thing is, his controversial and questionable research methods invariably lead to the exact same conclusion--vouchers are great and privatization is the panacea for all life's problems.

Now Peterson has come out with a new study of Philadelphia's long-discredited privatization initiative during Paul Vallas' tenure as schools chief. Rand had already done a comprehensive study showing that the district's 62 privately-managed charter schools failed to outperform the very local neighborhood schools they were intended to replace. This, even though the private managers were given an extra $92 million over 4 years.

Peterson takes another look at the 2002 reform experiment in an attempt to reverse the verdict on privatization--and he does, in a weird sort of way. He finds that charters run by for-profit companies scored a little better on standardized tests than those run by non-profits. What the significance of that is, Peterson never makes clear. In reality, there is a symbiotic relationship between charters run by profits and non-profits. Often, the non-profit is given the charter and then sub-contracts the school's operations to a for-profit company. Peterson never tells us what it is about the for-profit-managed schools that accounted for their bump in test scores.

But his most significant finding is just mentioned in passing in this NY Post article:
We did not detect a significant difference between progress under for-profit managers and what would have happened under district management.
That's right. He said it. No detectable difference between the for-profits and district-managed schools. Peterson, while trying to make the focus, profit vs. non-profit managed charters, can't help but confirm what the Rand study already demonstrated. Privatization was a big, expensive bust in Philly.

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