Monday, August 1, 2011

Joe's Take: Sleeper Effects

The American Enterprise Institute recently hosted a discussion on a fascinating study by David Figlio of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Figlio’s study concludes that the Florida tax credit scholarship program has sparked improvement in the public schools that face new competition from nearby private schools.

We typically think of school choice as helping students who transfer out of public schools. This study showed positive effects for the students left behind. To sweeten the pie even more, the program also resulted in savings for taxpayers and higher levels of school satisfaction among participating parents.

But for me, the discussion’s key comment came from panelist Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution. Recalling that a significant outcome of the opportunity scholarship program in the District of Columbia was the higher graduation rates for scholarship recipients, Whitehurst suggested that school choice programs might deliver “sleeper effects,” not immediately measureable in math and reading scores. He said studies of some choice schools show outcomes in “soft areas, motivationally related areas, rather than skill-related areas” whose results may be seen in “aspirational differences later on.”

Discussant Jane Hannaway of the Urban Institute reinforced Whitehurst’s point, calling test scores “only partial and imperfect measures of the learning that goes on in school.” And in a similar vein, Nada Eissa, an associate professor at Georgetown University, said that in evaluating whether voucher programs are any good, these deeper effects “are the really important outcomes.” She added, “By focusing only on test scores, we may just be missing a whole lot of what’s important from the social perspective.”

I presume the panelists were talking about the effect schools can have in cultivating a culture of learning and instilling in students the desire to succeed. Some schools promote the obligation to put one’s gifts and abilities to good use in the pursuit of life’s purpose. These are the deeper lessons, the sleeper effects, the lifelong results of religious and independent schools that a short-term scale score in reading or math cannot even begin to capture. Parents seem to intuitively grasp the essential values involved. The AEI discussion is a hopeful sign that researchers are starting to do the same.

(Posted by Joe McTighe, CAPE's Executive Director)

No comments:

Post a Comment