Putting Education Reform To The Test

Private Schools Should Accept Some Scrutiny Along With McKay Scholarships

The Fordham Institute

If private schools want to accept McKay Scholarships, Adam Emerson with the Fordham Institute writes, they should also accept some oversight.

Florida’s special education scholarship program needs more accountability, a school choice researcher argues, despite opposition from a coalition of schools which administer the scholarships.

Last week the Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools said a majority of their members would no longer participate in Florida’s scholarship program for students with disabilities if they were required to administer the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The group also disagreed with the conclusions of a survey by the Fordham Institute that most private schools could agree with state-required standardized testing.

But Adam Emerson with The Fordham Institute says the McKay Coalition arguments against testing don’t hold up.

Most McKay schools already use a national standardized test, Emerson writes, so why not make the results public? And three-quarters of McKay students have milder disabilities, and would have received moderate accommodations during FCAT testing at public schools.

School administering the McKay Scholarship must submit to some degree of scrutiny because the scholarships are publicly funded, Emerson writes.

All this points to what motivates the McKay Coalition in the first place: maintaining the conditions that allow for as few regulations as is possible. Its previous statements about testing imply it believes that no method of public assessment or public scrutiny is permissible. To be sure, an innovative policy like the McKay Scholarship shouldn’t get in the way of a private school’s autonomy or its freedom to be different. But taxpayers shouldn’t be left in the dark about the educational value of the investment they have made.


  • Fred Michaels

    The issue however is that while still within the public education sector, taking the FCAT, these students have (in many cases) not been able to properly have their abilities assessed. This is also at a time when the state itself is looking at ways to reduce the impact of the FCAT given the “teach to the test” montra. Nevermind the fact is is proven and accepted that students with special needs do not always perform to ability during such assessments.
    Furthermore, Mr. Emerson shows a certain level of ignorance about the program. All schools who participate are required to administer an annual assessment from a list already mandated by the State of Florida to monitor student progress, with the state having the right to request this information on demand. However, because of the nature of students receiving the McKay Scholarship, not all of these assessments are standardized assessments. Without having someone present to properly put scores in perspective, such informaiton can be extremely misleading and damaging to a student (and a school if not reviewed in context).
    Because students with special needs are unique, year-over-year analysis is not valid since severity of service needs and ability levels can drastically change with the simple graduation of one group or the arrival of new persons. One year a school shows great SAT 10 scores, the next they show a 20% drop. A layperson may assume there is something wrong with the school. They will have no clue that the reason for the drop is the average length of time a student has been in the private program just changed from 5 years to 2, thus students still require additional remediation. There is no method of informing to the fact the severity of the challenges of newer students might be more difficult than those that just graduated. The answer is not as clear cut as this article makes it out to be.

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