5-17-16 – Study Says Vermont Pubic Schools Are “Systematically” Socially Unjust

by Rob Roper

Voices for Vermont Children just published a pretty remarkable indictment of our public school system. The study, Education Matters: The Impacts of Systemic Inequity in Vermont, concludes, essentially, that public schools as they are currently operated to put it bluntly screw poor kids, minorities and those with special needs.

But wait a minute! I thought this was what independent schools did. And this was why tuitioning dollars from Vermont’s 90 school choice towns flowing to such independent schools was unjustified and an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds.

Of course, Voices for Vermont Children does not draw any common sense solutions from its research (their aim is to get more money to expand this inherently unjust system), but the problems with a one-size-fits-all, government monopoly system are quite real. Some of these “systematic inequalities” are:

  • children with disabilities and students of color all score worse on standardized tests than children who aren’t in these groups.
  • the achievement gap between income levels averages 25 percent and the racial gap averages about 18 percent.
  • dramatically different levels of suspension and expulsion for low-income students compared to their peers.

Of course this is the case, because the public school system — unlike tuitioning and school choice systems — benefits the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

Want to attend a good public school? Buy or rent a house in a high cost zip code with the best school. Too poor to afford that? Well, tough luck. The public school in your zip code isn’t meeting the particular needs of your child? Pay out of pocket to attend an independent school. Too poor to afford that? Well, tough luck. You’re powerless.

School choice and tuitioning, however, empowers families who are less well off. Can’t afford to live in the high-rent district with the good school? Don’t worry; you don’t have to to attend. The public school isn’t working for your child? No problem, we’ll use that same money to send your child to a school that better meets your child’s needs.

When everyone in a community is forced to attend a single public school – one-size-fits-all – who determines what that one size is? The wealthier, better educated parents who attend meetings, know the laws, and have the time and resources to advocate for their children.

Let’s look at outcomes for poor and minority students in the public school system vs. those who have access to school choice through voucher systems in other states. A recent series of studies by the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) repeatedly demonstrates that the real beneficiaries of choice are children in poverty, minorities, and (though not a factor in the VfVC study) English as a second language student:

Charter students in poverty in 2013 continue to have an advantage over their TPS [Traditional Public School] counterparts. The difference in 2013 is 14 additional days of learning. Both continuing and new schools have statistically significant and positive reading impacts for charter students in poverty.


Compared to the learning gains of TPS students in poverty, charter students in poverty learn significantly more in math,… Moreover, this difference in performance has widened. In 2009, charter students in poverty had about seven additional days of learning in math than their TPS peers, while in 2013 the advantage is 22 additional days of learning for charter students in poverty. Mirroring the reading findings, both continuing and new schools in 2013 have positive math impacts for charter students in poverty. ( National Charter School Study 2013)

So, if the folks at Voices for Vermont Families really wanted to go a long way toward solving the problem of systematic inequality in our public school system, they would be advocating hard for expanding school choice and empowering parents. Instead, they want to:

  • Grow the community schools model that incorporates services like health, after-school and summer programs and free meals.
  • Increase inclusion in schools by reducing expulsions and eliminating zero-tolerance policies.
  • Change the culture within schools to help more marginalized populations get involved and work to create a level playing field.

Or, in other words, keep pouring more and more money down a rat hole, expanding and rewarding a system that we know darn well doesn’t work.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

H. Brooke Paige May 18, 2016 at 3:39 am

Without the Ability to Choose, Needy Families Cannot Save Their Children from Educational Mediocracy!

The unintended consequences of “consolidation” is the elimination of school choice in many communities. The Brigham decision was expected to improve the educational experiences of students from middle and lower income families – families who lack the resources to see that their children will receive the best possible education available. In the end, the several “acts” that that followed have done little more than shuffled money from wealthier communities to poorer communities. This shuffling of tax dollars has done little to improve the educational outcomes for the most needy children (poor, handicapped or minority). Empowering parents from all income and demographic groups with the ability to decide which educational providers would be most beneficial for their children would go a long way toward breaking the cycle unacceptable educational outcomes.

The time is long overdue for Vermonters to “wake up and smell the coffee” when it comes to the monopolistic stranglehold that traditional public schools (and the teachers unions) hold on parents and the children who have no chance to decide.

H. Brooke Paige.


Jay Denault May 21, 2016 at 2:13 am

Then there is Franklin Central School!!!! Franklin being a small Vermont Town up here in the Northwest part of Vermont right on the Canadian Boarder. Believe me there is not a lot of wealthy people who live here yet we have one of the top performing Pre K-6 schools in the State with the lowest per pupil cost of all 105 similar Vermont schools. This school has never been identified as a school in “required corrective action” due to low student achievement, and has a fist full of “Silver and Gold Medallion” awards for High student achievement. But wait a minute how can that be? Well maybe it’s because the people in Franklin suffer from that frightening “common sense disease” Na, It’s probably because of the army of volunteers comprised of Parents, Grandparents, Friends, and Neighbors who after building a new school proudly donated a massive amount of time and resources to build the really cool playground out front, and multiple ball fields behind the school. Maybe it’s a local excavating company who donates their time, or maybe it’s all those volunteer T-ball baseball, softball, and hockey coaches. Maybe it’s those volunteer girl scout leaders, or all those field trip volunteers. Could be but maybe it’s because the school is the location of the annual Volunteer Fireman’s Chicken Barbecue, or the annual Senior Citizen’s Banquet, or the annual Pancake Breakfast, or the annual Thanksgiving Banquet, or the annual Christmas or Spring Concerts. Well that’s certainly possible but I bet it also has something with a devoted staff who always seem to have something going on; The school spelling team which won the regional competition and went on to the State competition. Students winning the Franklin Grand Isle United Way Drawing/Coloring Contest. Student winners in the Reading Is An Investment program. Maybe it’s the speech contests, sports teams, Girls on the Run health program, concerts, and Memorial day parade performances. Maybe it’s the student productions of “Charlotte’s Web, Snow White, or The Wizard of OZ,or the students who participated in the District Music Festival, or the students chosen for the Vermont Youth Orchestra ensembles, or students learning how to sing three part harmony. Oh but wait there is more, maybe it’s the Modern Woodman Speech Contest, or the Elk’s Writing Contest, field trips to the historic in town Haston Library, and a civil war era historic Log Cabin site. Maybe it’s the Fire Safety education provided by the Franklin Fire Department, or the Historical Society’s presentation of “School Long Ago” or the Farm to School program’s School garden, and cider pressing. Maybe it’s the students who get their turn to have the honor to raise the “Stars and Stripes” every morning on the flag pole in front of the school. There’s much more, but maybe it’s the fact that whenever there is an event hosted by the school you have to get there early or you won’t find a parking place. Even more importantly it’s those compassionate citizens who use the school anonymously to make donations for students who’s parents can’t afford to buy a new winter coat, or shoes, a baseball glove, food, fuel, just to name a few. It’s not always about money, it’s more about priorities, dedication, caring, a sense of community, and local control. The good people of Franklin know full well what they have here and they will not give it up…..Act 46 or not!!!!!!


Jim Bulmer May 21, 2016 at 4:58 pm

Wonder if the parents of these needy kids are as involved in their education as that of better off parents. As for throwing money at the problem, that’s a typical government non-solution. Vermont, as we all so well know, spends more on our kids with less results.


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