Dr. John Storey, leader of the ACSI in the Northeast Region, joined a panel discussion today. The panel was defending the role private schools could play in educating the children of Pennsylvania if Senate Bill 1 were enacted. The following is Dr. Storey's prepared speech for the House Democratic Panel
John W. Storey, Ed.D.
Association of Christian Schools International
Testimony Before the Pennsylvania General Assembly House Democratic Policy Committee
April 7, 2011
Chairman Sturla and members of the Democratic Policy Committee, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you today on this important matter of school choice.
My name is Dr. John Storey, I am the Northeast Regional Director for the Association of Christian Schools International. I have been an educator for over 30 years as a teacher, head of school and as a consultant to schools for ACSI. I am also a adjunct professor for three universities, the founder of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Council for American Private Education and serve as a Commissioner for the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges.
My mission in my career is to do everything possible to improve the quality of education for students. I have chosen to do this within the private school community, mainly in Christian schools, although I am deeply concerned about quality education for all young people.
School choice already exists. I chose to send my children to a private school, despite the fact that I pay taxes to the public school system. Others choose to home school their children. Yet other families choose to send their children to public schools. There are parents who are not afforded these choices because of financial and work considerations.
School choice at the post-secondary level has existed since the 1940’s. The GI Bill has provides money to people serving in the military to attend the private or public college or university of their choice. Other grants, such as PHEA enable students to choose the school at which they will receive their education. We have built a world class system of higher education on this model.
School choice within public education has always existed. Most parents, when choosing where to live, take into account the quality of the public school system when purchasing or renting a home. It is parents who cannot afford housing in some school districts who are left without a choice. This is the beauty of Senate Bill 1 --- It enables these poor families to have a choice—most for the first time.
The most important rationale for school choice is that parents are the ones best able to know which school will best educate their child. One of the core values of our society is our respect and support of the family. Our parents choose the doctor their child goes to, they choose the church their children will attend, they choose the food their children will eat, and the list goes on. However, because of the method of funding education, the majority of parents are left without a choice of where their children will attend school.
Choice is not about giving up on the public schools or the many fine individuals working within them; there is no reason that government schools could not flourish under choice. Indeed, by providing autonomy – the key to success in almost any human endeavor—as well as an unequivocal mandate to please customers, choice could be the best thing that ever happened to the good teachers and principals in public schools.
A study of our free-enterprise system shows us that product quality is enhanced when competition exists. Those products having little value, in low demand, or of inferior quality do not remain very long in a market economy. It is believed by many, and research supports the fact that competition will improve the educational system in this country. America spends more money, per pupil, on education than almost every other country and yet our testing indicates that we are low on the outcome ladder.
Most fully informed opponents to school choice do so not out of concern for the quality of education but because they are either politically aligned with educational unions or they are threatened by the accountability choice will bring.
I applaud a public school district in Colorado which this week approved a school choice initiative. The following is a quote from the Denver Post on Monday, April 4, 2011:
“After months of study, roiling controversy and emotional debate, the Douglas County school board Tuesday night unanimously approved a groundbreaking plan to help pay tuition for hundreds of students to attend private schools.
The pilot program, which will be reviewed each year, would make up to 500 students eligible to receive $4,575 to attend a private school in the 2011-12 school year.
"This is an important night for Douglas County," said board president John Carson. "This is the finest school district in the state of Colorado, and I believe the action we take tonight will make it even better."
The district estimates it would save about $3 million by having 500 fewer students. The district would pay about $2.29 million in voucher scholarships, but when CSAP and other expenses are deducted, the district might actually net $402,500.” This is from a public school board. I would love to see this type of objectivity, pragmatism and progressivism in Pennsylvania!
There is so much misinformation out there regarding school choice and particularly Senate Bill 1. A recent television commercial, funded by Moveon.org is essentially trying to convince Commonwealth citizens that this is a one billion dollar entitlement which will raise property taxes. The only accurate piece of the propaganda is that it correctly indicates that it is Senate Bill 1.
Another piece of misinformation is that private schools provide an inferior quality of education or that there are no measures to insure accountability. I would suggest that government as the ultimate measure of accountability is a flawed concept. Market forces provide much better quality control. If parents pull their children from our schools we cease to exist. Therefore, private school accountability is inherently geared to providing a high quality of education.
The Association of Christian Schools International exists for the purposes of “enabling Christian educators and schools to prepare students for life.” We do this by assisting schools to provide a better quality education. Our premiere service is school accreditation. Those schools accredited with ACSI can be dually accredited with the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools or their respective regional accrediting body if they choose to. These dual agreements exist because the accrediting bodies have recognized ACSI standards of accreditation to be substantively equivalent to their own. Interestingly accreditation is a growing trend in private education and a diminishing trend among public schools. In these schools, teachers are degreed (many with advanced degrees) and certified and schools report annually on their progress on working on quality indicators.
ACSI has 200 member schools in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. One of the pieces of misinformation is that private schools only enroll the best and brightest students. Our data indicates that the students enrolled in our schools reflect the demographic of the area they live in, including academic achievement at the time of admission. Many of our schools take in students with learning disabilities and IEP’s. My daughter was diagnosed with learning disabilities and because of a program provided through the National Institute for Learning Development at our local private Christian school will graduate from college in May with honors and has been accepted into graduate school.
ACSI has a national testing program, currently using the Stanford Achievement test. Over 70% of our member schools use this program, the majority of others use another nationally normed test of their choosing. The results of these tests indicate that our schools are consistently two years ahead of their peers in every major educational discipline (see addendum to my testimony for the data).
In addition, private schools comply with a long list of state regulations:
- Compulsory attendance
- Minimum days and hours of instruction
- Minimum course requirements
- Graduation requirements
- Health and safety regulations such as fire, cleanliness, building construction, playground safety, lighting, heating, food safety, and emergency response, for example.
- Staff background check requirements
97.5% of students graduate from private high schools. Of those graduates, over 90% go on to attend either a two or four-year institute of higher learning.
I recently visited Philadelphia Mennonite High School. This is a fully accredited high school serving poor minority students in the City of Philadelphia. This school has experienced 100% of their graduates being accepted into the college and many to Ivy League schools.
The bottom line is, Private schools can only stay open if parents choose to send their child to these schools. Therefore, accountability to our parents and communities is and will continue to be a top priority. We are not however opposed to reasonable modes of accountability which will not impinge upon the mission of our private schools.
In conclusion, the Association of Christian Schools International supports Senate Bill 1 and will work tirelessly to ensure that the quality of education in our schools exceeds all reasonable qualitative standards. We believe that this bill will improve the plight of financially distressed families and in turn improve the quality of education in the public schools impacted by this legislation.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my testimony with you today and urge each of you to give a look to Senate Bill 1 and the corresponding House legislation beyond the politics and do what is right for the students in our Commonwealth schools.