School choice: Given a choice, parents vote with their feet

15 Dec

Most parents want the best for their children and will make many sacrifices to give their children a good life. In the movie Waiting for Superman, a remarkable group of parents was trying to overcome the odds stacked against their children in failing public schools. David Miller Sadker, PhD,  Karen R. Zittleman, PhD in  Teachers, Schools, and Society  list the characteristics of a strong school. Strong schools must be found in all areas. At present, that is not true.  It is particularly important where student populations face challenges. Strong principals, effective teachers and parental involvement are key to strong schools. Charmaine Loever describes  What Makes A Principal Effective? It really doesn’t matter the income level or the color of the parent, most want the best for their child.

Perhaps, the best testimonial about this school comes from an editorial which describes the emotions of one parent. The NY Daily News editorial, My Baby Is Learning  describes a protest against charter schools:

Those words were spoken by a mother who had brought her child for the first day of classes at Harlem Success Academy 2 Charter School – and faced loud protesters with her youngster.

The demonstrators were part of a movement that portrays charter schools as an elitist threat to public education. They are not. They are publicly funded schools that admit neighborhood kids by lottery. Their students far outperform children in traditional public schools.

Charters have proliferated in Harlem, and thousands of parents have children on waiting lists – a trend that has driven activists, including state Sen. Bill Perkins, into shamefully charging that charters are creating a separate and “unequal” system.

But parents, the vast majority of them minorities, know better. Like the woman who confronted the protesters, they’re flocking to charters as a way out of failing local schools. And the bottom line for them is crystal-clear: Their babies are learning. 

The only way to overcome the great class divide is to give all children a first class education. AP reports in the article, More Students Leaving Failing Schools which was printed in the Seattle Times that given the choice, many parents choose to take their kids out of failing schools. Well, duh.

There is no one magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is what works for a given population of children.  Andrew Rotherham has an excellent article in Time, The 5 Biggest Myths About School Vouchers

1. Vouchers skim the best students from public schools. Although many voucher proponents want universal vouchers, today, the programs are targeted to specific populations, for instance low-income students or students with disabilities. So while vouchers don’t generally serve the absolute poorest of the poor, they do not skim off the most affluent or easiest-to-educate students either….

2. Students who receive vouchers do better academically than their public school peers. That depends on the measure. Overall the test scores of students who use vouchers are largely indistinguishable from students who stay behind in public schools. On the other hand, parent satisfaction is generally greater among parents whose children received vouchers. And while it’s too soon to tell for sure, there is some evidence that other outcomes, for instance graduation rates, may be better for students who receive vouchers. ….

3. Vouchers drain money from the public schools. It seems obvious that taking money from the public schools and sending it to private schools would leave public schools with less money. But in the through the looking glass world of school finance, things rarely are what they seem. In Milwaukee for instance, Robert Costrell of the School Choice Demonstration Project analyzed the financial outcomes of the voucher program and found that it is saving money in Wisconsin. And, in Washington, D.C. there was an infusion of federal funds into the city’s public schools in exchange for the passage of the voucher program.

4. Vouchers make all schools get better because they have to compete for students. It seems logical to assume that forcing schools to vie for students will improve quality. But schools are not economic entities like a store and respond differently to competition — for instance by going to court or to lobby state legislators. There have been vouchers for years in Cleveland and Milwaukee yet the schools there are still generally poor quality. In Washington almost a third of the city’s students were using various choice options (mostly charter schools) before the public schools began to make real changes. But, we’re still learning. Researchers at the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research have found evidence that competition improved schools in Florida.

5. Private, parochial, or even public charter schools are better than regular public schools. Parents should worry a lot less about the legal status of a particular school than whether it’s the right school for their child. A good fit depends on a host of factors including a strong academic program, successful outcomes, a clear curriculum, areas of emphasis like arts or technology, and even lifestyle factors such as limiting time spent in transit or a year-round schedule. Just because a school is private doesn’t mean it is better overall or better for your child and even in places where the public schools are struggling overall there are often hidden gems. ….

School Choices has information about School Vouchers

Education News is reporting in the article, First Year Success for Indiana Voucher Program

A new school voucher system, whereby students can have up to 90 percent of the cost of tuition paid for them, has aided almost 4,000 Indiana students who have been attending private schools in the last year, writes John Martin at the Courier Press.

The program’s first-year cap was 7,500, and although this was not reached, advocates of the taxpayer-funded scheme are said to be pleased with the participation level.

“We had only a short window to implement the program,” said School Choice Indiana Executive Director Lindsey Brown.

“We were never concerned we were going to hit the cap.”

“Other programs have had months to get started, get implemented, we did this in 6 to 8 weeks,” added Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.

The majority of voucher recipients are from metropolitan areas, while 15 percent from rural areas. 53 percent of voucher recipients are minorities. School Choice Indiana claims 85 percent of students who receive vouchers also qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

“It wasn’t that the public schools were bad, but they wanted a school that shared their values or met their needs in a certain way,” said Paul Bair, director of Evansville Christian School, which accepts vouchers.

Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporations officials say that they have lost some students to vouchers this year but also have accepted some transfer students from nonpublic schools.

Annabel Ortiz-Lopez is a parent of two children who are receiving vouchers to attend their schools. She said she is grateful for an opportunity she otherwise would not have had.

“We liked where we were before in public school, but ECS expects more out of the kids,” said Ortiz-Lopez.

“(My kids) are excelling.”

As the voucher law matures into its second year, as many as 15,000 will be awarded. It is thought that there will be no caps on the limits after that.

The next great civil rights struggle will be education equity for low-income and poor children.  ALL options for educating children must be on the table.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

One Response to “School choice: Given a choice, parents vote with their feet”


  1. Fordham Foundation study: Parents favor school choice | drwilda - August 28, 2013

    […] The next great civil rights struggle will be education equity for low-income and poor children. ALL options for educating children must be on the table. […]

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