Choice changes parents

When low-income D.C. parents get a voucher for their child’s education, choice changes lives, writes columnist Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post, citing an independent report on the program.

Strikingly, the report’s authors found that the parents aren’t just happy; they’re involved in their children’s education, and increasingly so the longer they are in the program, despite challenges related to time and transportation.

They also are demanding consumers. Parents visited an average of three schools before selecting one; the small minority who were disappointed with their first choice visited even more as they weighed the possibility of moving their children. They were primarily looking, the report found, for “smaller class size, a more rigorous curriculum and school safety.”

A study will be out soon comparing the achievement of scholarship students in the first year of private school to those who applied but didn’t get a voucher.

The program is open only to low-income families, who average $21,100 a year for a family of four. The report found parents’ greatest fear is getting a raise and earning too much for their children to continue in their new schools.

Four students apply for each $7,500 scholarship. A lottery decides who gets an alternative to the district’s dysfunctional school system.

Hiatt points out the vouchers passed with only four Democratic votes and must be reauthorized by a Democratic-controlled Congress.

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  1. My guess is that this study, and common sense, won’t have the slightest impact on the condescending, and in some cases self-interested, assumption that poor parents can’t make reasoned, thoughtful choices when it comes to educating their children. All they need are schools that need them.

  2. wayne martin says:

    > Yet the program may have a lesson for the larger
    > reform, too, given that defenders of the District’s
    > troubled schools often place much blame on the
    > absence of family input. It seems that parents — when
    > they are given choices, when they are provided with
    > information to make those choices meaningful,
    > and when they are treated respectfully as
    > consumers of education — take their jobs seriously,
    > and participate more and more. It doesn’t matter
    > if they’re poor or rich.

    This point-of-view would seem to be common knowledge, from looking at successful schools nationwide. However, there is a not-too-subtle twist in this paragraph. The parents have been cast as “customers”, as passive participants in the education process. The “schools” are cast in a “active” role more than the parents. Government is the answer. Doubtless this is the message that most people have been given by a century and a half of government schools. However, parents are free to become involved with/without the government. Of course, this means that the parents need to be “educated” to the point of understanding their role and their natural empowerment at parents to be involved.

    If the government schools can eventually educate a couple of generations of Americans to understand this, then the staggering problem of low-performing government schools might come to an end. There are so many examples of alternatives to government schools that seem to work well that it’s difficult not to start remolding the government schools in the model of the more successful alternatives.

  3. Picturing the three-fourths who lined up for the lottery, and then had to walk away having failed to get their kids into better schools, just bugs me.

  4. Prof210 says:

    Gee, we’ve waited this long, let’s wait a bit longer and see the study. When the law was passed, this was supposed to be the best designed study of vouchers possible.

  5. Bernadette says:

    Is School Voucher really the answer–I think Not. Public Schools are broken and MUST be fixed. Giving vouchers to attend private schools will indeed help that family–but what about the other hundreds that are not helped. We must demand more accountability not only of our schools, but parents, communities and other stakeholders.

  6. “…Giving vouchers to attend private schools will indeed help that family…”

    Refreshing, coming from a voucher opponent.

    But so far I haven’t seen any evidence that vouchers actually harm public schools.

  7. mike from oregon says:

    “The report found parents’ greatest fear is getting a raise and earning too much for their children to continue in their new schools.”

    As it is with many government programs – I find myself in a similar situation where the program will provide me with something that would be difficult or impossible to do on my own. However, I’m close to the cut off income line, I’ll be turning down a raise because the raise would disqualify me for the program but the raise would never get me close to what the program will provide. Only after I’m in the program (a helping hand) will I accept the raise and start turning down/dis-qualifying for the program.

    It’s silly too, I make so little, but a small raise will totally cut me off from this program and put my dream out of reach. Being in this position allows me to see both sides as I have issues with those who ‘milk’ the system. However, cutoff rules are far too rigid with very little in the way of ‘scaling-down’ as someone is better able to help themselves. It’s very much you get help or you don’t get help – period. It seems to be the old adage, a few bad apples spoil the barrel, enough folks have cheated government programs that the need for cut-and-dried rules has come about.

  8. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    Not too long ago (maybe one-two weeks ago) there was an at-length article in “The Economist” that shows that vouchers indeed work. If I had it in front of me, I would perhaps share some quotes. But once again, we are shown that competition over students – and the money they bring – makes schools and education better. Shocking!