One Myth at a Time…”Those Kids Can’t Learn.”

On Wednesday, I was a guest on a local radio show broadcasting out of Harrisburg.  During the 45 minute interview, I was to discuss school choice and why FreedomWorks is supporting vouchers.  Unlike many of the interviews I have done in the past, this one was downright hostile.  Not suspecting the amount of misinformation being spread about vouchers, I was caught off guard by a caller who took time to lash out about FreedomWorks stance on the issue. 

The caller, who identified herself as “Heather, a mom of three and PTA president”, claimed that any form of school choice, including vouchers, would open a window for “less desirable students” to attend her school.  Heather continued by saying she made a conscious choice to move schools and that the real problem with schools was, “the parents.”  Thus Heather’s entire argument says that only “certain” children should have the ability to choose their school and that virtually all the problems with our failing schools are due to negligent parents.  Let’s take a closer look at both of these.

Heather claimed that by allowing children from failing schools the opportunity to escape would bring about drastic declines in test scores for so called “good schools.”

 Is this the case? Unequivocally, no. 

Take a look at the results of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to low-income families to attend the school of their choice.  A recent National Review Online Article stated, “A congressionally mandated evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program by Patrick Wolf, which provides vouchers to low-income children in the nation’s capital, produced graduation rates 21 percentage points higher for enrolled students. Students who used a voucher to attend a private school in D.C. had a 91 percent graduation rate; graduation rates in D.C. public schools hover around 55 percent.”  

Now according to Heather’s theory, low-income students couldn’t possibly do well in a better school. Fortunately for students and supporters of school choice like me, numbers don’t lie. 

Another example of low-income students benefiting from voucher programs comes to us from Florida where according to the Washington Times, “Three years before NCLB was enacted, then-Gov. Jeb Bush decided to set clear accountability standards, and to back them up with school choice for students and meaningful rewards for good teachers.  

The article went on to say,

“The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) is the gold standard of national education achievement tests. It is not a state-designed test. Over the past decade, NAEP reading scores for Florida fourth graders have soared nine percentage points – more than twice the national gain.”

Minority students also showed tremendous progress.

 “Florida’s eighth-grade reading gains were also almost double the national average. Math scores also registered solid gains, exceeding the national average. Most impressive has been the success of minorities. Scores among Florida’s low-income black and Hispanic students have risen much faster than the national average. Hispanic fourth-graders in the Sunshine State now boast reading scores higher than the all-student average in 15 states, including California.”

These types of success stories are only a few of the dozens of similar success stories of school choice programs across this country.  If this proves anything, it is that ANY student, regardless of race and income level, when given an opportunity to succeed, will do just that.  It is only when we keep children trapped in failing schools that we see the same bad results.  Heather’s argument continues a long and shameful tradition of opponents of school choice claiming that low-income families are incapable of changing, and that low-income students cannot learn.  If this was true, then explain the successes of the above mentioned programs or the success of the Harlem Success Academy, a high performing charter school in New York City’s most economically challenged neighborhood that serves low-income, minority students.

The unique thing about school choice programs is that many of them cater to low-income families; and until their advent in the early 1990’s no other program can claim success at the level these voucher programs do.  Parents of children in failing schools are looking for a real option and why Heather, who has herself benefited from school choice, opposes school choice continues to baffle me.

If we learned anything from Heather and the others, it is that they prey on the fear of the unknown.  Fortunately, as more and more school choice programs show signs of success, I believe this argument will lose its muster.  No longer can you remain ignorant of the fact that school choice is the right choice…The numbers do not lie.

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