Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On The Pages of the Grey Lady, a Flawed Take on School Choice

After a summer of high-profile stories on school choice in the editorial pages of national newspapers, the issue is making mainstream waves again after an article in Sunday's New York Times by Natalie Hopkinson that proclaimed the failure of educational options, specifically in Washington, D.C. While the piece focuses solely on charter schools, the faulty argument could easily be applied to broader forms of choice, too -- that is hurts the middle class and helps perpetuate segregation among low-income schools in the nation's capital.

The facts, however, could not be further from that assertion.

It is not school choice that's to be blamed for low performance and a growing achievement gap; after all, school choice -- be it charters, or the city's high-performing D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program -- didn't exist long into the District's significant declines in achievement. School choice is to blame, however, for helping close that gap. Choice is too a culprit in helping improve the performance of traditional public schools, and we should stick it to school choice when we consider that students enrolled in the Opportunity Scholarship Program are more than 30 percentage points more likely to graduate than students in the traditional public school system. That's not to mention the fact that more than half of all D.C. public school students are now enrolled in a charter school.

If these options were so bad, why would families continue utilizing them, and seeing their performance improving?

The answer lies in the fact that Hopkinson's piece is based on an egregious lack of evidence or data to back up her claims. And we're not the only ones who think so. The smart folks at Dropout Nation pick apart the piece, and Matthew Yglesias over at Slate makes the same point, also accurately pointing out that all boats are actually being lifting as a result of choice.

There are even more critiques and thoughtful takes on the article, as well as a persuasive opinion piece from The Washington Examiner showing the demand for and the positive effect of vouchers.

This all goes to show that if you make claims that fly in the face of reality and fail to even make an attempt at presenting evidence to back them up, people will take note and call things as they see them.

An opinion is one thing; vague anecdotal claims without data are something completely different.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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