Tuesday, February 28, 2012

School Choice Mythbusters

Every day, opponents to education reform spend a lot of time, energy, and money perpetuating myths about school choice. But the reality is that not only do private school choice programs empower parents to choose the education they feel is best for their children, but they also work! 

We've compiled some of the most prevalent myths on school choice and what the facts really say about educational options:

10. School choice programs drain money from public schools

School choice programs help public schools and save money for taxpayers.  The cost of a scholarship is often less than the cost to send a student to public school.  For example, in Washington, D.C., the cost to educate a student in the D.C. Public Schools in 2009 was $16,408.  The maximum scholarship amount under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is $12,000.  So not only does it cost less to provide scholarships to students, but these students have higher levels of educational attainment.  And that’s not all, many public school systems receive a portion of the funding for each child participating in a school choice program—even though that child does not attend public school.

As for helping public schools, six studies in Florida, five studies in Milwaukee, and one study in Arizona show positive competitive effects of voucher programs on achievement for students in traditional public schools.

9. School choice looks to privatize education

School choice is about providing educational options to families and ensuring that all children receive an education that will transform their lives regardless of the system that provides that education.  School choice fundamentally is about choice; and that choice can include public schools, private schools, magnet schools, public charter schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.  Education reformer and school choice supporter Michelle Rhee has said it best:  “My job is to make sure that every single child […] gets a great education.  I am agnostic as to the delivery mechanism.”

8. School choice takes the “best” kids out of public schools

Students who are doing poorly in public schools are most likely to take advantage of school choice programs.  Generally, students who succeed in a public school see no need to switch schools.  School choice programs do not provide academic scholarships, but rather scholarships based on family incomes or special needs—student populations that studies show are often academically behind their peers.

7. School choice programs discriminate against children with special needs and children from low-income families

On the contrary, 10 private school choice programs are specifically designed for children with special needs.  Whether a voucher program, a scholarship tax credit program, or an education savings accounts, these programs are specifically tailored to meet the needs of students’ needs.  Moreover, 24 of the 27 school choice programs serve children with special needs or students from low-income families.  In addition, these programs have to meet nondiscrimination policies.

6. School choice is a republican, right-wing issue

Both Democrats and Republicans support school choice because school choice is about educating children, not political agendas.  In fact, many prominent Democrats support school choice including Senator Joe Lieberman, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, Senator Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Congressman Daniel Lipinski, Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Williams, Georgia State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan, Wisconsin State Representative Jason Fields, Former Chancellor of D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee, and many many more!

5.  School choice is unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court and many state supreme courts have ruled that private school choice programs—including vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs—are constitutional.  In fact, the Supreme Court upheld that scholarship tax credit programs are constitutional, when the high court ruled in favor of Arizona’s Individual School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program in April 2011.  Additionally, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, Arizona’s Corporate School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program, and Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program have all been affirmed by the courts.

4. Parents don’t know what’s best

Many have taken a shocking approach in their opposition to education reform initiatives: blaming parents.  From blaming parents to saying that parents don’t know what’s best for their children, this has become the new norm.  But school choice bucks this trend because we’re all about EMPOWERING parents.  Systems don’t know children; but parents do.  School choice is about putting the power in parents’ hands and letting the education dollars fund their decision—not a system.  And parent surveys from Wisconsin, to Louisiana, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. show high levels of parental satisfaction with school choice programs.

3. School choice is unfair and not the answer

…only if you’re set on protecting the status quo.  School choice is the answer when you’re talking about educational options.  And these programs should always be paired with additional options that include public school choice and public charter schools.  No child should have to attend a failing school and our children don’t have the five or 10 years to wait for their school to get better.  School choice programs help the very students that don’t have alternative options.  What’s unfair is keeping students from low-income families in failing schools.

2. There is no accountability in school choice programs

On the contrary, all school choice programs have accountability standards that include administrative, financial, and academic accountability.  For example, all programs must meet nondiscrimination checks.  In addition, many programs require standardized assessments, public reporting of results, background checks, and proof of financial viability.

1. Research shows vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs don’t work

Nine out of 10 “gold standard” studies on private school choice programs concluded that some or all participating students benefited academically with positive and significant achievement impacts from using a voucher to attend a private school. The “gold standard” studies were conducted in six cities by seven independent research teams. And across the board, students using vouchers receive the equivalent to an extra month of learning per year.

And students who used opportunity scholarships as a result of the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program graduated at a rate of 91 percent, 21 percentage points higher than those interested in the program who did not receive a scholarship, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

- American Federation for children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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