Monday, June 11, 2012

In Education Reform Debate, A Tale of Two Media Stories

Many folks in the Washington Beltway woke this morning to a front-page story in Politico giving President Obama a first-term grade on a host of different education initiatives, while also comparing his performance to some of the proposals and recent assertions made by Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

It's interesting in the common ground it finds between the two presidential candidates, but it's conspicuous in what it leaves out -- any discussion of the treatment of school vouchers or other choice measures by either candidate.

And that's not just because that's a place where there's a real difference in each man's approach, but also because expansive school choice legislation has been a part of legislative agendas to a great extent over the last year.

In addition to the seven new private school choice programs last year, two additional programs this year, and the large number of expansions of current programs over the past 17 months, the movement has demanded a great deal of ink in both small and mainstream publications throughout the country.

So why would it be left off the list of education items in today's Politico piece? That's not a question we're able to answer, but not surprisingly, this weekend also featured a stark example of how many in the media are still committed to telling the full story of the role vouchers and scholarship tax credits are playing in the broader education reform narrative.

The Wall Street Journal, which famously referred to 2011 as "The Year of School Choice" midway through last year, this weekend profiled the profound effect voucher legislation is having on Catholic school enrollment and the performance of the students in those institutions.

Here's an excerpt from the piece:
Parents like cafeteria server Agustina Cuadra from East Chicago say vouchers for Catholic school give them needed educational choices. 
Ms. Cuadra, 35, says one of her two daughters, Daniella, now 12 years old, was bullied in fifth grade at the local public school. She says students pulled her hair, dumped milk on her head in the lunchroom and pushed her in the hallway 
"My daughter was scared to go to school," she says. 
Michael Harding, the superintendent of the East Chicago school district declined to comment on a specific student's case. He says there have been problems in his schools but that things are improving. "We recognized the system was broken and needed to be fixed," he says. 
Ms. Cuadra, whose husband lost his job last year, says she could not afford private school or to move out of town. "We were stuck," she says. 
She learned about St. Stans when her sister-in-law heard about the vouchers in Sunday Mass at the end of July. 
"I finally saw a light for my girls, I finally saw that there might be some hope for them to get a good education," says Ms. Cuadra. 
Two weeks after applying to St. Stans, her daughters were in.
There's a substantive story to be told in regards to education reform over the past few years, but it's an incomplete one if it does not address the extent to which private school choice has opened up the doors of educational opportunity to thousands of families who wouldn't had otherwise had the chance they got.

Not only is it the job of the media to accurately report that for fairness's sake, but it's heartening to hear the stories of families who have had their lives changed as a result of finally getting a shot at the opportunity that every child deserves.

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

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