Friday, August 31, 2012

Despite Inconclusive Audit Results, Impact of School Choice Programs Remains Strong

Despite a state audit of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) released this week that could not conclude how the voucher schools impacted state scores for the program’s participantsin part due to a recent change in state testing requirements—overwhelming evidence still shows strong benefits from participating in voucher programs.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program requires that all students in grades 4, 8, and 10 who participate in the program take a nationally normed standardized test. The School Choice Demonstration Project, which conducts a gold-standard, independent evaluation of the program, found earlier this year that students participating in the Milwaukee voucher program show gains in academic achievement and are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll and subsist in college.

The independent evaluation's results showed that vouchers students were more than 7 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).  Studies also show that a majority of parents with children in the program would rate their child’s voucher school with an “A,” compared to only 34 percent of MPS parents.  In particular, “MPCP parents are most satisfied with what is taught in school, school safety, and the amount their child has learned.”

Dr. Patrick Wolf, the principal investigator of the School Choice Demonstration Project and lead researcher on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, said the following about the Legislative Audit Bureau’s inconclusive results:

"We pointed out, ourselves, that it was difficult to untangle the academic gains from the Choice Program from any boost they might have received by switching to a high stakes test. Still, the evidence is clear that participants in the Choice Program graduated from high school, enrolled in four-year colleges, and persisted in college at significantly higher rates than did comparable MPS students. This finding of higher educational attainment in the Choice Program, which is ignored in the Audit Bureau report, is important because higher levels of attainment are closely associated with a host of better life outcomes for individuals and society. The fact that private school choice programs boost educational attainment has been established by every study that has examined that question, in the District of Columbia, New York City, and Milwaukee."

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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Condoleezza Rice Calls for School Choice to Address “the Civil Rights Issue of Our Day”

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice waves to the crowd
prior to her speech last night at the GOP Convention.
Earlier this week we implored New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to speak about the need for expanded educational options during his speech at the Republican National Convention.  But it was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who last night gave what many have called the best speech of the entire GOP Convention.  Rice spoke of her personal story growing up in the Jim Crow south and rising above the entrenched segregation to become the secretary of state.  And she also spoke at length about the education crisis in America:

But today, today, when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going?  The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are.

Rice continued:

And we need to give parents greater choice, particularly, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools.  This is the civil rights issue of our day.

Many have called her speech “presidential” and “secure.”  A former speechwriter for President Reagan called the speech a “serious speech about big things.”  We also appreciate how it didn't strike a partisan tone, which is fitting, considering the fact that education reform is strongly embraced by members of both political parties.

One thing is for sure: Condoleezza Rice joins a strong list of supporters—both Democrats and Republicans—who support school choice. 

Watch the video below to see for yourself:

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

Virginia Walden Ford: "I am offended" by racist Louisiana teachers' union attacks

After the Louisiana Federation of Teachers took to Twitter to spread baseless rumors that the Black Alliance for Educational Options supported “teaching that the KKK is good,” longtime education reformer Virginia Walden Ford, who was instrumental in fighting for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, wrote the following letter:

Last night, I learned that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers took to Twitter to spread a false, ridiculous, and offense rumor.  They claimed that the Black Alliance for Educational Options—an organization that fights to provide a high-quality education to black children—supports teaching that the Kl Klux Klan is good.

I am offended.

The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) is a group that works tirelessly to ensure that black children have access to the best educational options.  The reality is that black children are being left behind: the achievement gap is far too large and more black men are in prisons than in colleges in this country.

In Washington, D.C., I worked side-by-side with BAEO to fight for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  We worked together because the children of D.C.—just like the children in Louisiana and all across the country—deserve a great education.  It is our duty to ensure that all of our children, especially our disadvantaged children—receive a great education.  And it’s working.  In D.C. scholarship program, more than 85 percent of participating students are African American and the program has a graduation rate of 91 percent.  And just last week, the Brookings Institution and Harvard University released a study that demonstrated that African American students who receive a voucher are 24 percent more likely to enroll in college.

We have come so far as a nation, but we have so more work to do.  Growing up, I attended one the first desegregated high schools in Arkansas.  Today, we have leaders standing up for our children.  Great leaders, from Condoleezza Rice—who just yesterday called our education crisis the social justice issue of our time—to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, are fighting entrenched special interest groups that are more interested in protecting the status quo than in finding solutions to our education crisis.

I believe in school choice because the children that we have been left behind need an educational lifeline and they need it now.  Vouchers provide that opportunity.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers owes BAEO an apology.  I have spent my life working—alongside BAEO and all school choice advocates—to provide a better education for our children.  And I didn’t do it to be accused of supporting a hate group that terrorized a generation of Americans by spreading hate and fear.


- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Freakonomics and School Choice

Freakonomics, the 2005 best-selling book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times writer Stephen Dubner, made economics both readable and entertaining.  And now the authors of the blog behind the bestseller have turned to school choice.  In a blog post published earlier this week, the Freakonomics bloggers have taken a good look at the effect of school choice on student motivation and academic outcomes.

Citing a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the freakonomists unsurprisingly communicated the data in an easily-digestible manner for everyone to understand.  The result:

[W]e use unique daily data on individual-level student absences and suspensions to show that lottery winners have significantly lower truancies after they learn about lottery outcomes but before they enroll in their new schools. The effects are largest for male students entering high school, whose truancy rates decline by 21% in the months after winning the lottery.

The freakonomists go on:

We interpret this as students exerting more effort towards academics at their current school due to an increase in intrinsic motivation from knowing that they will be able to attend a school of their choice in the subsequent school year.

Furthermore, test scores seem to bolster the argument:

We then examine the impact attending a chosen school has on student test score outcomes. We find substantial test score gains from attending a charter school and some evidence that choosing and attending a high value-added magnet school improves test scores as well. Our results contribute to current evidence that school choice programs can effectively raise test scores of participants. Our findings suggest that this may occur both through an immediate effect on student behavior and through the benefit of attending a higher-performing school.

The folks at Freakonomics give us yet another reason to support all educational options.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Governor Christie Should Talk Education at the GOP Convention

Governor Chris Christie, who is giving the keynote address tonight at the Republican National Convention, has a great opportunity to address an issue that both Republicans and Democrats need to hear: creating more educational options for children all across the nation.  When the governor takes the stage tonight, he should use that time to talk about school choice.

While pundits and talking heads argue that America is more polarized than ever before, Christie should point out that school choice—in both vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs—are supported by both Democrats and Republicans.  Rather, it’s partisan politics as usual that is preventing school choice from becoming a real option for so many American families.

In New Jersey, for example, Governor Christie championed the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), a scholarship tax credit program for children from low-income families.  And he had strong Democratic support in the legislature.  Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, Assemblyman Troy Singleton, and Senator Raymond Lesniak are only some of the prominent Democrats who supported the initiative.  In fact, the legislation had enough votes in both chambers to pass.  Why isn’t the OSA law in New Jersey?  The Speaker of the Assembly never let the bill come to a vote.

But a setback in New Jersey isn’t the only story.  In 2011, seven new private school choice programs were created and 11 programs were expanded.  And in 2012, five new programs were created and six programs expanded.  This work was often done in a bipartisan manner.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Lone Star Leap Towards School Choice

On Friday, the Texas State Senate Education Committee held a hearing on bringing a school voucher program to the Lone Star State.  Legislators have been considering enacting prischool choice legislation, with nearly successful campaigns in 2007 and just last year.  While advocates already testified on the merits of school choice, here’s another list on why Texas should enact a statewide, accountable private school voucher program.

Reasons Texas Should Enact Private School Choice

  1. Only 29 percent of 4th graders and 27 percent of Texas 8th graders are proficient in reading.  In math, 39 percent of 4th graders and 40 percent of 8th graders are proficient.
  1. Nearly half—48.8 percent—of Texas students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.  That’s more than the national average.
  1. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Texas only graduates three-fourths of its high-school students. 
  1. Graduation rates of school choice programs are high.  The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program boasts a graduation rate of 91 percent—more than 30 percentage points higher than students in D.C. Public Schools.  The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program demonstrated graduation rates at more than 7 percentage points higher than students attending the Milwaukee Public Schools.  And a recent study of a New York City voucher program found that African American recipients are 24 percent more likely to enroll in college as a result of participating in the voucher program.
  1. Parents of students who participate in private school choice programs are overwhelmingly satisfied with their child’s academic program.  Consecutive surveys in Louisiana show parental satisfaction of the program above 93 percent.  Surveys in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Florida, and Ohio have all shown high parental satisfaction rates and feedback.
  1. School choice fosters competition: A study of the Florida Scholarship Tax Credit found that the passage of the program led to standardized test score gains in the public schools most likely to lose students to private schools.
  1. But most important of all, parents know best.  Families have the right to escape failing schools and send their children to a school that will provide a quality education.  No one is better suited to see that their children thrive than parents.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the happenings in Texas as legislators work to expand charter schools and bring private school choice to Texas families. And for more research into the benefits of school choice, visit our research page here.

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

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Tale of One City, Two Events

It might be August recess for Capitol Hill, but the rest of Washington, D.C. is abuzz with policy analysis.  And today’s topic is school choice.

The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution and the Harvard Kennedy School on Program and Education Policy and Governance today released a study that shows that African American participants in a private school choice program were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college as a result of receiving a voucher.

This groundbreaking study, which used a randomized experiment to measure the impact of vouchers on college enrollment—joins a plethora of gold-standard research that has already demonstrated high graduation and parental satisfaction rates among private school choice participants.

The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City,” which tracked participating students in New York City over a nearly 15-year period, was conducted by Matthew M. Chingos of Brookings and Paul Peterson, a longtime leading researcher on school choice programs and speaker at the AFC National Policy Summit held earlier this year.

Also among the findings:

  • African American enrollment rates in selective colleges more than doubled among voucher students
  • The rate of enrollment in full-time colleges increased by 31 percent
The data is consistent with results of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which found that voucher students graduate at a rate of 91 percent—more than 30 percentage points higher than students who did not participate in the program.  And according to the program’s administrator, in the 2009 and 2010 school years, 94 percent of 12th graders participating in the program graduated from high school—and 89 percent of OSP graduates went on to enroll in a two- or four-year college or university.

D.C. and New York aren’t the only places where vouchers have been shown to be a success.  Similar students demonstrating increased achievement and parental satisfaction rates have been conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, and Louisiana.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Participation in Indiana’s Voucher Program to More Than Double this School Year

More than 8,000 students have been awarded vouchers under Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, a voucher program signed into law last year by Governor Mitch Daniels.

The highly-accountable Choice Scholarship Program is a scholarship program designed for children from low- and middle-income families to attend the school of their parents’ choice.  The program, which was capped in its first year at 7,500 students, is capped at 15,000 students this school year.  Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, the enrollment cap is removed.

After Governor Daniels signed the voucher program into law in 2011, nearly 4,000 children participated in the program during the 2011-12 school year, the largest first-year enrollment ever in a voucher program. 

With more than 8,000 students participating in the program next year—paired with the statewide expansion of Louisiana’s voucher program—the number of students participating in private school choice programs is expected to dramatically rise over the 2011 figure of more than 210,000 students.

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Back to School in Louisiana: A Legal Discussion on Vouchers

Check out this great discussion on Louisiana’s expanded voucher program in the special Back-to-School edition of The Legal Round Table, where host Shenequa Grey speaks to Eric Lewis of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Steve Monaghan of the Louisiana Federation for Teachers on the newly expanded voucher program and the lawsuit brought on by several special interest groups.  Grey then interviews Brian Blackwell, who sent the now infamous letter that threatened private schools participating in the newly-expanded program on behalf of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

Scroll to 10 minutes to watch the beginning of the discussion between Lewis and Blackwell.

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

School Choice Advocate the Key to Reform in the Keystone State

The American Federation for Children today congratulated Joe Watkins, a strong school choice advocate, on his appointment as chief financial recovery officer of the Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania.
 Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis made the appointment on Friday, according to the Delaware County Daily Times.

Watkins is chairman of Students First Pennsylvania, an advocacy group that has worked tirelessly to bring strong educational options to Keystone State families.  The group was integral in working with the state legislature and the governor to expand the highly-popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program and to create a new scholarship tax credit program for students stuck in the state’s worst-performing schools.

While Watkins will be leaving his position at Students First PA, in his new role, he will be able to provide greater educational opportunity to the nearly 4,500 students in the Chester Upland School District.

Under the Financial Recovery Legislation for Schools, which was enacted alongside the expansion of EITC and creation of the Educational Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, the secretary of education could place the school district in financial recovery status.  As chief financial recovery officer, Watkins has the ability to close schools, cut staff, and transform public schools into charter schools.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Haslam should Volunteer his Support on the Voucher Program

In Tennessee, parents, students, and school choice advocates are gearing up for a push to enact a voucher program to give Volunteer State families real educational options.  And Tennessee is ripe for overhauling its educational system and implementing parental choice.  According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 26 percent of fourth graders and 30 percent of Tennessee eighth graders are proficient in reading.  In addition, Tennessee has the highest number of adults without a high school diploma and a 7.9 percent unemployment rate.

State Senator Brian Kelsey introduced voucher legislation in 2011 that would give scholarships up to $5,400.  The legislation passed the Senate, but failed to pass in the House.  And last year Governor Haslam set up a task force to study the benefits of vouchers in Tennessee. 

School choice champions from Senator Kelsey to Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey are ready to enact an accountable voucher program.  But it looks like the Governor may not be ready to put his muscle behind the program.  According to Nashville Public Radio, Governor Haslam is saying the bill could face some political observation.

But if the Governor gave his strong support for the legislation, vouchers could help thousands of students escape persistently failing schools.  Across the nation, we’ve seen that these programs work from academic scores to high graduation rates.

Haslam wants to see a return on investment.  Enact vouchers and watch more students graduate from high school.  That’s the return on investment.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vice Presidential Support for School Choice, Past and Present

Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” may be the most famous line uttered during a vice presidential debate, and now that Paul Ryan has joined Mitt Romney in the race for the White House, let’s take a look at both the Paul Ryan’s and Vice President Joe Biden’s support of educational options.

Joe Biden

The Obama-Biden Administration remains steadfast in its opposition to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Despite having made a deal to reauthorize the program for five years, the President zeroed out funding for the program in his budget.  But long before Joe Biden was Vice President Joe Biden, he supported vouchers:

Even if vouchers were to take money away from the public schools--and I should point out that not all voucher proposals do--that does not in and of itself mean that public schools will be harmed. 

When you have an area of the country--and most often here we are talking about inner cities--where the public schools are abysmal or dysfunctional or not working and where most of the children have no way out, it is legitimate to ask what would happen to the public schools with increased competition from private schools and what would happen to the quality of education for the children who live there. 

Paul Ryan

While the President’s budget zeroed out funding, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget would fund the program as intended by federal law.  And it makes sense, since Ryan hails from the Badger State, which is home to the nation’s longest running voucher program.  The Washington Times’ Deborah Simmons, praised Ryan’s support of school choice, writing:

As for the other end of the education spectrum, Mr. Ryan is spot on, earning an A+ for school choice during all seven of his terms in Congress, especially for his support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Both of these officials have seen the benefit of school choice, let’s hope they truly support educational options in the race for the White House.

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Opponent to Education Reform Casts Parents as Rapists, Abusers

The defense of the educational status quo in the education debate has hit a new low: saying families cannot have school choice because parents “starve, beat, tie up, and rape their children.” 

This is about rock bottom for anti-reformers.

The comments come from a blog post from Diane Ravitch, in which she published an anonymous letter from a Louisiana teacher on why parents should not have school choice. Beyond criticizing parents of some of the worst crimes imaginable against their kids, the anonymous teacher argues offers no solution to the fact that thousands of children in Louisiana are stuck in failing schools.

But despite the teacher's assertions, here's the truth:

  • Parents know best.  They know their children.  They provide for their children.  They read them stories at night.  And they pass down their morals, ethics, and ideals to their children.  And when their children are stuck in a poor-performing schools—or are struggling academically in any school—they stand up and demand high-quality educational options.
  •  Like doctors—teachers are professionals who have (in their own way) saved the lives of millions of children.  But where this letter’s argument fails—and school choice wins—is the reality that a patient can chose the doctor and treatment that meets his or her needs.  Patients are not stuck with a persistently poor-performing doctor because of their ZIP code.  Patients have the right and obligation to find the right fit for medical treatment.  So do parents when it comes to educating their children.
  • As Dave Murray points out, we cannot oppose educational options because of the small percentage of bad parents who do abuse their children.  As Murray writes, there is a great public institution for these parents: prison.
One has to wonder why this teacher has a strong distaste for parents and why Diane Ravitch is listening to him.

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

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kevin P. Chavous on Why Democrats Must Support School Choice

Last month on the Washington Post’sThe Answer Sheet” Blog, guest blogger Jeff Bryant argued why Democrats should not support any form of educational options.  Check out the response from AFC Senior Advisor Kevin P. Chavous, a former D.C. Councilman and a lifelong Democrat, on why Democrats must put partisan politics aside and support school choice:

Jeff Bryant’s July 18 piece on Valerie Strauss’ “The Answer Sheet” blog lets blind partisanship get in the way of an accurate characterization of school choice programs across the country.  As a Democrat, I full-heartedly support school choice in every form—from strong traditional public schools to charter schools to voucher programs—because these options shift our focus from an antiquated, overly-bureaucratized one-size-fits-all system that is sadly failing millions of disadvantaged children to those who know their children best—parents. Your failure to think critically is apparent in your change-averse ideology that prizes the status quo over proven measures that will help kids.

In a political climate where bipartisanship is growing increasingly rare, school choice breaks the mold, having earned the backing of Republicans and Democrats in places like Louisiana, Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, Ohio, and right here in the nation’s capital. The reason, which Mr. Bryant fails to acknowledge, is simple: for many lawmakers, the future of our country’s next generation is far more important that scoring political points.

The assumption that poor families are misinformed is simply untrue, and it is that notion—one emphasizing system-wide decision-making over the best judgment of parents—that accounts for a great deal of the achievement gap that plagues our country’s educational performance.  It’s why when we put power pack into the hands of parents, as was done here in D.C., voucher students graduate at a rate of 91 percent—more than 30 percentage points higher than students in D.C. Public Schools.  And an evaluation of the Milwaukee voucher program also found a higher graduation rates and a trend that participating students were more likely to enroll and continue in four-year universities than their public school counterparts.

It’s why when the opportunity for choice arises, parents respond in droves. More than 17,000 students are on waiting lists for public charter schools here in D.C. and more than 10,000 low-income families have applied for the voucher program since it was created in 2004.

So yes, Mr. Bryant, I am a Democrat who proudly favors school choice, and there is nothing meek about my support. After all, I’m on the side of the parents, and it’s they—not you—who really know what’s best for their kids.


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

Friday, August 3, 2012

Alliance for School Choice, Institute for Justice Respond to Bullying with Legal Defense Fund

All week, we’ve been telling you about the bullying tactics of special interests trying to scare schools out of participating in the newly-expanded statewide voucher program.  Now, thanks to the Alliance for School Choice and the Institute for Justice, there is something you can do about it.  Check out the new legal defense fund to help protect schools that are attacked by lawsuits for participating in the voucher program.

The Louisiana Defense Fund, created in response to the letter sent by the Louisiana Association of Educators that threatened to sue private schools that participate in the program, will protect Louisiana schools against legal threats from the local teachers union.

And while defenders of the status quo are reaching new lows to stop a scholarship program designed to help students from low-income families that are stuck in failing schools, those standing for children have been hard at work.  The Department of Education recently announced the awarding of 5,637 scholarships—just more than half of the 10,300 applications received.

The program is set to move forward at the beginning of the school year, while the trial to determine the constitutionality of the program is set to begin on October 15.

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

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pennsylvania Update: The Educational Opportunity Scholarship Act

Earlier this week, AFC announced that more than 242,000 students may be eligible to participate in the new Educational Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program.  And now we are hearing more about the new scholarship tax credit program that would help students in the state’s worst performing public schools.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, which administers the new program, yesterday released guidelines for businesses that want to donate to approved opportunity scholarship organizations (OSOs).

Businesses authorized to do business in the Keystone state and who are subject to taxes can receive a 70 percent tax credit for contributions of up to $400,000 to approved OSOs.  If a business contributes for two years, it can receive a 90 percent tax credit.

If a tax credit application is approved, businesses have 60 days to donate its contribution to an OSO.

Applications for tax credits in fiscal year 2012-13 are due by August 8, 2012.

School Choice Now! will keep you updated on this new program as it prepares to serve students in the 2012-13 school year. 

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Louisiana Headmaster Stands Up to Bullying Tactics

The Headmaster of John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana isn’t getting bullied by opponents to education reform.  In fact, he’s standing up to them.  Writing in The Advertiser yesterday, Kevin Roberts addressed the letter sent by counsel for the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) that tried to scare private schools from participating in the newly-expanded voucher program:

If teachers unions spent more time focused on ways to improve the deplorable quality of government-run schools, rather than intimidating anyone interested in the improvement of them, then there would be little need for innovative solutions like Louisiana's recently created Student Scholarship Program. But in typical union thuggery style, the Louisiana Association of Educators has acted like a schoolyard bully.

Roberts notes that time would be better spent if the LAE—and other status quo supporters—worked to improve our public schools:

More important than this schoolyard tiff is the real issue that the LAE purposefully obscures by its expensive, protracted legal shenanigans: the necessity of our public schools being reformed.

Let’s hope that education leaders of all stripes work to improve our public schools and provide more educational options to children.

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