School choice changes lives, one scholarship at a time

Nov 10, 2013 by

The look in Adrienne Lynch’s eyes as she tells you the story of the scholarship that changed her family’s world tells you all you need to know about the power of school choice. Lynch and her three daughters were among the thousands of low-income families in Washington to benefit from the district’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. Sadly, President Obama is closing doors for DC’s needy families by eliminating this groundbreaking program at a time when he should be encouraging states nationwide to follow Washington’s lead.

DC’s school choice program, among the most aggressive in the nation at its launch in 2003, was designed to help parents like Adrienne who wanted to rescue their children from failing inner-city schools but couldn’t afford to pay private tuition. Before the program launched, Washington’s local bureaucrats used arbitrarily-drawn lines to decide whose children go to which schools — and if a school is failing or doesn’t meet a child’s unique needs, there was nothing a parent can do about it. But when Lynch was selected to receive scholarships for her daughters, she was empowered to choose the schools that gave them the best chance to grow and thrive.

These are the stories the media doesn’t tell about education reform. When coverage focuses on the back-and-forth between unions, education trade groups, and politicians, the impact of programs like D.C.’s on the lives of children — whom, lest we forget, are the focal point of the entire education system — slips through the cracks. Adrienne Lynch’s eldest daughter recently graduated from college, and her two younger sisters are both well on their way, all because of a program that’s worked for their family.

School choice is working just as well for families around the district. Students who receive scholarships have a graduation rate of over 90 percent — 35 points higher than those who don’t. These students also posted significant gains in reading, in many cases escaping schools where fewer than 20 percent of children test at grade level. It’s no wonder that 74 percent of D.C. residents support this program.

Unfortunately one of the most powerful opponents of opportunity scholarships is a DC resident himself and lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. President Obama has twice moved to eliminate funding for the program, which requires about one one hundredth of one percent of the federal education budget to operate. In fact, it costs the government about $10,000 more to educate a child in a failing public school than it does to grant that child’s family a scholarship.

With DC’s schools dead last in the nation in both reading and math, it’s no surprise that the Obamas opted to send their daughters to an ultra-prestigious private academy instead of a failing public school. Yet low-income D.C. residents have been stripped of the ability to make the same decisions for their children. The message that anti-reform politicians send — that wealth and ZIP code should determine a child’s future — is demoralizing and fundamentally wrong.

via School choice changes lives, one scholarship at a time | The Daily Caller.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    teacher with a brain

    “I work 8 hours, I don’t have time to take Jimmy to the library,” was the response I got at the end of my first year of teaching from a low wage white mother who owned a car when I suggested her son might make periodic visits to the library during the summer to read. At least I didn’t suggest she purchase books.
    Since that time I have encountered this and worse, usually from low SES parents who do NOT value education in the least and who will not lift a finger or burn a single calorie to help their child improve academically or educationally.
    Each of us is immersed in a culture, for better or worse, and this culture imprints values on our developing minds and personalities. A child, esp. one born into poverty spends roughly 25,000 waking hours at home with the primary care taker from birth to age 5. At 5 the child begins kindergarten, and of the approximately 5000 waking ours in her life, she spends about 720 of them at school. Over the next 12 years, she will spend roughly 1260 hours per year in school, the remainder are spent with the primary care giver in whatever sort of neighborhood they live. You can do the math, a child spends only about 25% of her waking life in school during grades 1-12. The culture of the home dominates and given the emotional attachment a child naturally develops for the person who feeds and shelters her, it is no wonder it is very powerful.
    Naturally poor inner city students who receive scholarships graduate in higher numbers, their primary care giver CARED enough about education to make the effort to apply for the scholarship. Lest you think every parent wants a good education for their child, I assure you that you probably never meet those who don’t give a darn, but they are there and there are too many.
    Thus, I cannot agree that the scholarship per se is the factor that creates a higher graduation rate. I will acknowledge that combining getting a child out of an unhealthy neighborhood with a (poor) parent who cares enough to make the effort will likely lead to better graduation rates. However, the solution is not to increase scholarships, because we are still left with bad neighborhoods, lousy parents and the host of socio-cultural problems that spawn there. The solution is to attack the problem at its root. But, alas, it costs money and it is so much cheaper to blame teachers and hold them accountable for the host of factors that exert greater influence on the choices a child makes than they are able to. Blaming teachers is the cheap solution that fails most of the time and promotes the illusion that something is being done to help educate the 25% of American children who live at or below the poverty line.

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