We continue with part three of four in our review of Educational Freedom in Urban America: Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education edited by David Salisbury and Casey Lartigue Jr. Part one is available to read Here and part two Here. Keep in mind we are only sharing that which really jumped out at us as enlightening, helpful, informative or, in some cases, profound, but there is much we aren’t sharing that you may find helpful by reading the book in full. Should we stir your interest to learn more the ebook is available for $9.99 Here.
Chapter eight is “Building Futures with Private Scholarships: The Washington Scholarship Fund” by Tracey Johnson.
The public education system was to be an equalizer, propelling America ahead of other countries by providing all of our young with superior intellectual training. Unfortunately, today equality in education is more the exception than the rule.
The reality is that the parents who need the greatest level of assistance in preparing their children for the future receive the least help. Low-income parents grapple with what may be the greatest civil rights issue of our time. It’s a civil rights issue based on economic standing rather than race.
The D.C. program, for instance, noted that parents who were well below the poverty line when they entered the program were taking on additional jobs to help pay their portion of tuition—and some even returned to school themselves to qualify for better job opportunities. One key element of the new scholarship programs was that parents pay a portion of the tuition and so scholarship programs provided partial tuition assistance to ensure a level of parental involvement and commitment. The parents demonstrated incredible ownership for their children’s education, with schools reporting a high degree of parental school participation among scholarship recipients. What began as an endeavor to focus on low-income student education started to have far-reaching benefits throughout low-income communities.
In fact, in an outspoken criticism of publicly funded vouchers, opponents of private schooling asserted that parents, especially the most disadvantaged, lacked the information and the ability to make wise choices and were likely to be overly influenced by factors as school convenience and the degree to which the school was supportive of their own religion or ideology. Critics contend that vouchers require parents to be informed consumers of education, even though most parents have neither the time, the ability, nor the information that would enable them to make good assessments of their alternatives.
Despite these assertions, private scholarship programs around the country knew that the thousands of parents who applied to the programs each year had an unquenchable desire for something better for their children. They longed to have their children receive the type of educational nourishment they knew was essential to future success, nourishment that oftentimes, these parents had not received themselves…
The students who had been a part of the scholarship program excelled. They scored the equivalent of a full grade level above those students who remained in public schools.
More than 90 percent of the program’s graduating high school seniors go on to enter college.
Chapter nine is “Success as a Charter School: The Cesar Chavez Experience” by Irasema Salcido.
The Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy (Chavez) was born out of the desire of a small group of individuals to improve the way urban high schools educate low-income, minority students.
Chapter ten is “The Politics of School Choice: African-Americans and Vouchers” by David A. Bositis.
Since 1996, Joint Center surveys have been cited by both supporters and opponents of vouchers—including members of Congress—because during that time, African-Americans have been at the center of the school vouchers debate. Black Americans have been at the center of that debate largely because black children disproportionately attend poor schools—and parents know when their children’s schools are not working.
For most black Americans, support for school vouchers is not so much an endorsement of vouchers but a rejection of the status quo, that is, poorly performing or mediocre schools.
Chapter eleven is “What Does a Voucher Buy? The Cost of Private Schools in Six Cities” by David Salisbury.
School choice programs have helped to reduce the monopoly position of government schools over K–12 education in those locations where they have been implemented, but they have by no means created a level playing field between government and privately operated schools. This is because all of the programs are limited in a number of ways that have prevented a truly competitive education market from emerging. Virtually all programs place limitations on the number of students who can participate or restrict participation to children from the community’s poorest families or schools. Such restrictions dilute the potential benefits that would arise from a fully competitive education market. Although limited school choice programs such as these provide help to some children, they are not large enough to unleash the market forces necessary to create a revolution in educational quality.
An ideal school choice program would give every child a voucher or tax credit to be spent on educational services at any public or private school in the state. The amount of the voucher or tax credit should be nearly equivalent to the amount of tax funds already being spent per student in the government schools.
Critics of school choice often report erroneous or misleading information about the cost of private schools in various cities.
For the maximum benefits of school choice to be realized, it is important that private schools remain independent and free of regulations that would prohibit specialization, innovation, and creativity. Private schools should not be required to administer state-sanctioned tests or adopt state curriculum guidelines or ‘‘standards.’’ Requiring private schools to give state-selected achievement tests would have deleterious effects on the participating private schools. Some private schools would have to give up the curriculum they have designed for their own students and teach the state-sanctioned curriculum instead. That would be a drastic blow to the diversity and vitality of the private education sector. Many state tests emphasize ‘‘new math’’ over traditional math and stress the use of modern‘‘culturally diverse texts’’ over traditional literature, a staple of many effective private schools.
Most private schools already administer standardized tests as a way to measure student academic progress, but there is wide variation among private schools in terms of test preference. Some prefer the Iowa Test of Basic Skills because they think it tests for a more traditional coverage of the curriculum; others prefer the Stanford-9 or the CAT. Some private schools shun standardized tests altogether, choosing to rely instead on more holistic measures of student progress. The fact that many private schools don’t want to administer state tests doesn’t mean that they are not serious academic institutions with rigorous standards of excellence. It simply means that their curriculum and standards are different from those of government schools. Most state standards have no empirical basis. Rather, state standards and tests are typically the product of an awkward compromise between disparate factions of the professional education community, many of which are influenced by educational fads and politically popular thinking.
Rules requiring private schools to accept all applicants severely jeopardize the ability of private schools to specialize by focusing on specific types of students. Consumers have diverse preferences and producers have unique skills, talents, and interests. The purpose of school choice is to give parents choices among schools of differing specializations, ideologies, and practices. It defeats this purpose to make private schools into one-size-fits-all carbon copies of public schools. There is value in allowing schools to specialize in helping students with special needs, students with an interest in the performing arts, students with particular religious preferences or allowing schools to admit only boys or only girls. Requiring schools that participate in school choice programs to admit all students dilutes the positive benefits that can be derived from specialization.
Imposing state standards or admission policies on private schools would create an institutional rigidity and uniformity that would limit the diversity of standards, school practices, curricula, and educational philosophies that exist in the private school market. States that enact school choice programs should therefore avoid imposing regulations on private schools that would only dilute the positive effects of competition and choice.
This fact demonstrates that the creation of private schools follows basic principles of supply and demand. Education entrepreneurs in those two cities cater to a clientele that, for the most part, cannot spend more than several thousand dollars for private schools so they create schools to cater to parents who will look for a school in that price range.
In some cities, only a relatively small number of students could be accommodated immediately in private schools once a voucher or tax credit program is implemented. Available seating capacity in private schools is particularly scarce for high school students. Yet the benefits of choice go beyond what would be available the day after a choice plan is put into place, and the benefits would increase each year. Choice sets in motion a dynamic process of growth and change that would result in an ever-increasing number of private school options for students.
Existing school choice programs have already provided evidence that increased benefits and options become available to students after choice is implemented.