September 24 — 11:00 pm, 2003

Real choice should be available for all

School choice: promises and pitfalls

School choice is not just a promise; it is a reality. If one can either afford to pay private school tuition or is able to move to a neighborhood with high-performing public schools, or has the luck or influence to be admitted to the highest-performing public schools, school choice is part of a normal lifestyle.

That lifestyle must also be a reality for low-income families.

Last year Lanetta Britt applied for a Black Alliance for Educational Options private school scholarship for her son, Naadir. As a first grader at Stephen Girard Elementary, Naadir was not meeting academic goals, and his teachers spent more time disciplining than teaching.

Testing showed that he was not academically prepared to enter the second grade. He was depressed and hated school.

After winning a scholarship, Lanetta chose to enroll Naadir in the Lotus Academy. Naadir completed his first year at Lotus with high self-esteem, receiving straight A’s and testing at a mastery level. Lanetta’s choice has empowered her.

The school choice movement is empowering parents by making them more aware of the options that are available for their children. No longer do parents have to accept their neighborhood public school as their child’s only option. School choice offers them a new way of thinking about their child’s education.

Low-income parents can now choose from both public and private options:

The District’s magnet and high school application process allows students to become educated in their area of interest.

Home schooling offers able parents the ability to educate their children in a manner they know to be safe and effective for their child.

Charter and cyber schools offer students a theme-based curriculum and report more parent involvement and graduation and college acceptance rates of 100 percent in some Philadelphia charters such as Imhotep Charter high school and World Communications charter school.

Private schools offer small class size, a family atmosphere, and a variety of specialized environments which include religious, African-centered, single-sex, and other school settings that parents seek.

African American parents want these options. A national Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies opinion poll on education issued in May 2003 found that 57 percent of African Americans support using publicly funded vouchers to pay tuition at a parent’s school of choice for his or her child.

School choice is proving effective not only for individual families; it is also improving traditional public schools that face competition from choice schools. The large number of parents who continue to enroll their children in Philadelphia’s private, charter, and magnet schools-schools which experience greater parent participation and are in high demand by parents-make parental satisfaction clear.

Two 2003 Manhattan Institute studies suggest that both public schools and students in voucher programs experience academic gains due to school choice. Public schools facing voucher competition made significant gains in test scores as a direct result of the Florida voucher program, according to the Institute’s study of this program.

The Institute also found that charter schools serving student populations similar to those of traditional public schools made moderately better test score improvements than traditional public schools in an 11-state study.

A 2003 Princeton study showed that students in New York’s private voucher program made statistically significant academic gains over their public school counterparts. Additional studies and statistics supplement these findings.

Despite this evidence, there are still not enough quality school choices available to low-income parents in Philadelphia. Thousands have applied to transfer their children to better schools through the choice provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the District’s transfer process. Nearly every charter school in the city has a waiting list longer than its enrollment. Other parents are constantly seeking private school scholarships or struggling to pay tuition on their own.

Any real effort at school reform must address the ongoing demand of these parents to expand quality educational options for their children.

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