Friday Freakout: What Teachers Say About School Choice vol. 2
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  • Mar 13 2015

Friday Freakout: What Teachers Say about School Choice vol. 2

We’re back this week with the second installment of this series, which features Facebook feedback we regularly receive from teachers across the country. In our first post on the topic, we said,

“Our ultimate hope is teachers, many of whom might be reading right now, will see that we aren’t all talk. We do listen. We can find common ground. We can be a trusted resource for research and information. And most importantly, we respect and support them.

We’ll always stand by that sentiment, and we think a little time has shown more and more teachers to be open to discussing school choice with its supporters. Check out more of what teachers say about school choice.

1. In the comments of a previous Friday Freakout where we discussed school choice with a school superintendent, this teacher raised a common concern.

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If Ms. Parker meant to ask whether school choice programs include transportation for families in the traditional way bussing works now, there’s no uniform answer. Perhaps some private schools offer busing, and perhaps some don’t. Some public school districts are required to bus students to private schools; some aren’t. Who knows how transportation solutions could evolve over time?

Many non-traditional public and private schools either offer their own transportation solutions or assist parents in coordinating transportation. Beyond that, many parents tell us the quality and fit of the education they are able to afford for their children with the help of choice programs is worth any inconvenience it might cause to get their kids to school. We hear that often, especially from low-income families who are most often the ones who get asked about transportation issues. One of our guest bloggers has delved deeper into those questions, and his piece features the testimony of just such a parent.

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Indeed, a voucher is a funding mechanism that can help families afford private schools. Flexible vouchers, also called education savings accounts, are a funding mechanism that can help families afford private schools and/or a combination of services, including education therapies, tutors, curriculum, individual courses, online school, and more. But think about why a family would opt in to use such an option.

Many school choice programs are open only to low-income families who can’t afford to effect change for their kids without them. Many are open only to children with special needs, whose parents often cannot afford the expensive services necessary to help their child progress academically especially if their public school doesn’t offer them.

School choice families are telling us these programs work for their kids. Better yet, students who choose to remain in public schools do not do worse academically as a result of allowing those families to use such programs. Here are two important questions to consider: 1. What good reason is there to take those options away? 2. What happens to those students if we do?

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The issue of choices for rural families is one we hear a lot. It appears this teacher’s disappointment might stem more from a lack of supply than from parents being able to choose from that supply. One of our guest bloggers actually delved deeper into the issue of whether rural students can benefit from school choice.

That said, some might not see a family of four with an income of $66,000 per year as “poor,” but a family’s income and number of children hardly is revealing enough to know whether or not they might need financial assistance. Perhaps one or more of their children have profound disabilities or health issues that require expensive services. Perhaps one parent recently lost their job. There are countless circumstances that could lead to a family needing financial assistance to meet the educational needs of their children. School choice should be a safety net for all families.

4. Mr. Fakes showed an interest in the performance of one of the largest voucher programs in the nation, Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program.

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He asks a very good question, but the answer isn’t as simple as we’d all wish.

It is up to the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) to release student data, but they do not make that available to the public, perhaps for privacy reasons. The Indiana DOE does make school-level data for voucher-accepting schools available, but voucher students make up less than 1 percent of the schools’ populations. The schools all have unique curriculum, their own standards, and many more factors that keep them from being uniform and thus easily comparable to public schools. Those are some things to keep in mind, and one reason we don’t, as an organization, put much stock in test scores as a measure of “good/bad” or “better/worse” for any schooling sector.

Here are the 2014 grades for Indiana’s voucher-accepting schools.

A 59%
B 16%
C 9%
D 3%
F 3%
NULL 28%

Note: The schools labeled NULL were not graded because so few voucher students attended their schools that releasing a grade would break student privacy regulations.

For Indiana’s traditional public schools:

A 53%
B 21%
C 17%
D 6%
F 3%
NULL 0%

And for Indiana’s charter schools:

A 22%
B 11%
C 5%
D 20%
F 23%
NULL 19%

Again, we are not implying any sector of schools is better or worse than another. For instance, a child could pass state tests with flying colors, but be failing in class or experiencing bullying/hostility from peers. A child could have test anxiety, but be an excellent critical thinker and debater. Children with special needs often start off well behind and make gains at a slower pace than their average peers. Every child is different, so assuming a school can’t be a great fit for a kid based on test scores is not true to life.

5. Finally, Ms. Turgeon attempted to open the minds of her professional peers by sharing exactly why she supports public schools and school choice for parents.

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We can’t express how thankful we are for the dialogue we’ve had the privilege of experiencing with teachers lately. In just a short time, we’ve seen what were very polarized, often hostile, exchanges become increasingly more respectful and open-minded. We can happily say we’re looking forward to “What Teachers Say to School Choice vol. 3.”

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