Of choice, and quality choices

Much of our podcast this week with Howard Fuller explored statements Fuller made recently admonishing Wisconsin’s governor and legislature for plans to eliminate the income requirements for entry into the Milwaukee voucher program, but another point in our talk highlighted his thoughts on the acacemic achievement of students in the program, and what it means.

Results from a comparative assessment between students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and those in the school district showed that students receiving vouchers performed no better than their peers in traditional public schools. That has led to the responses one might expect among voucher critics, such as Diane Ravitch, but Fuller, the founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, explains why it’s unfair to dismiss the entire enterprise:

There are two elements to choice. One is choice. There is a power to having choice. So when people say students don’t do any better, the issue is do you now therefore want to deny parents the option of being able to go to schools that do do better. Because not all of the schools did not do better. Some of them did much better. And the real purpose of choice is to give people who have not previously had options the ability to choose.

Now the second thing we have to work on is to improve the schools that they will have the choice to attend. Because a voucher is not a school. It’s a mechanism. It’s a funding mechanism to get people to a school. And because we have not yet turned a corner where all of the schools that peple are attending are better. That is not a reason to deny parents the power to choose. Because, if that’s the case, then you should shut down the whole traditional public school system, because vast numbers of those schools are not serving people well at all.

… The second point I would make is, it’s incumbent upon all of us, then, to support freedom to choose, to fight for quality. Because freedom is illusionary if you don’t have the ability to choose from something other than mediocrity.

… The third point is, we’re doing almost as well with half the money. One of the things people got to understand is, if I’m trying to make a school work, and I’ve only got $6,500 per kid, and you got a school making $13,000, with all due respect, money does matter. Because there’s never been equity in funding, it’s very difficult to make an argument that someone getting half the money should do as well as someone getting double what you’re getting.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit