Hard choices on school choice

Fredrick Kunkle’s story in yesterday’s Washington Post on the battle over school choice in Virginia underscores the emotion in the debate. In Kunkle’s telling, the battle pits civil rights heroes, still yearning for equality, against ambitious young students, questing for opportunity:

On one side are black elders who remember when school choice meant no choice at all because of state-mandated segregation. Many also remember how vouchers were given to white children to attend private academies during “massive resistance” in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when Virginia closed some public schools rather than desegregate as ordered under the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. Opponents argue that school choice might resegregate the schools, this time by class and ability.

On the other side is a younger generation of single parents and working-class black families looking for any way out of the state’s most troubled schools in places such as Norfolk, Petersburg and the capital. Even if it’s difficult to rescue all schoolchildren, an effort should be made to save some, they say.

Read to the very bottom of the story for a fascinating tidbit in the conclusion.

Meanwhile, a recent Urban Institute paper aimed to determine the effect of school choice on educational outcomes here in DC. Their study found that “students who attend alternative public schools, on average, outperform similar students who attend their in-boundary public schools in reading and math tests by about a tenth of a standard deviation.”

They found even greater gains when they tried to account for factors such as parental involvement and student motivation: ”On average, students who attend out-of-boundary public schools outperform socio-economically ‘similar’ students who stay behind by 19 and 14 percent of the standard deviation, whereas those who attend charter schools score 15 and 16 percent of the standard deviation better in reading and math respectively.”