School Choice Programs Snowball
But others say such conclusions ignore important facts, such as voucher students' increased graduation rates and high parental satisfaction. University of Wisconsin—Madison professor John Witte, an official evaluator of the Milwaukee voucher program, said that while there has not been "a great deal of difference in achievement based on test scores," there are other positive outcomes.
"The demand continues to grow," said Witte. "Survey evidence in all of these cases, including Washington, D.C., shows satisfied parents, more satisfied than public school parents. So in those regards, there certainly is a positive aspect to it."
Reform and Transform
Few school reformers seek to end public education altogether. Rather, many have committed to comprehensive change, including a role for school choice programs, in the short term at least.
Sajan George, founder of Matchbook Learning, has worked as a consultant for some of the nation's largest school districts. "I'm not against vouchers," said George, also an elder at Perimeter Church in Johns Creek, Georgia. "I am for anything that broadens the choices parents have for their children and breaks the monopoly of the local neighborhood poor-performing school.
"However, vouchers can never scale to meet the needs of all, most, or even a minor percentage of children. Eventually you run out of available seats at good private schools, and you're back to trying to reform broken public schools."
The Friedman Foundation's Forster said, "School choice is the way to transform the incentives of the system so that public schools will have an institutional mission focused on serving parents and students.
"The public schools are packed with people who love kids and want to serve them, but they're in an institutional context that doesn't empower that. I see school choice as the best thing that could happen to public schools."
Last April, Congress reauthorized the D.C. program for five more years, expanding it to impact more children. In June, voucher advocates celebrated the program's renewal on Capitol Hill.
"This program opened doors for me," said 19-year-old Ronald Holassie, a voucher recipient and Archbishop Carroll alum who attends a Florida university. Looking toward Ford, Holassie declared, "You have absolutely changed my life."
Sheryl Blunt, a Christianity Today senior writer and 2009 Phillips Foundation fellow, is based in Washington, D.C.
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Previous Christianity Today articles on education and school choice include:
The Lasting Effects of Your School | A new survey found that Christian schooling makes a difference—and that different kinds of Christian education produce different results among their graduates. (August 29, 2011)
Agents of Translation: Philip Eaton on 'Engaging the Culture, Changing the World' | Christian colleges should fluently speak the language of both the gospel and the surrounding culture. (August 16, 2011)
School Choice 2.0 | Supreme Court weighs Arizona tax credits. (December 7, 2010)
Breaking Up a Monopoly | The Supreme Court has put parents back in charge of their children's education. (August 5, 2002)