Black Americans won a significant victory when the Supreme Court recently ruled that a Cleveland school vouchers program created to help children escape from substandard schools was constitutional.
The Ohio state legislature established the Ohio Pilot Scholarship Program in 1995 as a direct response to the failure of the Cleveland public school system. According to USA Today, public schools in Cleveland "fell short on every state standard for minimum acceptable performance in the mid-1990s."1 Students in the program receive scholarships to attend participating local private or suburban public schools. Parents can, alternatively, keep their children in local public schools but receive a grant for tutoring.2
Cleveland's voucher program gives priority to students from low-income families who have no other choice than public schools. Sixty percent of current scholarship recipients are African-American.3
Parent see school vouchers as a welcome alternative. Cleveland parent Joyce Thompson, whose daughter receives vouchers, explains: "I went to Cleveland public schools. My mom had no choice... My baby sister went to [private school]... Then she went to college. Now she's a schoolteacher. I want that kind of future for my own daughter."4
Ms. Thompson is not alone in her support. A poll commissioned by the Cincinnati Enquirer found that 77 percent of African-Americans in Ohio support the Cleveland voucher program. Nationwide, a 1999 poll conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found 60 percent of blacks support school vouchers, up from 48 percent in 1998.5
It's not hard to discover why vouchers are so popular. Blacks students are being left behind by our public educational system. According to statistics on black achievement from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 62 percent of black fourth graders, 68 percent of black eighth graders and 70 percent of black twelfth graders in public schools performed below a "basic" level in math in 2000. Just five percent of black fourth and eighth graders and two percent of black twelfth graders in public schools performed at or above a "proficient" level in math, and no black students performed at an "advanced" level.6
Similarly, black public school students in the fourth, eighth,
and twelfth grades have average national scores in math, science
and U.S. history scores that are below the "basic" level
for each grade. Seventy percent of black twelfth graders perform
below a "basic" level in mathematics; 79 percent perform
below a "basic" level in science and 81 percent perform
below a "basic" level in U.S. history.7
These statistics are disgraceful, and they show that our society
is failing black children.
Vouchers are providing children with a way out of failing public schools by giving parents the opportunity to send their kids to private schools where student achievement is higher. Private school students consistently outscore their public school counterparts in reading, writing, mathematics, science, U.S. history, geography and civics.8
Providing black children who are trapped in substandard inner-city
public schools with an alternative is having a profound impact.
Cato Institute Director of Education and Child Policy Darcy Olsen
notes: "If black students across the nation had the same
scores as black students in private schools, the national black/white
achievement gap would shrink from 33 points to 13 points."9 Her claim is backed up by results. Black
students enrolled in a New York City voucher program for at least
a year had average test scores 7.6 percentile points higher than
counterparts who had never attended private school.10
Children in Milwaukee's voucher program, in which 62.4 percent
of scholarship recipients are African-American, gained "11
normal curve equivalent (NCE) points in math and six NCE points
in reading over a four year period," according to Manhattan
Institute senior fellow Jay P. Greene.11
Our children have been left behind by failing public schools for long enough. The Supreme Court's decision removes the blockade that members of the powerful public education establishment have erected, and gives parents the opportunity to give their children the quality education they ought to be receiving.
Mary Katherine Ascik is a Research Associate for the African-American leadership group Project 21, a program of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to MAscik@nationalcenter.org.
1 "Voucher Schools Under Scrutiny: Supreme
Court Will Decide Fate of Publicly Financed Tuition Programs,"
USA Today, February 15, 2002, downloaded fromhttp://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20020215/3862919s.htm
on June 17, 2002.
2 "Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program," American Education Reform Council, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, downloaded from http://www.schoolchoiceinfo.org/img/pdf/CSTP.pdf on June 26, 2002.
4 "Parent Profile: Joyce Thompson," The Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, downloaded from http://www.schoolchoiceinfo.org/who/popup.jsp?id=50 on July 8, 2002.
5 "School Choice Facts: School Choice Is Popular," The Center for Education Reform, Washington, DC, downloaded from http://www.edreform.com/school_choice/facts/support.htm on June 21, 2002.
6 National Assessment of Educational Progress,
2000 Mathematics Assessment, National Center for Education Statistics,
Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department
of Education, Washington, DC, downloaded from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/search.asp
on June 24, 2002.
7 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2000 Mathematics Assessment / 2000 Science Assessment / 2001 U.S. History Assessment, National Center for Education Statistics, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC, downloaded from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/search.asp on June 17 and June 27, 2002.
8 National Assessment of Educational Progress,
2000 & 1998 Reading Assessments / 1998 Writing Assessment
/ 2000 Mathematics Assessment / 2000 Science Assessment / 2001
U.S. History Assessment / 2001 Geography Assessment / 1998 Civics
Assessment, National Center for Education Statistics, Office of
Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education,
Washington, DC, downloaded from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/search.asp
on June 28, 2002.
9 Darcy Olsen, "Trading Sippy-Cups for School Desks," Cato Institute, Washington, D.C., August 14, 2001, downloaded from http://www.cato.org//dailys/08-14-01.html on June 28, 2002.
10 Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Krista Kafer, "What the Harvard/Mathematica Study Says About Vouchers and Low-Income African-American Students," Center for Data Analysis, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC, April 12, 2002, downloaded from http://www.heritage.org/library/cda/cda02-03.html on June 14, 2002.
11 Jay P. Greene, "A Survey of Results
from Voucher Experiments: Where We Are and What We Know,"
Civic Report No.11, Center for Civic Innovation, The Manhattan
Institute, New York, New York, July 2000, downloaded from http://www.manhattan-institute.org/cr_11.pdf
on July 1, 2002.
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