3-5-15 – School Choice Benefits Kids in Poverty Most

by Rob Roper

A persistent attack on school choice by its opponents is that allowing parents to choose the best school to fit their child’s needs is somehow an elitist policy that only benefits the “rich.” This is baloney. In fact, the opposite is true.

A recent series of studies by the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) repeatedly demonstrates that the real beneficiaries of choice are children in poverty.

CREDO did state-specific studies in California, Ohio and Louisiana, and a comprehensive study of charter school outcomes nationwide (16 states have charter schools). Here’s what they said looking at the nation as a whole:

Charter students in poverty in 2013 continue to have an advantage over their TPS [Traditional Public School] counterparts. The difference in 2013 is 14 additional days of learning. Both continuing and new schools have statistically significant and positive reading impacts for charter students in poverty.


Compared to the learning gains of TPS students in poverty, charter students in poverty learn significantly more in math,… Moreover, this difference in performance has widened. In 2009, charter students in poverty had about seven additional days of learning in math than their TPS peers, while in 2013 the advantage is 22 additional days of learning for charter students in poverty. Mirroring the reading findings, both continuing and new schools in 2013 have positive math impacts for charter students in poverty. (Emphasis added, National Charter School Study 2013)

In other words, the longer competition has a chance to influence and improve the system, the better these students’ outcomes tend to be.

Students not in poverty don’t see this kind of advantage, according to CREDO. They do just as well or better in a TPS (to use CREDO’s descriptor) environment. Why the difference? This dynamic was reflected in recent comments by David Manning, principal of Johnson Elementary School, who testified before the House Education Committee that, “Our low-income students and students with disabilities do struggle to follow the rules more than their non-disabled peers. The problem is the school is only set up for one group of children to succeed.” (Emphasis added, VTDigger, 2/24/15) And that “one group” in TPS is not kids in poverty.

As former Vermont Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca lamented as he exited the office, “I am particularly concerned that we still have not made major progress in closing the achievement gap for students living in poverty…. Vermont students demonstrated significant achievement gaps based on family income….. The smallest gap was 14 percentage points in fourth grade mathematics, and the largest was 23 percentage points in fourth grade reading.” (11/26/13)

The children of parents who are educated and provide stable family lives (often with more income, but not necessarily) are the ones who thrive in a TPS system because their parents are the ones who run for school board, volunteer in the classroom, lobby teachers and administrators, threaten to leave for private schools if their needs are not met, and otherwise shape the one-size-fits-all environment to fit the needs of their kids.

The way to break this dynamic is to empower students in poverty with other alternatives – SCHOOL CHOICE! As CREDO shows, when given these options, children from impoverished backgrounds can and do thrive.

The TPS system, despite decades of trying and hundreds of millions of dollars in increased spending since the passage of Act 60, has failed in this critical goal of bridging the achievement gap between rich and poor. The bridge is school choice. Those wealthy enough will always have it. But let’s give all kids the resources and the opportunities to pay the toll.

– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute


Is now the time to expand school choice in Vermont? 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ralph M McGregor March 7, 2015 at 1:49 pm



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