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Research: The effect of free primary school choice on ethnic groups – Evidence from a policy reform

School Choice

Authors: Kerstin Schneider, Claudia Schuchart, Horst Weishaupt, Andrea Riedel

Abstract: In 2008, school districts were abolished in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous German federal state. Critics have argued that free school choice will lead to increased segregation and educational disparities. The data used is from Wuppertal, a major city in NRW. Since the Turkish population is the largest minority in Germany, but also one of the least integrated, the focus of this paper is on the effect of the new school law on the school choice of Turkish (Muslim) versus non-Turkish (non-Muslim) families. Free school choice has led, in fact, to increased choice on the part of both advantaged and (to a lesser extent) disadvantaged families. Motives behind choice include proximity, the composition of the school, and the academic quality of the school. The effect of this increased choice on segregation is inconclusive.

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On school choice we must look to the US

School Choice, School Vouchers

One of the most powerful ideas in education reform is the “voucher”. At present, the Government spends more than £5,000 per year on average for a child in a state school (more for secondary schools, less for primary schools). With a “voucher”, parents could choose to take that money and spend it on a place in a private school. Parents would gain a much greater range of choice overnight, and research suggests that greater choice leads to better results. This is the evidence from Sweden, which has served as the inspiration for Michael Gove’s free schools.

These arguments have been winning the debate in America for several years. Last Thursday, the State Senate of Indiana approved the largest voucher programme to be seen in the US so far. The programme is geared towards families on lower incomes. It will eventually allow 62 per cent of all families in Indiana to take their public funds to a private school if they so choose. The Government will pick up the tab on a sliding scale depending on each family’s income, with the poorest eligible for 90 per cent of their school’s fees.

Indiana’s Governor, Mitch Daniels, explained the reforms: “If you’re a moderate or low-income family and you’ve tried the public schools for at least a year and you can’t find one that works for your child, you can direct the dollars we were going to spend on your child to the non-government school of your choice. That’s a social justice issue to me.”

The Indiana reforms follow hot on the heels of the renewal of a school voucher programme in the District of Columbia, which has helped thousands of disadvantaged children get a decent education that they would not otherwise have received.

England has the same need for radical reform. Last year, only 30.9 per cent of children from poorer backgrounds (measured by eligibility for free school meals) achieved five good GCSEs, compared to 58.5 per cent of children not in receipt of free school meals. That makes it all the more surprising that the Government has set its face against something similar in England. In February, Nick Clegg was the latest Minister to declare that “while we are opening up diversity of provision, there will be no for-profit providers in our publicly funded schools system”. But school choice is a social justice issue here too. England would do well to follow Indiana’s lead.

The Telegraph, April 26, 2011

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Vouchers revived

School Choice, School Vouchers

WASHINGTON—A couple thousand low-income children in District of Columbia will be happy about the budget bill for the current fiscal year that President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Speaker of the House John Boehner agreed to Friday night: It includes the reopening of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to low-income families to send their children to a school of their choice. Congress will likely pass the budget bill midweek.

Democrats closed the program to new students in 2009, phasing it out, but when Republicans took the majority in the House of Representatives this year, Boehner pressed hard to reopen the program. He introduced the SOAR (Scholarships for Opportunity and Results) Act that reopened the program for another five years, allowing new students in and upping the scholarships from $7,000 per child to up to $8,000 to $12,000 per child, depending on grade level. The act includes provisions for the 216 students who had been accepted into the program in 2009 but were barred after Democrats closed the program. The voucher bill is the only measure Boehner has introduced as speaker.

Boehner also invited current students in the program and their families to be his guests at the State of the Union address earlier this year. When the House passed the bill reopening the program March 30, he choked up while speaking about it from the House floor: “Let’s give these kids in our capital city a real chance at success and a real shot at the American dream that they don’t have.” The measure faced stiffer opposition in the Senate, though it had two Democratic supporters, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Since the president agreed to include the SOAR Act in the final budget bill deal that averted a government shutdown last week, the Senate is likely to swallow the program now, even though Obama previously issued a statement saying he “strongly opposes” it. But the program’s opponents haven’t conceded yet, so voucher advocates voiced cautious optimism until the vote is final.

“D.C. parents are excited that Speaker Boehner has been such a champion on this issue,” said Andrew Campanella of the Alliance for School Choice. “We look forward to enrolling new students in the program if this goes through.”

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown and the majority of the council members support the voucher program, but Mayor Vincent Gray and the district’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, do not. Gray called the D.C. deal, which included a ban on local funding for abortion, “ludicrous.”

“While one rider purports to provide educational aid to children in need, the other takes away desperately needed aid from poor women,” Gray said in a statement. “Hypocrisy is alive and well in the United States Congress.” The act includes $40 million in additional funding for D.C. public and charter schools, designed to diffuse criticism that the $20 million voucher program is draining money from public schools.

Holmes Norton went further. She called the D.C. elements of the budget bill “the functional equivalent of bombing innocent civilians.” She added, in an interview with WTTG-TV, “It’s time that the District of Columbia told the Congress to go straight to hell.” Holmes Norton and Gray will attend a rally against the D.C. riders—the voucher program and the ban on abortion funding—on Monday evening outside one of the Senate office buildings. D.C. Vote, the group organizing the protest, said that Obama had “sacrificed the right of D.C. residents to get a deal on the federal budget bill.”

Congress approves all of the District of Columbia’s appropriations, and Gray brings up his opposition to federal oversight of the District of Columbia almost every time he speaks, though the district relies on federal funding for about 35 percent of its revenue. He sees the voucher program as an ideological experiment of lawmakers and has repeated what President Obama has said about the program showing no record of success. But Department of Education-commissioned studies show that the scholarship program has improved voucher recipients’ reading scores and raised high school graduation rates by 21 percent. Parents, too, are highly satisfied, especially when it comes to their children’s safety. Four separate polls found that a large majority of D.C. residents support the program.

World Magazine, April 11, 2011

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Why Race to the Top and School Choice makes teachers and kids successful

School Choice, School Vouchers

“Let me tell you, what’s not working for black kids and Hispanic kids and Native American kids across this country is the status quo. That’s what’s not working. What’s not working is what we’ve been doing for decades now.”

These words were echoed by President Barack Obama as he gave his speech about his education reform policy, “Race to the Top,” at the Urban League’s 100th Anniversary Convention. While I disagree with Obama at least 99 percent of the time on a lot of things, this is definitely that 1 percent of the time when I think he got it right. Public education is failing here at home, and we are neglecting our duties as Americans by sitting on our hands and not reaching out to help our most vulnerable citizens; our children.

Discussions of education reform and school choice initiatives have been happening all over the country. The grassroots efforts of parents, students, administrators and advocates alike have taken their hopes and concerns to some State legislative bodies like right here in Indiana. Unfortunately though, the temper tantrums being thrown by Democrats in the House have impeded any progress, and have actually overtaken the positives of initiatives like School Choice and Race to the Top; misplacing focus, and muddying the waters of a clear and concise debate about what absolutely needs to be done to fix our broken education system.

The main objection to these reforms come from the people that you would least expect, our teachers, administrators, and some elected officials. Their view is that these radical reforms will completely dismantle the public education system, all while firing our best and brightest in the field of education. This is simply not true. As Obama later stated in his address, “I am 110 percent behind our teachers. But all I’m asking in return — as a President, as a parent, and as a citizen — is some measure of accountability.

“So even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we’ve got to make sure we’re seeing results in the classroom. If we’re not seeing results in the classroom, then let’s work with teachers to help them become more effective. If that doesn’t work, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom.” Teachers are professionals, and they ought to be treated as such. If you have been in the place for 20 minutes or 20 years, it should not matter, if you are a good teacher (and there are many), DON’T WORRY YOU WILL SUCCEED, and if you are a bad teacher (and we have all had at least one) then you will be let go and someone more capable will take your place. Competition, merit-based pay, and accountability, these are the things that will make our teachers better equipped to teach our students.

Yet, while their concerns may be legitimate, they are also quite weak. They seem to be losing focus of what is truly at stake; the future of our children and our country. The premise of these “radical” reforms is to help out our children by giving them the best possible education; therefore giving them the best possible teachers … regardless of where they start.

Here’s the deal. School Choice refers to various programs that allow parents to choose the public or private school where their child will attend. Parents receive either a tax credit or scholarship representing part or all of the per-student expenditure made in local government schools. Parents could use these funds to select a public or private school of their choice instead of the government-assigned school. What does that mean? Basically, if you live in an underprivileged area of the state, and you decide that your assigned school cannot fulfill the needs of your child (graduation rates, afterschool programs, etc.) you can take the money that would have been used to attend that school and go to a better one. If that school continues to lose pupils, it will cease to exist while the other surrounding schools will flourish. This is not rocket science folks, it is competition. Why is Purdue a prestigious institution? Because, we compete with the rest of the Big Ten to bring the best and brightest teachers and students, and thus we succeed! Why should our public schools be any different? Why should our most talented students, some of them coming from underprivileged areas, be limited in their choice of education?

If you feel passionate about this issue, please feel free to come out to the Education Reform Forum at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in Physics 112. The Purdue University College Republicans will be hosting award winning director and Purdue alumnus Bob Bowdon. He will be screening his film, “The Cartel,” a film about education reform and school choice, and doing a Q&A panel after.

Mike Cunningham is the president of Purdue College Republicans and a senior in the College of Liberal Arts.

The Exponent, March 22, 2011

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‘Govt must give scholarship vouchers to students’

School Choice, School Vouchers

MUMBAI: The government can make its investments in education more effective by providing students with scholarship vouchers instead of aiding schools, said management guru and author Gurucharan Das during a lecture at the United World Colleges meet .

According to Das, one out of four teachers at government schools is always absent and those present do not teach. He said the problem cannot be attributed to poor salaries as after recent revisions teachers are earning at least Rs 22,000 a month-seven times the per capita income.

“I have almost given up hope that I will see any reform of government schools during my lifetime. But I am an advocate of scholarship vouchers. If the government gave each child a scholarship voucher of Rs 6,000 per year it would cover the fees at 85% of private schools,” said Das. “Today it is only the rich who can choose the education institution. With education vouchers the poor too can have a choice of schools. Teachers will also realize that they will get paid only when they perform because parents will send their children to only those schools with performing teachers.” he said

According to Mr Das, teachers are a very powerful community. “In the US the teachers union mobilizes $2bn every year. In India they are powerful not just because of unions but also because during elections it is the teachers who are perform the job of invigilators”

In his speech Mr Das highlighted the moral dimension on the issue of governance and sought to draw a connection between governance, the concept of dharma and the Mahabarata .

The government can make its investments in education more effective by providing students with scholarship vouchers instead of aiding schools according to management guru and author Gurucharan Das.

According to Das the experience in government schools is that one out of four teachers is not present and a fourth of those present do not teach. He said that the problem was not salaries. After the revisions following the recent pay commission teachers were earning at least Rs 22,000 a month which is seven times the per capita income. In most other countries the teacher’s salary is once or twice the income.

Speaking at the United World Colleges lecture series, management guru and author Mr Das said “I have almost given up hope that I will see any reform of government schools during my lifetime. But I am an advocate of scholarship vouchers. If instead of spending the money in education, the government gave each child a scholarship voucher of Rs 6,000 per year it would cover the fees at 85% of private schools”

“Today it is only the rich how can choose the education institution. With education vouchers the poor too can have a choice of schools. Teachers will also realize that they will get paid only when they perform because parents will send their children to only those schools with performing teachers” he said

According to Mr Das, teachers are a very powerful community. “In the US the teachers union mobilizes $2bn every year. In India they are powerful not just because of unions but also because during elections it is the teachers who are perform the job of invigilators”

In his speech Mr Das highlighted the moral dimension on the issue of governance and sought to draw a connection between governance, the concept of dharma and the Mahabarata.

Times of India, February 9 2011

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Rosa Parks on the school bus

School Choice

Last week, 40-year-old Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was released after serving nine days in jail on a felony conviction for tampering with records. Williams-Bolar’s offense? Lying about her address so her two daughters, zoned to the lousy Akron city schools, could attend better schools in the neighboring Copley-Fairlawn district.

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School choice, but few real options

Charter Schools, School Choice

Every summer, an increasingly common event occurs across the nation – parents open a letter telling them that their child’s school failed to meet benchmarks set by the federal No Child Left Behind law. As a result, the letter explains, they have the right to send their child to another public school if space is available.

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Meeks wants vouchers for 50,000 students

School Choice, School Vouchers

Arguing that Chicago Public Schools are “broken’’ and that parents deserve a “choice,’’ mayoral challenger James Meeks said Wednesday he would offer $4,500-a-year vouchers to 50,000 low-and-middle-income Chicago families to use toward private school tuition. If he is elected mayor, Meeks said he would also offer full-day kindergarten and character education in all Chicago Public Schools and double the time spent on reading and math in first through third grades. Full-day kindergarten would be financed in part by cutting bonus pay for teachers with master’s degrees.

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Parents Can Seek Transfers From Under-Performing Schools

School Choice

Parents of Los Angeles Unified School District students interested in transferring their children out of under-performing schools have until Dec. 17 to complete the Choices application with the district. Each year, more than 422,000 LAUSD students are eligible to transfer out of their low-performing schools through a mostly unknown federal program called the No Child Left Behind Public School Choice.

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Dramatic Election Gains for School Choice

School Choice

The future for school choice programs across the country brightened dramatically this week in the wake of the election of several new governors and state legislators, strengthening a growing bipartisan coalition for school choice, according to the American Federation for Children (AFC). “Now is the time to move forward with big, bold change that will ensure equal educational opportunity for every child.” The Federation and its affiliated political committees were triumphant in almost every one of the 200+ state elections in which the organizations were involved and invested over $3 million in state primary and general elections.

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