Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com) - School choice initiatives are showing promise, conservative education scholars believe.
A school choice scholar, who spoke at the Heritage Foundation press conference in Washington, D.C., indicates that the fears of school choice opponents are unfounded.
Dr. Patrick Wolf, assistant professor of public policy at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, said studies show that school choice programs are forcing public school districts to make changes the public has been calling for.
Wolf cited a Harvard study of the Milwaukee school choice program, which was previously reported on by CNSNews.com, as an example of a study pointing to the promise of school choice.
"There have been a lot of studies in [the area of school choice], some by Caroline Hoxby of Harvard and Jay Green of the Manhattan Institute strongly suggesting that public schools that face competition from voucher programs tend to institute the kinds of reforms that people have been urging on them for years," he said.
"[Voucher programs] tend to change their [public schools] approach in a way that is likely to yield benefits for those students who stay in those programs," Wolf said.
He also claimed that school choice has shown a marked improvement in the academic performance of African American students.
"The opportunity to switch from public to private schools tends to improve the educational achievement of low-income African American students, we know that," Wolf said. "The reliable studies that have been done on this identify positive results at least for African Americans."
Opponents of school choice have claimed that voucher students will not receive exposure to proper civic values, but Wolf claims that the opposite is true.
"These voucher programs even promote certain civic values such as political tolerance, volunteerism, community involvement, and respect for others," he said. "This is sort of a fire wall that the defenders of the public school system construct to try and stop school choice programs from advancing."
Wolf disputes his opponents' contentions that school choice should be avoided because private schools pick and choose whom they will admit.
"Private schools do very little skimming in their decisions to admit voucher students," he said. "There is no indication that they are chairman picky, [choosing] the easiest to educate students . . .or they are excluding families from their schools based on religious affiliation."
"The last year we sifted and collected data on the Washington program [was] last year's," Wolf said. "We had a total of zero parents claim that they were excluded from their preferred religious school because they didn't share the religious affiliation of that school."
He contends that Washington, D.C. is a prime example of the fallacy of the opponents' skimming argument, because 70 percent of the voucher students enrolled in Washington's Catholic schools are Baptist.
Wolf also took aim at opponents' contentions that school vouchers drain funding from public schools by pointing to the fact that total per pupil funding in the Milwaukee public schools has increased.
"The total amount of funding in the Milwaukee schools has gone up," Wolf said. "The per pupil spending has gone up dramatically because they have off loaded a large number of pupils to the private system, and have received much more money from the initiative."
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) strongly disputes Wolf's contentions, claiming that other studies dispute his findings.
"It is disingenuous to say that there are studies to say that voucher students do any better," said AFT Communications Director Alex Wohl. "The majority of studies that have been done show very little improvement."
"The fact of the matter is, the most challenged schools ... are turning around all by themselves," he said. "They are doing it through time-tested, research-based programs [such as] lower class size."
Wohl emphasized that movements toward smaller class sizes will reap educational benefits for students without school choice.
"There have been studies done by serious scholars that show that kids who go, especially in the early years in smaller classes, improve their achievements at a higher rate than kids in vouchers schools," Wohl said. "There are all sorts of changes going on in public schools in urban areas where teachers, superintendents, parents, school board members are working to turn around their schools."
The AFT believes that government should focus upon public school choice and smaller class sizes rather than diverting funds to voucher programs.