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The Future of D.C. School Choice (Dan Lips)

More than 1,800 disadvantaged children in Washington, D.C., are now using federally funded tuition scholarships to attend private schools. But as the scholarship program’s congressional reauthorization approaches, whether these children will have that opportunity in the future is uncertain. 

In 2004, President Bush signed legislation to create the D.C. opportunity scholarship program, which offered tuition scholarships worth up to $7,500 for students from families with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line for a family of four. Students receiving scholarships can attend any of 66 participating private schools.  

Now in its third year, the program aids 1,800 students from families with an average income of $21,100, or 106 percent of the poverty line. These students’ families are some of the most disadvantaged in the community. 

The scholarships have proven popular among parents. According to the Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit that administers the program, nearly 6,500 students have applied for scholarships over the past three years, or about three applicants for each scholarship slot. In all, about 11 percent of eligible low-income students have applied. 

So far, studies of the program’s results have been encouraging. A 2005 Georgetown University study found that many parents reported that their children “became more confident, performed better academically, and possessed increased enthusiasm after joining” the opportunity scholarship program.  

A 2006 Manhattan Institute report suggested that the program would promote racial integration, as participating students would likely use their scholarships to leave more segregated public schools to attend more integrated private schools.  

Next year, the most important evaluation of the program will be released. This study will determine whether the program is having an academic impact on participating children. To date, eight similar studies have evaluated similar programs across the country, comparing the test scores of students receiving vouchers to a control group of peers who remained in

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Right Side? Wrong Reasons (Ben DeGrow)

Requiring school districts to spend more money in the classroom seems to offer a powerful solution to the problems of public education. But a closer look shows the approach won’t be as effective as some would hope.

Colorado voters this year are faced with dueling proposals to dictate local school spending: Amendment 39 and Referendum J. In the end, neither can be expected to make much of an impact. Yet the one that has the slightest potential to make a real effect has drawn fire from unions and school officials.

The national advocacy group First Class Education gathered more than 100,000 Coloradans’ signatures to put Amendment 39 on the ballot. Only 12 of the state’s 178 school districts already meet the proposal’s mandate that school districts spend 65 percent of their operating budgets on “classroom instruction”–including teachers and classroom aides, textbooks, instructional supplies, tutoring, libraries, field trips, athletics, and purchased instructional services.

If enforced, the measure would shift an estimated $278 million of current education spending into these areas. Yet little could stop most school districts from merely hiring another bureaucrat to reconfigure the chart of accounts or rename job titles to meet the mandate.

A reader who browses through the Colorado Department of Education’s thick chart of accounts can get an idea of how easily school budgets can be manipulated.

Of course, it is possible that some school boards actually would eliminate some administrative staff positions (many of which were created to comply with federal regulations) in order to hire more teachers. They also might offer salary bonuses to their existing faculty or buy more textbooks and classroom computers. Maybe they would cut non-instructional costs through competitive contracting for services like maintenance or trash removal.

Regardless of what a school board might do in response, no connection has been found between the

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Arrested Acceleration (Jennifer Buckingham)

The story of academically gifted Gracia Malaxetxebarria, who lives in the state of Queensland in Australia, is not an uncommon one–except that her mother went to uncommon lengths to see justice done. 

Gracia, with an IQ of 147 (the average is 100) wanted to move into a higher grade, where the work was more compatible with her intelligence level. When Gracia’s mother put this to her daughter’s public school, it denied the request, apparently for the reason that Gracia “needed more time to develop socially.”

So Gracia’s mother took her to a private school, where she went into Year 8 at the age of 9, three years ahead of her age peers. Despite the fact that she achieved high marks and received good reports from the private school, the public school system still refused to allow her to transfer back to a public school at the same grade level.

Gracia’s mother took the matter to court and won Gracia the right to grade acceleration in the public school system.

This is an important victory. In some public school systems in Australia there is still strong resistance to the idea that gifted children have special educational needs. When faced with this resistance many families withdraw from the system rather than fight it. For this reason, stories about high achieving children often involve home schooling families. For example, home schooled twins Edward and Katherine Alpert, also from Queensland, made the news this year for completing bachelor degrees at the age of 15.

University of New South Wales academic Miraca Gross is co-author of a 2004 report called A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, with University of Iowa researchers Nicholas Colangelo and Susan G. Assouline.

The report finds that acceleration — skipping grades — is positive for students in the short-term

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