No Educator Left Behind is a series providing answers from the U.S. Department of Education to questions about the federal No Child Left Behind Act and how it will affect educators. If you have a question about No Child Left Behind, send an e-mail to Ellen Delisio, and we will submit your question to the Department of Education.
Why does the Department of Education support vouchers? A recent study demonstrates public schools are as good if not better than private schools.
The study to which you refer, by the National Center for Education Statistics, is not as clear-cut as you suggest. It found that private schools significantly outscored public schools in all four categories tested: grade four reading and math, and grade eight reading and math. When adjusted for "selected student characteristics," however, public school students significantly outscored private schools in just one category, grade four math, and were outscored in another, grade eight reading.
"Without further information, such as measures of prior achievement," the study's authors cautioned, "there is no way to determine how patterns of self-selection may have affected the estimates presented."
Different studies show different findings. The point is, for parents with children in schools that fall short of standards year after year, the opportunity to choose another school is greater than any one study. President Bush has proposed a $100 million Opportunity Scholarships fund to enable thousands more families to leave poorly performing schools and choose ones that better meet their children's needs.
In Washington, D.C., more than 1,700 children have benefited under a pilot federal Opportunity Scholarships program. "Having a choice is very important to me," said one DC Scholarship mother. "It means that if something is wrong in school, you can make a change before there is a tragedy."
I would add that private and parochial schools have a built-in accountability: parents can simply "vote with their feet" by removing their children from it. Many public school parents, especially those of more modest means, do not yet enjoy that same opportunity. I believe we should give them new options and information so they can do what's best for their kids. As a mom, I know that's what I want.
Read previous questions and answers in our No Educator Left Behind archive.