In the past three years, more than 1,000 families throughout Youngstown, Ohio have taken advantage of the state’s open-enrollment law, charter schools, and new statewide voucher program for students in chronically failing schools. Experts say students’ increasing academic success there demonstrates the benefits of choice.
Chad Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio (SCO), said that’s what happens when parents get involved.
“Being able to choose school placement creates parent involvement,” Aldis said. “That is one of the leading indicators of the success of students.”
The question remains, however, whether such choice is spurring public schools to improve. Aldis said that question is too often unanswered.
“When you put in competitive pressures such as school choice, it seems that public schools would respond,” Aldis said. “But it doesn’t happen overnight.”
In fact, Aldis said, schools may coast along for many years under the impression everything is just fine. It isn’t until they recognize parents are seeking better alternatives elsewhere that they begin to try to improve.
“It takes a while for the market to respond, for choices to affect the actions of the public school,” Aldis said.
Currently, more than 90,000 children across Ohio are eligible for the Educational Choice Scholarship–also called EdChoice, the program for students in failing public schools. Under state law, a failing school is defined as one that has received a “D” (put on academic watch) or “F” (in academic emergency) on the state report card for two of the past three years.
The 224 underperforming schools that currently appear on one of those two lists are located in 31 school districts statewide. Nine are in Youngstown.
Youngstown district officials did not respond to requests for an interview to discuss how choice has contributed to district improvement. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Ohio students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have improved steadily over the past decade–about the same amount of time school choice options have been available.
The EdChoice Scholarship, now in its third year, allowed approximately 7,000 students to choose a better educational environment during the 2007-08 school year, up from 3,000 students in 2006-07.
“I agree with Gov. [Ted] Strickland’s statement in the 2007 State of the State address,” Aldis said. “[He said] ‘Where you grow up in Ohio should not determine where you end up in life.’ The EdChoice Scholarship is an important tool in preventing this inequality by giving children in failing schools a path to a better education.”
That’s the mission of SCO, Aldis said–to protect and expand educational options by ensuring choice in quality schools and other places of learning.
Wendy Cloyd ([email protected]) writes from Alaska.