Parent and Student Voices on the First Year of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

School Choice Demonstration Project, Georgetown University
Thomas Stewart,
Ph.D., Patrick J. Wolf, Ph.D., and Stephen Q. Cornman, Esq.
October 2005

While choice opponents sometimes argue cynically that poor parents cannot be
trusted to make good decisions for their children, these Georgetown researchers
(and their funders at the Annie E. Casey Foundation) respected parents enough to
ask them (in a series of focus groups) about their experiences in Washington,
D.C.'s new, federally funded voucher program. Their answers are illuminating.
Most families' and students' experiences with the program were overwhelmingly
positive, and many parents reported that, after receiving an Opportunity
Scholarship their children were more confident, performed better academically,
and demonstrated increased enthusiasm for school. Says one elementary school
parent: "This is what I tell my kids. I tell them that this is an opportunity
for you to strive, do your best, take advantage of it, that's what I tell my
children." Parents were especially enthusiastic about the rigorous standards of
their children's new schools and the opportunity to get involved, though both
presented challenges. Says one Hispanic parent, "For us there was a significant
change more than anything because we were forced to go to English school to
learn English ... when I realized all the homework was in English, so I had to
stay awake all night with a translator and a dictionary." There have been bumps,
such as the incident in which a teacher told a scholarship student (whose
involvement in the program was supposed to be confidential): "If you don't stop
acting like this, remember, you are here on a scholarship and we could put you
out." The principal quickly handled that situation (one of the few examples of
ostracism that researchers could find) to the parent's satisfaction. On the
whole, participating private schools, including some of the nation's ritziest,
are making the scholarship families feel like they belong. A middle school
parent explains: "It's like the people there treat me like I'm a part of their
family. The school is just so family-oriented. I mean I am so happy." If Jonathan Kozol wants to see people of different races and
classes coming together to educate their children together, he could do worse
than to visit some of the schools participating in the D.C. voucher program. See
it for yourself here.

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