Sometimes parents in low-income areas get a bad rap. Many are thought to be negligent and uncaring about their children’s education and futures. While that may be true in some extraordinary cases, you will rarely ever meet a parent who wants to enroll their child in a low-performing school. In fact, research suggests that when parents are given free choice about where to place their children in school, they will choose the best school they can find.
The positive outcomes for parental choice have been demonstrated yet again in a new study by Matthew M. Chingos of the Brookings Institution and Paul E. Peterson, Director of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.
In “The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City,” Chingos and Peterson studied the college-enrollment outcomes of school voucher programs and found that the percentage of African-American students who enrolled part-time or full-time in college by 2011 was 24 percent higher for those who had won a school voucher lottery while in elementary school and used that voucher to attend a private school.
The study concludes the following:
The impact of the voucher offer we observe for African American students is also much larger than the impact of exposure to a highly effective teacher. Raj Chetty and his colleagues (see “Great Teaching,” research, Summer 2012) report that being assigned to an elementary school teacher who is 1 standard deviation more effective than the average teacher boosted college enrollment for students in a very large city by 0.5 percentage points at age 20, relative to a base of 38 percent, an increment of 1.25 percent. If one extrapolates that finding (as those researchers do not) to three years of highly effective teaching, the impact is 3.75 percent. The 24 percent impact we identify for African American students is many times as large.
The results of this study should ignite a clarion call for more and more education choice for low-income parents. Parents have a greater impact on education outcomes than teachers. Spending more money on education is not the solution. Raising teacher’s salaries is not the solution. What holds many students behind is that their parent’s ability to make education decisions is undermined by a system that forces them to send their children to low-performing schools. If we want schools to improve across the board, we may want to consider giving parents 100% control of education decisions and watch what happens: schools will improve or close.