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Universities and think tanks report academic results ranging from no change to improved test scores, both for voucher students and for their public school peers in Milwaukee and Cleveland. “It doesn’t make sense to me to call these mixed results,” said the Manhattan Institute’s Jay Greene. “If study findings range from zero to positive, that’s positive.” No academic study has found that choice programs harm student performance.
Ohio will offer vouchers only to students in schools experiencing academic difficulty, but that difficulty may not be the kind of total organizational meltdown that parents imagine when they hear words like “academic emergency.” Some students at orderly but mediocre schools will qualify even if they personally are doing well. Ohioans should find that options benefit such students. Choice is more than an emergency escape hatch.
School choice has upside potential because different children learn differently. Students who are learning adequately in one school may find that elsewhere they can become outstanding. An Indiana University evaluation of the Cleveland program found that “no particular school or school type is likely to meet the expectations or needs of all families.” The Ohio expansion will allow “parents and students to have a more active role in selecting the school that is best suited for the individual needs of the child,” Husted emphasizes.
That a child’s individual needs, rather than geography, should determine the school that she attends was a novel idea in the wake of decades of public school assignment, and it has taken hold slowly. But as urban voucher programs diversify educational options while revitalizing public schools, parents elsewhere are rethinking the opportunity to choose.
Columbus, Ohio native Jack Nicklaus explained his perennial success on the golf course by saying, “I resolve never to quit, never to give up, no matter what the situation.” School choice supporters spent many years starting small, and their persistence is paying dividends. Success in Ohio’s suburbs and rural counties will signal that diversity in schooling has become a mainstream value. That would be a boon to the choice movement. After all, Nicklaus also said, “Golf is a better game played downhill.”
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