John Tierney, who replaced William Safire, is one of the reasons to keep reading the New York Times.
Today Tierney tells the story of Adrian Bushell, who is poor and black and lives with his grandmother. The public school in Adrian’s neighborhood, Edison, is terrible, and Adrian’s grandmother was determined that he go elsewhere. Thanks to Florida’s voucher system, he has:
“For years Edison had been getting F’s from the state (which uses an A-to-F rating system). As a result, Adrian was entitled to transfer to another public school or get a $4,400 voucher good at any private school willing to accept it as full tuition — which typically means a Catholic or other religious school. Adrian, an Episcopalian, used it at the Monsignor Edward Pace Catholic High School.
“It’s a whole different environment from the public schools,’ Adrian said. ‘I was barely making a 2.0 in public school, but now it’s 3.0. It’s been great.’ His grandmother was just as pleased.
“‘There’s been a complete turnaround in his grades, his focus, his discipline,’ she said. ‘This new school is the best thing that could have happened to him. Before Pace, he never thought he wanted to go to college. Now his mind is on college.'”
Florida’s voucher system is under attack, and Tierney points out that the lawyers challenging it won’t be able to argue that the voucher system destroys public schools, a common complaint:
“Well, the public system did lose $4,400, but that’s actually $1,000 less than the cost of educating the average student and there was one pupil fewer to teach.
“As enrollment has dropped at Edison, the student-to-teacher ratio has improved to about 22 from about 30. In the past two years, a new principal has revamped the administration and replaced half the teachers in the school. Under the new leadership, the average test score at the school last year rose dramatically — one of the largest increases of any high school in Florida.
“Edison’s improvement is not an isolated example, as three separate studies have found in Florida. Test scores have gone up more rapidly at schools facing the threat of vouchers than at other schools. The latest study, by Martin West and Paul Peterson of Harvard, shows that Florida’s program is much more effective than the federal No Child Left Behind program.
“The federal program merely guarantees students at bad schools a chance to transfer to other public schools. That prospect doesn’t spur improvement in test scores, the study found, probably because it’s not much of a threat to public school officials. After all, students often can’t find a good public school nearby, and even if they transfer, they still remain in the public system.”
Does this mean Florida opponents of vouchers (better known as teachers and school administrators)will fold their tents and praise a system that gives poor kids a chance?
Not on your life.
Read the rest of Tierney’s column to find out what sneaky trick they’ll resort to in order to keep kids like Adrian in crummy schools.