‘A Catalyst for Innovation’

Conn Carroll /

In today’s Washington Post, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings makes the case for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that Congress almost shut down earlier this year:

An independent study of the program released last year confirms this parental satisfaction. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) found that parents of scholarship children express confidence that they will be better educated and even safer in their new schools. A study by Georgetown University found increased parental involvement and student enthusiasm for learning.

The IES study reported academic gains in reading by three student subgroups, totaling nearly 90 percent of all students. They gained the equivalent of two to four extra months of learning. An IES report last year found increased math scores among some of the same subgroups.

This is especially impressive when you consider that nearly all of the participating students are from families that are at or below the poverty line; the average income of participating families is $22,736, only $2,000 above the poverty level for a family of four. Ninety-nine percent of the children are African American or Hispanic.

If Congress were to discontinue funding for D.C. opportunity scholarships, 86 percent of the students would be reassigned to schools that did not meet “adequate yearly progress” goals in reading and math for 2006-07. We cannot allow that to happen. Fortunately, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee share my enthusiasm for reform. It’s an exciting time for education in Washington. The three-sector approach enjoys strong support among District residents. It has been a catalyst for innovation. It may also inspire other cities to develop their own scholarship programs.