Dear Mayor Rahm Emanuel,
First, congratulations are in order for Chicago Public Schools having achieved a record-high graduation rate! Last year’s (five-year) graduation rate of 60.6% is almost certainly due, in part, to your efforts to reform the school system.
However, what if I told you that I know of a policy proposal that has the potential to take that 60% to over 90%? Impossible?
Try school choice.
I’m not making this up. I couldn’t. Providing vouchers to the parents of low- income students so they can choose which school their child should attend has repeatedly led to such results. In Milwaukee, Cleveland, Florida, Washington D.C., and elsewhere vouchers have led to improvements on test scores. Parents are more satisfied; students have more intrinsic motivation and truancy rates drop. The biggest gains come in graduation rates, which in D.C. were over 90% for students with a voucher, compared to graduation rates below 60% for those without a voucher and 70% for those who applied for but did not receive a voucher. Even more impressive, in the 2011-12 school year, 89% of graduating students with a voucher went to college, well outpacing even the national average.
One of the biggest problems in Chicago right now is the stranglehold that the current education monopoly has on the provision of education. This was plainly evident during this year’s teacher’s union strike. Fortunately, school choice has the potential to end-run this problem.
Going beyond the trite, banal fact that vouchers give low-income families the ability to move their children to schools where they can flourish, vouchers can also produce serious reform by allowing reformers to change up how things are normally done to find the best way to educate students. This may come in many forms, including re-evaluating teacher requirements (my parents have taught me a great deal about a number of issues, even without a teaching certificate), tenure, merit pay, and classroom management. We would be remiss to write off such proposals without having trying and evaluating them. Education is, after all, surprising and counter-intuitive (class sizes are at an all time low this year- as are SAT scores).
So, Mayor Emanuel, as the school year rolls on into winter break, I would encourage you to take a serious look at the state of education in Chicago and ask—honestly, is this the best we can do? I can assure you that we both know the answer to that question.
Ed.’s note- a graphic made by One Book One Northwestern was used for this article without permission/attribution. It has been removed- The Chronicle apologizes for the oversight.