Opportunity Scholarships a “Choice for a Better Future”

This week, the Times-Herald of Montgomery County published my letter to the editor on underperforming schools and why Pennsylvania’s new opportunity scholarships matter:

In “Norristown School District Refutes State Report,” administrators dispute three local schools being placed in the bottom 15 percent of Pennsylvania public schools on academic performance. They argue the state’s designation is based on a “false measure,” and say broader official education data show the schools have improved greatly.

That may be so, but a leap in performance from “awful” to “bad” offers little to brag about.Take one of the three schools, Norristown Area High, which has never made Adequate Yearly Progress. In 2007, a mere 31 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math, while only 34 percent were proficient in reading. In 2011, 42 percent and 52 percent of students were proficient in math and reading respectively.

The improvement is undoubtedly welcome. But if barely half of a school’s students can read or write adequately by 11th grade, they cannot afford to wait for a decent education while school officials celebrate growth charts. In our globalized world, a quality education is increasingly important in ensuring our children can compete for jobs. Students in China and other industrialized nations routinely outperform those in the very best U.S. school districts.

In June, students trapped in under-performing schools got a legislative lifeline in the form of business-funded opportunity scholarships. Thousands of students will have the opportunity to attend a better school of their choice this fall.

The list of schools getting ready to welcome them is growing. In the Philadelphia region, for example, all 177 Catholic Archdiocese schools will accept opportunity scholarship students. Families at the three low-achieving Norristown schools may choose to stay or go—but they finally have a choice in their education, and their future.