Thursday, April 06, 2006

NYT looks at DC's voucher program

The New York Times takes a look at DC's federally funded voucher program and the changing attitudes towards it by the District's minority parents.
For minority parents in Washington, the implications for national policy are distant ripples. For them, and for their children, vouchers offer a way out of one of the nation's most dysfunctional public school systems, and open a window into worlds that few would otherwise know.

Although white children do better here than in any state, the odds appear stacked heavily against the 85 percent of students in public schools who are black. Their reading and math skills are among the poorest of blacks in any city or state, with two in three fourth graders, and more than half the eighth graders, lacking even basic reading skills, according to the national assessment.

Latinos do not fare much better; 63 percent lack basic reading skills in the fourth grade; 41 percent are still missing them by eighth grade.

More than half of the students in the program use the vouchers to attend religious schools, mostly Catholic. Among secular schools, Rock Creek International School, a language-immersion school that teaches French, Spanish and Arabic, has been the most generous in subsidizing students.

In accepting 29 students this year, officials said Rock Creek committed itself to helping the children fit into a middle and upper-class environment. Last year, the school raised enough donations for all the voucher students who wanted to go to join class trips to Greece, Costa Rica and Qatar, said Josh Schmidt, the admissions director.

Like many other voucher students, Breanna Walton, 8, rises before dawn for the long bus ride from Northeast Washington, "amongst the crime and drugs and all that," in the words of her mother, April Cole Walton, to Rock Creek International, near Georgetown University. There, she learns Spanish with the children of lawyers and diplomats.

Ms. Walton said that her neighborhood school "has broken down," and that she would have done just about anything to keep Breanna from going there. "Every child here should be able to say I'm going to set my sights high," she said. "I refuse to let my child be cheated."

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