The Evolution of School Choice Consumers: Parent and Student Voices on the Second Year of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program

Stephen Q. Cornman, Thomas Stewart, Patrick J. Wolf
Georgetown University Public Policy Institute
May 2007

This study of parent and student attitudes toward Washington, D.C.'s, Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) is by no means a definitive evaluation of that ongoing experiment (Congress approved a five-year trial run in 2003). The authors interviewed 110 families and assembled their anecdotes into several broad observations. Still, it gives readers a good look into the program's workings. Two major findings were that "the majority of parents are active and knowledgeable school choice consumers" (another recent study showed much the same) and their consumer skills became more nuanced over time. Second-year participants, for example, were more likely to care about whether their children received direct teacher attention and attended schools of high academic quality, while first-year families were more concerned with immediately salient matters like safety and class size. The study's second part focuses on the "opportunities or challenges" that participating families have experienced. On the positive side, the authors found that parents became more involved in their children's education after beginning the program and that they believe their children are experiencing greater academic success in new schools. These same parents expressed concerns, however, that they might inadvertently "earn out" of the program--i.e., boost their income to a level that would disqualify them for the scholarship. (Congress lifted the eligibility threshold for family income from 200 to 300 percent of the federal poverty line in 2006, after the surveys were conducted.) They also complained about the shortage of seats in participating high schools. Again, these findings are only generalizations of anecdotal evidence (parents are quoted extensively throughout), but it's a worthwhile read if you have been wondering what's going on with OSP. Read it here. (A topical Washington Post op-ed is available here.)

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