National School Choice Week: The Middle Class Needs Choice, too

National School Choice Week: The Middle Class Needs Choice, too

It’s National School Choice Week and governors and legislators in a number of states have proposed increasing schooling options for low-income students attending low-performing schools. While commendable, it’s important to point out that student under-achievement isn’t limited to low-income areas, but is also widespread in middle-class and more affluent suburbs as well.

For example, state test results in many middle-class Orange County public schools, especially high schools, show significant deficiencies. At El Toro High School in the Saddleback school district about a third of 11th graders failed to score at the proficient level on the 2011 state English exam. Worse, nearly half of 11th graders failed to hit proficiency on the state math exams. Other high schools across the county had similar or worse results (parents can look up their own school’s performance at www.edresults.org).

A third or more of 11th graders failed to score at the proficient level on both the state English and math exams at, for instance, Brea-Olinda High School, Canyon High School, El Dorado High School, Esperanza High School, Sunny Hills High School and Villa Park High School. In addition, more than a third of 11th graders at schools such as University High, Irvine High and Foothill High failed to score at the proficient mark on the state math exams.

Another important indicator of student achievement is college readiness. The California State University administers a college-readiness exam called the Early Assessment Program (EAP) that 11th graders may take. At Irvine’s Northwood High School, where 11th graders score comparatively higher on the state English and math exams than most of the schools listed above, less than half of juniors taking the EAP English and math exams scored at the college-ready level. The scores at the other schools were even worse.

Sixty percent or more of juniors taking the EAP English exam at Canyon High, Esperanza High, Sunny Hills High, Villa Park High, Foothill High, and Brea-Olinda High failed to score at the college-ready level. Seventy percent or more of juniors taking the EAP math exam at Canyon, El Dorado, Esperanza, Villa Park, Foothill and Brea-Olinda failed to hit the college-ready mark. These schools have student populations that are largely from higher income families, with a quarter or less of the students categorized as socio-economically disadvantaged.

In their recently released “Global Report Card,” University of Arkansas education professor Jay Greene and several colleagues use national and international testing data to compare the performance of U.S. school districts with a group of 25 industrialized countries (parents can look up their own school district’s performance at www.globalreportcard.org).

For example, in the Orange Unified School District (OUSD) the average district student scores at only the 30th percentile in math when compared to students from Europe and Asia, which means that 70 percent of the students in these countries performed better than the average OUSD student. Against students in Singapore, traditionally the highest performing math nation, the average OUSD student scores in just the 16th percentile.

In reading, the average OUSD student scores at the 46th percentile, which means that 54 percent of the international students performed better. Against Canadian students, the average OUSD student scores in the 35 percentile, meaning that 65 percent of the Canadian students would score higher in reading.

Last year, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed legislation that will make vouchers available to both low- and middle-income parents. California parents and activists are using National School Choice Week to organize rallies and other events to push lawmakers to give parents of all income backgrounds the ability to choose the public or private school that best meets the needs of their children. It’s time for Sacramento politicians to listen to the people, not the powerful and wealthy public-education special interests.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.