Archive for October, 2010

Letter from CSF President: Lending Superman a Hand…

By Darla Romfo

The documentary, “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” captures many of the deficiencies in our public education system with tear-jerking accuracy. It is a good movie, but it doesn’t go far enough in arguing for better educational choices for America’s children.

The director Davis Guggenheim and several of the experts he interviews argue that charter schools have finally figured out how to educate poor inner-city kids who have scored below their more affluent peers for years. But actually there were schools doing a great job long before charters came along. Some are low-cost parochial and faith-based schools and others are just independent private schools operating in the inner-city. They get very little attention but they are doing a good job of educating some of our most at-risk kids.

I didn’t know much about these schools either until I started working at the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) in 1999. CSF is a national non-profit organization providing about 29,000 partial scholarships annually to low-income children to go to tuition-based schools in grades K-8. In 1999, we received 1.25 million applications for our first 40,000 scholarships, for the first time proving the demand that exists among parents of all backgrounds for alternatives to faltering conventional schools.

These schools do not require a lottery to choose their students. For low-income families, the only impediment to attending them is financial. CSF’s average scholarship in New York is $1,810, and that is enough for our parents to make the decision and the sacrifice required of them to send their child to private school. There are thousands of empty seats in these schools in New York alone, and the child doesn’t have to depend on the luck of the draw to attend. They just need a little financial assistance.

High-performing charter schools like the ones profiled in “Waiting for ‘Superman’” are unquestionably wonderful schools producing excellent results for those children lucky enough to enroll in them. And very importantly, they have provided some level of competition for the public schools in their areas. However, they are not the only solution to our nation’s education problems, and it would be dangerous to invest only in them at the expense of private schools and other avenues of parental choice.

Even President Obama admits that parents at all income levels need better choices for their children. Earlier this fall on NBC’s Today show, he addressed an audience member who asked if his own children could get a good education in a D.C. public school. He answered no and acknowledged that Moms and Dads without connections and without a real choice in where they live would have trouble finding a good public school in D.C.

I recently heard Secretary of Education Arne Duncan say at an event for non-public schools that we need to support all schools that work now whether they be public, private, or faith-based.  We shouldn’t pit private against public or public charter schools against conventional public schools.  I couldn’t agree more. The only ones who lose in that battle are—once again—the children.

John Walton and Ted Forstmann founded CSF because they believed in the power of real choice and real competition to improve educational outcomes, recognizing that the current system does not do enough to encourage excellence and sanction failure. They also believed in the ideals of public education or, put another way, educating the public; that every child, regardless of their parents’ income, should have access to a quality education – an education that will not only prepare them for successful private lives, but help them to build cohesive communities and a strong democracy.

Given our country’s dismal standings in international rankings in math and science which are also highlighted in the movie, everything needs to be on the table and the children’s interests must come first. Why not really open up the system and provide incentives for innovative companies to form new private schools? Or how about new ways of funding education so children who can’t otherwise afford them can have access to some of the good private and parochial schools already in existence?

In Pennsylvania and Florida, corporate tax credit scholarship programs allow thousands of children to attend existing private schools, and actually save taxpayers millions of dollars in the process. We need to go beyond the strictures of public education as it looks today, and give parents real freedom of choice in education, and subject the public sector to the consequences of real competition.

We at the Children’s Scholarship Fund are for giving parents the ability to seek a good education wherever it can be found. Further, we have no doubt that for some parents, the best education they can find lies no farther than the public school down the street. But a monopolistic model is not the only – and clearly not the best – way to provide public education.

Hopefully, “Waiting for ‘Superman’” will raise the public awareness and make all of us take a stand and say that we want to give all our children the educational opportunities they need and deserve.

The Nuggets, The Broncos, & The Rockies

Here at CSF, access to quality education is a top priority, but Manuel, a CSF scholarship recipient in Denver, reminds us that there are some other important things in life as well, like the Nuggets, the Broncos, and the Rockies. Go, Denver!

Measuring School Choice: Beyond Test Scores

Check out these two articles arguing for new ways of analyzing the success of school choice, and suggesting that we look beyond test scores for the answers. First, an op-ed by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and then the Frederick Hess article in National Affairs that Douthat references in his column.

It has been our experience at Children’s Scholarship Fund that empowering parents with choices of where to send their children to school leads to, in many cases, higher grades and test scores — but also greater parental involvement, higher levels of satisfaction with school, and better graduation rates. Quite a bargain when you consider that our scholarship amounts are much lower than the per-pupil spending in conventional public schools!

According to Douthat:

Maybe charter schools, merit pay and vouchers won’t instantly turn every American child into a test-acing dynamo. But if they “only” create a more cost-effective system that makes parents and students happier with their schools — well, that would be no small feat, and well worth fighting for.

CSF-Portland Isn’t Waiting

As people around the country watch the latest education reform documentary, Waiting for Superman, read what CSF’s partner program in Portland has to say:

Children’s Scholarship Fund Kids Aren’t Waiting for Superman!

by Kathryn Hickok

October’s nationwide opening of the new film Waiting for “Superman” is igniting new interest in the desperate desire of thousands of low-income parents to get their kids out of failing, one-size-fits-all public schools into better-performing charter schools. The five children poignantly profiled in the film face barriers to their dreams in the form of too few charter school seats and a lottery acceptance process that makes their futures dependent on a roll of the dice.

Charter schools are fast becoming a vital education option for thousands of low-income students throughout the U.S. But immediate, viable, successful alternatives to failing public schools have existed, often right in parents’ own neighborhoods, for decades – and in much of the U.S., they pre-date the American public school system itself.

They are private and parochial schools, and they have been a lifeline for low-income kids for generations.

Since 1999 the Children’s Scholarship Fund has helped more than 111,000 low-income children attend the private and parochial schools of their parents’ choice with privately funded partial tuition scholarships. In fact, the Children’s Scholarship Fund is the only national K-8 scholarship organization in the country, providing help and hope today to kids who are eager to learn and to achieve.

Right here in Oregon, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland has given more than 600 students a “hand up” in life through a private school education. Our “CSF-Portland scholars” have chosen a diverse range of Oregon private schools, but they are united in their gratitude to each and every benefactor who made their individual dreams come true.

“You have shown me that money shouldn’t hold anyone back from being successful in life,” said Faven A., a CSF-Portland scholar who went on to attend a private university. “What you have given me is so much more than money; you have given me opportunity, confidence, faith, and trust that life has meaning, and that I am meant to succeed no matter what obstacles come my way.”

Reforming our public education system is necessary, but low-income kids can’t wait for Superman. Through private donations from caring Oregonians, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland gives parents a real choice today so their children can have a chance. For example, when matched by the national Children’s Scholarship Fund and by the parents themselves (who on average pay at least half their own tuition costs), a donation of only $100 covers a low-income child’s tuition for one month. If you would like more information about this life-changing program, contact Cascade Policy Institute (

Kathryn Hickok is Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

CSF-Portland’s Director also shares her thoughts on the new film in a Letter to the Editor at The Oregonian. Check it out here.