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  • School Choice: One Student's Chance for a Better Life

    Joseph Kelley knew something was wrong when his son Rashawn flunked first grade.

    “I knew he knew his alphabet forward and backward, he knew how to count to 100 forward and backward,” Kelley said. He had taught Rashawn these things himself.

    Rashawn’s teachers were surprised to find out that he knew how to read; they hadn’t noticed. At the time, Rashawn was attending a public school in Washington, D.C.

    Kelley decided to sit in on his son’s classes to learn the teachers’ vocabulary and techniques so he could tutor Rashawn at home. Kelley was met with hostility from the teachers. “They tried to make me feel guilty,” he said. “They’d say, ‘What does he want? Why is he here?’”

    Rashawn’s teachers told Kelley that maybe his son would do better if he backed off. By the end of the year, Rashawn was six months behind his grade in reading comprehension. The school put Rashawn in a special-education class — not for any diagnosed learning disability, just to catch him up.

    By fifth grade in the public school system, Rashawn was three years behind in every subject. When Kelley found out the school wasn’t fulfilling the requirements to update his son’s individual education plan every year, he had a court order the school to provide Rashawn with a tutor.

    Kelley visited the public high school Rashawn would attend. Violence and intimidation were so bad that eight police officers patrolled the school every day, yet kids were still scared of getting jumped. Kelley had been bullied as a child, and was determined that his son would not have to face the same thing.

    That was when Kelley heard about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a need-based school choice program introduced in 2004 to provide children with scholarships to attend the private schools of their parents’ choice. Kelley calls the program a “blessing.” “God knows what I would have done without it,” he said.

    During a visit to Kelley’s house last week, Rashawn was coming home from his first day of classes at the University of the District of Columbia. After switching to a private school with the help of the OSP, Rashawn caught up to his grade level within two years. His father said teachers were welcoming and receptive to him attending his son’s classes. Rashawn graduated high school and is excited for the start of his college career. His eyes shine when he talks about one day running his own business.

    Now Kelley’s three daughters are attending private high school with the help of the scholarships. They all plan on going to college.

    Kelley said his father had only a third-grade education. He had insisted that his children finish high school so they could have better lives. Now, Kelley insists, his kids need a college degree to succeed.

    “Nothing has changed in the public schools in the last 12 years,” he said. He doesn’t understand why the public schools of the nation’s capital are so broken, or why the extremely popular scholarship program was almost shut down due to political pressure in 2010. He visited Congress and asked senators at that time whether they’d ever visited any of the high schools like the one Rashawn almost attended. None of them had.

    Thanks to the united efforts of parents and their supporters, the scholarship program was reauthorized, but like school choice programs everywhere, it still faces challenges from strong and connected political opponents.

    Joseph Kelley used the word “blessing” repeatedly to describe the program. If you saw him talk to his son about his first day at college, you’d know why.

    Posted in Education, Featured, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to School Choice: One Student's Chance for a Better Life

    1. Bobbie says:

      Did I read that right? Rashawn’s teachers were surprised to find out that he KNEW HOW to read? THEY HADN'T NOTICED? Who the heck is in charge? Why do people working in government get paid? This is proof of their dummying down scheme! What is in job descriptions today???? This has to stop, NOW!

      Mr. Kelley is a man who personifies the love a parent has for his children and shares with his children who could identify neglect caused in someone elses control he had to assume he could trust! Taking the actions necessary to deliver Rashawns educational confinement to a place that opens his mind to positive principles that build self esteem and reliance is exactly what a loving father who cares, does. What good is public education and it's expense for anyone? Good teachers are rare and few!!! God Bless Mr. Kelley. God Bless his son and family. May the world have the doors of opportunities for our youth to open!

      What public education forces parents to contend with is beneath common ethics in America! Public education is in total contrast with human potential!

      • Nancy says:

        I'm not surprised the teachers missed that he knew how to read. Same thing happened to my son. We were in a supposedly 'good' school. The teacher there didn't like parents in 'HER' classroom. We were merely parents getting in her way of teaching 'her' kids. I started homeschooling the next year. WE NEED CHOICE!!!!!!!!!

    2. James in Florida says:

      In Obama's first week in office, he ended the school choice lottery in DC. And blacks still vote for this man? If you really care about education, then do everything you can to get the federal government out of it. TEA! Fair Tax!

    3. Glenn Bergen says:

      I believe Dep't of Education should be abolished. The individual states need to be in control of their educational goals. I can sympathize with Rashawn's plight. I had one encounter with a teacher in my daughter's 8th grade that refused to believe that my daughter was reading at an upper level college student. The teacher thoght that my daughter had cheated on her reading test. I had deliberately had gotten my daughter involved with bi-monthly visits to my favorite book store. She could buy any book that interested her, paleotology, mineralogy, fiction, anything. She is now finishing her Master's.

    4. Belinda Stanley says:

      There's a giant elephant in the room in this article. It is spelled D-A-D. The main reason that the (high) schools in D.C. and other cities are dangerous is because most of the kids do not have parents who care. Mothers on welfare or working low-income jobs with multiple children with multiple fathers… Another problem is the lack of education of the teachers themselves. This man has a third grade education and yet he can teach his son how to read? When he was in the third grade the African-American culture was much different than it is now. When are we going to stop subsidizing a lifestyle that destroys children? White, black, whatever, kids need a stable home, parents who value education, and teachers who are not the bottom of the barrel and who care more about the kids than the union.

    5. jerry culbertson says:

      .great article in a newsletter i get called IMPRIMUS, ITS FREE, YOU CAN GET IT MAILED AND/OR READ IT ONLINE. its from Hillsdale college ..they take no government money.. and teach the constitution. the article " do we need the departtment of education" is fantastic. and no i dont work there, but when checking colleges with my son who is still in public school i had a professor at ball state tell me that teachers know better what is good for kids than the parents do. i decided he wont be going there.

    6. Charles Funk says:

      Joseph Kelly should be recognized on Fox News Sunday as the Power Player of the Week!!! This article is an unintended indictment of the NEA.

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