Here’s a summary (with my comments) of what people are saying about the new DC voucher study as well as the manipulation of its release:
Wall Street Journal — There is a great editorial this morning. It condemns Duncan and the U.S. Dept. of Ed. for failing to release the positive voucher results in time for the congressional debate on killing the DC program last month: “Voucher recipients were tested last spring. The scores were analyzed in the late summer and early fall, and in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year.”
The piece also condemns the hypocrsiy of the Obama administration declaring that they will make education policy based on evidence, not ideology, while hiding and spinning the positive DC results: “Opponents of school choice for poor children have long claimed they’d support vouchers if there was evidence that they work. While running for President last year, Mr. Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that if he saw more proof that they were successful, he would “not allow my predisposition to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn . . . You do what works for the kids.” Except, apparently, when what works is opposed by unions.”
And the WSJ has a quote from yours truly about how the DC results are consistent with evaluations of other voucher programs, where students initially suffer from transition difficulties but benefits compound over time.
National Review Online — Our very own Matt Ladner has a piece this morning in NRO that contains many of the same themes as in the WSJ piece described above. In addition, Matt emphasizes his Rawlsian argument about the justice of vouchers: “If you have any doubt as to whether this program should exist, ask yourself a simple question: Would you enroll your children in violence-ridden D.C. public schools with decades-long records of academic failure? Bill and Hillary Clinton didn’t. Barack and Michelle Obama didn’t. Members of Congress don’t. What about you? Would you enroll your children in those schools?” And Matt notes that vouchers in DC produced superior results for a fraction of what is spent on students in DC public schools.
Washington Post — The Post objected to Secretary of Ed Arne Duncan’s rush to shut down the DC voucher program in the face of positive results. “We had hoped that Mr. Duncan, who prides himself in being a pragmatist interested in programs that work, would have a more open mind…. So it’s perplexing that Mr. Duncan, without any further discussion or analysis, would be so quick to kill a program that is supported by local officials and that has proven popular with parents. Unless, of course, politics enters the calculation in the form of Democratic allies in Congress who have been shameless in their efforts to kill vouchers.”
Cato— Andrew Coulson emphasized the positive results results at a fraction of the DC public school spending per pupil.
Eduwonk— Andy maintains his beltway credentials by dismissing the importance of evidence in deciding the fate of vouchers. So, is Andy saying that Obama lied when he declared that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works”? Maybe I’m naive enough to believe that evidence makes a difference in public policy. If it doesn’t at all, then let’s shut down the universities and think tanks and leave public policy to the brute force politics of organized interest groups, since that is apparently all that matters.
Andy does correctly identify how determined voucher opponents are to crush the DC program and suppress the evidence ir produces (by releasing it on a Friday afternoon and not having the study available in time for the congressional debate): “For voucher opponents the program is like that scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where the Germans keep shooting the runner to make sure the message dies with him. As long as the voucher program lives it carries a message, they must stop that.”
Flypaper has a few posts on the topic. Mike Petrilli has some excellent comments: “Releasing bad news on a Friday afternoon is a time-honored tradition among governments of all political leanings. (The public is distracted by weekend plans; few people read the Saturday paper.) The Obama Administration is showing itself to be no different; it’s no coincidence that the latest (very positive) findings about the D.C. “Opportunity Scholarship Program” were released this afternoon. It creates a conundrum for Team Obama and its allies on Capitol Hill, all of whom want to kill the program (some sooner than later)… Keep in mind that, as Education Week just reported, almost every “gold-standard” study in education finds “null” results. So the fact that researchers could detect such dramatic impacts for reading is a very big deal. (And it’s not too surprising that the same can’t be said about math.)” And he concludes: “President Obama has saidthat he will support vouchers if they are proven to work. Now’s his opportunity to show his commitment to pragmatism and post-partisanship, and go to the mat for this unusually effective experiment.”
Andy Smarick correctly notes that the Obama administration has failed in their attempt to bury the study results despite their best efforts of releasing them on a Friday afternoon. He also comments on how odd it is that people are focusing all of this energy to kill a voucher program that costs a tiny fraction of what has been newly committed to education spending by the Obamites.
But Andy also had an unpersuasive post suggesting that we should focus on shutting down the bad schools that can be found in both the public and private sectors rather than on allowing people to switch between sectors. What’s strange about this argument is that it doesn’t describe the mechanism by which one identifies and replaces bad schools with better ones. Isn’t that what choice does? Saying that we should just get rid of the bad schools doesn’t explain how they get to be bad and how new ones are likely to be better.
There’s more out there, and more will come, but this is some of the buzz so far.