Psssst, WaPo, Your Bias Is Showing!

May 2, 2016

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Congress voted on Friday to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and the Washington Post‘s headline could barely contain its exasperation:

GOP House passes D.C. private schools voucher program. Again.

Cute, right? But it gets better. (And by “better” I mean “worse.”)

Here’s how the WaPo reporter characterized support for the program:

Local D.C. leaders have long been against the voucher program, arguing that it diverts money and students away from the public school system. But federal funding for the local schools system is tied to the legislation, and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and some council members have expressed support for the bill.

So unnamed “local D.C. leaders” oppose the voucher program, but the Democratic mayor and “some” council members support it. How many council members?

Bowser and eight council members wrote in a March letter to congressional leaders that a reauthorization of the act is “critical to the gains that the District’s public education system has seen.”

Eight members supported the voucher program… Well how many members are on the D.C. city council? Thirteen, you say? So more than 60 percent of the council supports the voucher program and WaPo calls that “some.”

Throw in support from the current mayor and previous Democratic D.C. Mayors Anthony Williams, Adrian Fenty, and even Marion Barry (!), and WaPo‘s characterization that “local D.C. leaders have long been against the voucher program” looks even more ridiculous. Given that the majority of the city council and the majority of recent mayors support the OSP–to say nothing of the longstanding support from the WaPo editorial board–it would be equally if not more true to say that “local D.C. leaders have long supported the voucher program.” At the very least, WaPo could have actually named a few of the voucher opponents who are “local leaders” (the article cites only D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton) and written “local D.C. leaders have long been divided over the voucher program.”

WaPo, you can do better than that.


DC’s Frog Vouchers Becoming Princely

June 19, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

We interrupt this discussion of Prince lyrics to bring you an important announcement about another kind of prince!

You may have seen the news that a bipartisan coalition of voucher champions in Congress have once again saved the D.C. voucher program. What you may not have heard is the amazing news buried in the story:

The 1,615-student cap on enrollment will now be lifted and as many children as meet the income threshold will be able to apply.

Wow! The D.C. program has long been one of the biggest frogs of the voucher universe. What would it be like if it became a prince?

No opinion about who is the “princess” in this story is expressed or implied. But Boehner did tear up on TV that one time. Just saying.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion of Prince lyrics.

It’s Hammertime!

April 20, 2011

No, not that one.  Check out this Hammertime, which effectively presents the positive results from the DC voucher program despite false claims of no benefits from the Obama administration.

Voucher Steamroller Continues with DC Victory

April 9, 2011

In the last minute budget deal last night, congressional leaders and the White House agreed to reauthorize the DC voucher program.  This occurred despite Obama and Duncan falsely declaring last week:

Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement. The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.  Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C.

I’ve lost count of how many new or expanded private school choice programs we’ve seen this year, but I am sure that Greg is well on his way to victory in his bet with Jay Mathews.

Big Day for Parental Choice

March 31, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yesterday the Indiana House passed  a bill to create what seems likely to become the nation’s largest school voucher program, and to improve and expand their preexisting tuition tax credit law. On the same day, the United States House voted to reauthorize the DC Opportunity Scholarship program.

Indiana is poised to do something very special. Under the leadership of Governor Daniels and Superintendent Bennett, they are on the cusp of pushing through major Florida reforms: transparency with teeth (A-F school grading), action against social promotion and parental choice. The rest of us are going to have to pick up our games to try to keep pace.

The long-suffering DC Opportunity Scholarship Program children have suffered through the trials of Job. Kudos to Speaker Boehner for putting his back into delivering a happy ending for these kids!

Hold tight reform fans…the best is yet to come.

BAEO to President Obama: Actions Speak Louder than Words

October 2, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

BAEO took out a full page ad in the NYT to blast President Obama for the gap between his rhetoric and his administration’s participation in the pillow smothering of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

DC Vouchers Boost Graduation Rate

June 22, 2010

(Guest post by Matthew Ladner)

The Department of Education released the final report of the evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program today.  The major finding of this report, and it is MAJOR, is that students who were randomly selected to receive vouchers had an 82% graduation rate.  That’s 12 percentage points higher than the students who didn’t receive vouchers.  Students who actually used their vouchers had graduation rates that were 21% higher.  Even better, the subgroup of students who received vouchers and came from designated Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI schools) had graduation rates that were 13 percentage points higher than the same subgroup of students who weren’t offered vouchers–and the effect was 20 percentage points higher for the SINI students who used their vouchers!

This is a huge finding.  The sorry state of graduation rates, especially for disadvantaged students, has been the single largest indicator that America’s schools are failing to give every student an equal chance at success in life.  Graduating high school is associated with a number of critical life outcomes, ranging from lifetime earnings to incarceration rates.  And, despite countless efforts and attempts at reform, changing the dismal state of graduation rates has been an uphill battle. 

Of course, the uphill battle will continue.   As most are aware, Congress voted to kill the DC voucher program last year, despite evidence that the program had significantly improved reading achievement for students who received scholarships.  That evidence didn’t count for much when faced with opposition from teachers’ unions.

In the final report, the reading achievement findings just miss the Department of Education’s threshold for statistical significance.  As a result, the spin put out by the administration claims that there is “No conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement.”  This is wrong of course.  Last year’s (third year) report DID find conclusive evidence that the Program raised student achievement in reading.  A close read of this year’s final report reveals that the sample size of students in the final year was smaller because a number of the students participating in the study had graded-out of the Program.  It’s not surprising then that the statistical significance of the reading effects fell just short of the required level.  Still, with a p-value of .06, we can say that we are 94% certain that the treatment group did outperform the control group in reading in the final year.  Moreover, the final report found statistically significant achievement gains for 3 of the 6 subgroups they examined.

In sum, the five-year evaluation of the DC voucher program has shown that low-income students who recieved scholarships have higher graduation rates, higher student achievement, increased parental views of safety, and increased parent satisfaction.  There was not one single negative finding over the entire course of the evaluation.  I’d say that’s quite a success for a program that spent a fraction of the per-pupil amount spent in DC public schools.

So when does the re-authorization begin?

DC NAEP Scores-Where is the Death Spiral?

May 13, 2010


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

No one seems to be taking much note of it, but some Washington DC has some very favorable trends in their NAEP scores.

To be sure, the District’s scores still reflect widespread academic failure on an inexcusable level for a district blowing through $20k per child per year. The positive trend predates Michelle Rhee’s tenure, which is good, as I think we are likely to see further (badly needed) progress. It is still too early to judge whether Rhee will accelerate this rate of progress, but I’d be willing to bet she will.

If you go to the NAEP page for DC and look at the 4th grade reading scores, you will find that the catastrophically low score of 188 in 1992 fell to an even more pathetic 179 in 1994.   That’s almost a grade level drop from an already low base. A score of 179 makes me wonder what the score would be if we simply gave every child in DC a library card and hoped for the best. Mind you, that wouldn’t work well either, but it couldn’t work that much worse than DCPS circa 1994. Since 1994, however, scores have climbed 23 points. The percentage scoring basic or better increased from 24% in 1994 to 44% in 2009. Math improvement has also been impressive and shows the same trend- progress after the mid 1990s.

One blindingly obvious cause for the improvement: the 100 charter schools operating in the district educating over 30,000 children. DC’s charter law passed in 1996 (near the bottom of DC performance) and the opening of schools has been very strong. In 1996-7, DCPS had 78,648 students enrolled. In 2007-08 it had dropped to 58,191.

This is no doubt why DCPS spending per pupil has spiralled to such absurdly high levels. No on apparently thought that it might be appropriate to cut the budget for a district that is 20,000 fewer students, but I digress. DC’s scores still stink, but in the progress department they have clobbered all states other than Delaware and Florida.

I’m not willing to celebrate a district that spends over $20k per student per year and has 56% of 4th graders illiterate. I am however willing to celebrate progress, and DC has momentum. If they would like to accelerate that progress, parental choice policies that would be helpful would be to reverse the shameful decision of the NEA robots majority of the Democratic caucus to kill the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program merits not only renewal but a large expansion.

In addition, DC should institute a McKay Scholarship program with children with disabilities, if they would like to stop paying for the 5th homes and country club memberships of the attorneys endlessly battering DCPS on failure to provide FAPE under IDEA. Both the kids and the district budget would win big from such a program.

The enemies of parental choice have always painted the nightmare scenario of an academic death spiral for the children “left behind” in the district. Perhaps these same folks would like to explain to us now how it is that DCPS lost a quarter of their students since the mid 1990s and watched their reading scores improve by 23 points. Where is the death spiral? Oh, I mean in DCPS scores.  The death spiral for the credibility of choice opponents is impossible to miss.

Conscience Asks the Question, ‘Is it Right?’

April 9, 2010



(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Charles Miller, former Chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents, sent out the following email to hundreds of people on Easter Sunday, which was also the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. We reprint the email here with Mr. Miller’s permission:

Early in the Obama administration I was surprised and deeply disappointed by their decision to kill the “DC Voucher” Program.  I wrote most of the piece below at that time and the decision brought me back into the public K-12 debate.  The U.S. Senate recently voted 55-42 to confirm that decision, essentially on a party line vote, so I am sending this to go on record about something I think is horrendously wrong. –Charles Miller
April 4, 2010

What Martin Luther King Said About Speaking Out

“Our Lives Begin to End the Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter”
(Martin Luther King)

The Obama administration, through stimulus funding, the Race to the Top program, its presentation of budgets and proposals for reauthorization of NCLB/ESEA , has moved fast and furiously in the public education policy arena.  It seems very unlikely to me that high aspirations—and hasty action— equate to effective public policy.  In fact, these efforts seem to amount quite clearly to an overreach–strategically, systemically, politically, and culturally

However, what bothers me the most personally is what I consider the most unprincipled action in public education policy since the existence of segregated schools:  The willful decision by the Obama administration, supported by the Democrats in Congress, to kill the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, also called “D.C. Vouchers”

The Obama administration has tied its education policy declarations to a mantra of being non-political and non-partisan, choosing instead a policy focus only on “what works”.  This principle has been repeated incessantly.

However, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) is a successful program.

The Department of Education’s official evaluation using rigorous “gold standard” experimental evaluations determined that the OSP has produced significant achievement gains.

The OSP is serving those families and children most in need in one of the worst school districts in America.  Average income of participating families  is less than $24,000 annually and more than 85% of participating students would otherwise be attending a failing school under NCLB guidelines.

D.C. residents polled by three unaffiliated firms in ’07, ’08, and ’09 showed between 66 and 75% support for the OSP.  The D.C. superintendent and the Mayor support the program.

The decision to kill the program is contradictory to anything the administration claims to be its guiding principle.   The cost of the successful OSP is financially very small by comparison to any K-12 standard while at the same time there has been a gigantic increase in education spending nationally— to support status quo systems which are widely considered failures. Strong evidence of success, academically and financially, clearly makes the decision to kill OSP unprincipled.

The reason for killing OSP is the intense opposition of national teachers unions to a voucher program of any kind, anywhere, anytime—even if it is academically successful, financially responsible and so popular with the community served that there are long waiting lists.

If this successful program had been able to be replicated—a fear obviously driving the decision to kill OSP—the number of students from the most disadvantaged families whose life prospects could have been enhanced could be quite large.  This consideration makes the decision to kill OSP even more egregious, although even helping a small set of students is the principled thing to do.

Notably, from the Washington Post, “Duncan had the temerity to admit that OSP students ‘were safe and learning and doing well…but we can’t be satisfied with saving 1 or 2 percent of children and letting 98 or 99 percent down’.”

The effect of the decision to kill OSP on the lives of the students who could have benefited from its continuation is extremely negative.  There is no way to avoid this conclusion. If a social scientist extrapolated the trends of two sets of students, one in OSP and one in a typical DC school, the loss of life opportunities would be stark for the typical set of students.

The inescapable conclusion I reach is that killing OSP is a despicable and unconscionable decision made for political purposes and with cynical disregard for the lives of the children affected.  “Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have.  Instead his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad:  Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out” (Washington Post, 3/8/10)

This when joblessness for 16-to-24-year-old black men has reached Great Depression proportions — 34.5 % last October and estimated to having exceeded 50% by last year end.

The other conclusion I reach is that policy advocates or officials who turn their face away or avoid taking a strong stand against the decision to kill OSP because it is not pleasant or not convenient to their own activities have a hand in the ignoble results of the decision.  “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King)

So, for me personally, I can’t justify supporting such an administration or its policy makers even if some of their other policy choices are more productive, nor can I see believing anything they say or trusting anything they do.  It can no longer be acceptable to be principled just some of the time.   No Mas.

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’  Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’  Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’  But conscience asks the question,  ‘Is it right?’  And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”  (Martin Luther King)

Charles Miller

DC Vouchers Will Not Go Quietly

February 4, 2010

Obama, Duncan, and Durbin would love this issue to just go away but it won’t.  From the Washington Post editorial page today:

SENS. JOSEPH I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) haven’t given up on their bid to save the federally funded voucher program that allows low-income families in the District to send their children to private schools. We would like to see them succeed, but it’s clear that President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress have already written the epilogue to this worthy program. Their disregard for how vouchers have helped children is so complete that it seems that the best chance, perhaps the only chance, for the program’s survival is for local officials to step in….

The best solution, of course, is the one sought by a bipartisan coalition lead by Mr. Lieberman for Congress to reauthorize the program. He is set to announce plans Thursday to offer the reauthorization as an amendment to legislation moving in the Senate, and he’s hoping for help from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), majority whip and chairman of the subcommittee that funds the program. Mr. Durbin gave lip service to his possible support but has been content for Congress to let the program go down the tubes.

And from the Washington Times this week:

A letter sent to the White House on Wednesday was appropriately circumspect, but in effect, it boiled down to this: “Dear Mr. President, when it comes to educating America’s children, please, just this once, live up to your own words.”

The subject was the popular and successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The letter writers were Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader.

The president touched on education during his State of the Union address last week. “The idea here is simple: Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success,” he said. “Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform. … In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.”

Mr. Obama’s words sound nice, but in public education today, the reality is that most children are assigned a school based on where they live. Most families don’t have the opportunity to choose their children’s schools. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarships – which are funded by Congress – change all that without taking a dime from the public school system by helping children (more than 3,000 so far) attend non-public schools that are safer and more effective.

Mr. Boehner and Mr. Lieberman say the program works and that young lives will be lost if educational opportunity is sacrificed for political expedience. “According to Patrick Wolf, the principal investigator for the study conducted under the auspices of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, this program has met a tough standard for efficacy,” the lawmakers wrote. “Dr. Wolf found that ‘the D.C. voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the federal government’s official education research arm so far.’ ” Based on Mr. Obama’s own words about investing in reform and rewarding success, Mr. Boehner and Mr. Lieberman argue that D.C. Opportunity Scholarships should not only be reauthorized but expanded to serve additional students.

The program is wildly popular in the District, including among Democrats who are strong supporters of Mr. Obama. According to the letter, the scholarships enjoy “the overwhelming support of D.C. residents, parents, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, [D.C. Public Schools] Chancellor [Michelle] Rhee, former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and a majority of the D.C. City Council.”

Instead of listening to those closest to D.C. students and their challenges, the Obama administration has backed plans to pull the plug on the scholarship program. This is transparent pandering to school workers unions that don’t want the competition provided by such scholarships.

While Mr. Obama sends his daughters Sasha and Malia to private school, he ignores heartfelt pleas from parents and children to allow more youngsters a chance for a quality education. The scholarship program is an unambiguous test of whether or not this president means what he says. If he allows the program to die, the hopes of many D.C. children will die with it.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

UPDATE — Andy Smarick agrees over at Flypaper.

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