WSJ Recognizes the Real Education Outrage

September 10, 2009

The WSJ hasn’t been distracted by controversy over President Obama’s school speech.  They rightly recognize that the real scandal in the Obama education efforts revolves around the DC voucher program.  They write in today’s paper:

“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,” writes the Education Department’s chief evaluator Patrick Wolf in the current issue of Education Next. “On average, participating low-income students are performing better in reading because the federal government decided to launch an experimental school choice program in our nation’s capital.”

Democrats had pledged that if the D.C. Council supported the voucher program, they’d revisit it. “The government of Washington, D.C., should decide whether they want [the voucher program] in their school district,” declared Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who sponsored the provision to kill the program. Well, a majority of the D.C. Council has since sent lawmakers a letter expressing support. Yet Democrats are still preventing Congress from living up to its end of the deal and voting to restore funding. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama sends his own daughters to the best private school in the District.

Choice Victory in Special Ed SC Case

June 22, 2009
The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 today in Forest Grove School District v. T.A. that disabled students that the public schools unreasonably failed to identify as disabled don’t have to wait to seek placement in a private school and reimbursement for those costs. 
This ruling seems to give families with disabled children unilateral access to vouchers for private school if they can later prove that the public schools failed to provide adequate services or unreasonably failed to identify the disability.  The families assume the financial risk if they act unilaterally, but they can be fully reimbursed for their expenses if they are proven right.  The majority reasoned that delays were so long in adjudicating these disputes, that children would be denied their right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) if they had to wait:
“Our decision rested in part on the fact that administrative and judicial reviewof a parent’s complaint often takes years. We concluded that, having mandated that participating States provide a FAPE for every student, Congress could not have intended to require parents to either accept an inadequate public-school education pending adjudication of their claim or bear the cost of a private education if the court ultimately determined that the private placement was proper under the Act.” (see p. 7 )
Now all we need to do is to grant to all children what we have given to disabled children.  Why should any child, disabled or not, be made to wait for an appropriate education?  Why can’t all parents seek a unilateral private placement and sue to be reimbursed if they can demonstrate that the public schools were failing to provide an appropriate education? 
Even better, why should we make parents prove to a court that the education in the public schools was not appropriate?  Why not let the parents be the judge of the appropriateness of the education being offered?
Updated:  I just noticed that Matt made a similar argument a while back.

Beltway Confusion

March 3, 2009

(Beltway edu-analysts discuss the world over brandy and cigars.  Note where they are headed.)

I feel sorry for my education colleagues within the DC Beltway.  I don’t know if it’s all those wine and cheese receptions or box lunch lectures that addle their brains, but they are clearly confused.  They confuse political analysis for research.  And they confuse their political preferences for political analysis. 

Look, for example, at the recent post by my friend Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk on vouchers, which states:

“Now, paradoxically, the school choice experience since the early 1990s has lessened the allure of vouchers as a scalable education reform but at the same time made these smaller “pilot” type initiatives like the one in D.C. seem less toxic and more harmless among an increasing number of players.   Opponents don’t even really have a slippery slope to point to in any of the early adopter sites for vouchers.  There’s not one in D.C.  There it’s the public charters not the vouchers that are taking over and not in the other cities/states, even Milwaukee, where vouchers have been tried and the effects have been modest.  In other words, vouchers are not destroying the public schools.  Rather, systemically, they’re not really doing much of anything at all.”

Andy concludes that “systemically” vouchers aren’t “much of anything at all” because they aren’t expanding very rapidly.  This is a political analysis on the appeal of larger voucher programs, not a summary of research on the effects of vouchers on public school achievement.  If Andy had wanted to talk about the research on the systemic effects of vouchers he would have referenced this literature, which clearly shows that expanding choice and competition through vouchers improves public school performance.  So, Andy substitutes political analysis for research.

But he also substitutes his political preferences for political analysis because he ignores the steady growth in vouchers over the last two decades.  There are now 24 voucher or tax-credit programs in 15 states serving over 100,000 students.  Just last year two new programs were adopted, in Georgia and Louisiana, and the tax credit program in Florida was significantly expanded.  Andy may wish the voucher movement to be stalled, but a clear political analysis would reveal that vouchers continue to move forward.

Now, it’s true that there have been setbacks in the voucher movement.  And it’s true that each new program encounters a blizzard of opposition, making each step forward seem inordinately difficult.  But vouchers are just the spearhead of a broader choice movement that includes the more rapidly expanding charter movement.  If not for the viability of voucher programs, charters would have been the target of this onslaught of opposition. 

Vouchers have made the world safe for charters.  And the moment that vouchers really do stall, the enemies of school choice will redirect their fire at charters, strangling them with regulation and repealing charter gains.  To say that vouchers haven’t really done much of anything politically because charters are really where the action is ignores how much charters owe their political strength to the credible threat of new and expanded voucher programs.

It may be fashionable at Beltway receptions to dismiss vouchers as everyone is eager to be seen as championing the latest DC fad proposal.  But real analysis of research and politics show that the expansion of school choice, led by vouchers, will have a greater impact on education reform than building new school buildings, expanding pre-school, adopting a 21st century curriculum or whatever folks there are now talking about.

(edited for typos)

Ho, Hum, Yet Another New Voucher Program

June 12, 2008

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Yesterday the Louisiana Senate passed Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, 25-12. As soon as the governor signs, it will be the nation’s 24th school choice program. That makes three new programs and two expanded programs this year.

Not a lot of news coverage on this. But then, why would there be? It’s only news when school choice loses. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often.

UPDATE: It has to go back through the House before it goes to Jindal, since it was amended in the Senate, but no one seems to think there’ll be any problems there. The Senate vote was the real test.

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