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.

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Washington Post on Charter Schools in DC

February 15, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Check out this fascinating article in the WaPo regarding the ever growing market share of charter schools in the District of Columbia. Blended learning schools will debut soon, DCPS continues to shrink, making some tetchy. Money quote:

Rocketship’s charter application — which is the largest ever to come before District officials, and which might win approval this month — arrives on the heels of Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s decision to close 15 half-empty city schools, highlighting an intense debate about the future of public education in the nation’s capital.

A growing number of activists have raised concerns that the traditional school system, facing stiffer-than-ever competition from charters, is in danger of being relegated to a permanently shrunken role. And they worry that Washington has yet to confront what that could mean for taxpayers, families and neighborhoods.

“Maybe we need an entire school system full of charters,” said Virginia Spatz, who co-hosts a community-radio talk show on D.C. education. “But we need to have that after public conversation, not by accident.”

With due respect to Ms. Spatz, there doesn’t seem to be anything accidental about this to me- DC parents will ultimately decide how many charter and district schools they want by voting with the feet of their children.


WaPo on Florida Reforms

April 2, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Nick Anderson of the Washington Post ran a very nice story on Governor Jeb Bush’s education reform efforts.  A couple of quotes, first from our friend Mike Petrilli:

He is the standard-bearer,” said Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank. “Those governors who are going to have religion on education reform are looking to him to be their mentor.”

and from Paul G. Pastorek, Louisiana’s superintendent of education:

Arne and Jeb are really the most influential people at the national level right now pushing college and career readiness for our kids and improvement for our schools,” said Paul G. Pastorek, Louisiana’s superintendent of education and a Republican. “Jeb is working with statehouses and state leaders to directly impact the agenda. He is above all others on the issue among Republicans.”

Of course, journalistic ethics require “balance” and this is where it gets fun:

Many Democrats and labor leaders denounce the Bush agenda. They say that vouchers drain funding from public education and that grades of D and F stigmatize schools that need help. Critics also say other policies he espouses — including merit pay — are unfair to teachers and rely too much on standardized tests.

Florida’s academic gains, critics say, could have been much larger if Bush had sought more collaboration.

“He doesn’t believe in bringing people along with him,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union. “He just forces his will on everybody.”

Ford said many teachers were irate that Obama shared a platform in Miami with a former governor who fought the union almost nonstop for eight years. “The White House is on the wrong track by associating with Jeb Bush,” he said.

Don’t worry Andy, Governor Bush is bringing plenty of people along with him. Someday even you reactionary types may come around, but no one has time to wait for that.  As for “the gains would have been much larger if Governor Bush had sought more collaboration” claim,  strangely enough, Florida has had the largest NAEP score gains in the country. Try again. As for the President associating with Governor Bush, well, who wouldn’t want to associate with results like these:

Not to be outdone by Ford, Valerie Strauss over at the WaPo Answer Sheet Blog grasps at some additional straws:

The first is Bush’s own creation of the Florida Reading Research Center, a state technical assistance agency solely focused on providing reading assistance — complete with reading coaches — in elementary schools so that kids could read by the time they graduate third grade.

It would be hard to argue that this wasn’t a big reason for the rise in Florida’s fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, the grade and area where the state saw the highest gains under Bush.

The former governor also never mentions any possible effects from a class-size reduction referendum in the state which he opposed but was approved anyway by voters early in his tenure.

Dorn, in a Q & A I did with him late last year, also noted that Bush was governor during a real-estate boom that allowed per-pupil expenditures in Florida to rise 19 percent. That allowed schools to hire hundreds of reading coaches. But, said Dorn: “That kind of money is not available in any state right now, and I suspect a number of states will be in for a rude shock when they try the symbolic step of assigning letter grades to schools without supporting instruction.”

Let’s take these one at a time:

1. Governor Bush happily acknowledges that the reading improvement effort strongly contributed to the overall effort to improve literacy.  No one necessarily needs to create the State X Reading Research Center. If they want to hit the ground running they can use the Florida Reading Research Center’s research.

2. The class size initiative wasn’t implemented until last year and a Harvard study found it had nothing to do with the improvement in Florida, a result consistent with the vast majority of decades of empirical research.

3. The Digest of Education Statistics shows Florida’s increase in per pupil spending as smaller than the national average during Governor Bush’s term in office, and below the national average in absolute terms.

Bless their hearts, the edu-reactionaries come across as a bit desperate to spin their way to a story that will justify what seems to be their goal: a yet more expensive version of today’s failed status-quo.  No one should take this the least bit seriously, as we cannot afford it, and it wouldn’t work anyway. States around the country are drawing inspiration from the Florida reforms for a reason, and Governor Bush is the first one to emphasize that the Florida cocktail was state of the art, cutting edge reform in 1999. Today’s reformers can take Florida’s reforms as their floor, rather than their ceiling.


Me and Jay Mathews: IT’S ON!

April 1, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Last week I challenged Jay Mathews of the Washington Post to a bet:

Tell you what, Jay. Let’s make a bet. You say there won’t be “a wave of pro-voucher votes across the country”…[W]e’ll set a mutually agreed on bar for the number of voucher bills passing chambers this year. If we hit the bar, you have to buy me dinner at a Milwaukee restaurant of my choice. But if we don’t hit the bar, I buy you dinner at a DC restaurant of your choice. That’s pretty lopsided in your favor, dollar-wise. How about it?

Today I’m proud to announce that Jay has accepted the bet!

The terms, exactly as I offered them to Jay over e-mail:

Here’s what I propose. I win the bet if at least ten legislative chambers pass bills in 2011 that either create or expand a private school choice program. Otherwise you win. Just based on my experience in the movement, I think if we got that many chamber passages, it would mark 2011 as a banner year for choice.

Definitions: A “private school choice program” is a program that funds attendance at private schools using public funds, either directly (by vouchers) or indirectly, through the tax code (as is the case with many school choice programs these days). That means charter schools don’t count. This is the definition we use here at the foundation. “Expanding” a program means increasing the eligible student pool, or increasing the amount of funds available to support the program (on either a per-student or global basis). That’s in your favor because I’m agreeing not to count, say, relaxation of burdensome restrictions on participating schools as an “expansion.”

Jay’s succinct response: “It’s a bet!”

Well, I didn’t plan it this way, but during the time I was working out the details and deciding how many programs to propose for the bet, and then communicating with Jay, there were a few votes on school choice programs!

When I proposed the bet to Jay earlier this week, I had missed the votes in Arizona a couple weeks ago. I thought we only had three of the ten passages needed for me to win the bet – the Virginia House, the Oklahoma Senate and Douglas County, Colorado.

When Matt clued me in on the Arizona votes, I realized that we were already at five out of the ten passages needed for me to win:

    1. VA House new tax-credit scholarship program (February 8 )

    2. AZ Senate tax-credit program expansion (March 8 )

    3. AZ House tax-credit program expansion (March 10)

    4. Douglas County, CO new voucher program (March 15)

    5. OK Senate new tax-credit scholarship program (March 16)

Then what happens?

    6. IN House new voucher program (March 30)

    7. U.S. House voucher expansion (March 30)

We got to seven votes before I even announced the bet! So much for my plans to make this a big, drawn out, suspenseful thing. The whole shooting match is going to be over before I even get three blog posts out of it. And here I made these cool ruler graphics and everything!

Here’s one other thing that’s bothering me. Was it unethical for me to make the bet with Jay without revealing to him that Indian is the official ethnic food of Jay P. Greene’s Blog?


Fear the Win-Win!

March 25, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

At the beginning of a very kind column praising my new report on the empirical evidence on vouchers, Jay Mathews indicates that for some strange reason, he’s afraid of me and my school-choice posse:

Do I really want to get beaten bloody again by school vouchers devotees?

Come on, Jay. I’m not a dangerous man. I would never beat anyone bloody. I’m soft and harmless. I’m a perfectly ordinary bunny rabbit. A cute, fluffy, harmless bunny rabbit.

Well, okay, I have been known to bite. With big, sharp, pointy teeth. But just to stretch my repertoire, I’ll take the soft approach this time.

Jay acknowledges the evidence:

Greg Forster, a talented and often engagingly contrarian senior fellow at the Foundation for Educational Choice, has expanded a previous study to show that nearly all the research on vouchers, including some using the gold standard of random assignment, has good news for those who believe in giving parents funds that can be used to put their children in private schools. Students given that chance do better in private schools than similar students do in public schools, the research shows. Public schools who are threatened by the loss of students to private schools because of voucher programs improve more than schools that do not have to worry about that competition, the research also shows.

Yet he thinks we shouldn’t support vouchers because . . . well, I’ll let him explain:

I see nothing morally, economically or politically wrong with vouchers. I have never thought that they drained public schools of vital resources. I think a low-income family that gets the chance to choose a private school that suits their child should do so.

But I think such programs have limited growth potential because there are never going to be nearly enough empty spaces in private schools to help all the students who need them. Forster and other voucher advocates say this will change when voucher programs become universal. Then, entrepreneurs will be able to convince investors that they can create a new generation of private schools with the new wave of voucher students.

I think they are wrong about that. The young educators who have led the robust growth of charters prefer to work in public schools. Many voters will continue to resist sending their tax dollars to private schools, particularly with the pressures to cut back government spending that are likely to be with us for many years.

So that’s two arguments. Entrepreneurial startups won’t attract talented education refomers, and voters won’t support the programs.

It’s true that the leading-edge school reformers, the people Matt calls “the cool kids,” prefer to work in public schools. As I’ve written before, you can already see how that strategic choice is leading to dead end after dead end. The school choice movement needs to start building bridges to these people and showing them that in the long run, only school choice can provide the institutional support they need to sustain the kind of reforms they want.

As for politics, school choice has always polled well (for a discussion of the research and methodological issues, see here). The American people are not, in fact, uncomfortable with allowing religious institutions to participate in publicly funded programs on equal terms alongside other institutions. There was a time when they were (see “amendments, Blaine”) but that bigotry has receded.

Oh, and as for pressure to cut spending, school choice saves money. Tons and tons of it. That has always been one of our biggest assets in the political fight – that’s why the Foundation for Educational Choice produces state-focused fiscal studies year after year, to show each state how school choice would save taxpayer money while delivering better education.

The political obstacle to choice has never been the public at large. It has always been the blob, with its huge piles of cash fleeced indirectly from taxpayers, and (perhaps more important) its phalanx of highly disciplined volunteers and voters. A minority of the voters can control the outcome if they are single-issue voters when the rest of the public takes into account the whole panoply of problems confronting the body politic. And when you threaten to derail a gravy train, it tends to make the passengers into single-issue voters.

But the tide is changing. The cynical selfishness of the blob is more and more visible to more and more people. Reform has already won the war of ideas. That does not mean the ground war is won. The unions are still big, rich, and powerful. But they are no longer sacred. They have lost their mystique. No one thinks the unions speak for kids anymore; no one even thinks the unions speak for teachers anymore. And in the end, that’s what counts.

As Jay has put it, the unions are now the tobacco lobby. Or, as I have put it, they’re Bull Connor. That’s why school choice is now poised for a series of big political wins.

Jay is skeptical – pointing to the greater success of charters, he thinks vouchers won’t make big gains this cycle. As readers of JPGB know, the answer to the charter argument is that vouchers make the world safe for charters. As for whether vouchers make big gains this year, we’re about to find out.

Tell you what, Jay. Let’s make a bet. You say there won’t be “a wave of pro-voucher votes across the country.” Me and my posse at FEC will go back and count up the number of school choice bills (private choice, not charters) that passed state chambers in 2008-2010. Then we’ll set a mutually agreed on bar for the number of voucher bills passing chambers this year. If we hit the bar, you have to buy me dinner at a Milwaukee restaurant of my choice. But if we don’t hit the bar, I buy you dinner at a DC restaurant of your choice. That’s pretty lopsided in your favor, dollar-wise. How about it?

HT


WaPo: A Plea to Mr. Duncan

July 10, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Washington Post brings it again on behalf of the victims of Department of Education’s slavish decision to deny over 200 children access to the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Seven council members — including those who represent the poorest sections of the city — wrote to Mr. Duncan on June 22 challenging his decision not to admit new students to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The federally funded program provides vouchers of up to $7,500 so that low-income students can attend schools of their choice. Because the program’s future is uncertain, Mr. Duncan decided — disappointingly to our mind — to rescind scholarships awarded to 216 families for this upcoming school year.

Ooops, there goes the local control argument. Perhaps Mr. Duncan and company would like to stand up and confess “We’d like to help these kids, but sadly, we toil as the servile minions of teacher union thugs. Please don’t pay attention to what we do, but rather to what we say. Move along, nothing to see here…”


WaPo: Why deny D.C. children what special-needs students get?

April 28, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Washington Post editorial page weighs in again on choice, this time in the context of the Forest Grove vs. T.A. case pending before the United States Supreme Court.

The WaPo raises an interesting question: if special needs students have a right to a private school remedy in cases where the public schools have failed to provide an appropriate education, why shouldn’t other children poorly served by public schools enjoy the same right? Kids like those attending DC public schools. A strong case can be made that public schools have horrendous track record in educating both inner city children and children with disabilities.

Of course you wouldn’t want to clog the courts with lawsuits like the special needs law created.  A voucher program with a voucher amount less than the total spending per pupil would be far more equitable and efficient.