Does Obama’s education reform include parent choice?

A scheme offering school choice to some low-income families in the United States has been voted down by the Democrat majority in Congress, even though a pilot programme in Washington DC is showing good results. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Education suppressed a report showing year-on-year improvements among kids who won vouchers to attend private schools, even while Congress passed legislation that would end the programme after next year -- and the President signed it.

“The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families in D.C. to send their children to private schools. Ninety-nine percent of the children are black or Hispanic, and there are more than four applicants for each scholarship,” says the Journal in an editorial.

“The 2008 report demonstrated progress among certain subgroups of children but not everyone. This year's report shows statistically significant academic gains for the entire voucher-receiving population. Children attending private schools with the aid of the scholarships are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who did not receive vouchers. Voucher recipients are doing no better in math but they're doing no worse. Which means that no voucher participant is in worse academic shape than before, and many students are much better off.”

The Journal calls the decision to end the private school option for poor child “a moral disgrace” and puts it down to the influence of teacher unions with the Democrats. Public charter schools also face an insecure future: “The state budget passed by the New York legislature last week freezes funding for charters but increases it by more that $400 million for other public schools,” says the Journal, even though Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledges that the city’s charters are showing “real progress”.

After an editorial meeting with Duncan, David Harsanyi of the Denver Post questions whether he is really committed to the “reform” of education espoused by President Obama. Harsanyi accuses Duncan of using dishonest arguments against the voucher programme.

“First, he strongly intimated that since only 1 percent of children were able to ‘escape’ (and, boy, that's some admission) from D.C. public schools through this program, it was not worth saving.

“So, you may ask, why not allow the 1 percent to turn into 2 percent or 10 percent, instead of scrapping the program? After all, only moments earlier, Duncan claimed that there was no magic reform bullet and it would take a multitude of innovations to fix education.

“Then, Duncan, after thrashing the scholarship program and study, emphasized that he was opposed to ‘pulling kids out of a program’ in which they were ‘learning.’ Geez. If they're learning in this program, why kill it? And if the program was insignificant, as Duncan claimed, why keep these kids in it? Are these students worse off? Or are they just inconveniencing the rich kids?”

It seems that parental choice may have little influence on a “reform” administration.


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