Posted by: Bill | April 13, 2009

Such a disappointment

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program appears to be drawing dead. Things are not official, but through some downright cowardly political moves, the House is trying to take care of things a full year before the program was to be reauthorized or discontinued.

But the debate unfolding on Capitol Hill isn’t about facts. It’s about politics and the stranglehold the teachers unions have on the Democratic Party. Why else has so much time and effort gone into trying to kill off what, in the grand scheme of government spending, is a tiny program? Why wouldn’t Congress want to get the results of a carefully calibrated scientific study before pulling the plug on a program that has proved to be enormously popular? Could the real fear be that school vouchers might actually be shown to be effective in leveling the academic playing field?

This article is from a few weeks ago. Since then, the spending bill has passed and two major things happened:

  1. A recent evaluation (produced by the precise and ever scrupulous Institute for Education Sciences) showed some promising results. Students receiving the scholarship showed greater gains in reading, but not in Math. In general, the results were relatively mixed, but they most definitely were not negative fulfilling the first commandment of a new program:  First, do no harm.
  2. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has instructed the WSF to inform the recent awardees of scholarships that they will no longer be receiving them. I am, by no means, giving up on the former Harvard basketball star, but I am deeply disappointed.

Now the parents of these families are really left with no choice whatsoever. For the most part, it’s back to DCPS. The Quick and the Ed recently had the privilege of drawing names at a lottery drawing for a DC public charter. I have cherry-picked the heart-breaking part of the post:

When I drew the last name for an official Pre-K berth, a woman in the crowd drew a sharp breath. I had drawn her son’s best friend. She sat quietly as I started to draw the waiting list. When I hit #20, tears began to run down her face. Sometime after #50, she left the room.

The irony is that the Democrats strongly dislike such programs when they are directly benefiting low-income and minority families (i.e. their constituents). This is not important though when one of your chief sources of funding is the teacher’s unions.

President Obama believes in school choice (Sasha and Malia attend Sidwell Friends where some of their classmates are recipients of these scholarships). Secretary Duncan believes in school choice (he bought a house in Arlington and I’m guessing it’s not because of the commute). Heather and I believe in school choice (we know that even the worst school in Arlington is above average). Our close friends are ready to move out of Falls Church as soon as they can because they are not happy with the local elementary school. They believe in school choice.

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