Tag: Arne Duncan

DC Residents Want Private School Choice

As Adam Schaeffer mentions below, a new poll commissioned by the Friedman Foundation and others reports that the vast majority of DC residents are in favor of the DC opportunity scholarships voucher program and are critical of the decision of congressional Democrats, President Obama, and ed. sec. Arne Duncan to phase out the program.

Many on the city council have already voiced their support for the program as well.

This begs a question: Why doesn’t the DC government just create its own private school choice program and save itself a boatload of money in the process?

DC spends about $28,000 per pupil on k-12 education right now. The federal vouchers, at an average of $6,600 each, are rather more cost effective, in addition to producing much better academic achievement after students have been in the program for a few years. 

So most folks in DC want it. It would save the city massive amounts of money. And it would do great things for kids.

What are the mayor and the city council waiting for?

Race to the Takeover

With the federal takeover of health care stalled, President Obama was able to enjoy a little feeling of success today at an event celebrating the “Race to the Top Fund,” a $4.35 billion kitty of education money created under the economic “stimulus” law. Not much actually happened today — the draft state application for fund dollars was released — but that was enough to produce a full-on, Department of Education dog-and-pony show topped off with a speech by the president. The administration even had a bit of a media blitz leading up to the show, with numerous articles appearing in major papers, a Washington Post op-ed by Secretary Duncan, and the president participating in a lengthy Post interview.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing about the Race to the Top Fund actually worth celebrating. Despite rhetoric by the president about “evidence-based policymaking” and promises that “politics won’t come into play” with fund money, this is just another escalation of politicized, destructive, federal education interference. It pours more taxpayer ducats into the edu-abyss, and with new data-collection requirements and money for national (read: federal) standards and tests, further tightens Washington’s grip on our schools. And don’t expect any of this to translate into better outcomes: The people employed by government schools, who have the greatest incentive and ability to control education policy, will still be calling the shots in a soon-to-be even tighter monopoly. Heck, just ask American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel. Both were in attendance at today’s big event, and both were singled out for praise by Secretary Duncan and President Obama.

The race to the federal takeover just keeps getting faster.

Education Reform’s Moon Shot Moonshine

In today’s Washington Post, education secretary Arne Duncan describes the administration’s $4.5 billion “Race to the Top” fund as “education reform’s moon shot” — a watershed undertaking that will transform the way children learn and dramatically improve outcomes. No doubt he believes that. But since he also seems to believe that he brought about dramatic academic gains in Chicago — something that I and others have shown is not the case — the secretary’s beliefs should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Race to the Top” funds will be used to reward states that pursue education policies favored by Duncan and President Obama, and, by extension, to punish states that don’t. It is obedience training writ large. States that Duncan felt were going in the wrong direction in recent weeks, like Rhode Island, were rapped on the nose: keep it up, and we’ll withhold millions in education funding kibbles, they were told. States like Colorado have already been brought to heel. “We all know Colorado needs this money,” Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien told the Washington Post, and she and other state officials have poured over Duncan’s every word to ensure that they follow his commands to the letter.

And what commands Duncan and Obama are giving! High on their agenda is bringing the nation’s schools into lock step when it comes to standards and testing. They promise, with little evidence, that this will drive educational excellence. Meanwhile, just this month, British schools secretary Ed Balls terminated that nation’s decade-long national math and reading strategies, saying that: “I think the right thing for us to do now is to move away from what has historically been a rather central view of school improvement through national strategies.” If central planning were a panacea for education, why are the Brits — who have years of experience with it — turning away from it?

And if the president and his education secretary really cared about evidence-driven education reform, they would not have decided to kill the D.C. opportunity scholarships program that gives low income families in the nation’s capital access to private schools. Children in that program for three years read two grade levels ahead of their peers who remained in public schools. And that’s according to Duncan’s own Department of Education.

Obama and Duncan may well train state education leaders to follow their commands, but there’s no reason to believe those commands will improve American schools.

The Myth of Arne Duncan’s “Chicago Miracle”

Last week, I blogged about the fact that Chicago students’ NAEP test score gains were modest under Arne Duncan’s leadership, and statistically indistinguishable from the modest gains made in urban districts around the nation. My analysis – which contradicts the rosy impression given by Illinois’ ISAT test –  has just been released here.

Secretary Duncan has said that state and district officials should not make inflated claims about student achievement based on misleading state test scores, and has used the NAEP to fact check their claims. He’s right about that.

Duncan’s Donut: The Ed. Sec.’s Impact on Chicago Student Achievement Was Near Zero

For seven months, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the media have bombarded us with tales of how Duncan dramatically boosted student achievement as leader of Chicago Public Schools. Based on two new independent analyses, Duncan’s real impact appears to have been near zero. 

The usual evidence presented for Duncan’s success is the rise in the pass rate of elementary and middle school students on Illinois’ own ISAT test. But state tests like the ISAT are notoriously unreliable (they tend to be corrupted by teaching to the test and subject to periodic ”realignments” in which the passing grade is lowered or the test content is eased). In January, the Schools Matter blog argued that exactly such a realignment had occurred in 2006.

So to get a reliable measure of Duncan’s impact, I pulled up the 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores for Chicago on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – a test that is much less susceptible to massaging by states and districts.  I then compared the score changes in Chicago to those for all students in Large Central Cities around the nation, and tested if the small differences between them were statistically significant. Not one of them is even remotely significant at even the loosest accepted measure of significance (the p < 0.1 level). Chicago students did no better than those in similar districts around the nation between 2002/2003 and 2007, a period covering virtually all of Duncan’s tenure in Chicago.

As I was finishing up this statistical analysis a few minutes ago, I came across a new report by the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago. According to the Civic Committee report, the elementary and middle-school ISAT gains touted by Duncan and the media appear to be almost entirely illusory: artifacts of the 2006 realignment. Chicago high school students, who take a different test that was not realigned, perform no better today than they did in 2001 – so whatever real gains did occur in the early grades evaporated by the end of high school.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune a few days ago, columnist Greg Burns touted Duncan’s supposed success as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and noted that Duncan had good prospects for winning the support of business leaders nationally, as he did in Chicago. But Chicago’s Commercial Club has now concluded that Duncan failed to accomplish what he has claimed, and given that the NAEP scores echo their findings, the education secretary may soon find national business leaders more skeptical as well.

Duncan Balls

It seems U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan and British schools secretary Ed Balls disagree on the merits of national standards. While Duncan has said that homogenizing educational standards nationwide is his single most important goal while in office, Balls has just pulled the plug on the U.K.’s 10 year experiment with national reading and math strategies. He told the media:

I think the right thing for us to do now is to move away from what has historically been a rather central view of school improvement through national strategies to something which is essentially being commissioned not from the centre but by schools themselves.

The problem with saying that every 5th grader in the nation should learn the same things at the same time is that all 5th graders are not created equal. Some are better at math than reading. Some the reverse. Some are quick learners across the board. Some are slower. To deny this is ridiculous, but to acknowledge it is to admit that homogenized standards in a system that groups students rigidly by age is educational malpractice.

Even if kids were all identical automatons, national standards wouldn’t drive excellence. It is the incentive structure of the free enterprise system that has driven progress in all the fields that have actually progressed – not externally-imposed standards.

What America needs for an educational renaissance is to release schools and families from the shackles of monopoly, and re-inject the freedom and incentives that kindle innovation and efficiency. Sitting 50 million Jills and Johnnies down on a conveyor belt that drags them all through their studies at the same pace makes no sense.

Propagandist Change

The Obama administration is taking down the “No Child Left Behind” schoolhouses in front of the U.S. Department of Education.  According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the name is just too “toxic.”  Besides, he’s got his own plan to manipulate the public’s cuteness zone. As the Washington Post reports, “photos of students, from preschool to college age, are going up on 44 ground-floor windows, forming an exhibit that can be seen from outside. There are images of young people reading, attending science class and playing basketball.”

So the propaganda is changing. The disaster that has been federal involvement in education, however, keeps rumbling along. Indeed, it seems poised to get even worse. The Obama folks have been mum about what, exactly, they have planned for reauthorization of the No Child Left…er…Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but the foreshadowing has been ominous: $100 billion in “stimulus” for already cash-drenched American education; loud endorsement of national standards; dangling $350 million to bankroll national (read: federal) tests; and the smothering of DC school choice.

So meet the new propagandist, same as the old propagandist…only, quite possibly, even worse.