Tag: dc public schools

By Grapthar’s Hammer… What a Savings

Researchers Patrick Wolf and Michael McShane write in the National Review Online today that the DC Opportunity Scholarships Program saves money. They estimate that the ultimate net savings from the private school choice program’s initial 5 year trial period will amount to $113 million ($183 million in savings set against a cost of $70 million). That’s good news, but I, like Alan Rickman’s character in Galaxy Quest, am somewhat ambivalent about this savings figure.

The trouble is that the real savings are substantially greater, because the above estimate doesn’t seem to take into account not having to pay for these students to attend DC public schools (which would have been necessary, without the private school scholarship program). And as readers of this blog may remember, DC spends a whole lotta money on its public schools. Just shy of $30,000 per student, per year in fact. Assuming that the average program enrollment during the trial period was 1,500 students, it saved taxpayers an additional… $225 million. Added to the Wolf/McShane figure, the total savings is $338 million—for just a tiny program.

By Grapthar’s Hammer, that IS a savings!

New Report: DC Voucher Program Still a Success

The latest and final scheduled report on the DC voucher program is out.

Conclusion?

Even a tiny, restricted program that’s only been around for six years increases graduation rates, has a positive impact on at least some groups of students, harms no groups of students, and does this for less than a third of what the DC Public Schools spend.

DCPS spends around $28,000 per student. The last report pegged the average voucher at just $6,620. The maximum voucher cost is just $7,500.

Huge sums of money saved, student performance increased, parents happier … why is this program being killed?

Oh, right.

Do You Still Think DC Spends Only $15,000/Pupil?

The District of Columbia spent over $28,000 per pupil in the 2008-09 school year. This year is probably similar. So why does (almost) everyone still claim the figure is around half that much? John Stossel has a good summary here.

If you’d like all the gory details, drawn from the official DC budget documents and the District’s own audited enrollment figures, then have a look at this Excel spreadsheet file.

I’m happy to go over the calculation with any DC or DCPS official – or journalist – who would care to dispute it. (It’s only been challenged once before, and the official in question fell silent after seeing the spreadsheet.)

Isn’t it about time that the local media start telling it like it is, and acknowledge that the District of Columbia spends four times as much per pupil as local voucher-receiving private schools charge in tuition ($6,620), while still getting worse academic results?

Actually, Big Mistakes Are to Be Expected…

Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham has a helpful column on the WaPo’s “Answer Sheet” blog. In it, he notes that DC Public Schools advises its employees to teach to students’ ”diverse learning styles” (e.g. “auditory learners,” “visual learners,” etc.) despite the fact that research shows these categories are pedagogically meaningless.

But what really grabbed my attention was this comment: “a misunderstanding of a pretty basic issue of cognition is a mistake that one does not expect from a major school system. It indicates that the people running the show at DCPS are getting bad advice about the science on which to base policy.”

As cognitive scientists have been collecting and analyzing evidence on “learning styles” for generations, social scientists and education historians been doing the same for school systems. What these latter groups find is that it is perfectly normal for public school districts to be unaware of or even indifferent to relevant research and to make major pedagogical errors as a result. Furthermore, there is no evidence that large districts are any better at avoiding these pitfalls than smaller ones. If anything, the reverse is true.

Not only are such errors to be expected of public school systems, we can actually say why that is the case with a good degree of confidence: public schooling lacks the freedoms and incentives that, in other fields, both allow and encourage institutions to acquire and effectively exploit expert knowledge.

Districts such as Washington DC can persist year after year with abysmal test scores, abysmal graduation rates, and astronomical costs. That is because they have a monopoly on a vast trove of  government k-12 spending. In the free enterprise system, behavior like that usually results in the failure of a business and its disappearance from the marketplace. So, in the free enterprise sector, it is indeed rare to see large institutions behaving in such a dysfunctional manner, because it would be difficult if not impossible for them to grow that big in the first place. Long before they could scale up on that level, they would lose their customers to more efficient, higher quality competitors.

So if we want to see the adoption and effective implementation of the best research become the norm in education, we have to organize schooling the same way we organize other fields: as a parent-driven competitive marketplace.

Rally to Save DC Vouchers Tomorrow. Why?

Tomorrow afternoon at 1pm, supporters of Washington DC Opportunity Scholarships will be rallying in Freedom Plaza to save the school voucher program. Why? That’s easy: Because a federal Department of Education study shows that parents are overwhelmingly more satisfied with it than they are with DC’s public schools. Because the same study shows that the program is raising student achievement above the level in the public schools. Because the children participating in it feel it is giving them a chance to realize their full potential in life – a chance that will disappear if the program is allowed to die, as they have attested in numerous YouTube videos.

The harder question is why Congress – particularly congressional Democrats led by Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) – want to kill the vouchers. Their stated reason is that it robs money from needy public schools and gives it to private schools that are already flush from lavish tuition fees.

But the voucher program not only does not take money away from DC public schools, the language of the law actually includes an extra $13 million annually for DC public schools, above their normal funding stream. As for lavish vs. needy schools, it’s true that there’s a huge gap between what is spent per pupil on public education in DC and the average tuition charged at the voucher-accepting private schools: a yawning $20,000 gap. The current year budget for the District of Columbia allocates $26,555 per pupil for k-12 education – up from $24,600 last year. Meanwhile, the Department of Education study linked to above puts the average tuition at voucher schools at $6,620. So vouchers are getting better results at one quarter the cost.

Clearly, Democrats have other reasons for opposing the voucher program, and this letter from the NEA might have a little something to do with it.

Are People Finally Seeing the Gloom?

Maybe, just maybe, word might finally be getting out, and people might finally be getting angry, about the dirty dealings in Washington, DC, that are quietly killing the city’s desperately needed school voucher program.

The story has been percolating for more than ten days, ever since the U.S. Department of Education staged a stealthy and too-late-to-matter release of a study showing that DC’s voucher program works. But the coverage has largely been restricted to the blogosphere, along with a smattering of newspaper opinion pieces.

What might be changing that? A smarmy Education Department letter released late last week telling parents who thought they had won a voucher for the 2009-10 school year that no such voucher would be forthcoming. This despite the fact that the voucher program is not scheduled to end until 2010-11. Apparently, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – who seems to be doing all of the political dirty work against DC school choice – decided that it just doesn’t make sense to let kids have a year of private schooling if they’ll just have to go back to DC public schools. Never mind that a year of good schooling is better than no good schooling, or that the program can still be saved if Congress and the DC City Council vote to reauthorize it – barring the door to quality education right now is clearly in the children’s best interest.

The department’s letter has finally sparked some news media interest in the plight of DC school choice. Spurred by the letter, this afternoon Fox News ran what, to my knowledge, is the first non-opinion piece about the Obama administration’s quiet-but-deadly campaign against choice in DC. There is also word that voucher parents are beginning to organize a response to the assault on their children’s educational lifelines, with a strategy meeting scheduled for Wednesday night. Oh, and the opinion pieces keep on coming.

Sadly, as I and a few others have noted over the least week-and-a-half, when it comes to education it seems that President Obama’s rhetoric about putting evidence ahead of politics is just that – rhetoric. Hopefully, more people are starting to see the dim, disappointing light.