Tag: DC Schools

Obama’s Little Evidence Problem

Last month I wrote a post on President Obama’s selective citation of evidence when debating which education programs to kill and which to keep. Well yesterday the administration struck again, issuing the following statement opposing a bill that would revive DC’s bleeding-out voucher program:

STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY

H.R. 471 – Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act

(Rep. Boehner, R-Ohio, and 50 cosponsors)

While the Administration appreciates that H.R. 471 would provide Federal support for improving public schools in the District of Columbia (D.C.), including expanding and improving high-quality D.C. public charter schools, the Administration opposes the creation or expansion of private school voucher programs that are authorized by this bill.  The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students.  Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement. The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students. Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C.  While the President’s FY 2012 Budget requests funding to improve D.C. public schools and expand high-quality public charter schools, the Administration opposes targeting resources to help a small number of individuals attend private schools rather than creating access to great public schools for every child.

So, as I wrote last month, while the Prez. has no problem calling for heaps of dollars for such proven failures as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers – $1.27 billion, to be exact – he won’t support $20 million for something that rigorous research actually works, quoting Andrew Coulson’s recent congressional testimony:

that students attending private schools thanks to this program have equal or better academic performance than their peers in the local public schools, and have significantly higher graduation rates. This, and very high levels of parental satisfaction, com[ing] at an average per pupil cost of around $7,000. By contrast, per pupil spending on k-12 public education in the nation’s capital was roughly $28,000 during the 2008-09 school year.

And such positive results, again in contrast to the President’s statement, are not an aberration for school choice. The highest-calibre research on choice has almost always found clear benefits stemming from it, and has never found negative outcomes.

Obviously I can’t read the President’s mind – he might oppose the voucher program but otherwise love big education spending for philosophical reasons, or he might just be appeasing teachers’ unions – but one thing I do know is that a fair examination of the evidence simply cannot support killing DC vouchers while spending lavishly everywhere else.

So Long, Wonder Woman

Today is Michelle Rhee’s last day heading up DC’s public schools, and her departure should serve as a stern reminder: We’ve been forcing children to wait for Superman — or Wonder Woman — for far too long. There are no superheroes, and even when we think we’ve found one, they are almost always defeated by teachers unions, or internecine politics, or just plain burnout.

Rhee is a classic case of the first two, with her bold reforms raising the ire of the local union and eventually bringing the might of the American Federation of Teachers to bear in the mayoral election. But unions aren’t the only powers that ended Rhee’s crusade. Long-simmering divisions over the perceived aloofness of Rhee’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, also landed huge political punches that eventually knocked Rhee out.

Rhee certainly isn’t alone in the Hall of Defeated Heroes. Alan Bersin stormed into San Diego’s superintendency in 1998, but his hard-charging style eventually divided the city and created an intense political backlash. He was gone in 2005.  Carl Cohn, Bersin’s replacement, quit just two years into the job. “I don’t have the energy, heart and passion that I did when I first took the job,” he said. And then there’s Rudy Crew, who was ousted in Miami-Dade after four years. In that time the district was thrice named a finalist for the Broad Prize, which recognizes urban districts for major achievement gains. But Crew became embroiled in racial and ethnic tensions, as well as caught in a budgeting morass, and was booted.  

But if there is no super-being to save the children, who can? Sadly, no one in a government monopoly, which is what public schooling is. In such a system only political power matters — after all, politicians make all the rules — and most of that power resides with teachers, administrators, and other public school employees. Because their very livelihoods come from the government system, they are the most motivated to engage in political combat, and through unions and other associations they are best able to organize. And because they are human, their natural proclivity is to fight for the most generous compensation, and least accountability to others, possible.

Parents and children — the people for whom the public schools are supposed to work — simply can’t counter that politicking force. They can’t constantly run political ads, work for campaigns, lobby, and take to the streets the way unions and other organized interests can. And that means polticians who side with parents against unions and administrators are taking a politically perilous — and often fatal — risk. 

So the problem is not a lack of heroes. It’s that public schooling inherently crushes not just heroes, but the very people our educators are supposed to serve — parents and children. 

Thankfully, knowing that makes the solution clear: We must take education money away from politicians, give it to parents, and in so doing take away the death ray, or robot army, or whatever you want to call the incredible power that government monopolies bestow on special interests. We must give parents school choice not so that they can become superheroes, but so that superpowers are no longer required to get their kids the education they need.

DC Vouchers Solved? Generous Severance for Displaced Workers

Colbert King argues that DC should continue the opportunity scholarships private school choice program on its own dime, instead of complaining that Congress is killing it off. He starts off with a refreshing dose of realpolitik: “It should come as no surprise that Democratic congressional leaders are effectively killing the program. They, and their union allies, didn’t like it in the first place.” Too true. This is what disgusts many Americans about politics, but hey, that’s the reality.

But then he seems to descend into uncharacteristic naivete with this:

If the city likes vouchers so much, why shouldn’t the District bear the cost? The answer is as clear as it may be embarrassing to voucher proponents: D.C. lawmakers don’t want to ask their constituents to shoulder the program’s expense.

That is NOT the answer. DC lawmakers are familiar with DC’s budget. DC’s FY 2009 budget, as I show in this Excel spreadsheet file, allocated $28,170 per pupil for k-12 schooling. And the average voucher amount is not $7,500, as King claims. That’s the maximum. The average is $6,620 one quarter of what the district is spending on k-12 schooling. So operating the voucher program entirely out of the District of Columbia’s own budget would not cost a dime. And if expanded, it would save DC tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars.

So DC lawmakers are most certainly NOT afraid of asking constituents to pay for it – it would more than pay for itself. What DC lawmakers must be afraid of is that DC schools have become a massive jobs program instead of an educational program. They must fear that if the voucher program were expanded it would put many non-teaching staff out of work – including perhaps some of their own supporters.

Well how about a realpolitik solution to that problem: offer displaced workers 18 months of severance pay at something like 75% of their current salary. That would give them plenty of time to find other work, and it could be paid for from the savings of students migrating from public schools to the voucher program. This would mean that taxpayers would not see savings in the first couple of years, but after that the District would be able to offer taxpayers generous tax cuts while also offering kids significantly better learning opportunities.

Surely the details of such a deal could be hammered out by experienced politicians and negotiators. Because, really, the status quo is insane. Why keep paying $28,000 for a worse education than the voucher program is providing for $6,600? That is sheer madness.

I Have to Admit, I Was Wrong

I’ve just discovered that my calculation of DC education spending per pupil was wrong, and I have to publish a correction.

I wrote back in March that total DC k-12 spending, excluding charter schools, was $1,291,815,886 during the 2008-09 school year. That still appears to be correct. But to get the per-pupil number I divided total spending by the then-official enrollment count: 48,646. It now turns out that that number was rubbish. PRI’s Vicki Murray just pointed me to this recent DCPS press release that identifies a new audited enrollment number for the same school year:  44,681 students.

If that number excludes the 2,400 special education students that the District has placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $27,400.

If the new audited enrollment number does include the students placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $28,900.

Hmm. Let me think. What was that average tuition figure at the private schools serving DC voucher students….? Oh yes:  $6,600, according to the federal Department of Education.

In case you don’t know, that’s the program in which, after three years, voucher-receiving kids are reading two grade levels ahead of their public school peers — also according to the Dep’t. of Education (see the linked study, above).

It is also the program that President Obama has doomed to die, because of the, uh…, because, um…, why did he do that again?!?!

Rally for School Choice in the District

Congress and the Obama administration issued a death sentence for the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. That means more than 1,700 students could be forced out of good schools into the dangerous, failing, and expensive DC public school system.

Everyone who cares about these children and school choice should head to Freedom Plaza this coming Wednesday, May 6th from 1:00 - 2:00 pm for a rally to demonstrate support for these children and educational freedom. Hundreds of parents and children are coming to stand up and be heard, and they need all the support we can provide …