If you’ve been reading this blog over the last week or so, you’ll have noticed that the big story in education has been the highly suspicious handling of an evaluation of Washington, DC’s, voucher program by the supposedly politics‐out‐of‐policymaking Obama administration. The evaluation shows voucher students making clearly superior readings gains to students who applied for but did not receive vouchers, while math results were equal. In other words, vouchers seem to work. But it doesn’t matter: For all intents and purposes Congress killed DC choice last month, and throughout that murderous process this study was being held under wraps — for numerous possible, but all unacceptable, reasons — in the United States Department of Education.
Well, on Saturday the Washington Post editorialized about the whole stinkin’ mess, and in so doing revealed something new: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decided not to allow any new students to enroll in the program for the 2009 – 2010 school year, despite the program not being scheduled to end until 2010 – 2011. And, though it is close to unthinkable politically that both Congress and the DC City Council will reauthorize the program — just as Congressional enemies of educational freedom planned when they wrote those stipulations into law — it is not absolutely impossible. But in good hitman style, Duncan is making sure the job gets done, holding the pillow over the victim’s face as long and tightly as possible to make sure there won’t be any unforeseen and inconvenient coming back to life.
Oh, and irony of ironies? According to the Post, Duncan is doing this extra bit of dirty work because [italics added] “it is not in the best interest of students and their parents to enroll them in a program that may end a year from now.”
I don’t have much to add to Andrew’s post on Russ Whitehurst’s defense of Arne Duncan. Even with what Whitehurst wrote, I simply don’t buy that Duncan didn’t know of the D.C. voucher evaluation’s results, or even its very existence, while Congress was debating the program’s fate a little over a month ago. But, unfortunately, the reality is that neither I nor anyone else will probably ever get a clear look inside the black box of who really knew what, when, in the Department of Education.
So suppose the secretary really was totally clueless. What does this say about the value of the Institute of Education Sciences, the division of the Education Department responsible for the report? IES received the evaluation results in November and released the report on April 3. Clearly, it had the results well in advance of congressional action on the program. That leaves only a few reasons why it wouldn’t have released the findings — or even something characterized as “expedited” or “preliminary” — in time to inform congressional debate:
- IES employees hadn’t sufficiently scrutinized — or perhaps even looked at — the report several months after they had received it.
- IES had scrutinized the report and couldn’t push out the results because of strict adherence to rigid bureaucratic procedures.
- For political or other reasons, IES purposely sat on the results.
None of those, quite simply, are acceptable answers given the job of IES as stated clearly on the Department of Education’s website:
The mission of IES is to provide rigorous evidence on which to ground education practice and policy.
Mission disturbingly not accomplished, IES.