NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 6, 2009

Education Secretary Arne Duncan did a public service last week when he visited New York City and spoke up for charter schools and mayoral control of education.  That was the reformer talking.  The status quo Duncan was on display last month when he let Congress kill a District of Columbia voucher program even as he was sitting on evidence of its success, says the Wall Street Journal.

In New York City with its 1.1 million students, mayoral control has resulted in better test scores and graduation rates, while expanding charter schools, which means more and better education choices for low-income families.  But mayoral control expires in June unless state lawmakers renew it, and the United Federation of Teachers is working with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to weaken or kill it.

Duncan's help in New York is in stark contrast to his department's decision to sit on a performance review of the D.C. voucher program while Congress debated its future in March, says the Journal.  The latest annual evaluation was finally released Friday, and it shows measurable academic gains: 

  • The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families in D.C. to send their children to private schools.
  • Ninety-nine percent of the children are black or Hispanic, and there are more than four applicants for each scholarship.

The 2008 report demonstrated progress among certain subgroups of children but not everyone.  This year's report shows statistically significant academic gains for the entire voucher-receiving population:

  • Children attending private schools with the aid of the scholarships are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who did not receive vouchers.
  • Voucher recipients are doing no better in math but they're doing no worse; which means that no voucher participant is in worse academic shape than before, and many students are much better off.

The decision to let 1,700 poor kids get tossed from private schools is a moral disgrace.  It also exposes the ugly politics that lie beneath union and liberal efforts across the country to undermine mayoral control, charter schools, vouchers or any reform that threatens their monopoly over public education dollars and jobs, says the Journal. 

Source: Editorial, "Democrats and Poor Kids; Sitting on evidence of voucher success, and the battle of New York," Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2009.

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