Monday, April 06, 2009

Smothering results that school vouchers work

The Department of Education allowed Congress to kill off a pilot program in the District of Columbia even though the latest federal research shows that the program is already achieving results. And, certainly not by coincidence, the Department of Education didn't release the results of that research until after Congress had safely sunsetted the program. As the WSJ writes,
It's bad enough that Democrats are killing a program that parents love and is closing the achievement gap between poor minorities and whites. But as scandalous is that the Education Department almost certainly knew the results of this evaluation for months.

Voucher recipients were tested last spring. The scores were analyzed in the late summer and early fall, and in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year.

Opponents of school choice for poor children have long claimed they'd support vouchers if there was evidence that they work. While running for President last year, Mr. Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that if he saw more proof that they were successful, he would "not allow my predisposition to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn . . . You do what works for the kids." Except, apparently, when what works is opposed by unions.

Mr. Duncan's office spurned our repeated calls and emails asking what and when he and his aides knew about these results. We do know the Administration prohibited anyone involved with the evaluation from discussing it publicly. You'd think we were talking about nuclear secrets, not about a taxpayer-funded pilot program. A reasonable conclusion is that Mr. Duncan's department didn't want proof of voucher success to interfere with Senator Dick Durbin's campaign to kill vouchers at the behest of the teachers unions.

The decision to let 1,700 poor kids get tossed from private schools is a moral disgrace. It also exposes the ugly politics that lies 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. The Sheldon Silver-Dick Durbin Democrats aren't worried that school choice doesn't work. They're worried that it does, and if Messrs. Obama and Duncan want to succeed as reformers they need to say so consistently.
Andrew Coulson sums up the results, after three years, of the program.
The latest federal study of the D.C. voucher program finds that voucher students have pulled significantly ahead of their public school peers in reading and perform at least as well as public school students in math. It also reports that the average tuition at the voucher schools is $6,620. That is ONE QUARTER what the District of Columbia spends per pupil on education ($26,555), according to the District’s own fiscal year 2009 budget.

Better results at a quarter the cost. And Democrats in Congress have sunset its funding and are trying to kill it. Shame on them.
I wonder how many other federally funded education programs show results like that? President Obama has said that he would be guided by results, not ideology. Horsefeathers! Here are results that show steady progress in reading by the students receiving the vouchers and the President and his party, despite their fine words about wanting to examine the evidence just don't care. Senator Durbin, the sponsor of the provision killing the program claimed to want to see the evidence that the program worked. Well, Senator. What do you say now about these results?
The Department of Education has been funding a multiyear random-assignment study of the program’s impact. In the most recent evaluation, participating students showed gains equivalent to 3.7 months’ worth of additional reading achievement, a statistically significant difference from the control group.

This is typical of random-assignment studies of voucher achievement. Students do not instantly bolt ahead of their peers. Instead, they make steady progress over time until the difference between participants and non-participants becomes statistically significant. After the fourth year of the program, the differences would grow steadily larger.
How convenient it is that the Department of Education waited until after the program was killed to release these results. And how typical that the Democrats and President Obama didn't wait a few weeks to decide the fate of the program until after the results had come out.

You know that, if this were a program that the teachers unions supported, the Democrats would be pouring billions into it and talking about expanding it across the nation instead of smothering it in the cradle. Once you realize that union opposition is the only reason why these Democrats have taken the position they have on the program, you know all you need to know about their fine rhetoric about school reform and wanting to put evidence ahead of ideology.