Why my great fellow blogger Strauss is wrong on D.C. vouchers
One of the many reasons I appreciate my colleague Valerie Strauss' The Answer Sheet blog, with excerpts each Monday in our Metro section, is that her work contrasts so nicely with mine. Anyone who checks out both blogs, or compares her views to mine on the Monday page, understands why so many brilliant people like Strauss and me, and our readers, can still vehemently disagree about how to fix our schools.
Also, once you have read both us, it is difficult to argue that Washington Post is favoring one education approach over another. We disagree often, and there are times when both of us are out of sync with what the fine news stories of our Education Page colleagues are saying.
So I was pleased to see Strauss's blog excerpt in the Metro section today trashing U.S. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in particular, and Congress in general, for "making a mockery out of thoughtful school reform and policymaking." They had threatened to cut funds for D.C. schools if the city's program giving private school scholarships to low income students is not revived.
Strauss quotes a study saying the voucher program, as it is called, has not raised student achievement. But she ignores the fact that another program imposed on the District by Congress 15 years ago, public charter schools, has had marked benefits for D.C. students. Two separate studies by the Washington Post, and other studies by independent scholars, have shown that D.C. public school students with the same backgrounds have done better in charters than in regular public schools.
That is not the case nationally. The results throughout the country show charters and regular schools making similar progress after you average out the many studies of the subject. But we are talking about D.C. schools. If Congress had not pressured a very reluctant D.C. school board to allow charters, the city's overall achievement level would likely be worse now than it is.
I remember watching the D.C. school board, back in those days when it still set policy for D.C. schools, shortly after the city made a deal with Congress to allow charters. Several board members, talking about this unwanted reform, seethed with anger. What would they say if they walked into the several D.C. charter schools today that are flooded each year with applications, and visited by educators trying to find out how their students have made such impressive gains?
Threatening to cut D.C. school funds in order to get the voucher program back up to speed does seem impolite and disrespectful of local prerogatives. I have favored ending funding for the voucher program. I think it is well-intentioned, and good for the families that participate, but it is also an educational dead-end because there are never going to be enough available private school places to help many kids. I think it is better to use that money to make sure more good charters are born.
Thankfully, I don't make the rules. People elected to office do. Strauss complains of "the thoughtless, piece-meal way that this country makes school funding decisions. School budgets go up and down annually based on politics with no thought to the damage done to educational programs." That's democracy for you. If anyone has a better way of making educational decisions, let me know. Strauss was not that happy with the result of taking D.C. schools away from the school board and turning them over to the mayor, allowing him to ignore many of the democratic pressures she is complaining about.
Opponents of vouchers can still make their case. They convinced me, but many people out there think it is wrong to tell a domestic worker who can't afford a private high school that the government should not give her child a scholarship to attend one. If Strauss has a good argument for convincing that woman that vouchers are wrong, I would love to read it.
| February 21, 2011; 10:24 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Congress forced D.C. to accept charter schools, Congress interfering with D.C. schools, D.C. school voucher program, Valerie Strass, a good thing
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