Friday, April 24, 2009

Do As I Say: Compulsory Miseducation

The controversy over mayoral control of the NYC schools reveals that the top decision makers-Bloomberg and Klein in this case-have never had a child attend any public education institution. Yet both feel fully qualified and entitled to oversee school policies that they have never deigned to subject their nearest and dearest to. While we don't think this should automatically be a disqualifier, it does raise some issues about mindset and worldviews.

But as suspect as the Bloomberg/Klein/Sharpton regime might be, it pales in comparison to the mischief going on in Washington, DC-where the Congress, in complicity with our "Education President," has canceled a successful voucher program for poor children. As George Will writes: "The District's mayor and school superintendent support the program. But the president has vowed to kill programs that "don't work." He has looked high and low and -- lo and behold -- has found one. By uncanny coincidence, it is detested by the teachers unions that gave approximately four times $15 million to Democratic candidates and liberal causes last year."

And the new education secretary went even further: "Not content with seeing the program set to die after the 2009-10 school year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan (former head of Chicago's school system, which never enrolled an Obama child) gratuitously dashed even the limited hopes of another 200 children and their parents. Duncan, who has sensibly chosen to live with his wife and two children in Virginia rather than in the District, rescinded the scholarships already awarded to those children for the final year of the program, beginning in September. He was, you understand, thinking only of the children and their parents: He would spare them the turmoil of being forced by, well, Duncan and other Democrats to return to terrible public schools after a tantalizing one-year taste of something better. Call that compassionate liberalism."

So we have yet another example of the, "Do as I say, but not as I do," cohort of elected officials-since the president also has had his two daughters opt out of the copious benefits found in the D.C. schools. This is, in our view, beyond shameful-and Juan Williams agrees: "As I watch Washington politics I am not easily given to rage. Washington politics is a game and selfishness, out-sized egos and corruption are predictable. But over the last week I find myself in a fury.
The cause of my upset is watching the key civil rights issue of this generation — improving big city public school education — get tossed overboard by political gamesmanship. If there is one goal that deserves to be held above day-to-day partisanship and pettiness of ordinary politics it is the effort to end the scandalous poor level of academic achievement and abysmally high drop-out rates for America’s black and Hispanic students. The reckless dismantling of the D.C. voucher program does not speak well of the promise by Obama to be the “Education President.”

For this, we have the teacher's union to blame-since there is no effective organized interest that can represent the disenfranchised school kids: "With no living, breathing students profiting from the program to give it a face and stand and defend it the Congress has little political pressure to put new money into the program. The political pressure will be coming exclusively from the teacher’s unions who oppose the vouchers, just as they oppose No Child Left Behind and charter schools and every other effort at reforming public schools that continue to fail the nation’s most vulnerable young people, low income blacks and Hispanics."

So where is Al Sharpton on this outrage? AWOL, as usual, when there's no potential paycheck in the offing. But the deep sixing of the voucher plan is incredible when you consider the response it generated from D.C. parents: "This voucher programs is unique in that it takes no money away from the beleaguered District of Columbia Public Schools. Nationwide, the strongest argument from opponents of vouchers is that it drains hard-to-find dollars from public schools that educate the majority of children. But Congress approved the D.C. plan as an experiment and funded it separately from the D.C. school budget. It is the most generous voucher program in the nation, offering $7,500 per child to help with tuition to a parochial or private school. With that line of attack off the table, critics of vouchers pointed out that even $7,500 is not enough to pay for the full tuition to private schools where the price of a year’s education can easily go beyond $20,000. But nearly 8,000 students applied for the vouchers. And a quarter of them, 1,714 children, won the lottery and took the money as a ticket out of the D.C. public schools."

The best way to provide a better education for poor children, is to give them real choices-something that a pro-competitive voucher program certainly does: "The students, almost all of them black and Hispanic, patched together the voucher money with scholarships, other grants and parents willing to make sacrifices to pay their tuition. What happened, according to a Department of Education study, is that after three years the voucher students scored 3.7 months higher on reading than students who remained in the D.C. schools. In addition, students who came into the D.C. voucher program when it first started had a 19 month advantage in reading after three years in private schools."

So once again we find that the president is rhetoric is simply not walking the walk; and the Duncan Hines school mix is destined to be half-baked.