Friday, June 22, 2007

Eating Crow

I have long complained against the voucher program on grounds that I thought it would result in the students most in need of help falling further behind those deemed "touchable" enough to allow into private schools. It turns out, I was wrong.

According to the Department of Education (via this Washington Post article), the students in DC who received the vouchers to receive private education in general scored no better than the students they left behind in public school. Of course, this is not an absolute. The students who went to private school from well performing public schools, and those who already scored high on tests did perform better.

I view this as evidence that the voucher program does not help the students who most need help. I also think that this shows that the money could better be spent elsewhere, such as providing services to students in public schools that need such assistance as counseling (funding cut due to diversion to No Child Left Behind), remedial education programs, as well as fine arts programs whose funding has been slashed.

There are those who look at it differently, though. One such person is Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who argues that it's too soon to judge noted in the above article, "The report's findings are in step with rigorous studies of other voucher programs which have not typically found impacts on student achievement in the first year." In other words, DC is not an anomaly. She continues to gauge the effectiveness of the program: "We know that parents are pleased with the program in providing effective education alternatives." What she didn't say was that many of the parents who were pleased were the ones who wanted their children to receive a parochial education on the government's dime, and that almost none of the pleased parents were the ones whose children were left behind in public school, which they have been told is inferior to the private schools that a select few students get to go to and perform the same.

How few students? The program allows funding to provide vouchers for 1800 students. While I don't know the student population of Washington DC, I can say that my son's elementary school contained about 650 students last year, and the two schools my mother now must split time between due to budget cuts for counseling average about 550 students each. The Washington DC population is about 557,000, and I'd be willing to bet that there are a few more than 1800 school age children there.

How can a program enacted to support No Child Left Behind not provide enough support for all children, thus requiring children to be left behind?

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