Dems to voucher kids: No hope for you

Some of Sasha and Malia Obama’s classmates at Sidwell Friends may lose their scholarships — unless President Obama stands up to congressional Democrats who are trying to kill school vouchers in D.C. It’s a double standard, writes William McGurn in the Wall Street Journal: Private school is OK for liberal Democrats’ children but not for low-income minority kids.

Like the Obama girls, Sarah and James (Parker) attend the Sidwell Friends School in our nation’s capital. Unlike the Obama girls, they could not afford the school without the $7,500 voucher they receive from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Unfortunately, a spending bill the Senate takes up this week includes a poison pill that would kill this program — and with it perhaps the Parker children’s hopes for a Sidwell diploma.

Known as the “Durbin language” after the Illinois Democrat who came up with it last year, the provision mandates that the scholarship program ends after the next school year unless Congress reauthorizes it and the District of Columbia approves. The beauty of this language is that it allows opponents to kill the program simply by doing nothing. Just the sort of sneaky maneuver that’s so handy when you don’t want inner-city moms and dads to catch on that you are cutting one of their lifelines.

If the Parker children can’t afford Sidwell, their district-run choice is Roosevelt High, where most students fail to reach proficiency in reading or math.

The Dems are paying off the the teachers unions by destroying the voucher option, editorializes the Washington Post.

Why wouldn’t Congress want to get the results of a carefully calibrated scientific study before pulling the plug on a program that has proved to be enormously popular? Could the real fear be that school vouchers might actually be shown to be effective in leveling the academic playing field?

If D.C. public schools aren’t good enough for the Obama children — or for the children of Congress members — poor kids shouldn’t be trapped in the system,  argues the Chicago Tribune.

Update: Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out in support of the D.C. voucher program, telling AP:  “I don’t think it makes sense to take kids out of a school where they’re happy and safe and satisfied and learning.”
Mickey Kaus thinks the Obama administration “blinked” on vouchers. However, Edspresso points out that Duncan called for letting students stay in their current schools, not for allowing more students to enter the program, which serves 1,700 low-income students in the District. (Only a few attend very expensive, elite schools like Sidwell.)
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Comments

  1. You cannot make any inference, or draw any policy conclusions, based on how Barack Obama chooses to educate his kids.

    The guy is president of the United States. He is in a rare and unusual category. The Security conditions alone demand that his kids’ education be managed rather differently.

    This is completely separate from the issue of whether or not it makes sense to issue vouchers to children to support their attendance in private schools. The damage that is done to national education systems’ by private schools generally suggest that it does not. This would be true whether or not Obama schools his kids privately.

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    The damage that is done to national education systems’ by private schools

    Do you mean by making them look bad?

  3. Lucille Pelota says:

    By creating unwanted ripples in the groupthink of the “national education system”?

  4. superdestroyer says:

    Barack Obama sent his children to elite private school when they lived in Chicago and she was a Senator. The real point is the lack of leadership from the Democratic party leadership. they take money from the teachers unions, they support the political positions of the teachers unions but the leadership of the Democratic party sent their own children to elite schools that are much whiters, have no illegal aliens, have more high stakes tests, and have zero tolerance for non-performers.

    Why should anyone listen to a polticians who ask others to do something with their children that the politicians would never do with his own children?

  5. Tracy W says:

    You cannot make any inference, or draw any policy conclusions, based on how Barack Obama chooses to educate his kids.

    You might not be able to but your inability is hardly universal. For a start I can infer that Barrack Obama is okay with sending his daughters to a private school.

    The guy is president of the United States. He is in a rare and unusual category. The Security conditions alone demand that his kids’ education be managed rather differently.

    Why would security conditions require a private school over a state one? If anything, I thought that state schools would be better set up for providing security, as so many of them already have metal detectors.

  6. Steven D.

    The public schools are here to serve us, not the other way around. They should adapt to our changing needs, not demand we make do with what they offer. If public schools find competition difficult, they should figure out why and improve, not demand we have no competition. It’s about providing public education to our nation’s children, not providing public schools with fodder to keep certain people employed.

  7. Stephen Downes

    “The Security conditions alone demand that his kids’ education be managed rather differently.”

    President Carter sent his daughter to a DC Public School. The previous and following presidents both had to deal with assasination attempts. What security issues are you talking about?

    “The damage that is done to national education systems’ by private schools generally suggest that it does not.”

    What damage are you talking about? If public schools are being damaged why aren’t the Obama’s decision damaging our public school system?

  8. “The public schools are here to serve us, not the other way around.”

    Well said.

  9. thaprof says:

    Sorry Stephen, no sale.

    The Secret Service will be all over any school the girls go to. End of discussion on that point.

    What we can infer is that Barack Obama is a hypocrite who panders shamelessly to the public teachers’ unions, but reveals his true beliefs by his actions. Now–surprise, surprise–some poor little black kids will be tossed under the bus to pay back the education lobby.

  10. The Obama kids have been in private schools since before their father was a US Senator, just like hosts of politicians’ and teachers’ kids. Public schools (especially but not exclusively) in the cities are more about jobs programs for adults than about education for kids. Mayor Fenty of DC was called on exactly that issue just recently; his kids go to private schools, of course. The ones that don’t seem to be exceptions, unless a special program is involved; somehow politicians’ and teachers’ kids always seem to get into those.

    I cannot too strongly disagree with the idea that it is the responsibility of “good” or “smart” kids to “prevent damage” to public schools. If public schools aren’t good enough for politicians and teachers, they should be closed. Period. Use the tax money for vouchers for everyone. Providing for public education doesn’t mean the government has to do it.

  11. Margo/Mom says:

    I’d say that there’s plenty of hypocracy to go around. I don’t expect that the private school/voucher lobby is unilaterally supportive of opening up educational opportunities to ALL of the poor little black kids. I recall the exodus from public schools when the courts declared that districts couldn’t draw district lines to keep black and white kids separated.

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    It’s not as if those $7500 vouchers are coming close to paying the two Parker children’s tuition. Sidwell Friends costs $30K per student per year. It’s nice that the two Parker children have the vouchers, but either their parents are ponying up the other $45K, or Sidwell is giving them scholarships for the rest of the money. If they are indeed low-income, then they’re on scholarship.

    If the voucher program were discontinued, Sidwell would have to come up with $30K per scholarship student instead of $22.5K. Assuming Sidwell’s scholarship funds were constant, that would mean a few less scholarship students in the school. I don’t find this a powerful argument for vouchers.

  13. Wow, one can be against vouchers for just about any reason — vouchers are too damaging, vouchers might be racist, and vouchers are too innocuous to bother with. Maybe it’s the idea of parents having more control over public education that is really the problem.

  14. Cardinal Fang says:

    Parents should have more control of public education. But we have no business paying for private education at tony private schools.

  15. Cardinal said, “I don’t find this a powerful argument for vouchers.”

    Balderdash!! The only argument one needs for so-called “vouchers” is freedom. In the case of schools, every parent should have the freedom to take the money s/he is taxed for public edication and spend it at any school s/he chooses.

    Cardinal also said, “But we have no business paying for private education at tony private schools.”

    More balderdash! It is the parents’ money and they should be able to spend it anywhere they choose, whether it is a tony private school or an inner city private school, secular or nonsecular.

  16. Andy Freeman says:

    > But we have no business paying for private education at tony private schools.

    But, apparently we do have business paying public schools that don’t educate their students.

    Perhaps the good Fang will tell us why he thinks that the public pays for public education. Note that his answer should be one that reflects rational spending behavior. For example, if I say that I’m spending $10 to get gas, I won’t give that $10 to someone who doesn’t actually give me gas in return for my $10.

  17. Cardinal Fang says:

    We have no business paying for public schools that don’t educate their students, but sending six or eight kids to Sidwell on the public dime isn’t doing anything to fix the DC public schools for the 60,000 students who remain there.

  18. Terry Pratt says:

    This should hardly be surprising. Whenever the interests of the poor are conteasted by any non-pariah group, the poor lose unless they have more powerful allies.

    Conservatives and Republicans screw the poor all the time – look in your own community and think NIMBY and exclusionary zoning – so nobody should smugly consider themselves superior to the evil Democrats.

  19. We have no business paying for public schools that don’t educate their students, but sending six or eight kids to Sidwell on the public dime isn’t doing anything to fix the DC public schools for the 60,000 students who remain there.

    You’re right, but right now it’s six or eight more kids who get an education. The sad, sad thing about the situation in D.C. is that could actually be considered a win.

    The D.C. schools remind me a lot of GM. It doesn’t matter who the leadership is or what they do, there’s so much bad organizational DNA there that the only way to free the productive assets from the organization is to nuke it entirely. D.C. has school buildings in which education could occur if only they were run by a competent organization. It has teachers who might actually be able to teach. And it has students who might actually want to learn. But none of it can happen so long as the dysfunctional organization is in place.

  20. Tracy W says:

    I don’t expect that the private school/voucher lobby is unilaterally supportive of opening up educational opportunities to ALL of the poor little black kids.

    And you would be silly to expect this. In my experience any large group on any topic will have a few lunatics who are there for reasons weird. However, in my experience, the vast majority of the private school/voucher lobby is unilaterally supportive of opening up educational opportunities to all of the poor little black kids. And poor little white kids, and poor little brown kids, and so forth.

    For example here is a list of Model Legislation from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/friedman/schoolchoice/modellegislation.jsp None of these model legislation programmes discriminate based on colour. Some are only focussed on low and middle-income families, or special needs students.

    You are welcome to disagree with vouchers. But if the best you can do is to try to imply that supporters of school choice are racist, that tells me that you don’t have any substantive arguments against it. And that sort of tactic leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

    I recall the exodus from public schools when the courts declared that districts couldn’t draw district lines to keep black and white kids separated.

    If you withdrew your kids from public schools because you didn’t want them sitting next to black kids, the last thing you’d support is a programme designed to let black kids go to private schools, or even allow them to go to public schools in your rich-white locality.

    Of course, I do not think that many opponents of school choice are in fact racists, as would be implied by Margo/Mom’s recall, I think many of them genuinely believe that school choice would harm the public education system and I think we should be very cautious about slinging accusations of racism at people we disagree with on other grounds.

  21. Andy Freeman says:

    > I don’t expect that the private school/voucher lobby is unilaterally supportive of opening up educational opportunities to ALL of the poor little black kids.

    Oh really? Which poor black kids does the voucher lobby not want to give vouchers to?

    It’s also interesting that someone who opposes giving vouchers to any poor black kids would argue that it’s wrong to give them to just a few.

    Note that the “voucher lobby” doesn’t object to vouchers being used at schools run by “good people” that Margo likes.

    Yes, there currently aren’t enough voucher-accepting schools to take everyone. That’s at least partially due to folks like Margo who make vouchers an unreliable source.

    Note that nothing is stopping the folks who think that current voucher schools are “wrong” from opening their own. It would be a two-fer – better schools for more kids and surely their superior quality would drive those bad voucher schools out of biz.

  22. Cardinal Fang says:

    DC does currently have a school voucher program. And there are still 60,000 kids in the dysfunctional public school system, many of them getting a terrible education. Voucher supporters say that competition will improve the public schools, and maybe that’s true, but if so, it’s not happening fast enough and 60,000 kids are still trapped in crummy schools.

    So, in my view, vouchers are a distraction from the real problems that still need to be solved in public schools. Even if we support vouchers, the magic wand of the free market doesn’t seem to be making the problems go away in the public schools, so we still need to make changes to fix public schools before another generation of DC kindergarteners leaves high school unable to read and calculate.

  23. Cardinal –

    The only thing that will get all 60,000 kids free of the unbelievably bad D.C. schools is the total shutdown of the D.C. schools. The organization is so far gone it simply can’t be recovered, no matter how hard people try.

  24. CF

    “vouchers are a distraction from the real problems…so we still need to make changes to fix public schools…”

    Exactly what do you think change will look like? More of the same, only magically effective? Vouchers and charters and NCLB and other reforms are all “change”. They are in response to the failure of public schools to improve themselves. They are attempts to “fix” the schools.

    What’s the point of being outraged by the failure of public schools if all you’re going to do is fight all real attempts at bypassing a failing strategy? Opponents of choice must hate the idea of vouchers and choice more than they hate the idea of doing nothing to improve the schools.

    The schools have had decades to improve themselves unhindered by the fear of losing funds and students to vouchers and charters. They have not been able to improve. Let’s give some other ideas a chance. Perhaps it’s time to question your basic assumptions about how schools should look and operate.

  25. Cardinal Fang says:

    MTHeads, you appear to be arguing that

    Change is necessary.

    Vouchers are change.

    Therefore, vouchers are necessary.

    I’m sure you don’t actually support that argument. Some proposed changes should be adopted, and some should not. I support charters and (more or less) NCLB. I worry that vouchers, as currently implemented in DC, suffer from the adverse selection problem: private schools will be glad to take cheaper-to-educate students and their vouchers, leaving expensive-to-educate students in underfunded public schools. I worry that expensive private schools will just up their tuition by the voucher amount.

    So, I think voucher-accepting schools should be required to accept any student that applies (using a sibling-favoring lottery if too many students apply), and should have to accept a voucher as the full tuition to the school. I think that voucher amounts should be proportional to the difficulty and expense of educating the child, so an autistic kid would get an enormous voucher, and a normal bright healthy kid should get a much smaller amount.

  26. CF

    I’m not arguing vouchers are good just for the sake of change. I’m arguing that vouchers are at least a thoughtful effort to improve the education of children that goes beyond rhetoric.

    Perhaps there is a best way to implement vouchers, but that’s a different argument. Perhaps vouchers will not change anything. Nothing lost. What scheme are they replacing that has any greater chance of improving the lot of kids in the worst schools? Holding out for the perfect solution tomorrow doesn’t do anything for kids today.

    Just the fact that there’s a thoughtful scheme for their use, parents who would like to use them, and schools which will accept them ought to be enough to justify vouchers at this point. Public schools in the DC area have had their chance to reform themselves. Now it’s time to try other people’s ideas.

    I can’t get my mind around the idea of schools being so bad that we can’t afford to let any kids escape for fear of making the schools even worse.

    Somehow I don’t think we’re going to change one another’s minds. Maybe the perfect, all-encompassing reform which won’t ruffle any feathers is right around the corner. I’ll drink to that.

  27. I think that voucher amounts should be proportional to the difficulty and expense of educating the child, so an autistic kid would get an enormous voucher, and a normal bright healthy kid should get a much smaller amount.

    Now, that is an excellent idea, even if it would be hard to implement politically.

  28. Cardinal Fang:
    leaving expensive-to-educate students in underfunded public schools

    There is no evidence that public schools in at least the OECD countries are underfunded – there are countries who spend far less per pupil than the US but get better results. For example see page 5 of http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/60/47/39311361.pdf
    And every voucher programme I have seen pays less for the private schools than the per student cost at the public schools.

  29. Andy Freeman says:

    > DC does currently have a school voucher program. And there are still 60,000 kids in the dysfunctional public school system, many of them getting a terrible education. Voucher supporters say that competition will improve the public schools, and maybe that’s true, but if so, it’s not happening fast enough and 60,000 kids are still trapped in crummy schools.

    The voucher folks are not the ones limiting the number of vouchers.

    Fang’s position is that we can’t help any kids unless we help them all. The result is that we don’t help any kids.

    Vouchers do help the kids that get them. So, let’s let more kids get them. If public schools don’t improve and voucher kids do better, we can keep increasing the number of vouchers until that changes or the failures of the public schools don’t matter.

    No – that doesn’t help every kid today, but neither does Fang’s position. And, unlike Fang’s position, it increases the number of kids helped and gets us to the point where we’re not talking about 60k kids trapped in a failing system.

  30. ed alvarez says:

    Let’s drop the canard about vouchers making it possible for poor kids attend Sidwell Friends. The vouchers max out at $7,500, and the tuition is upwards of $20,000 or $30,000.
    Sidwell, which has a huge endowment, is eating most of the tuition costs for these kids and easily could afford to eat it all.
    These kids would be allowed to stay at Sidwell if the voucher funds were cut off tomorrow.

  31. Cardinal Fang: “I worry that vouchers, as currently implemented in DC, suffer from the adverse selection problem: private schools will be glad to take cheaper-to-educate students and their vouchers, leaving expensive-to-educate students in underfunded public schools.”

    “If more students apply to a participating private school than there are seats available at that school, admission must be decided at random.”
    http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/friedman/schoolchoice/ShowProgramItem.do?id=13

  32. DC schools are not underfunded; quite the contrary. Like many other big-city systems, they have much higher than average funding and much lower than average success at providing real education and preventing large dropout rates. DC also has had problems with mismanagement etc.

  33. Margo/mom: “I don’t expect that the private school/voucher lobby is unilaterally supportive of opening up educational opportunities to ALL of the poor little black kids. I recall the exodus from public schools when the courts declared that districts couldn’t draw district lines to keep black and white kids separated.”

    That’s insulting, it’s race-baiting, and it’s not even rational. You had no reason to try to associate voucher proponents with public school segregationists.

    The only people opposed to opening up of educational opportunities to poor black kids in D.C. are the voucher opponents. In order to qualify for the D.C. voucher program, the student must be poor enough to qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

    And there have been several studies that showed higher levels of integration in private schools than public, which seems obvious when you consider that public schools segregate by residential address. If you can think of a more effective proxy for race as a selection criterion, I’d like to see it.

    Finally, if you were to stipulate that the private schools were populated by white racists fleeing integrated public schools, wouldn’t these same racists be against giving vouchers to poor minority students?

    http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/friedman/Welcome.do

  34. Cardinal Fang says:

    This study shows that DC voucher students don’t do any better than their counterparts who stayed in the public schools. There may be other studies that have different results.

    Bart, are you telling me that any voucher student can ask to attend Sidwell Friends, and if there are too many applicants Sidwell holds a lottery to decide which ones are accepted? What???

    For primary students, Sidwell requires “Application, Child’s School Visit and Parent Interview (only applicants to kindergarten and third grade have a parent interview), WPPSI-III or WISC-IV Testing [that’s IQ testing], Teacher Recommendation, School Transcript (for grades second through fourth only), and Parent Statement.” In other words, Sidwell only takes smart kids with engaged parents. That’s their right as an exclusive private school, but it means that schools like them can skim off top voucher-using students.

    Sidwell admits some talented low-income students and gives them scholarships. This is not a new policy that came with vouchers; top private schools have always done it.

  35. Mark Roulo says:

    This study shows that DC voucher students don’t do any better than their counterparts who stayed in the public schools. There may be other studies that have different results.

    But the vouchers are cheaper, right? $7,500 per student for a voucher versus some much larger dollar amount per student for the D.C. public schools.

    For most other goods (TVs, cars, lawyering, plumbing), “just as good” for “a whole lot cheaper” is considered preferable. Why not for D.C. schooling?

    -Mark Roulo

  36. I don’t know what specific requirements they waive (or not) for voucher students. I’m sure there are a number of academic requirements. Since the policy is require parents to pay at least some portion of tuition, perhaps residual cost after vouchers and other financial aid is enough to narrow the field of applicants. Anyway, without knowing the exact procedure, you and I are both speculating.

    “That’s their right as an exclusive private school, but it means that schools like them can skim off top voucher-using students.”

    You know, you’re talking about using these kids as means to an end. I think Kant said something about this being immoral a long time ago. Who the hell are you to talk about these kids as though they were feedstock for some industrial process?

  37. Cardinal Fang says:

    My end is to improve education for the 60,000 students currently in DC schools. If that requires firing every single administrator and half the teachers in the school district, that’s what should be done. I’m not opposed to change!

    But I don’t support every single proposal to change things, and I’m sure no other poster here does either.

    I’d love to understand why DC is so uniquely awful and expensive. Some people here might reflexively answer “teachers unions,” but there are teachers unions all over, and other schools are not massively expensive and bad. How does DC in particular manage to waste all that money?

  38. “My end is to improve education for the 60,000 students currently in DC schools.”

    I believe you, but you still advocate involuntary use of some of the kids toward that end. You could make the same argument about using individuals as involuntary test subjects, the end goal being to cure cancer.

    “Some people here might reflexively answer “teachers unions,” but there are teachers unions all over, and other schools are not massively expensive and bad.”

    Corrupt or incompetent administration and political officials whose ideology include “the end justifies the means” are a couple of other guesses.

    I’m just thinking about parallels with the U.S. auto industry. I’m sure the U.A.W. had a big part in that mess, but only in conjunction with bad management and problems with government and the economy.

  39. Cardinal –

    I’d love to understand why DC is so uniquely awful and expensive. Some people here might reflexively answer “teachers unions,” but there are teachers unions all over, and other schools are not massively expensive and bad. How does DC in particular manage to waste all that money?

    It’s organizational DNA. As organizations grow and evolve, they develop habits and cultural elements bigger than the people involved. In organizations like Toyota, this organizational DNA is part of the company’s success. Also, in organizations like Toyota, they are very conscious of maintaining their organizational DNA. Toyota educates its employees in the “Toyota Way”.

    Among schools, KIPP also shows an attention to its organizational DNA. The program maintains a strict focus on its culture, and its culture pervades everything it does.

    The converse of this is the organizational DNA are organizations that pay no attention to their culture. These are organizations like GM and the DC schools, where the good and productive employees are busy trying to do right while the more selfish elements in the organization are busy trying to shape it to their own ends.

    The worst thing that can happen to organizations with bad DNA is large infusions of money, either in the form of one-time bailouts or massively increased subsidies. Large infusions of money only serve to reinforce the bad DNA and ensure further waste. That explains GM, and that explains the DC schools.

    Now, both organizations have such rotten cultures that they are beyond all hope. They must be destroyed and the productive pieces allowed to join better organizations.

  40. Cardinal Fang says:

    “They’re bad because the organizational DNA is bad” is a statement that sounds informative, but actually doesn’t tell us anything. How do we know the organization DNA is bad? How is it different from other, non-bad organizations? What changes should we make so the replacement organization isn’t just as bad?

  41. Cardinal Fang says:

    “My end is to improve education for the 60,000 students currently in DC schools.”

    I believe you, but you still advocate involuntary use of some of the kids toward that end. You could make the same argument about using individuals as involuntary test subjects, the end goal being to cure cancer.

    This is a gross misreading of my position. I don’t agree with your preferred policy, a policy, I would point out, that is not resulting in improved school performance either for the voucher-using students or for the rest of the students. That does not imply that I am advocating involuntary use of any children.

    If I proposed that every single autistic kid in DC should be sent to private school on the taxpayers’ dime, and you disagreed with that policy proposal, would I be able to accuse you of involuntary use of some children? That would be a nonsensical way to argue.

    We should be able to discuss policy proposals while assuming that everyone in the discussion is acting in good faith and wants to improve the situation.

  42. “That does not imply that I am advocating involuntary use of any children.”

    You talked about voucher schools “skimming off the top students” thereby resulting in some sort of hardship to the public schools. My inference was that you advocate discouraging those students from leaving in order to prevent that hardship. If that’s not what you believe, then I guess I did misread your position.

    “If I proposed that every single autistic kid in DC should be sent to private school on the taxpayers’ dime, and you disagreed with that policy proposal, would I be able to accuse you of involuntary use of some children?

    If my disagreement was for the purpose of benefiting the public schools at the autistic kids’ expense, then of course you could accuse me.

    Naturally there could be other reasons I might disagree, such as believing the voucher amount is higher than the cost of educating these kids in public school. If so I should be expected to justify a different figure, rather than oppose all vouchers because a particular voucher amount might conceivably be too high. Blanket opposition points to a motive other than money, since the taxpayers would actually save money with properly-sized vouchers.

  43. Cardinal –

    The telltale sign of bad organizational DNA is being able to consume massive amounts of resources with little on-mission output. The reason I keep grouping GM and the D.C. schools is they both do this, and do it a ton. GM has assets which would be worth $40-50 billion in the hands of other companies yet only has a market capitalization of $7 billion. The organization is literally making otherwise productive assets worth less.

    The solution is for an organization to be deliberate in establishing and maintaining a culture that produces results. The Toyota Way is perhaps *the* textbook example in doing this. The organization can’t allow room for self-serving or sabotaging behavior.

    Note that I say the organization, not just management. Employees are a big part of it, as the examples they set for their peers and the behavior they will tolerate can make or break the culture.

    Early on, it takes a lot of excellent and committed people for good organizational DNA to take root. Then, as it grows and becomes part of life in the organization, average people who come in the door will adapt to the culture around them. This is part of how startup companies, which require extraordinary people to succeed early on, can eventually have thousands of average employees and still succeed.

    From an external perspective, failure cannot be rewarded. The mistake made with the D.C. schools is that as they failed they were rewarded with more and more money. There are legitimate cases in which organizations will need more money to get the job done, but they should have to make a good case for why before they get it. Unfortunately, politics prevents this as questioning funding “for the children” is political suicide.

  44. Cardinal Fang says:

    Bart, how could I be accused of “using” voucher kids by wanting to disallow their vouchers? DC voucher kids aren’t doing any better than their public schooled counterparts. Moreover, students whose parents have their education together well enough to get their children accepted to Sidwell friends are not the kind of students who cost public schools a lot of money. I doubt that the Parkers would have been costing the public schools $7500 apiece; even bad school systems spend a lot more on special ed kids than on achievers like Sarah and James.

    Quincy– Why are the DC schools so bad and wasteful? They have bad organizational DNA. How do we know the organizational DNA is bad? They use up lots of money without producing anything. Oh-kay.

  45. The DC school department has a decades-long history of inefficiency, incompetence, mismanagement and downright corruption, just as the city government has had. The entire government has been used as a jobs program by the politicians, with litle or no regard for the need for said jobs or the qualifications of those filling them. When Michelle Rhee became superintendent, she found that there were many employees who had no job description and could give no real description of what their job was. Anyone who has had to register a vehicle or get any sort of license in DC is well-aware of the problem. Rude, lazy and incompetent is all too likely.

    Only a few years ago, it was in all the papers that the DC schools could not determine with any sort of accuracy either the number of students or the number of staff in the system. I believe that was about the same time that the head of the DC teachers’ union was arrested for embezzling several million dollars of union funds, and she wasn’t the only one involved in that scheme. Also, the number of administrators and central office staff is huge. I remember reading a comparison between DC and the Baltimore Archdiocese schools, which had similar numbers of students, and DC had 10 times the number of central office bureaucrats. The union does add to the problem, because it has a stranglehold on work rules/assignments, makes it exceedingly difficult to fire anyone and because any attempt generates large legal fees. I remember $600,000 being the average figure. (several years ago, somewhere in the DC area)

    The vouchers educate children for MUCH less than DCPS and I’d bet that the level of safety and order is better. Regarding severe special-ed students, DC has had large numbers of them expensively placed in private situations, with DCPS paying the whole bill.(more than DCPS spends for similar students) Considering the general achievement and discipline levels in DC, I understand parents trying to remove those kids who have academic ambitions from the poisonous attitude of the remainder.

  46. Correction: DCPS had almost 100 times the central office staff. I believe it was something like Baltimore Archdiocese 15 and DCPS over 1400.

  47. Students who were offered OSP scholarships did not report being more satisfied with school or feeling safer in school than those without access to scholarships.

    So much for the safety and satisfaction arguement.

    My understanding is that the DC public school system is unique in that it is overseen by the federal govt. If so, then look what govt. intervention does for you.

    Mayoral control and the annointed on Rhee have had 2 years to improve this situation and have not.

    Stop putting politicians and amateurs in position of authority and instead put some real educators, then you’ll see some change.

  48. In addition, the study also has this little gem:
    The treatment group was less likely to have access at school to a cafeteria, nurse’s office, counselors, or special programs for either non-English speakers or students with learning problems. .

    In other words, no programs for the difficult and expensive kids, no pesky feeding of the kids eating into the budget. I wonder what happens to kids on medications at these schools?

  49. Andy Freeman says:

    > My end is to improve education for the 60,000 students currently in DC schools. If that requires firing every single administrator and half the teachers in the school district, that’s what should be done. I’m not opposed to change!

    And, if a given program doesn’t help all of those students, Fang opposes it. If the opponents of a program manage to limit its scope, Fang opposes it.

    One of the “kindergarden stories” is about a girl walking down the beach throwing starfish back into the sea, to get them away from the sun that is drying them out and killing them. An adult asks “why are you bothering, you can’t make a difference – there are far more starfish than you can save”.

    The little girl pointed out that what she did made a difference to the ones that she saved.

  50. C.Fang: “Bart, how could I be accused of “using” voucher kids by wanting to disallow their vouchers? DC voucher kids aren’t doing any better than their public schooled counterparts. Moreover, students whose parents have their education together well enough to get their children accepted to Sidwell friends are not the kind of students who cost public schools a lot of money. I doubt that the Parkers would have been costing the public schools $7500 apiece; even bad school systems spend a lot more on special ed kids than on achievers like Sarah and James.”

    In roughly reverse order:

    Suppose the average per-student cost in D.C. is $10K, and 20 percent of students are in special ed. If educating mainstream students costs $7500, that leaves $20K to spend on each special ed student.

    If you think $7500 is unrealistic, then what would you consider a more accurate cost? If you’re unwilling to name an amount that you would allow to follow these kids out of the public system, I can only conclude that you’re using the $7500 figure as a red herring.

    The Sidwell Friends example is another distraction, since it’s obviously atypical; in fact the mean tuition for voucher schools is below $6K. Again, you don’t indicate support for vouchers toward any of the lower-priced schools either.

    Whether or not the only studies available show a significant academic benefit is another irrelevant argument. The studies also show no measurable harm, and the voucher parents seem to see a definite benefit.

    None of these points support a categorically anti-voucher position; all are neutral or ambivalent. So why oppose vouchers? All I’m left with is your statement about voucher schools “skimming off the top students.” Perhaps I unfairly lumped you together with other anti-cream-skimmers, who advocate forcing high-achievers to remain in the classroom in order to somehow pull up the low-achievers, and who clearly advocate using those students as means to an end. But if your concern is strictly economic, again, what do you think is the true cost of educating these high-achievers in public schools?

  51. Lisa Brown says:

    If it costs DC $28,813 per student, why not make the vouchers manditory set the value at $25,000 and completely close down the DC public school system. The District would save $3,813 per student. And the students would be out of those awful schools.

  52. Cardinal Fang says:

    Bart, I didn’t make myself clear. I’m glad to get a chance to clarify.

    When I said the voucher schools were skimming off the top students, I didn’t mean the top students had any obligation to stay in inferior classrooms just to benefit other students. That would, indeed, be a deplorable use of those students; I can see why you’d find it objectionable.

    Instead, I meant that the top students were leaving and taking with them more money than they would have cost had they remained in public school. Neither you nor I is privy to exact details of DC’s school budgets, but I imagine student costs might be something like:

    student with autism, $60K
    dyslexic student, $20K
    student with ADHD, $17K
    student with no father at home and drug addicted mother, $17K
    average student with uninvolved parent, $10K
    good student, no disabilities, with involved parents, $4K

    Obviously, I made these numbers up out of whole cloth, but I do believe that good students with involved parents are going to be the cheapest to educate. If such students cost the school $4-5K, but take $7.5K away when they leave with vouchers, then the rest of the students are even worse off, and that was my point.

  53. CF, Thanks for the clarification. I can’t argue with much in your last post, assuming, as you say, the actual numbers are ballpark amounts.

    A couple of thoughts that aren’t contradictory:

    1) The voucher students must pass a means test to qualify, and are known to be economically disadvantaged. Also, those in failing schools are given preference. Might these disadvantages not warrant vouchers greater than the $4000 base level?

    2) In the latest report, the mean tuition for voucher schools was around $5900, with the lowest being $3500. Since the voucher is capped at $7500, the mean voucher amount must have been less than $5900.

    3) This idea of setting voucher levels could actually shine light on what public schools are actually spending to educate students, and allow discussion over what they should be spending.

    It would be easy for a school to spend virtually nothing on a gifted or motivated student who is already ahead of the standard course material. And if those who favor using these students as assistant teachers had their way, the cost could actually be negative. A minimal voucher would effectively set a floor on what public schools would have to spend educating good students in order to keep them.

  54. Cardinal Fang says:

    Bart, most likely you and I could find a voucher program we’d both support. We seem to be converging on a consensus.

    But in a way, this is a distraction from the main problem. Our responsibility, or at least the responsibility of the government we elected, is to educate all the students in the District of Columbia. Some students will take vouchers and go to private schools, but most won’t, and we need to educate those kids too. Kids from the worst family backgrounds, who are harder to teach, are most likely to remain in public schools.

    Although it’s fun to debate vouchers, the debate needs to move from the side issue to the main issue. Why is DC’s public education so staggeringly expensive? Is the $25K figure I’ve read actually correct? If so, is that figure calculated the same way states’ figures are calculated (I’ve read that there plenty of chicanery and obfuscation in those calculations)? Why is DC’s public education so bad (if indeed it’s worse than cities’)? What can we do to fix this?

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