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Obama Administration Flips on School Vouchers

WASHINGTON, DC – In a stunning turn of events, the Obama Administration today reversed course on the issue of school choice and vouchers, detailing an ambitious plan to create national school choice options through a competitive grant program for states.

“Unfortunately, I had not actually sat down and read the research on school choice and achievement for myself,” Obama admitted during a press conference this morning. “I trusted the counsel of those who supposedly had. I can admit when I am wrong, and in this case, I see that offering options to parents is not only changing lives, but, on a large scale, can lift our entire school system to new heights. That’s exactly what this White House is all about.”

Joined at the podium by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the President outlined their proposal to launch a competition that, like its predecessor ‘Race to the Top’, asks states to collaborate with stakeholders to win gobs of cash. Only, this time, according to Duncan, “the stakeholders will not be teachers unions and school boards, but parents and students. We screwed up last time and relied on the input of those we thought had the best interests of kids in mind. We wanted urgency. What we got was a pile of promises that have not only been sitting in limbo for over a year, but in some cases abandoned entirely.”

Duncan also revealed that no outside consultancy would be accepted to boost the chances states have to win. “For ‘Race to the Top’, my staff was reading the same application over and over again. Only the state names changed.”

To prove his point, he brought up the winning applications of Maryland and Hawaii. “Honestly, we were just flipping coins at the end,” he said.

Details of the plan are still being put in place, but

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Fast Tracking the Status Quo

clock(Originally posted to the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog.)

Perhaps it’s not so unusual that the same person who fought to get a waiver from NCLB’s tutoring requirement is the same person who is pushing a fast track for making the bill’s requirements more flexible. When some of Arne Duncan’s Chicago schools were failing kids, he asked then Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings for a waiver from the requirement that students be permitted to leave and take their tutoring money elsewhere. Arne Duncan thought he could do tutoring better than the private sector, so he sought to deliver tutoring rather than send the money out of house. There’s no data on whether it worked, and some in Chicago say not much changed during that period of time following NCLB, other than a heightened awareness of the problem and a tenacity by Duncan to pursue some modest, external reforms (charters, some contracting). Once a school superintendent, always a school superintendent. And while Duncan is not the issue, his brand of reform puts Superintendents and school boards in the driver’s seat. Problem is, last time they drove that car, it kept getting banged up.

But it was NCLB’s teeth – the threat of loss of money or worse – that got people motivated. The hard, fast consequences of accountability, and the spotlight on data, however challenged by differing vantage points, prevented the country from hiding the shameful state of education in our schools, from the world or ourselves…

Read the entire post HERE.

(*Image courtesy of yellowcloud)

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All in the family

duncannea(originally posted on Politico‘s The Arena blog)

Unpopular positions? Tough love? The teachers unions want you to believe they are being punished by the president’s policies. It makes for great copy and provides cover for both the unions and the Education Department as they manipulate Capitol Hill for a second multi-billion dollar bailout. But the truth is, it’s all in the family.

The administration’s education policy, including the “Race to the Top” initiative, has been easy on unions and their members. States have received money for saying they are going to factor performance into evaluations, when in reality to make meaningful performance pay work, you must either require performance to trump local union contract provisions or change the contract itself. Additionally, districts have been paid money for saying they will turn around failing schools. No one in the status quo is hurting or being forced to change very much because of what the president is saying. The talk is good and strengthens reformers’ hands, but the teachers unions won’t feel any discomfort until someone or something cuts into the lock they have on how schools operate and how policy is crafted.

Read the entire post over at The Arena

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The sky is falling

dontchangeIf you’ve picked up a newspaper or turned on the evening news lately, it’s been all doom and gloom for schools, teachers and the future of American education.

First, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) tag teamed behind Education Stimulus 2.0 in a hearing on the ED budget, claiming that another $23 billion is “absolutely necessary” to save up to 300,000 teacher jobs, proving that everyday is Christmas for the unions (I guess last year’s $100 billion just wasn’t enough).

Then the NEA asked us to remember the children.

Tons of federal money + jobs + children + tears + zero historical context = Media Tsunami

Former CER colleague Neal McCluskey, however, actually grabs the data and puts it all into perspective:

For one thing, in 2007-08 public schools employed more than 6.2 million people; even the 300,000 figure is tiny compared to that huge number.

More importantly, preceding our schools’ few recent years of financial woe were decades of decadent plenty. According to inflation-adjusted federal data, in 1970-71 Americans spent $5,593 per public-school student. By 2006-07 we were spending $12,463 – a whopping 123 percent increase that bought lots of teachers, administrators, and other shiny things!

And, he points out, it hasn’t bought the student achievement demanded or intended.

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From the cutting room floor

trash canFour things you are guaranteed not to hear in Wednesday night’s SOTU:

  • “While a little nerve-wracking for us around the White House, November elections by the people of New Jersey and Virginia solidified what will be an exciting opportunity for those states to break from the status quo and embrace the education reforms of their new governors and the incredibly bold leaders they have chosen to steer schools in their states. At the very least, McDonnell has kept Gerard so busy he hasn’t been able to bother me about DC scholarships.”
  • “Frankly, my Education Secretary and I were disappointed with the results of special legislative sessions and bill proposals regarding charter schools. Our crack public affairs team spun things so R2TT would come out smelling like a rose, but, come on. Caps lifted when states weren’t even near them, Louisiana? Strengthening collective bargaining, Illinois? And two little guys out of New England – I’m talking to you Rhode Island and Connecticut – giving charter schools money you had already promised then taken away? Really? I hope that wasn’t used to support your applications. We went to Harvard, you know.”
  • “The one real win in R2TT goes on the scoreboard for teachers. Check this out. In addition to $100 billion dollars to keep them employed through the stimulus, we figured out a way to take it a step further with R2TT and teacher evaluation methodology. You could drive a truck through the holes in state proposals regarding teachers. You should see some of the emails Arne sends me late at night with examples cut straight from the applications. It’s all I can do to keep from falling out of bed. I can’t wait for round two.”
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Gingrich and Sharpton – An Odd Couple for Education, But Not the First

al-newtTomorrow, on his continuing education tour, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be joined in Philadelphia by two gentlemen who because of their obvious differences on many levels are called the Odd Couple of education.  I applaud strange bedfellows – when they make things happen for kids. With this one, I’m not so sure.

The first real Odd Couples of education led some of the nation’s most fundamental shifts in education, shifts that had once been considered radical.  Looking back through the past sixteen years, it’s clear that while education reform has changed dramatically, broad, mainstream support for bold changes in education existed then, just as they do now.  It was just much less hip to say so.

Then, policymakers who led the fight for charter schools, merit pay (as it was called in those days), vouchers and the like were accused of being part of the vast right wing conspiracy and generally anti-public education, despite the fact that such nomenclature didn’t fit then, just as it does not now. CER’s first work celebrated legislators like Pennsylvania Democrat Dwight Evans, who joined hands with Republican Tom Ridge to pass that state’s charter bill.  Miami Urban League head T. Willard Fair teamed up with Governor Jeb Bush to bring vouchers to Florida, following in the steps of Representative Polly Williams, a former Black Panther, in league with conservative Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

These were the first, real Odd Couples of the modern education reform movement.  They were bold, tenacious, and courageous to cross party lines, incur the wrath of unions together and suffer all sorts of education establishment slurs. (more…)

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No Admission

no_entranceBad news Fridays are becoming a theme for Sec. Arne Duncan and his public affairs team. News of an April 6th letter to parents serving notice on the potential for their children’s participation in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for the upcoming school year wasn’t made public until the Washington Post brought the situation to light in a Saturday editorial on the 11th.This letter signaled a surprise move by the Administration to deny any new scholarships for the upcoming year, even though the program is scheduled to continue at least through 2010.

The Department’s sympathy note contained three interesting tidbits:

1) It was dated April 6 – three days after a government evaluation of D.C. OSP showcased the effectiveness of the program. Knowing that no government agency could approve even a small letter without an amazing amount of revision and drafting, the DOE must have chosen not to reveal this (none too small) bit of information in their burial of the report.

2) Further, one sentence in the letter reads: “Enrollment for DCPS begins on April 1, 2009.” First of all, does this hint at the fact that the letter may have been in early drafts prior to April? How long has this plan been in motion? Secondly, this information can’t be helpful to parents. It’s like receiving a 30-day notice after you’ve been evicted – more than a little too late.

3) Co-signed by Jim Shelton (formerly program director of the Education Division at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and East Coast partner of the NewSchools Venture Fund), it is the only official notice we’ve seen of the fact that Duncan has filled the post of Assistant Deputy Secretary for OII. (Thanks for

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Morning news isn't just White House dogs and pirates

morningjoeTwo interesting education conversations on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning:

1) Walter Isaacson speaks some truth about NCLB, charter schools, mayoral control and teachers unions, but his argument that deep down Duncan supports the D.C. voucher program coupled with a sunny outlook on the affect $timulus money will have in the classroom raised this viewer’s eyebrows.

2) D.C.’s Mayor Adrian Fenty lays it out for Joe and states unequivocally that real change will come to public schools when principals are given control of a hiring/firing process based on merit. Be sure to watch the Mayor dance around Pat Buchanan’s assertion that what he is endorsing is union busting.

The best note of the morning, however, was hit by Joe when he shook his head in an attempt to understand the BLOB and their efforts to thwart true reform, saying: “It’s like these people are like holdouts, like those Japanese soldiers that kept fighting for 20 years on remote islands. They didn’t realize the world had changed.”

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Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

wizardofozI have many colleagues who insist that deep down, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a real education reformer, and is a reflection of an administration that is reform-minded on critical education issues.  Because he hired this or that person, because he talks about charter schools, and because he told the press he thought that children currently in the DC scholarship program should be allowed to finish even if it is discontinued.  There are some who believe he’s “one of us.”

The Denver Post today, like Toto in The Wizard of Oz, pulls back the curtain on the image of Duncan as reformer to reveal some hard truths behind the talking points.  Like many of us, they wanted to know why a Congressionally mandated report on the DC voucher program – providing evidence of success – was released on a Friday, after Congress recessed, and as millions of Americans were leaving for their spring breaks.  Duncan denied knowing about the findings, though senior department officials have had a chance to review them since November.  Even if they deliberately kept it from the Secretary, it still begs the question as to why, knowing the Congress was moving to kill it, did he not ask where the study results were?  As the Denver Post columnist argues, Duncan discards the program as being too small to care about.  He dances around his opposition by advocating that kids already in the program continue — without demanding legislation that would allow that to happen, by the way.  Thus my colleagues’ “hopes” that he’ll come around, that reason will prevail.  They are so blinded by their dreams for this Administration that they find it impossible to believe its people could oppose something so good.

But

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Please read that last bit back to me…

court-reporterThe education chatterers are all a twitter this evening over Sec. Arne Duncan’s “support” for a “continuation” of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Wonk #1: Tee-hee. Is the Obama Administration really going to go up against Congress on D.C. OSP?

Wonk #2: Ooooh. Is Duncan all about the choice now?

Wonk #3: I’ve got 10 bucks on Obama/Duncan. They’ve given everything but the kitchen sink to Pelosi and her Congress. It’s payback time!

Hold on a second everyone. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Read the story again.

Nowhere in Libby Quaid’s piece is a there call for continuation of the scholarship program. Let’s take a look:

Duncan opposes vouchers, he said in an interview with The Associated Press. But he said Washington is a special case, and kids already in private schools on the public dime should be allowed to continue.

“I don’t think it makes sense to take kids out of a school where they’re happy and safe and satisfied and learning,” Duncan told said. “I think those kids need to stay in their school.”

Allowing existing kids to remain in the program is not a continuation of it, merely a longer phase out – a kinder, gentler demise, if you will. In this scenario, when the youngest current OSP scholar has graduated, there will be no more.

There is no silver lining in the words of Sec. Duncan. Unfortunately, even voucher supporters in Congress have been duped:

When asked about Duncan’s remarks, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the education secretary was “exactly right.”

“Senators should listen to him by voting this week to continue funding vouchers for DC schoolchildren,” Alexander said.

Too bad that’s not what Duncan said. It would have been nice if he had…

(Maria Glod and Bill Turque

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