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A Rush to Judgement

judgeSenator Durbin used Wednesday’s hearing on Washington, DC public schools to broadcast what feels like a last ditch effort on his part to remove continuation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program from consideration, and frankly, making thinly veiled accusations of mismanagement and fraud when he himself admits to lacking all of the details speaks of desperation.

While there may be a legitimate question of the program’s transparency, if that truly is an obstacle to continuation, it is one that can easily be removed. What cannot be questioned is the fact that DC OSP families have seen the education and futures of their students dramatically changed for the better because of their participation.

Perhaps the most scrutinized and vetted federal education reform program in history, mountains of research and hours of testimony before Congress by experts, educators, parents and students should speak for itself, pointing to increased student achievement, safety and satisfaction.

This small $14 million program has proven itself to be effective on many levels, and yet billions upon billions are heaped into pork legislation, pet projects and favors without so much as a raised eyebrow? This year, public schools across the country have been the recipients of the largest influx of monies ever allotted to education. Rather than fighting what works, Senator Durbin and his teachers union supporters would better serve the kids he so strongly “defends” in his war on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program by thoroughly following the $100 billion pledged to the country’s schools and ensuring that it not continue to fund failing and broken programs.

Save Opportunity

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Losing the race before it's begun

hare_turtleIf the Race to the Top is to have an influence on making sure schools get better, someone has got to figure out how districts can be held accountable directly for their behavior when it comes to reform. Nowhere is this more clear than in South Carolina’s Richland School District – an area where the school board seems to relish opportunities to strike down innovative and independent charter schools.

The Hope Charter Academy saw its charter unanimously rejected by a hostile school board that uses any excuses it can to reject quality school applications.

Founded by a group of long time African-American activists and developed over an 18-month period, the Hope Academy proposal was initially given a temporary green light and thus signed up more than 250 interested parents. However, a hostile school board rejected its pleas despite four hours of convincing public testimony.

While some feel criticism of Race to the Top fever is premature, we use this example (only one of scores across the country) to illustrate why public policy at the federal level takes not just time, but real understanding and action of state influencers, to have any effect. South Carolina districts are the only authorizers that can (if they want to) fully fund charters. The one real alternative created – with support from the local charter association – only provides $3,400 – the state per pupil amount – for each student that enrolls in state charter district authorized schools.

Perhaps racing to the top is, in theory, a good idea. It won’t work, however, unless it transcends state and local politics and business as usual.

Interesting that Hope Academy is pretty darn near the school district the President cited in his (almost) State of the Union

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It's not what you say

homerunIt looks like RNC Chariman Michael Steele beat us to the punch and hit one out of the park for DC kids on last night’s Hardball when he pointed out the disconnect between President Obama’s incredible speech to the NAACP and his near sweeping under the rug of the successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“You can go to the NAACP and say a lot, but it’s what you do (that matters),” countered Steele when Matthews praised the hardball words of Obama in New York.

Chris Matthews was right on target with the issue, said it was an area he and Steele agreed upon, that “Opportunity Scholarships should be maintained”, and pointed out it was the education Sonia Sotomayor received at Cardinal Spellman High School, a Catholic school in the Bronx, that was a key factor in her success.

Chris Matthews and Michael Steele join a growing list of powerful endorsements for scholarships providing a way out – and a way up – for DC students.

How many more need to speak out before the Administration and Congress listen?

Take a look for yourself (discussion of DCOSP begins at the 6:45 mark).

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If I had a hammer

hammer

(a folk song for DC school choice)

If I had a hammer

I’d hammer in the morning

I’d hammer in the evening

All over this land

I’d hammer out danger

I’d hammer out a warning

I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters

All over this land

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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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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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Opportunity Knocks

It looks like Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), a longtime proponent of D.C. voting rights, would like to hinge his support of District residents winning a voice in Congress on further renewal of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher system allowing more than 1,700 D.C. children to attend schools of their choosing after having been failed by those to which they are traditionally assigned.

Perhaps the Senator read this.

Or, he could have watched this:

(h/t to Flypaper)

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Fantasy Press Conference (Shameful Redux)

microphones(In light of the impending stimulus package making the rounds on Capitol Hill, the following is a riff on remarks made by President Barack Obama following a meeting with his education economic team. The original can be read in its entirety on the official White House blog.)

One point I want to make is that all of us are going to have responsibilities to get this economy education moving again. And when I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers Congress had given themselves the education system $20 billion $100 billion worth of bonuses in new spendingthe same amount of bonuses as they gave themselves in 2004 effectively doubling federal funding of education — at a time when most of these institutions were are teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don’t provide help that where they don’t have any other choices for educating their children, the entire system could come down on top of our heads if the next generation – indeed, this generation – can’t compete in a global economy — that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful.

And part of what we’re going to need is for folks on Wall Street in the education BLOB who are asking for help to show some restraint accountability and show some discipline transparency and

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