Sunday, October 18, 2015

Vouchers for private schools: This is what passes for 'school reform' in D.C.

D.O.E.-- The Education Pentagon in D.C.

Posting from D.C. --Remember back in 2010 when Michelle Rhee was ruling the roost in D.C.? Rhee, with plenty of back-up from Arne Duncan and the Gates Foundation, became one of the superstars of the Waiting For Superman set, and D.C. was touted as the model for corporate-style, urban school reform. Duncan even used his position as Secretary of Education to stump for Rhee's patron, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

How the mighty have fallen. Rhee has left the world of corporate reform to go to work for a fertilizer company. After she was booted out of Washington came the revelations about her role in a major test-cheating scandal.

Spending this past week in the D.C. area has given me a closer look at Rhee's school reform legacy which goes hand-in-hand with the whitenizing of the District. In 2011, Washington’s black population slipped below 50% for the first time in over 50 years.
Not only is the city’s African American population shrinking — almost half of the District’s 650,000 residents are white — but it’s getting harder to be black in the nation’s capital. -- Washington Post
Neighborhoods like Petworth are losing their public schools, as gentrifiers increasingly choose other options, like privately-run, publicly-financed charter schools. MacFarland, the only public middle school in Petworth, was one of 15 Washington public schools closed in 2013.

Vouchers...Congress seems to have a weird obsession with D.C. school vouchers, writes Valerie Strauss at WaPo.
Congress created what is formally known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program in 2004 as the only federally funded program that uses public money to pay for private school tuition, though the public has no say in how the schools are run or what is taught.
The D.C. voucher program has become the pet project of House Speaker John Boehner, who recently announced he is soon leaving Congress. Boehner this month introduced legislation to reauthorize the voucher program for an additional five years, and a bipartisan group of senators filed a companion bill to extend the program through 2025. (Pro-voucher Democrats also include two former mayors of D.C. Tony Williams and Fenty.)

In 2008, Rhee declared herself neutral on school vouchers But in 2011, she endorsed vouchers, saying that she supported "giving poor families access to publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools." Then again in a February 2011 speech before Georgia's legislature, she openly supported the D.C. voucher program as a supplement to the expansion of privately-run charter schools. She said that if a parent did not win the lottery to get a child into a charter school, then "who am I to deny them a $7,500 voucher to send their child to a great Catholic school."

This, even though a Washington Post review in 2012 found that hundreds of students use their voucher dollars to attend schools that are unaccredited. A previous report in 2007 found that some students in the program were attending private schools that had unsuitable learning environments and teachers without bachelor’s degrees.

The D.O.E.'s own evaluation of the voucher program found that it did nothing to raise measurable student learning outcomes.

The GAO reported that the local agency that administers the program lacks the “financial systems, controls, policies, and procedures” to ensure that federal funds are being spent legally. It also says the U.S. Education Department has not exercised its oversight responsibilities well enough.

Such is the state of what passes for D.C. school reform.

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