Ignoring Facts in the Name of Science, Screwing Over Children in the Name of the Kids

George Will, on the Obama administration's D.C. vouchers massacre:

Not content with seeing the program set to die after the 2009-10 school year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan (former head of Chicago's school system, which never enrolled an Obama child) gratuitously dashed even the limited hopes of another 200 children and their parents. Duncan, who has sensibly chosen to live with his wife and two children in Virginia rather than in the District, rescinded the scholarships already awarded to those children for the final year of the program, beginning in September. He was, you understand, thinking only of the children and their parents: He would spare them the turmoil of being forced by, well, Duncan and other Democrats to return to terrible public schools after a tantalizing one-year taste of something better. Call that compassionate liberalism.

After Congress debated the program, the Education Department released -- on a Friday afternoon, a news cemetery -- a congressionally mandated study showing that, measured by student improvement and parental satisfaction, the District's program works. The department could not suppress the Heritage Foundation's report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools.

It's not just the hypocrisy (though that is massive), and it's not just the cruel gratuitousess (ditto) of the move. It's the steamy, faux-scientific, high-mindedesque bullshit with which it continues to be garnished. As Shikha Dalmia recently pointed out in this space, Obama had said during his presidential campaign, "Let's see if it [the voucher program] works....And if it does, whatever my preconceptions, you do what's best for the kids." Even yesterday, Education Secretary Duncan had the gall to write the following in the Wall Street Journal

No more false choices about money versus reform, or traditional public schools versus charters. No more blaming parents or teachers. We need solid, unimpeachable information that identifies what's working and what's not working in our schools. Our children deserve no less. [...]

We must close the achievement gap by pursuing what works best for kids, regardless of ideology. In the path to a better education system, that's the only test that really matters.

"Solid, unimpeachable information"? Here you go, Secretary Duncan. Pretty convincing stuff, unless your "ideology" sets you against vouchers no matter the data. Here's Duncan earlier this month:

"Big picture, I don't see vouchers as being the answer," Duncan said in a recent meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. "You can pull two kids out, you can pull three kids out, and you're leaving 97, 98 percent behind. You need to help all those kids. The way you help them is by challenging the status quo where it's not working and coming back with dramatically better schools and doing it systemically."

Call it No Child Left Ahead.

You could use that exact same argument to kibbosh honors programs at every big public high school in the nation. As Juan Williams points out in a righteously angry blog post, the D.C. program was designed explicitly to sidestep the traditional argument against vouchers–that they steal from public schools and give to the privates. Strip that away, and the next line of attack is a sudden and uncharacteristic interest in skeptical cost-benefit analyses. Slap that one down, and the real face of Democratic "reform" is revealed–there shall never be vouchers, because our teachers-union friends hate them. But we're really doing it for the children.

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  • ||

    Outstanding post Matt!
    Only I wouldn't lead with George Will. In fact I wouldn't cite him at all. I'd dump foul weather friend Will off in a deep hole someplace.

  • ||

    rantalicious, Matt.

  • Xeones||

    Fuck Arne Duncan, and fuck Barack Obama. Yo.

    I like all these rants lately.

  • The Octobama||

    I am evil,
    Hear me roar.

  • ||

    These children have learned a valuable lesson.

    If everybody doesn't get a pony, NOBODY gets a pony. In fact, we're going to round up all the ponies and euthanize them; just to be sure.

  • JP||

    Kingly conclaves stern and cold where blood with gold votes is bought and sold.

  • libertarian democrat||

    You know, I love school choice but the results of the study aren't that encouraging. They still are great, but not as good as I would have expected/hoped for.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Warren, your irrationality about anybody who is even slightly "Red" is childish. Really, it is.

  • ||

    I think the District of Columbia voucher case is the moral rubricon for liberals. Liberals are standing on the side of denying poor black children (historically their most favored constituency) a chance at a decent education in the name of liberal dogma. Think about this, if they will happily kick those kids our of school in the name of ideological purity, what won't they do?

  • ed||

    Friday afternoon, a news cemetery

    Maybe if journalists were still journalizing on Friday afternoons instead of sucking down cocktails and whining endlessly about the death of their profession, it wouldn't be so.

  • Rand McNally||

    I think the District of Columbia voucher case is the moral rubricon for liberals.

    Rubricon: River, separating the Principality of Dogma from the State of Creed.

  • Old Bull Lee||

    You left out the best part of Will's column:

    "The president's $100 million edict actually suggests an insufficiency in the river of federal assistance flowing out of Washington to the deserving poor, as that category is currently understood: incompetent car companies, reckless insurance companies, mismanaged banks, profligate state governments, etc. But political satirists, too, deserve a bailout from a federal government that has turned their material into public policy."

  • ||

    The hysteria and hyperbole of this posting should give one pause. It can't possibly be that way. Use your heads, libertarians!

    Is Hit & Run the "No Spin Zone" of blogs? I think it is!

  • creech||

    But one has to admire how the Obamas always sent their kids to public schools in Chicago and now D.C. Just as have the Kennedy clan, and many members of Congress.

  • ||

    John,
    Have they crossed the moral rubricon?

  • ||

    Maybe I missed something, but the "solid, unimpeachable information" linked to was hardly "pretty convincing". In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the gist of the report is that the program DIDN'T work. Am I just misinterpreting something?

  • ||

    "John,
    Have they crossed the moral rubricon?"

    I think so. I am told there are some quarters that are killing him over this, but most liberals seem to view this with a shrug. It is the kind of thing that if it were a Republican, would be the fodder for outrage and protest. But, since it is BO, it is not really a big deal. At this point, I don't think there is anything BO could do that would cause them to rethink their support.

  • ||

    Shorter Ray Butler:

    "Revere Him."

  • ||

    We are in the midst of the worst recession in living memory of most people, perhaps the worse since the Great Depressio. Meanwhile, BO is exanding the debt like no peacetime President in history and has broke nearly every important campaign promise. Yet, the public is convinced the country is on the right track. It is both amazing and freightening what you can do when you have essentially a state run media cheering on your every move and a corps of cult like followers. I now better understand how national tragedies and collective societal insanity actually works.

  • ||

    It's telling that there are no Obamatrons even trying to defend this. Because...they can't.

  • ||

    We could sure use more liberals like Juan Williams.

  • ||

    "It's telling that there are no Obamatrons even trying to defend this. Because...they can't."

    True they are not defending him. But they are not criticizing him either. They are just ignoring it.

  • ||

    As much as I'd love to join in the Two Minutes' Hate here, I have to reiterate my objection to the interpretation of that report. Take a look at it, it's far from a resounding endorsement of the program. I have no doubt that Obama and Duncan and the like are thoroughly in bed with the teachers' unions, but the evidence here isn't nearly as damning as you're all making it out to be.

  • joe\'s ghost||

    "It's telling that there are no Obamatrons even trying to defend this. Because...they can't."

    I can defend it with both hands tied behind my back, but I'm not gonna do your work for you, you lazy bastards.

  • ||

    I've pointed it out before.
    DC's 3 electoral votes are going to the Dems no matter what.
    NEA votes may tip the scale in a district or statewide electioin.
    Fuck those little niggers.

  • Ska||

    We could sure use more liberals like Juan Williams.

    I'm going to read that as Evan Williams.

  • Invisible Finger||

    We must close the achievement gap...

    ... by crushing achievement. Nice job, Arne, you piece of shit. Please die.

  • ||

    The results of these studies, unlike the Global Warming Consensus, are open to interpretation.

  • ||

    J Sub D,

    You can use that same handy logic and understand why we won't be having openly gay people in the military or federally recognized gay marriage anytime soon. When you obsessively vote for one party no matter what, both parties are going to ignore you whenever it is convienent.

  • ||

    "Take a look at it, it's far from a resounding endorsement of the program."

    It depends on how much weight you give to "parents like it" and "choosing stuff is better than having it chosen for you".

    If you see those two things as, effectively, shit... yeah, the report doesn't really impress.

    As someone who likes those two things quite a lot, the report is damning.

  • libertarian democrat||

    Guys, the report is not an open and shut case. Read it, or at least glance through the tables and figures. I think it provides support to vouchers, but way less than I would have hoped, and I'm the first to admit that I am biased to want to interpret it positively.

    I still think shutting it down is wrong, but it isn't nearly as bad as y'all are interpreting it as. I can see a rational person looking at it and thinking they aren't making enough of a difference to be worthwhile. I'd think that person is wrong, but not being completely stupid.

  • ||

    Nobody in that program has won a Nobel Prize.

    Therefore, it doesn't work, and we should end it.

  • libertarian democrat||

    It depends on how much weight you give to "parents like it" and "choosing stuff is better than having it chosen for you".

    Don't be silly. I agree choosing stuff is better. My views on that are unrelated to how efficacious the program is, which is what the report is on. If you are prejudging the report because you think choosing stuff is better, you could ignore it just as easily. I also am not the most concerned with parent's liking it as an outcome measure, although I do think that's a good thing.

  • libertarian democrat||

    I forgot to italicize the quote, its the first paragraph.

  • Mad Max||

    The Executive Summary of the report suggests that certain groups of students who entered the program improved their reading scores. These are students who were already getting decent grades at their prior schools, or who entered the voucher program in the first grade. (There may also be beneficial effects for female students, but the authors caution that this might not be the case). In contrast, really bad students didn't seem to benefit, and none of the students improved their math scores.

    This would tend to confirm what we may expect - there are some good, studious students who flourish better in the private schools than in the public schools. The students who are lazy and/or dumb don't seem to benefit from the program at all. Depending on how we view it, female students may also benefit (perhaps from the greater discipline at the private schools)?

    The study also shows greater parental satisfaction from parents who got their kids into the private schools under the scholarship, while their kids *don't* show any different level of satisfaction. Of course, kids would have high levels of satisfaction if they had free cookies, games and soft drinks all day, so it is to the parents that we should look when it comes to levels of satisfaction.

    In short, the study shows that the program helps some students in some respects and has no effect, one way or the other, on other students or in other respects. In public policy, that's what we call a success.

    And all this over only a three-year period!

    Of course, we could apply a Messianic standard that, unless the program makes everyone a lot better off instantly, it's worthless. Such seems to be the reasoning of some of the critics.

    As Welch says of such all-or-nothing thinking: "You could use that exact same argument to kibbosh honors programs at every big public high school in the nation."

    In fact, such arguments *have* been used against gifted programs in the public schools.

    Professor Mara Shapon-Shevin wrote a whole book, Playing Favorites, denouncing gifted programs. (Check some of the Amazon reviews for criticism of the good Professor's theorizing - she should have known better than to pick on gifted people!)

  • Ravac||

    The report states that reading scores improved for those that stayed in the program all three years.

    The biggest negatives were the fact that math scores stayed flat as compared to students stuck in the public schools, and that the kids in the program didn't particularly like the schools they attended.

    Apparently, improved reading scores and parents' favorable reviews aren't unimpeachable information. Better to set policy on the students' attitude toward the schools they attend.

  • Mad Max||

    And one would think that, if the report vindicated the administration's position, they would be trumpeting it instead of downplaying it.

    "Look, this voucher program only leads to *some* improvements in reading scores for *some* of the scholarship students! And it doesn't improve the math scores! What a ringing vindication of our evidence-based, anti-voucher policy!"

    Why aren't they bombarding the cable chat shows and the blogs with this talking point? Unless they don't think the study helps their case very much.

  • JP||

    Professor Mara Shapon-Shevin wrote a whole book, Playing Favorites, denouncing gifted programs. (Check some of the Amazon reviews for criticism of the good Professor's theorizing - she should have known better than to pick on gifted people!)

    The subtitle of that book says it all: "Gifted Education and the Disruption of Community." God forbid the individual should excel at the expense of the precious "community."

  • The Decider of Snark Terms||

    It's telling that there are no Obamatrons even trying to defend this. Because...they can't.

    The official word is Obamaton. A group of Obamatons is called an Obamanation.

  • Mad Max||

    Ravac,

    The kids don't seem to like either the public schools or the private schools. It's *school,* after all.

  • crackertyasscracker||

    Hey, if democrats want to kill welfare programs, who are we to complain? Please cut more education spending, it's not the government's job at all. Let's start with the whole department of education.

  • Ravac||

    MM, Yeah, I know. The fact that 'kids think school sucks' is even a data point is just bizarre to me.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The subtitle of that book says it all: "Gifted Education and the Disruption of Community." God forbid the individual should excel at the expense of the precious "community."



    It's stuff like that that keeps me from being too critical of Objectivists. I think Rand overestimated the number of people out there like this, but they exist.

  • Neil||

    "that the kids in the program didn't particularly like the schools they attended."

    Actually, 71% of kids gave their school an A or a B - which was about the same as what they gave their previous school (73%). So it's not that the kids didn't like their schools - they just didn't like them more than their previous schools.

  • Cantboo East||

    Barrack Obama doesn't care about black people.

  • Neil\'s Old Nemesis||

    Cesar, you're back!

  • engineer||

    "It is both amazing and freightening what you can do when you have essentially a state run media cheering on your every move and a corps of cult like followers."
    Oh, don't be hyperbolic, John. The MSM lionize Obama of their own free will.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    At first glance the result appears to be distinguishable from the null hypothesis in a positive way. That may not be a gland slam or even an in-the-park-homer, but damn well is a base hit.

    At this point, with this data, it is simple wrong to say "the program doesn't work".

  • engineer||

    We need to bring on Tony the Trolluminous to defend the administration.

  • ||

    The official word is Obamaton

    Everywhere but the DC area yes, but around here the song goes:

    I used to work as a waitron in the lounge at the Hiltron
    But now I work for my senatron and I live in Arlingtron
    I'm just a Washingtron
    I'm just a Washingtron


    So yeah, Obamatron fits the local syntax

  • Paul||

    Sidestepping the whole "vouchers work/no they don't" argument, I strongly believe that Democrats don't like vouchers for mryiad reasons. One of which is that they get more money per student than it costs the state to educate said students.

    In a perfect world, if you pull x number of students from public school and the school system claims it requires d number of dollars to educate each student, then pulling d dollars along with x students shouldn't hurt anything at all.

    But we know that the school system doesn't work that way, the Unions know it doesn't and democrats know it doesn't.

    Even if vouchers showed only a moderate effectiveness, or a break-even effectiveness, once a school system becomes a certain size, it only costs pennies on the dollar to educate a given child. The rest is spent on administration and other costs which don't directly go to the education of the children.

    To be more specific, if you take the child out and subsequently the $15,000* that the Union's claim it costs to "educate each of God's little miracles", the Union's know damn well that they're not cutting $15,000 out of the education process. No teacher's are laid off, administration staff, schools closing etc, no lunch program cuts, nothing. Take 100 students out, now you're cutting $1,500,000 from the school's budget, yet no cost-cutting measures ever took place in the school. So again, it's a lose-lose for the school system.

    *I made that number up for illustration purposes.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Hey! Paul discovered something...lets call it "marginal cost". Yeah, that sounds good.

    BTW-- I got lost in there. Are you claiming that

    1. marginal cost in the public system are why we shouldn't have vouchers
    2. marginal skimming opportunities for useless bureaucratic functionaries are why the unions (and thus the Dems) are against voucher
    3. something else entirely

  • Paul||

    Escaped. Yes, marginal cost. Thanks, I couldn't think of the proper term.

    No. I believe in vouchers. I'm merely pointing out why Democrats will continue to oppose vouchers, no matter how much evidence one might provide as to their effectiveness. It's about money. You're taking money from the education system. Who cares if your kid gets a better education?

    Basically, the education establishment is caught in their own spin. It doesn't cost $15,000 per child for education. It costs $50,000,000 for [insert big city school system] to run the schools. Somewhere in that figure is how much it costs to educate your children. The public school system nor its boosters dare not say how much.

    Here's a good article talking about this very thing: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/04/AR2008040402921.html

    Side note. You'll note that the article I linked claims that the DC school district is undercounting the per-child amount. Their budget numbers are masked, however, by the amounts of additional indirect funding the district receives for the school system.

  • ||

    At heart, the voucher debate is all about correcting that egregious lacuna in the First Amendment, that should have read "The Congress [and by civil war amendment incorporation, the states, though I'd like it better if the black letter of the document read "the Congress, nor the several states..."] shall make no law regarding the establishment of schools, colleges nor universities,...."

    I'd probably have thrown in an exception for training officers for the Army, Navy and the militia, if not in service academies, then via some ROTC-like program.

    How can we inculcate a proper suspicion of metastasized government when 90% of future adults are in its care for most of their waking hours? Are we to hope that the soul-crushing conformity the publik skools impose will cause a reaction-formation, producing sufficient nascent libertarians to espouse the minarchist cause? I'm not betting on it.

    Kevin

  • Mike Laursen||

    It's stuff like that that keeps me from being too critical of Objectivists. I think Rand overestimated the number of people out there like this, but they exist.

    I know it's not right to judge people by their appearance, but I had an expectation that Professor Mara Shapon-Shevin would exhibit an aura of conspicuous blandness. Google Image search proved me right.

  • T||

    I know it's not right to judge people by their appearance, but I had an expectation that Professor Mara Shapon-Shevin would exhibit an aura of conspicuous blandness.

    Umm. That's conspicuously bland where you live? Really? Interesting. As long as we're judging by appearances, let me throw out demeaning heteronormative phrases like "scary old dyke". The shoe just might fit. If it was comfortable.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Most of the aging lesbians I know do have that look somewhat, along with the same politics as Shapon-Shevin, BUT I know at least one aging lesbian who doesn't have the look nor the politics. This exception leads me to think its the Toohey-ish politics that lead to the conspicuous blandness, not the sexual orientation.

  • Neil||

    In case you are trying to reach the Dept. of education report showing the success of D.C.'s voucher program, but are unable to reach the site (as I was - consiracy?), I've reposted the executive summary to Scrib'd. http://www.scribd.com/doc/14592307/Evaluation-of-the-DC-Opportunity-Scholarship-Program-Impacts-After-3-Years-Executive-Summary

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