Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bush's state of the union and call for vouchers...

From the transcript of Bush's state of the union address (1/28/08):

"We must also do more to help children when their schools do not measure up. Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our nation's capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other nonpublic schools.

Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning.

And to open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids. We have seen how Pell Grants help low-income college students realize their full potential.

Together, we've expanded the size and reach of these grants. Now let us apply the same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools."

Vouchers may sound fair but they divert much needed public funds away from public schools and to schools that selectively choose who they admit and are not accountable to taxpayers. The national PTA, which is also against vouchers, sent the following detailed response to all members of Congress today:

January 29, 2008

United States Senate
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC

Dear Members of Congress:

The National PTA, comprising millions of parents, teachers, students, and other child advocates, is firmly opposed to President Bush's proposal for "Pell Grants for Kids", a national voucher program that deprives public schools of critically needed taxpayer funds by diverting those funds to private schools with no taxpayer or educational accountability. Public funding for education needs to support and improve our nation's public schools.

In one breath, Mr. Bush called for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), saying that we must "work together to increase accountability, add flexibility for states and districts, reduce the number of dropouts, provide extra help for struggling schools." In the next breath, Mr. Bush called for the diversion of $300 million dollars in taxpayer funds to support schools that are not accountable to the public, have no requirements for teacher quality, and show no evidence of improving student achievement. This seems contradictory, at best.

Vouchers benefit few students while taking scarce resources away from those who need it the most. Vouchers take money away from public schools, where 90 percent of all school-age children are enrolled, and give it to private schools. Public schools must meet federal state and local standards in a broad variety of areas including teacher qualifications, core curriculum and student achievement, and report their status to elected school boards and the taxpaying public. Private schools have no public accountability for the expenditure of public funds. Public schools must demonstrate student achievement and progress. Private schools are not required to demonstrate anything. Students receiving vouchers are not required to take core subjects such as reading, math, history, and science much less demonstrate proficiency in these core subjects. Private schools are not required to have "highly qualified" teachers or even meet minimal state teacher qualifications. Private schools are not required to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

The "choice" in "choice programs" lies with private school administrators, not with parents. Supporters of vouchers claim that they give choice to parents; that is not the case. Vouchers will not ensure parental "choice." Private and religious schools may deny applications for enrollment for any reason. Furthermore, private schools are not required to follow the parental involvement provisions of NCLB, a provision that Congress embraced heartily just a few short years ago.

There is no strong evidence that voucher programs—whether funded directly, or indirectly through education tax subsidies—improve student achievement. In fact, a recent study by the Department of Education shows that public school students do as well or better than their private school counterparts in 4th grade math and reading and in 8th grade math on the National Assessment of Education Progress.

Americans have consistently rejected vouchers, both in surveys and in referendums. What's more, Congress has consistently rejected voucher proposals just like the President's most recent proposal.

If we are serious about keeping America competitive, we must be equally serious about our support of education. If we want student achievement to continue to rise, high-school graduation and college enrollment to increase, and the student drop-out rate to decrease, there is no better investment than public education. Children succeed when families, schools and communities work together. Together, we can make every child's potential a reality.

If National PTA can provide you with any further information or assistance, please contact Todd Haiken, Acting Manager of Public Policy, at .

Jan Harp Domene
PTA National President

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, now is a good time to contact your representatives in Congress and remind them how you feel about this proposal:

Or, email all 3 at once using this site: http://www.rallycongress.com/letter2congress/698/



Melissa Westbrook said...

Good for you, Andrew. Thanks for alerting us to this issue.

Anonymous said...

Who's undermining our country. The DOE changes effectively made it impossible for researchers to monitor racial disparities in education. The Freedom Foundations want their mole hills looking like mountains so they can steal more money. A good look at a non-profit like Abramoff's will show more than a third of contributions went to paying for consultants' and executives' salaries.

The changes also make it impossible to track achievement and graduation trends within a racial or ethnic category over time within a school, a district or a state. Data tracing trends over time is, of course, a central requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act, essential for judging compliance with various civil rights court orders, and required by the special education law, IDEA. In some states, the change will make it appear that individual racial groups suddenly are performing substantially better or worse on some achievement tests even when nothing has changed about actual test results.
- Gary Orfield, Civil Rights Project, 2006

Anonymous said...

Looks like the feds are getting trained in fuzzy math. How to inflate the AYP of a sixth grade test.

Anonymous said...


It had been a month since one of the nation's largest charter school operators collapsed, leaving 6,000 students with no school to attend this fall. The businessman who used $100 million in state financing to build an empire of 60 mostly storefront schools had simply abandoned his headquarters as bankruptcy loomed, refusing to take phone calls. That left Mr. Larson, a school superintendent whose district licensed dozens of the schools, to clean up the mess.

"Hysterical parents are calling us, swearing and shouting," Mr. Larson said in an interview in Oro Grande last week. "People are walking off with assets all over the state. We're absolutely sinking

Financial irregularities, family nepotism.

"The critics of market-oriented reforms warned of risks with the philosophy of let-the-buyer-beware, but in this case, buyers were just totally hung out to dry."

Anonymous said...

Speaking of charter school management, there's the little matter of Brenda Belton, the former oversight chief for D.C. charter schools, who pleaded guilty to four felony counts, including stealing more than a $ half-million and funneling thousands more in no-bid contracts to her friends, former sorority sisters and political cronies. She was part of a group that authorized charters for her cronies. She then got her friendly charter operators to bill the schools for hundreds of thousands of dollars of work — most of which was never done.

Anonymous said...

Why not experiment in Seattle with vouchers? There is corruption, waste and fraud in both private and public education--usually rare exceptions--in troubled school districts lacking accountability.

Are there charter, private, or parochial schools in Seattle that you seriously think would waste voucher money? This country's strong point is the willingness to try local experimentation.

Parents who chose not to place their children in public schools, for a variety of reasons, are paying for their children's tuition as well as contributing heavily to public education through significant property tax revenue generation. A bit of reason and respect, not just hysterical national PTA rhetoric, is in order here.

Anonymous said...

With the revisions to NCLB, reformists have bypassed the safeguards that were established to protect Title I money. It is now possible for anyone to take those funds if their site puts down a need.

The incentive for funding to raise AYP has created revolving doors for failing students, hence the open door enrollment policy does more harm than good. Schools no longer have to be accountable for the students who enroll or disenroll.

Support programs no longer need professional teachers - many students no longer receive direct instruction. Voucher reform flattened standards, now any program that files the right paperwork qualifies for funding and monitoring is either ineffective or impossible. The outcome is the same as stealing.

To call this an experiment is an understatement. You have created absolute chaos. All students have been adversely affected by the lower quality of the academic programs that resulted.

However, students from underachieving schools were most affected, since it was their communities who were undermined. You cannot take underperfroming students from one neighborhood and stick them into another community and expect them to do better, it doesn't work that way.

The mistake of not educating children will be felt and it will be the fault of NCLB and the voucher groups.

Anonymous said...

You rarely hear about corruption, because it can go on for years without anyone reporting it. And that's because once it starts it becomes a norm and like most crimes it spreads as perpetrators include their friends, coworkers, and family. It doesn't make it right. That's why schools had safeguards - its when you relax laws that people begin to take advantage of a system that people regard as honest. There's a great deal of money that can be made by defrauding a public institution and its money that can't easily be recovered. The penalties are not severe enough and eventually I hope Seattle won't have to find out through experience.

Anonymous said...

Do I seriously believe some individuals would try to take advantage of the nest of loopholes that are written into NCLB? You have got to be kidding, of course I do, and administrators are always prime suspects because they have the means and knowledge to do so. They get into more trouble by covering up for their mistakes and unfortunately they are human. You want to improve schools, start with ethics, build some controls into your finance reform, and stop pretending the WASL is anything but a schoolwide performance indicator. The power for abuse is just too great to ignore.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone done aggregate comparisons betweeen WASL results of 7th graders using Saxon and 7th graders using Everyday/Connected math?

Hands down it will be Saxon kids and if you waited until 8th grade the data would should even greater disparity.

Why are studies done with matched schools and why are the school profiles kept secret? Its dishonest research and if it can't be verified by an independent consultant, then it shouldn't be used.

Schools should not be experimented on; schools are an institution, not an experiment - its the southeast kids that are getting a bum deal, not the neighborhoods from the north end. Its not really about the WASL, its about where the money gets spent and who gets to spend it.

Anonymous said...

Seattle neighborhoods did not willingly allow themselves to be the subject of a national experiment. And this was hardly a local decision, but passed through Federal legislation.

The complexity of the public funding model should make citizens even more vigilant to the possibilities of abuse and mismanagement which is evident at the state level, through either the hiring of non-qualified or incompetent consultants using no-bid contracts and the use non-public entities to provide support services. E-rate for instance which officials even concede is mismanaged.

On average, every three years of waste/fraud, requires one year of investigating and of course, people are not going to be very cooperative. And who's going to do the legwork. If you're going to be involved start reading your charters. Teachers see very little reward in being whistle-blowers. Usually they end up getting fired.