Politico's Attack on Minority Student School Choice

A misleading report trashing vouchers -- and what it left out.

nal_voucher051808a_23838a_8colOn Monday, Politico published an article contending that school vouchers don't necessary translate into a better educational experience for students. It cited the outrage Republicans demonstrated over the Department of Justice's (DOJ) lawsuit against Louisiana, including Governor Bobby Jindal's accusation that the Obama administration was “ripping low-income minority students out of good schools” that could “help them achieve their dreams.” Politico insisted an "inconvenient truth" revealed that a $1 billion investment by American taxpayers shows little evidence that it "yields academic gains." Unsurprisingly, Politico's outrage is both selective and misleading. Furthermore, they completely miss the point behind vouchers and other educational initiatives that challenge the status quo.

Columnist Stephanie Simon cites all of three cities -- Cleveland, Milwaukee and New Orleans -- as "evidence" that vouchers don't work. "In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring," the article states. "That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools." That is true, but hardly a justification for abandoning a voucher system. Only 19.4 percent of Milwaukee public schools students were proficient in math, and 14.2 percent were proficient in reading. Moreover, the math score represented a decline from the previous school year. Simon also neglected to mention that State Superintendent Tony Evers concluded, "it's time to bring publicly funded choice schools into Wisconsin's school accountability system."

In Cleveland, it was noted that voucher students "in most grades" did worse than their peers, but better in reading. What the article fails to note is that the Cleveland Municipal School District's grades for Achievement, Gap Closing, Progress and Graduation Rates were F, F, F and F, respectively. The district is also in the bottom five or six of the 609 school districts in the state with regard to each of the 24 measurements used to determine proficiency.

With regard to New Orleans, Politico failed once again to produce any hard statistics, only noting that voucher students didn't advance any faster over the past two years than students in public schools, "many of which are rated D or F, state data show." Like much of the rest of the leftist establishment, it would seem Politico prefers that children remain in D- or F-rated schools, even as it fails to mention that 90 percent of the students who have had an opportunity to escape them are black. Since black American students perform far worse overall than those of other ethnicities, the stats may be somewhat skewed. Furthermore, only two years' worth of data may be less than optimum for drawing any conclusions about vouchers per se.

On the other hand, a New York City program tracked students from kindergarten in 1997, to college enrollment in 2011. It compared students who won a voucher lottery with students who didn't. The researchers noted the importance of that reality contending that "the only difference between the groups was the luck of the draw, the gold standard in research design." There was no significant impact for Hispanic students, and too few Asian and white students participated to draw reliable conclusions.

For black students, however, the gains were impressive: part-time and full-time college enrollment together was 24 percent higher for voucher students, and full-time enrollment only was 31 percent higher. Even more impressive was the cost, which was far cheaper than the average amount New York City spends to educate students in public schools.

Politico largely dismisses this study because it "only" helped black students.

Another irritating issue for the anti-voucher crowd is that parents can use vouchers to send their children to private schools that teach religion, and the article was quick to criticize those that offer such an "anti-science" agenda as part of their curriculum.

Yet it is no secret that America's public schools have mired millions of children in a leftist, secular humanist agenda. That agenda is one where the same schools that hand out condoms and advise teens where they can get an abortion are forbidden to discuss the moral implications involved. As for anti-science, public school students are routinely immersed in speculative, ideological-based curricula on global warming, including being forced to watch Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," whose "scientific" claims were debunked by a British Court.

The hand-wringers are further incensed that public funds are being "siphoned" from public schools to pay for vouchers, insisting--as they invariably do--that more money will lead to better public schools. This argument was completely debunked by Caroline M. Hoxby, an Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard, during an interview with PBS's Frontline. At the time she noted that the average spending per pupil in the U.S. was $7500 per year, while voucher costs averaged $2000. "Even if the vouchers came completely out of the local public school district's budget, every time they lost a student, they'd be losing $2000, but they'd lose a whole student and $5,500 remains behind," she explained.

As for funding per se,  the reality that America spends more on education than any other developed nation in the world, and still lags behind many of those nations in international testing, is apparently irrelevant. Furthermore, if more money equalled better schools, Washington, D.C., which spends more money than any other public school district in the nation would be a shining example of success.

In 2011, Washington, D.C. had the worst high school graduation rate in the nation.

Politico also cites a questionable Gallup poll alleging that 70 percent of Americans oppose vouchers. However, Gallup asks only if respondents favor or oppose "allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense." Based on the wording of this question alone, respondents would have no idea that the program is meant specifically for low-income and disadvantaged students, and that vouchers are relatively modest and may only account for a portion of private school tuition.

What Politico neglects to take seriously in its hit-job on vouchers is the real impetus behind the movement. That impetus is best described by Fox News' John Stossel, who did an extensive investigation of America's public schools, or as he more aptly describes them, “government” schools. According to Stossel, they are a "stultified government monopoly" that "never improves." "Most services improve," he adds. "They get faster, better, cheaper. But not government monopolies. Government schools are rigid, boring, expensive and more segregated than private schools."

It is almost surreal that this irrefutably logical argument fails to resonate with so many Americans. Those same Americans would undoubtedly be appalled if government told them could only shop in supermarkets in their own neighborhoods, or only buy cars from a dealer in their "district," irrespective of price or quality. Yet in thousands of public school districts across the nation, millions of children are trapped in substandard schools because "The Blob," as Stossel refers the unholy alliance of education unions, school board bureaucrats and the politicians, demands that the status quo be maintained.

It is a status quo utterly inimical to the best interests of parents and their children for the simplest of reasons: the existence of any union is predicated on the reality that protecting and promoting its members’ interests transcends all other considerations. Thus, even under optimal circumstances, the interests of parents and students come second to those of teachers, principals, and even school custodians. In turn, those unions fund political campaigns of overwhelmingly Democratic politicians to ensure the status quo.

Vouchers and other initiatives challenge that status quo, which is why Politico and other leftist entities seek to denigrate anything that threatens it. Fortunately as the article is forced to admit, vouchers are "booming in popularity." Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal explains why. “We make no apologies for giving parents the option to determine the best educational path for their children,” he said. “President Obama has the means to send his children to the school of his choice. Parents in Louisiana should have the same opportunity.” So should every other parent in the country.

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