Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

March 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 10:16 pm

With apologies to Mr. Dickens, when one examines government schooling in Washington, D.C., and Chicago recently, one discovers surely that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Rising from the mire of incredulity, Washington D.C. schools had a solution that worked. Despite spending over $26,000 per student per year and reaping achievements equal to the worst of 51 states and territories, Washington did have a way out of their collective darkness; the light was the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). This demonstrably successful school voucher program—for D.C.’s poorest families—allowed more than 3,300 children to attend the best schools they have ever known.” And they flourished! It was the spring of hope.

But according to OSP leaders, Kevin P. Chavous (former D.C. Councilman) and Virginia Walden Ford (executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice): “House and Senate Appropriators ignored the wishes of D.C.’s mayor, D.C.’s public schools chancellor, a majority of D.C.’s city council, and more than 70 percent of D.C. residents and have mandated the slow death of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. They ignored the research by their own US Department of Education. Kids became another political football for the rich and powerful. America’s two-party system again reared its ugly head: subsidy for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan obfuscated statistical research that kept the true story both from the general public, but especially the decision-makers in Washington. Apparently the Hussein Obama Administration did not wish to honor the facts of this program, facts that clearly showed a way out of the despair that is the Washington DC school system.

These are sad, even dangerous times, because the values that built this American Republic are being turned on their head. Leadership in the city of Washington, the Mayor, the public school chancellor, a majority of the city council said, “Continue the program.” 70% of the folks, the parents and residents of Washington said “Yes” as well. Yet congressional and administration leaders turned a deaf ear to the plight and plea of its citizens. Granted, the city of Washington has a very unique relationship with Congress, in that a Federal agency is responsible for the funding of a municipality directly—since the people of Washington vote for no congressional leader, they’re no one’s constituents so no one feels obliged to listen to them. But maybe that’s just the point. And maybe this is the clarion call to warn the rest of America of things to come in schooling, things to come in this new season of darkness.

The closure of the DC Scholarship Program occurred not because of how we value one another. If we did we wouldn’t simply ignore the voice of 70% of the community. The program wasn’t shut down because of any principles or beliefs. How do you argue with confirmed success, fiscal savings, and the moral roots to reason granted to these 3,300 kids? The program didn’t “die” for economic reasons either; the program clearly saved money. Congressional leaders could not find $50 million to gives kids hope and a chance to break the cycle of poverty in which find themselves. But they could find $3 billion for the Cash for Clunkers program (a bogus trade-in program to “simulate” the economy whose total costs outweighed all benefits by $1.4 billion). No, it all came down to politics—the new American value. Once again government leadership traded the well-being and success of kids for a works program for adults. It seems like government schools were not built for kids. They seem to have been built to house adults. When one examines the model on which they were built, maybe that was the intention all along.

Now to that other city, Chicago. Chicago Breaking News (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/03/duncans-staff-kept-list-of-politicians-school-requests.html)  reported the other day that former Chicago schools chief and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan manipulated a system to favor powerful political allies by placing their children in the schools of their choice. That’s odd. This says that Secretary Duncan favors school choice—at least for some. But Secretary Duncan denied choice in Washington. The differences are glaring.

Washington’s OSP was targeted at the poorest. Chicago’s behind-the-scenes system helped the rich and powerful. Washington’s program was based on success; Chicago’s was based on failure (failure to get one’s first choice, failure to move to the correct neighborhood, inability to cross boundaries “legally”).

Chicago’s shadowy appeals process was deep and dark, behind the scenes and clandestine. Rumors abounded for years; these were met with copious denials by the city. Now we find that the rumors were true. School choice was made available for some of the well-healed and highly-placed, the same folks who could probably purchase homes in the “best” districts and/or purchase an education consistent with their wishes. But instead of spending their money, instead of exercising those parental options to support their own children, they leveraged the back door for a favor and got a hand out from the government. Would that everyone had the chance.

Washington’s OSP program was the acme of openness and transparency. We’re at a crossroads in the education of America’s public. Part of that public is receiving schooling in government schools (including government charter schools), some of that public is receiving a sound education in independent, private and religious schools and some of that public is receiving a good education at home.

As in our Tale of Two Cities, it matters not where one receives a good education; what matters is that they do receive that education. It’s time that our government get out of the way of sound education and let the public decide.

We have everything before us if we succeed; we have nothing before us if we fail.

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1 Comment »

  1. Robert, I don’t know if you got my last message–it flew away into cyberspace on me! Congrats on your blog. I’ll have to go back to its beginnings! Nice use of Dickens! Best, Himself

    Comment by Seamus the Mad — March 30, 2010 @ 7:04 am |Reply


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