Why The Secrecy DOE? – Voucher study facts withheld

By this point everyone knows that President Obama’s slogan was change. One of the most reassuring changes Obama promised included government transparency and accountability. This was a welcome change after the Nixonian secrecy of the Bush Administration. For ed policy wonks and those his campaign , it was no surprise when Obama called for the same principals to be applied to education.

Yes everyone from students to teachers to administration, presumably straight up to the DOE would be accountable for the health of our education system. Supposedly we would be privy to accompanying stats as well.

When I read this story about the hijinks surrounding a recent DC voucher study I felt betrayed.

from Real Clear Politics

[The voucher program’s] popularity notwithstanding, Obama stayed silent as Congress scheduled this initiative’s demise after the 2009 — 2010 academic year. Both a Democratic Congress and DC authorities must reauthorize the program — not likely.

Now it emerges that Obama’s Department of Education (DOE) possessed peer-reviewed, Congressionally mandated, research proving this program’s success. Though it demonstrates “what works for the kids,” DOE hid this study until Congress squelched these children’s dreams.

This analysis compared voucher users’ test scores to those of students who requested vouchers but lost the award lottery. Among DOE’s results:

*While they were no better at math, voucher recipients read 3.7 months ahead of non-voucher students.

*Student subgroups — including high achievers, those from functional schools, and applicants between Kindergarten and grade 8 — showed “1/3 to 2 years of additional learning growth.”

*While 63 percent of non-voucher parents gave their kids’ schools As or Bs, 74 percent of voucher parents so rated their children’s campuses.

This good news remained concealed, from the study’s conclusion last fall, through March’s Congressional debate, until April 3, when DOE finally released this report. That was a Friday afternoon, precisely when news whisperers issue stories they want journalists to miss in the mad dash for the weekend and citizens to overlook as Saturday’s papers vanish beneath ski equipment, movie tickets, and pitchers of beer.

Worse yet, DOE researchers reportedly were forbidden to publicize or discuss their findings. “You’d think we were talking about nuclear secrets, not about a taxpayer-funded pilot program,” the April 5 Wall Street Journal editorialized.

For Team Obama, this is transparency we can believe in.

One expects better from Obama who won a scholarship at age 10 to attend Hawaii’s prestigious, private Punahou school. “There was something about this school that embraced me, gave me support and encouragement, and allowed me to grow and prosper,” Obama has said.

DC voucher recipients want such life chances. If you want to bawl like a baby, visit VoicesOfSchoolChoice.org and watch the Internet’s most inspirational and simultaneously heartbreaking video.

“In my old public school, people screamed at the teacher, walked out of school during class, hurt me, and made fun of all my friends,” says Paul, age 11, imploring Obama to keep hope alive. “I love going to school, where I can learn and be safe,” says Breanna, 9. “I want to go to Morehouse College, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” says De’Andre, 9. “I am going to grow up and be a good man.”

With young black kids themselves begging for vouchers, why would reputedly pro-poor, pro-black Democrats kill this popular and effective school-choice program?

Follow the money: Teachers’ unions’ paid $55,794,440 in political donations between 1990 and 2008, 96 percent of it to Democrats. Senator John Ensign’s (R – Nevada) March 10 amendment to rescue DC’s vouchers failed 39-58. Among 57 Democrats voting, 54 (or 95 percent) opposed DC vouchers.

I can understand withholding information sensitive to national security. It almost goes without saying. Education research is not a national secret. Especially good news. Every single American should have been privy to this information as soon as it came out. It turns my stomach to think that the administration would have withheld this study until after a vote to end the program. Could this information have saved the DC voucher program? Quite possibly. Playing this sort of underhanded politics with our children is disgusting and repugnant.

Unfortunately this story may go unnoticed. I hope that it is carried to all across the nation. You wanted to have the most transparent and accountable government Mr. Obama. Now it’s time to stand up and take your lumps on this debacle. You, Duncan, and the DOE must be held accountable.

UPDATE: Here are a few links to other articles and the PDF links to the study itself.
The DC Voucher Impact Study
Opinion of Brookings Institute rep involved in study
Bismarck news outlet calls buried study news a “shocker”
The Examiner gathers some opinions on the matter


Recovery Online – The new stimulus website

Recovery.gov is open for business. I browsed the site a bit. There isn’t a great deal to look at yet. The site is a lot like the stimulus itself; a lot of promises without much progress, not yet anyway.

There is an uninspired timeline of stimulus milestones letting you know when certain groups receive funding and are asked to report on its use. A summary of the bill can be found with a link to the entire leviathan. Detailed charts show how much of the stimulus will be invested in each sector and expected job creation/salvation in each state. Maine by the way is expected to gain or keep 15,000 jobs.

The government’s Recovery site is in its infancy. It was created to help begin to boost confidence. I can see it doing that. Personally it doesn’t wow me, but I’m eager to see how it will pan out over the coming months.

Nightly News Update – Stimulus, Stimulus, Bank Bailouts

NBC: On to the Senate

ABC: Report cards aren’t just for school anymore

CBS: Three card montey with your money

Are You Listening? – Does the Government Listen to Pundits

Eliot Cohen brought something troubling to my attention in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Our government functions in a vacuum. The government doesn’t really listen to pundits and outside advisors say. If they rarely pay attention to people who study policy for a living, maybe even for fun, could we even hope that they listen to us?

Cohen said that in his time working for Condoleezza Rice in the State Department he read outside works with passing interest. He called outside sources, “a background noise of which I was dimly aware, unless it was either unusually nasty, or unusually perceptive, which often merely meant that it fit my own views.” So if you are only following that which supports what you think already, how can you be getting the full picture? You can’t, but most of us are guilty of that behavior. It’s a hardy soul that can read Ann Coulter and Michael Moore without becoming steaming mad at one of the two.

Cohen goes on saying that outside information is seldom listened to because it is just that, outside the circle. Those of us not right in the mix cannot have all the knowledge of what is going on. He compares it to the telephone game. “Government resembles nothing so much as the party game of telephone, in which stories relayed at second, third or fourth hand become increasingly garbled as they crisscross other stories of a similar kind”

I get a great deal of comfort from what commentary officials do listen to.

“What, then, is a pundit to do? The best commentary has an impact, less because it offers new ideas (most ideas have been considered, however incompletely, on the inside) than because it clarifies problems or solutions that the insiders have only vaguely or incompletely considered.”

Blabbermouths like Limbaugh, Ingraham, Olberman, and Matthews are seen for what they are; people with huge egos trying to see who can shout the loudest. “WATCH ME!” “NO ME!” I’LL SAY SOMETHING SHOCKING SO YOU LISTEN TO ME!” Bla, bla, bla. Only serious work gets the attention it deserves. Those talking heads have much less of an impact then they would like to think.

I have hope for the voice of the common people though. We are in the trenches. Policy choices have a direct impact on our lives. If you want to know if a policy is successful just look out in the streets. President Obama’s pledge for transparency and an almost wiki style government, coupled with the ease in contacting our reps through email and online petition sites like Change.org will give us unprecedented access to the halls of power. Will we make use of these tools or just get on TV and yell? It’s clear what gets better results.