Vouchers Strike Out Again

The latest debacle has to be especially disappointing to voucher proponents simply because it's the latest. You'd think they would have learned something from all those earlier tryouts.
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New York, Dayton, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Milwaukee, Florida, and now Washington again. Kids who use publicly or privately funded vouchers to attend private schools don't do any better in school than matched groups of public school children. You wonder how many at bats these guys are going to get. I guess when the club owners are people like George W. Bush, John Boehner, and James Leininger the answer is "infinite." (Leininger spent millions trying to influence voting in Texas to stack a legislature that would give him the vouchers he's been chasing for 20 years. See Chapter 2, James Leininger, Sugar Daddy of the Religious Right in The Anatomy of Power: Texas and the Religious Right in 2006. Put the title in Google).

I guess if the names are George F. Will, Paul Peterson, or Joe Bast (Heartland Institute), the answer is also infinite simply due their infinite hatred for the National Education Association. Freud would have a field day with these guys.

The latest Washington debacle has to be especially disappointing to voucher proponents simply because it's the latest. You'd think they would have learned something from all those earlier tryouts I named earlier.

Maggie Spellings was her usual inelegant self: "The report's findings are in step with rigorous studies of other voucher programs which have not typically found impacts on student achievement in the first year. We know that parents are pleased with the success of the program in providing effective education alternatives." And just how might you be defining "effective," Ms. Spellings?

Paul "when-the-going-gets-tough-the-Right-gets-Peterson" Peterson echoed Spellings: "Kids lose ground when they change schools. Even if they may be in a better school, they're not going to adjust right off the bat." Well, Paul, live and learn, I guess. This is the first time I've heard you or any other voucher vulture invoke adjustment as an excuse for the poor showing.

And he and Maggie are wrong. Peterson's own data show them wrong. Peterson claimed sizeable first year gains in Cleveland. Of course, he used fall-to-spring testing and had no control group so it wasn't exactly a randomized field trial. Later, better studies by Kim Metcalf and a team from Indiana University found the public school kids starting out behind and catching up even though white students were overrepresented in the voucher groups.

In Peterson's studies in Dayton and D.C., Peterson got a "significant" effect in math -- at the .10 level, a level not used by most researchers. By the second year, math had moved up to .05. Reading never showed any gain and by the third year everything had washed out.

Amit Paley's article in The Washington Post (Amit Paley, "Voucher Students Show Few Gains in First Year," Washington Post, June 22, 2007, p. B1. ) says the Bush administration will attempt to expend vouchers nationwide in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. No doubt. Bush had them in there to start with, lost them to Kennedy, and was unable to get them reinserted despite six old college tries by Boehner.

But, hey, in a faith-based administration (see Ron Suskind, "Without a Doubt," New York Times Magazine October 17, 2004) what's a little negative data among prayer-mates?

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