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There You Go Again

“There you go again,” Ronald Reagan famously said to Jimmy Carter in a presidential debate during the 1980 election campaign.  Reagan later explained the memorable phrase, which arose in a discussion of Medicare, to reporter Jim Lehrer as, “it just seemed to be the thing to say in what he was saying up there, because it was to me it felt kind of repetitious, something we had heard before.”

Something else we’ve heard before is the Wall Street Journal championing the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the federally-funded initiative that provides vouchers of up to $7,500 to enable poor children attending the DC public schools to attend religious and secular private schools participating in the program.  Having gained no traction with Congress, and just a modicum with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Journal is now trying to shame President Obama into supporting the program, since, after all, he’s sending his own kids to an exclusive private school.

The WSJ writes that “…independent evaluations — another is scheduled for release later this month — show that children in the program perform better academically than their peers who do not receive vouchers.”  There you go again!  You know, saying something more often doesn’t make it true.  It’s still true, as skoolboy has written before, that these independent evaluations — of both the first and second year of the voucher program — find that the children who are awarded vouchers, as well as that subset that uses them, do not perform significantly better than the control group of students who applied for vouchers and did not receive them.  One might hope that the economic whizkids writing for the Journal would understand that the statistical evidence for the claim that voucher recipients are outperforming their peers is extremely weak.

In the hopes that something might stick, the Journal also introduces the issue of school violence into the discussion.  Should the voucher program expire, the current recipients would return to the “notoriously violent” D.C. public school system.  Now, school violence is no joke, and all children and educators should be entitled to work together in safe schools, whether those schools are public or private. 

But if the problem is school violence, it’s hard to see how sending a small fraction of the students attending DC public schools elsewhere addresses the root of the problem.  The Washington Times, a newspaper that often shares the ideological predispositions of the WSJ, takes a different tack, recognizing that the problem of unsafe schools is at root a problem of unsafe communities, and calling for a more systemic response.  “The problem is not Mrs. Rhee’s alone, and neither are the solutions,” the Times wrote in November. “A citywide strategy that pulls in parents, the faith community, law enforcement and other stakeholders is in order.”  Okay, this is ambitious and vague, but it still seems like a more promising approach to reducing school violence than using vouchers to send a few more DC kids to Sidwell Friends.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.