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A school choice study suppressed

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By Michelle Malkin  •  April 7, 2009 09:56 AM

It would have been helpful to know about a Department of Education study on D.C.’s school choice initiative before the Democrats — beholden to teachers unions allergic to competition — voted to starve the innovative program benefiting poor, minority children in the worst school district in the nation.

Somehow, the results of the study conducted last spring didn’t surface until now. And that’s a damned shame. The Wall Street Journal reports:

President Obama’s stimulus is sending some $100 billion to the nation’s school districts. What will he demand in return? The state budget passed by the New York legislature last week freezes funding for charters but increases it by more that $400 million for other public schools. Perhaps a visit to a charter school in Harlem would help Mr. Obama honor his reform pledge. “I’m looking at the data here in front of me,” Mr. Duncan told the New York Post. “Graduation rates are up. Test scores are up. Teacher salaries are up. Social promotion was eliminated. Dramatically increasing parental choice. That’s real progress.”

Mr. Duncan’s help in New York is in stark contrast to his department’s decision to sit on a performance review of the D.C. voucher program while Congress debated its future in March. The latest annual evaluation was finally released Friday, and it shows measurable academic gains. The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families in D.C. to send their children to private schools. Ninety-nine percent of the children are black or Hispanic, and there are more than four applicants for each scholarship.

The 2008 report demonstrated progress among certain subgroups of children but not everyone. This year’s report shows statistically significant academic gains for the entire voucher-receiving population. Children attending private schools with the aid of the scholarships are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who did not receive vouchers. Voucher recipients are doing no better in math but they’re doing no worse. Which means that no voucher participant is in worse academic shape than before, and many students are much better off.

“There are transition difficulties, a culture shock upon entering a school where you’re expected to pay attention, learn, do homework,” says Jay Greene, an education scholar at the Manhattan Institute. “But these results fit a pattern that we’ve seen in other evaluations of vouchers. Benefits compound over time.”

It’s bad enough that Democrats are killing a program that parents love and is closing the achievement gap between poor minorities and whites. But as scandalous is that the Education Department almost certainly knew the results of this evaluation for months.

Voucher recipients were tested last spring. The scores were analyzed in the late summer and early fall, and in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year.

Opponents of school choice for poor children have long claimed they’d support vouchers if there was evidence that they work. While running for President last year, Mr. Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that if he saw more proof that they were successful, he would “not allow my predisposition to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn . . . You do what works for the kids.” Except, apparently, when what works is opposed by unions.

Mr. Duncan’s office spurned our repeated calls and emails asking what and when he and his aides knew about these results. We do know the Administration prohibited anyone involved with the evaluation from discussing it publicly. You’d think we were talking about nuclear secrets, not about a taxpayer-funded pilot program. A reasonable conclusion is that Mr. Duncan’s department didn’t want proof of voucher success to interfere with Senator Dick Durbin’s campaign to kill vouchers at the behest of the teachers unions.

Accountability? Transparency? Not much.

Read a round-up of reax on the news from Jay P. Greene and Matthew Ladner.

And more from Jeff Emanuel.

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