Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Never Say "Never," Mr. Secretary

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with moderator 
 John Merrow at today's Twitter town hall event.
During a Twitter town hall held today by Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education took questions via the social networking service regarding a host of education issues.

Of particular note was his response to a question regarding school choice, in which he took an even stronger stance than we've heard from him in the past. While he's never embraced the concept—and it was on his watch that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was shuttered in 2009—he has usually engaged in a fair bit of politicspeak, talking less about his opposition to vouchers and more about his unwavering to the public school system.

Today, however, he was unequivocal, saying during the town hall that he would "never support school voucher programs." Here's more:
I want great public education. A seven-year-old doesn't know whether he's going to a public school or a voucher school...we underinvest in public education and we need to put more resources in, not to support the status quo, but to improve.
It's funny that this is a statement about opposition to vouchers, because on a couple levels, it actually helps to reinforce the reasoning behind why we so ardently support vouchers for low-income kids.

First, he's exactly right that a child couldn't care less about the system in which his school sits. He and his parents want a school that gives him the best opportunity to prosper, and while that place is not a voucher school for everyone, it is a voucher school for many. Kids whose public school system is failing them but don't have the resources to choose a different path, kids who have special needs that aren't being met in public schools, and kids who attend school in an unsafe environment don't know that it's a public school that's fueling their struggles—they just know they're struggling.

The end goal is and always has been to relieve those struggles, regardless of the environment where that can best take place. The reality is that for some students, it's a public school; for others, it's a public charter school or a private school via a voucher.

Mr. Secretary, a seven-year-old kid doesn't care about the system, and neither do we. It's entrenched special interests that are concerned with the means, while we are, as we have said in the past, agnostic as to the delivery mechanism. But we do believe that there must be a full menu of mechanisms available for parents.

Second, he says that his investment in public schools would not be a means to fuel the status quo. Perhaps, but if so, why do we continue to see our reading and math scores fall, trailing behind a host of less prosperous countries when it comes to achievement? Those countries aren't succeeding as a result of more money; they're succeeding because they've been willing to exercise new methods of education in order to change the way that things have been done for so long.

We've been pouring money into public schools for decades and the return on our investment is actually decreasing. If we've been doing the same thing for ages and getting a worse and worse result, to refrain from change is to do nothing but except the status quo. Mr. Secretary, you have it backwards.

And with more and more parties calling this "The Year of School Choice" and more and more pieces of legislation garnering bipartisan support, we'd urge the Duncan to rethink his statement.

Because unless he wants to be left behind, at some point, he's going to realize that options for parents does them and their families good. The sooner he realizes that, the better off our country's children will be.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

1 comment:

  1. So the Secretary is actually publicly supporting leaving high school students in failing ghetto schools no option other than to drop out and join the local gang? That's the choice far too many of them are making now. Where is the evidence that funneling more money into the dark holes that some local districts are is going to help them magically improve? Does the Secretary believe that he has the power to change so much for so many people?