The Department of Education commissioned Wolf to conduct a series of detailed studies on the results of the Washington DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). Established in 2004 as a five-year pilot program, OSP is among the most heavily researched federal education programs in history.
OSP targeted about 2,000 of the poorest kids in DC who were stuck in some of the worst schools in the country. It gave their parents a $7,500 scholarship to attend a private school of their choice.
The response was immediate. Four applications were filled out for every slot available. Parents loved the program, considering it a lifeline for their children, a way to escape failing schools and enter safe, functional schools.
Everyone knew OSP would be a bargain. DC has among the highest spending per pupil in the nation. At a conservative estimate of $17,542, the public schools spend over $10,000 more per child than the $7,500 spent through the scholarship program.
But would OSP achieve measureable results?
The answer is a resounding yes. Previous studies by Wolf showed an improvement in academic performance, to the point that a student participating in OSP from kindergarten through high school would likely be 2 ½ years ahead in reading. The key finding in this final round of research, Wolf told us, was the graduation rates. OSP dramatically increases prospects of high-school graduation.
Wolf pointed to research showing that high-school diplomas significantly improve the chance of getting a job. And dropouts that do find employment earn about $8,500 less per year than their counterpoints with diplomas. Further, each graduate reduces the cost of crime by a stunning $112,000. Cecelia Rouse, an economic advisor to President Obama, found that each additional high school graduate saves the country $260,000.
Simply put, OSP has a profoundly positive effect not just on students, but on the city and the country as a whole.
So when it came time for Congress to reauthorize OSP, it would seem to be a no-brainer: Expand the program.
Instead, they killed it.
Buried deep inside a 1000+ page, half-trillion-dollar spending bill was a provision that prohibited any new students from entering the program. To top it off, the 216 new students added to OSP for the new academic year were pulled out by Education Secretary Arne Duncan just before the school year started.
Yep, let's send them to the more expensive but poorer performing schools, because like, the teachers' unions need some love, yo. Even the mayor of DC is not down wit' Nancy and Harry and Barry:
According to former DC Mayor Anthony Williams and former DC Councilman Kevin Chavous (both Democrats), the answer is politics at its worst.
Williams and Chavous co-authored an op-ed arguing that politicians opposing OSP “are largely fueled by special-interest groups that are more dedicated to the adults working in the education system than to making certain every child is properly educated.”
The editorial board of the Washington Post put it a little more bluntly:
It’s clear, though, from how the destruction of the [OSP] program is being orchestrated, that issues such as parents’ needs, student performance and program effectiveness don’t matter next to the political demands of teachers’ unions.
The Post board also wrote that “the debate unfolding on Capitol Hill isn’t about facts. It’s about politics and the stranglehold the teachers unions have on the Democratic Party.”
As it turns out, the teachers unions are the single largest contributor to federally elected politicians, with the vast majority of their funds going to Democrats. The teachers unions don’t like programs like OSP because when parents have the freedom to choose, they may choose schools that don’t have unionized teachers.
Look, my background is in teaching. I still tutor and would love to teach in either a public or private school. I didn't and don't care if my kids go to public or private schools as long as they learn. I even suggested to parents at times to look into private schools to help their kids. I guess maybe that is why I can't find a job in the public schools. They hear that I was one of those radicals who cared more for the education and well being of my students than a paycheck. Funny, I thought it was about the children (tm). I guess I am wrong. Oh, and check this out:
DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton was one of the principal opponents of OSP and was instrumental in ending the program. Guess who her largest donor is? Answer here.
Part of where I work now tutoring offers schools struggling reading and math after school and summer programs. Despite the fact that we have proven results working with the kids in this manner, many times we have to fight the teachers unions, and, if we do super well, we often lose contracts after one year because the teachers' union doesn't want it to get out that we came in and improved kids' learning by a grade level in 10 weeks when they couldn't do it in a school year. But, hey, the unions just want to help the kiddos, right? WRONG!
Anonymous #1 in the comments felt I was slamming all teachers. I was not. Here in the body of the post I am retyping what I said in the comments to clarify. I know there are a lot of us teachers out there who care about the kiddos. However, our teachers unions are not acting in the best interest of the children at times, especially when they lobby to get things like OSP shelved.
Forgive me if it seemed I was slamming all teachers. I was not. I am a teacher myself, if you go back and read what I wrote, I talk about teaching and how I would love to get back into it. I was slamming the hypocrisy of the teachers unions who claim on one hand to be "for the children" and then lobby to get things like OSP shelved. So, I hope that eased your hurt feelings and I provided enough clarification!