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School Choice is First Casualty of Obama Education Overhaul

School Choice

Certainly one of the most unfortunate provisions in the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization “blueprint” is the elimination of school choice and supplemental education services for students trapped in failing schools. The school choice provisions contained within NCLB, while limited, provide an opportunity for children to escape persistently low-performing public schools. The Obama administration’s decision to cut that lifeline for families is symbolic of its educational philosophy in general. Theirs is a philosophy which refuses to acknowledge the virtue of educational choice and continues to see the federal government as the key to raising academic achievement. Education Week reports:

In an important policy shift, schools that failed to meet achievement targets would not be mandated to provide school choice or supplemental educational services, known as SES. … Mr. Duncan’s dislike for the supplemental-services provisions in NCLB is well known.

While the blueprint does suggest expanding access to charter schools and some public school choice, the removal of the provision effectively mandating states to provide children with an exit pass from low-performing public schools is a set back. Low-income parents with children in underperforming public schools will have few options under the administration’s new plan.

School choice and accountability – while far from perfect under NCLB – were the flawed bill’s saving grace. While the accountability measures resulted in some unintended consequences – tests being “watered down” so that states could avoid federal sanctions, for instance – they raised awareness of a lack of academic transparency within many states. And while the school choice provisions were under-utilized, they were under-utilized because of a failure on the part of schools and districts to inform parents of their options – not because school choice lacks merit.

Yet, in attempting to overhaul the bill, the Obama team elevates the provisions that made it problematic while discarding those that were among NCLB’s redeeming qualities.

The Obama administration has consistently promised to do “what works” in education. Yet that same administration has embraced education policies antithetical to their mantra. They are bent on eliminating what is perhaps the most effective federal education program ever devised – the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program – while at the same time are expanding federal programs, such as Head Start, that have been empirically proven to have no lasting impact on children’s academic achievement. So the considerable talk about flexibility in the ESEA blueprint should be taken with a grain of salt. Early language indicates that, at least for parents, they’re anything but flexible on school choice.

The Foundry -The Heritage Foundation, 18 March 2010

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