(This post was co-authored by Evelyn B. Stacey , Education Studies Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.)
Last week’s Washington Post editorial congratulates the Obama’s administration for a quiet success toward reforming America’s public schooling system. Unfortunately, congratulations are premature. Consider the actions behind the administration’s calm, cool exterior. Each state is competing for $4.5 billion in exchange for greater federal control over education. Education Stimulus Watch Special Report by Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute cautions that “States’ unprecedented budgetary challenges combined with the administration’s prescriptiveness could lead to partially disingenuous proposals and the half-hearted implementations of promised reforms.” Granted, in some cases like California, anything seems better than the status quo; however, consider the Obama administration’s own track record when it comes to “reform.” According to the Post, the real test of this administration’s ed reform creds will be “whether the administration takes on the task of overhauling No Child Left Behind to maintain the law’s focus on holding schools accountable while building some needed flexibility into judging school performance.” In actuality, this administration has already been put to the test. It failed. The day after pledging to follow a “whatever-works” approach to reform and innovation, the president signed legislation killing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program-even though scholarships are about one-third of D.C. public school per-pupil expenditure, and students with scholarships are performing up to two years ahead of their public school peers in reading. A few weeks later Education Secretary Arne Duncan even rescinded the scholarships of 216 low-income students, who are now forced to attend some of the District’s most dysfunctional and unsafe schools. Until this administration empowers parents to choose the same kinds of schools its members choose for their own children, the President has negligible creditability when it comes to education reform–no matter how many billion-dollar checks he signs.