Last month the U.S. Department of Education released its “2009 Year in Review.” It proclaims that “the profound impact of the President’s commitment and personal example were the bookends” to a year that “will likely be remembered as a breakthrough year for education reform and a guidepost for what is to come.”
There are some high points. Pushing states to reform in exchange for billions of dollars in competitive grants is solid step in the right direction. This practice yielded encouraging changes-even in stiff-necked, cash-strapped states like California-including the expansion of charter schools and common-sense data collection that links student achievement data to teacher and principal performance. Another welcome reform would be improving teacher colleges. Other “highlights,” however, aren’t so rosy upon closer scrutiny. Here are just a few:
$230,334: The implied cost to taxpayers for one education job “saved or created” under the American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA). (See p. 1)
4.5 million: The estimated number of students attending more than 5,000 schools identified as in need of improvement (See. p. 74) that are not part of ED’s five-year “turnaround” strategy. (See p. 5).
31: The number of states, including the District of Columbia, visited by Education Secretary Arne Duncan during his “Listening and Learning Tour.” (See p. 6)
216: The number of low-income DC schoolchildren who were apparently ignored on the DC leg of the Listening and Learning Tour and forced to leave their private schools and return to the public schools that failed them because Secretary Duncan rescinded their Opportunity Scholarships. President Obama later proposed a budget effectively killing the program outright after this school year, which puts in jeopardy the futures of more than 1,300 Opportunity Scholarship students.
Unless this administration does right by deserving schoolchildren struggling in its own back yard, 2009 will be remembered as an education reform breakdown-not breakthrough-year. And no one wants that as a “guidepost for what is to come.”