Though the news from the education world is gloomy, dismal and sad, I do believe that in 2004 things will improve. Eventually, in America, when things get bad enough, a reforming impulse pushes through the muck and begins to set things right. The following education follies from 2003 are offered in hopes of goosing that process along.
In October, the mayor of Detroit and the governor of Michigan joined forces to reject a $200 million gift offered by philanthropist Robert Thompson. Thompson proposed to help build 15 small charter high schools in Detroit, whose students consistently score below those of other Michigan residents. But after the Detroit teachers staged a one-day walkout to protest the charter plan, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm scurried away from the deal.
Detroit spends, for the record, more than all but 9 percent of Michigan school districts. Only 3.4 percent of Michigan's districts graduate a smaller proportion of high school students. Detroit students score near the bottom on statewide achievement tests. Only 2.5 percent of Michigan school districts spend more on administrative costs than does Detroit. The city also boasts teacher salaries near the very top.
Paul E. Peterson of Harvard reported in 2003 the results of a randomized study examining the effect of school vouchers on African American youngsters in New York. The study began in 1997, when the School Choice Scholarships Foundation offered vouchers to 1,200 New York City public school students in kindergarten through fourth grade. The scholarships were worth $1,400 annually. The students who received the vouchers were similar in every way to those who did not. Eighty percent came from single-parent families. The results were impressive. Students who received vouchers scored one grade level higher in reading and math than students in public school.
The Heritage Foundation prepared a handy table showing how members of Congress exercised school choice for their own children. Among the population at large, about 10 percent send their children to private schools. In the Senate, 46 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats send their kids to private school. But some Republicans and many Democrats have set their faces against vouchers to permit poor children in the District of Columbia to have school choice, too.