Liam Julian

The Wall Street Journal's Bill McGurn (and lots of others) wonders: What will Obama do on school choice? Now we know (via The Corner):

TAPPER: You talked about the need to change the status quo in education today.

OBAMA: Right.

TAPPER: But one of the ways that proponents of school choice say that the best way to change the status quo is to give parents, inner-city parents a choice. Why not?

OBAMA: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom. We don't have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.

So what I've said is let's foster competition within the public school system. Let's make sure that charter schools are up and running. Let's make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.

But what I don't want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools. That's going to make things worse, and we're going to lose the commitment to public schools that

Liam Julian

Quick and the Ed writes about the recently released study of D.C. vouchers' effectiveness:

Those who'd like to end the program can point out that the results were, all-in-all, underwhelming, but supporters of the voucher program can point to the positive results among certain subgroups. Most notably, students from the first cohort who used the voucher scored significantly higher in reading - supporters might use this to convince lawmakers to hold out for another year or two in order to see if the effects continue for subsequent cohorts. But will a few positive results be enough to save D.C. vouchers?

In fact, it is possible to support D.C. vouchers without referencing the above-mentioned study at all. Private school choice, in itself, has plenty of powerful arguments to support it, especially when it occurs in a district such as Washington, D.C., where the public schools are less than satisfactory and filled with poor and minority children who haven't the means to leave them. The stat-happy crowd scoffs, but about this statistical evaluation (in which, of course, both sides will find nuggets of support for their positions) I think: Who cares? Certainly parents whose children are enrolled in the schools don't--for one reason or another, rational or not, they like their new private schools. Perhaps they're safer, perhaps they're in better neighborhoods, perhaps they have nicer smelling hallways. But does it matter? The real question should be: Is the small number of D.C. voucher students worse off educationally than they...

It's a good thing the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, because otherwise the Motor City would have absolutely nothing to celebrate. With an economy battered by the ills of the automotive industry and??its population shrinking rapidly, it's no surprise that the city's school system is now $400 million in the hole .

But here's a wrinkle. Under Michigan law, if DPS's enrollment dips below 100,000, it will no longer be a "Class A" district. What's special about "Class A" districts (of which Detroit has to date been the only one in the state)? Under the state's protectionist charter school law, new charters aren't allowed to be started in those districts. So come fall, with enrollment expected to plunge further, Detroit will be open for new charter business. (Note to legislators: this is what you get for being cute and not just naming "Detroit" when writing legislation aimed at Detroit. The same thing happens in other states, too.)

With the public school system in disarray, the expansion of charter schools should be seen as a boon. But several local politicians don't see it that way.

"I just think it's a terrible time to introduce competition that does not have a track record," school board President Carla Scott said Monday. "It would financially cripple the district."

Hmm. If we were to make an analogy to the auto industry , by that...

Liam Julian

Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn wonders where Obama will come out on the question of D.C. vouchers for poor kids.

Update: Eleanor Holmes Norton defends in the Washington Post her anti-voucher stance.

Richard Whitmire--USA Today editorial writer, president of the National Education Writers Association, and father of two girls--has started a blog all about "why boys fail." Find it at

Mike opened the door for my response to the Washington Opportunity Scholarship Program external evaluation, and I've just completed a fairly quick read of it. First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'll note that my former employer, Westat, was the prime contractor for the evaluation. Though I never personally worked with the Westat staff who conducted the evaluation, I do know their reputations for quality work. This is not the only reason, of course, that I found the evaluation to be of high-quality, but it's worth mentioning. Disclosure aside, I have a couple takeaways from the evaluation.

First, the impact findings for the program are simply not that compelling (sorry Mike), and even the subgroup analyses--which do provide a ray of hope--are presented with important caveats. The design comprised a randomized controlled trial where eligible applicants were randomly assigned to receive or not receive the scholarship. By all accounts, the sample was drawn appropriately and is of sufficient size (n=2,308 which is, we're told, larger than impact samples in previous, similar evaluations); furthermore, the analyses appear thoughtfully and meticulously conducted.

So, while I have few qualms with the evaluation design itself, I do think something that occurred naturally within the impact sample--namely, lots of student mobility--is worth keeping in mind. Over the course of two years in the treatment group, only 4 percent remained in the same school they were in when they applied to the program; 71 percent switched schools once, and 25 percent...

So much has been written, said and televised regarding the late Timothy J. Russert that I can constructively add only this small bit to everyone's memories and biographies of this great guy.

Soon after Pat Moynihan (narrowly) won his first Senate rate in 1976, Tim, then abut 26 years old, joined his staff, initially as head of the Senator's tiny Buffalo office. I signed on around the same time for the D.C.-based legislative team, along with one of the strongest casts of colleagues it's ever been my privilege to work with. (Some of this is recounted on pages 66-7 of Troublemaker.) At the start, Tim was just this kid from Buffalo who turned up in Washington now and again. But it didn't take long before his remarkable political savvy, his matchless knowledge of New York State,??his phenomenal nose for news and unparalleled??capacity for "working the media" became clear to one and all, not least to Moynihan himself. In short order, Tim was in D.C. as the Senator's new press secretary and then, by the time I left (1981), had graduated to the top post of administrative assistant in what was, by then, a veritable staff empire. He was as adept at managing a bunch of headstrong colleagues and navigating the tricky political shoals of the U.S. Senate (and then preparing Pat for a triumphant re-election campaign in 1982) as he later proved to be??for Governor Cuomo and then NBC. Though Tim left his former Senate staff colleagues in...

That's what the headlines should say about this recently released study on Washington's federally-funded school scholarship program, though they probably won't. That's because, as the Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) summary states, the study "found no significant differences in student achievement between those who were offered scholarships to attend a participating private school and those who were eligible for, but were not offered (as assigned by a lottery) a scholarship." But wait, there's good news:

However, being offered a scholarship may have improved reading test scores among three subgroups of relatively more advantaged students: those who had not attended a School in Need of Improvement (SINI) school when they applied to the program, those who had relatively higher pre-program academic performance, and those who applied in the first year of program implementation.

Here's what you need to know that the media (not to mention anti-voucher groups) will neglect to tell you: in tiny programs such as D.C.'s, it's really hard to find "effects" because the sample size is so limited. Participants have to do dramatically better than the control group in order for researchers to detect a statistically significant difference. So the fact that impacts were found for three subgroups (whose members make up 88 percent of the program's participants, according to the Department of Education's press release*) is pretty darn impressive.

But hey, Fordham now has its own fully-credentialed Research Director, so I'll let Amber take it from here.


I've returned from a long weekend in New Hampshire to find my colleague Coby continuously questioning the concern that America's economic might will be damaged by her educational mediocrity. To be sure, I think these arguments can be overblown and politically unsustainable. Still, there is some pretty compelling evidence about the connection between a nation's educational achievement and economic growth. Take a look at this figure, for example, from a recent Education Next article by Eric Hanushek, Dean T. Jamison, Eliot A. Jamison and Ludger Woessmann. Coby, shouldn't we get a little nervous about the United States' lackluster performance?