The Leading Edge of Civil Rights

I believe that reform of the public school system, particularly urban public schools is the leading edge of advancing civil rights in our country. African American young people face distinct disadvantages because of fatherlessness and the popularizing of thug-culture. However, those problems, which are monumental, could at least be blunted if young African Americans were able to escape the travesty which is the urban public school. Unfortunately certain politicians actively oppose the mechanism that enables the escape: vouchers. These politicians are baring the door to public schools. But this time, instead of allowing African American students to enter, they are preventing their escape. This is a moral outrage that would be labeled "racist" if politicians from another party were opposing vouchers.

Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas offers an update on the current fight over vouchers in Washington D.C.

The Washington, D.C., voucher program is not dead yet. Congress has set its execution date, slipping a provision into last month’s omnibus spending bill to end the program unless it is re-authorized by Congress next year. With anti-voucher members of Congress in a clear majority, supporters of the program are glum about its political prospects.

The pall has extended to voucher programs around the country. If our legislators can terminate the D.C. program without too much political cost, might they decide to become serial killers, targeting vulnerable programs in Milwaukee, Ohio, and elsewhere?

Oddly, Congress chose to act even as the programs continue to produce solid evidence of academic effectiveness. Just this week, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of its official evaluation of the D.C. voucher program. It found that students selected by lottery to receive vouchers to attend private schools made significantly greater progress in reading than did lottery losers who stayed in D.C. district or charter schools. A student attending a private school with a voucher typically was four months ahead of the average public-school student in reading after three years. What’s more, the earliest participants in the voucher program — presumably, kids from those families most eager to escape D.C. public-school failure — were ahead of their public-school counterparts by the equivalent of 19 months of reading instruction after three years in private schools.

Last week, I released a study [PDF] that is part of the legislatively mandated evaluation of Milwaukee’s voucher program. It found that competition from the voucher program has improved the academic performance of students remaining in Milwaukee’s public schools by about 12 percentage points over the history of the program. That is, vouchers did more than benefit the students who received them; they motivated the entire school system to improve.
President Obama did the right thing by enrolling his daughters in an outstanding private school. I hope he will champion the cause of other African Americans who could never afford private schools without vouchers.

Read Jay Greene's entire article HERE.