McCain's education platform, rolled out today to coincide with his speech to the NAACP, contains few surprises, and no initiative as broad or detailed as the $5.5 billion national private voucher experiment he floated while running against GWB in 2000. Rather, McCain offered some expected bromides about "parental choice." He failed to mention early childhood education. He agrees with Barack Obama that teachers in high-need, under-performing schools should be rewarded with more pay, and, also like Obama, nodded toward public charter schools as a good option for many urban kids. McCain also seems to have absorbed the now almost-conventional wisdom bred by programs such as Teach For America and the New York City Teaching Fellows: There should be alternate certification paths that get elite college grads, mid-career professionals, and other non-traditional teachers into the classroom.
In the NAACP speech, McCain's main line of attack against Obama was that he opposes some specific private school voucher programs, supposedly because he is in thrall to the teachers' unions. But let's look more closely at the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, the private voucher program that McCain mentioned today. Less than a month ago, a U.S. Department of Education report on the program found:
After 2 years, there was no statistically significant difference in test scores in general between students who were offered an OSP scholarship and students who were not offered a scholarship. Overall, those in the treatment and control groups were performing at comparable levels in mathematics and reading.
D.C. boasts some of the most successful public charter schools in the nation, and school choice here has generally been a good thing for parents and kids failed by the system. But I've said it before and I'll say it again: There is no evidence that low-income and minority students' academic performance is improved by sending them to urban parochial schools, which tend to be the schools that participate in private voucher programs. No evidence in Milwaukee. No evidence in D.C. Supporting school choice does not require support for this sort of privatization, especially when there has been so much innovation and growth in the public charter sector.
cross-posted at TAPPED