As we close the book on 2008, a review of the strides made to advance the cause of quality education for all children in the United States has infused me with the spirit of a college pep squad leader playfully taunting the opposing fans while cheering the home team on to victory.
There is still a long way to go, particularly in our decaying urban school systems, before we truly fulfill our moral obligation and national security imperative to give all children a chance to earn a quality education that prepares them to compete effectively in our digital, global economy.
But it is school reformers, both Republicans and Democrats, who defined the terms of education debate in 2008.
Trend Toward Choice
Innovative legislative leaders and forward-thinking governors are standing up to the teacher unions and finally making them attempt to defend the indefensible performance of failing school systems or propose their own reforms.
Results vary from state to state, but thanks in part to the success of real choice programs, the trend line is clearly moving against the tired rhetoric and machine tactics of the teacher unions.
But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Just take a look at the national “scoreboard.”
* Study: Milwaukee Voucher Students Have Diploma Edge
“Students who participate in Milwaukee’s private-school-voucher program graduate from high school at significantly higher rates than those who attend regular secondary schools in the city, a new study contends.” Education Week, January 28, 2008
* On School Choice, New York Gov is No Knee-Jerk Liberal
“But at least on one issue, [New York Gov.] Paterson breaks from liberal orthodoxy. He is passionately in favor of school choice. …” The Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2008
* School Choice Competition Working in Florida, New Report Shows
“America’s largest school voucher program for students with special needs, the John M. McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities, has led to increased achievement among public school students with special needs, a new report by the New York-based Manhattan Institute reveals. … The McKay Program was established in 1999 and is benefiting 19,439 students this school year.” Reuters, May 2, 2008
* Tuition Tax Credit Program Signed Into Law in Georgia
“A universal tuition tax credit program was signed into law in Georgia, granting parents access to $50 million in scholarships to send their children to private schools. …” Education Report, www.educationreport.org, May 19, 2008
* Louisiana Senate Passes Small School Choice Plan
“In a major legislative success for Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Senate voted 25 to 12 … for a bill that would let up to 1,500 low- to middle-income students in New Orleans attend private schools at taxpayer expense.” The Associated Press, June 12, 2008
* Study: Vouchers Improve Education
“Ohio’s private-school voucher program isn’t just great for the students who use it, a new study asserts, but it’s actually made public schools better. It was the first sizable study of the statewide voucher program, now in its third year.” Columbus Dispatch, August 21, 2008
* Democrats Get the Idea
“At an August 24 event organized by Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee, urban mayors and civil rights activists argued for teacher pay-for-performance and the expansion of charter schools.
“Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., said at a press conference before the three-hour seminar that the debate over those issues is a ‘battle at the heart of the Democratic Party. … As Democrats, we have been wrong on education. It’s time to get it right.'” Education Week, August 29, 2008
* California Governor Signs Legislation Strengthening Charter School Finances
SB 658, authored by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), which was supported by the California Charter Schools Association and many other educational groups, designates $100 million over the next five years for charter schools. Reuters, September 25, 2008
* Former Critics Join Voucher Group
The new head of the leading voucher group in Florida is a former teachers union leader who once said vouchers were “based on false assumptions and faulty logic.” His hiring may be another sign that the bitter political lines over vouchers are not as hard and fast as they were just a few years ago. St. Petersburg Times, September 12, 2008
In 2008, education reform led state governments to embrace their role as laboratories of democracy in the Madisonian tradition. Partisan politics have been swept aside by the refusal of broad cross-sections of opinion leaders to stand by and watch another generation of young people be relegated to second-class-citizen status because they lack the skills to compete.
My hope for 2009 is that we will increase both the speed and trajectory of a reform journey that will define our nation’s destiny in the twenty-first century.
Dan Proft, J.D. ([email protected]) is a principal of Urquhart Media LLC, a Chicago-based public affairs firm, and political commentator for the Don Wade & Roma Morning Show on WLS-AM 890.