March 13, 2006
By Dan Lips
A new study confirms that things aren't as bad as we thought in
American public education. They're worse.
In recent international comparisons, American fourth-graders
appeared to be doing fairly well, but those in 8th and 10th grades
had fallen behind peers elsewhere. Then the American Institutes for
Research re-assessed U.S. performance to achieve a purer
apples-to-apples comparison and found "a consistent picture of
overall mediocrity" in American schools already has appeared by the
Among 11 nations that gave similar tests at all three levels,
Americans finished eighth in the fourth grade, ninth in the 10th
grade and ninth on the test given to 15-year-olds.
Steven Leinwand, one of the researchers, and Kathy Christie, vice
president for knowledge management at the Education Commission of
the States, a 40-year-old Denver nonprofit compact between states
to improve education, said the results suggest it might be time for
national curriculum standards.
More federal involvement? As Edwin Feulner, president of The
Heritage Foundation, and Douglas Wilson, chairman of Townhall.com,
write in their new book, "Getting America Right," the federal
government already has "usurped parental rights and
responsibilities" with "disastrous results" by taking an increasing
role in education.
What works, say Feulner, Wilson and a host of others, is parents
directing their children's education and school systems providing
choices to meet those needs.
Ask Catherine Hill.
As the guardian of three children who use opportunity scholarships
to attend private schools in Washington, D.C., Hill understands the
value of real choice in a school system.
Ms. Hill's nephew, Eric, had reached age 8 without learning to
read. School officials were preparing to send him to special
education. But he received a voucher, transferred to St. Gabriel's
Catholic School and has been thriving in his new classroom. Now, he
not only reads, he receives perfect scores on his spelling
"He's so proud," Hill says. "He recently told me, 'Auntie, this is
the best school you could have put me in.'"
Eric is one of 1,700 children who participate in the Washington,
D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Created by Congress in 2004,
the $13 million program offers $7,500 grants so that families
eligible for the free and reduced-price school lunch program can
send their children to private schools.
Parents have told researchers they love the program and are far
happier with the private schools they've entered than the public
schools they left. The program has grown so popular that more than
1,000 children are currently on the waiting list for
President Bush has called for a new program to offer similar
opportunity scholarships across the nation. His 2007 budget
proposal includes the Opportunity Scholarships for Kids initiative,
which would provide $100 million in federal grants to local groups
that award private school scholarships. Under the president's
proposal, only children from low-income families who are currently
enrolled in persistently failing public schools would be eligible
In all, more than 20,000 children in 10 states could receive
opportunity scholarships through the program. That's if it survives
what's sure to be an uphill battle on Capitol Hill as
special-interest groups, such as teachers unions, line up to oppose
These groups can present a formidable front. Last year, the
National Education Association alone spent $25 million on politics
and lobbying, and not a dime of it went to support sensible
school-choice programs that let parents move their children from
failing public schools to successful charter or private
But despite their powerful war chest, the teachers unions have been
defeated on Capitol Hill before. Case in point is the D.C. voucher
program, which was passed by Congress in response to strong
grassroots support from District parents, who packed committee
hearings and hounded congressional offices.
Catherine Hill was one of those grassroots advocates. "We walked so
many halls. We visited so many offices," Hill says. "But it was
worth every hall we walked. The scholarship program is the best
thing that ever happened to the District."
It could be the best thing ever to happen to lots of other parents,
too -- if others can follow in Hill's footsteps through those halls
and offices. They have nothing to lose, she would tell them. And
they have everything to gain.
Dan Lips is a
policy analyst who specializes in education issues
at The Heritage
Foundation, a Washington-based public policy
First appeared in FoxNews Online
A new study confirms that things aren't as bad as we thought in American public education. They're worse.
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