- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday applauded a report by a Stanford University think thank that calls on federal and state governments to "explore additional forms of school choice, pushing far beyond the boundaries of within-district public school choice."
The Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force on K-12 Education released a 378-page report that said American high school graduates are below average on a global scale and perform worse than students of 15 industrialized countries on international reading, math and science tests.
Mr. Paige said there are still "gaping holes" in the performance of public schools and student achievement 20 years after the Reagan administration issued a report card on state school systems, called "A Nation at Risk," which warned of a "rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people."
If a foreign power had inflicted the damage caused by failing American schools, "we might have viewed it as an act of war," Mr. Paige told Hoover scholars and directors at their annual winter meeting at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel. "But we did it to ourselves. … As your report points out, we still have much to do in order to fix the problem."
The report calls for greater flexibility and autonomy for charter schools and supports requiring districts to provide charter schools with full per-pupil funding and capital funds to support facility costs.
It also calls for parental freedom to transfer children out of failing schools right away to either public or private facilities with the full amount of per-pupil taxpayer funding.
"Failing schools should be closed, reconstituted, taken over by other authorities, outsourced to private operators, or their students given the right and full funding to leave for better schools. This does not mean just to other public schools in their own district the limp compromise Congress wrote into No Child Left Behind but the capacity to transfer to any school, anywhere. Taxpayers should no longer be forced to pay for ineffective schools," according to the report titled "Our Schools and Our Future: Are We Still At Risk?"
Mr. Paige, however, was not willing to support the Hoover Institution's proposal to expand school-choice options.
"I believe we have the answer in the No Child Left Behind Act," the secretary said about increased public school accountability for student achievement and expanded options for public school choice.
Eric A. Hanushek, a Hoover senior fellow and task force member, said a model for all states is Florida's "A-Plus" program, which gives children the option to choose another school if theirs is labeled failing for two consecutive years.
"If you identify a school as having failed, your first obligation is to kids you have hurt, and you must give them an opportunity to succeed," he said.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and education secretary under former President Bush, said he preferred a school-choice pilot program "to test theories about what might happen."
W. Kurt Hauser, chairman of Hoover's board of overseers, said public schools, like the Postal Service, must no longer remain "a noncompetitive system."
"It's a civil rights issue," the San Francisco investment executive said. "Poor minority kids are segregated, they lack the opportunity to move to better schools as wealthier middle-class kids can. The solution is to introduce a competitive environment, accountability and choice. Let market forces unleash to empower parents with alternatives to government monopoly of the schools. Incentivize government schools to improve."


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