- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

A crusader for school choice and one of the country’s leading authorities on school finance were awarded the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s coveted $25,000 education prizes yesterday.

Howard L. Fuller, 63, former superintendent of Milwaukee’s 104,000-student public school system, was given the 2004 Fordham Prize for Educational Valor in recognition of the many years he fought for school vouchers, charter schools and other parental school-choice options in that city and nationwide.

The Washington-based Fordham Foundation is a nonprofit, education-reform think tank.

Mr. Fuller, director of Marquette University’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning, led the battle to expand Milwaukee’s successful voucher program that permits children from poor families in low-performing schools to transfer to other public or private schools along with a voucher toward the cost of their tuition.

Eric A. Hanushek, 60, a senior researcher at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, Calif., received the Fordham Prize for Distinguished Scholarship.

Mr. Hanushek’s groundbreaking research over the years to measure school productivity and student achievement along with per-pupil expenditures was a major influence in the design of the federal No Child Left Behind school-accountability law, which combines requirements for student-achievement gains with financial incentives and other measures.

The foundation’s seven-member independent prize-selection committee was unanimous in its decisions, said Fordham President Chester E. Finn Jr., an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration.

“Both have labored in the education-reform vineyards for decades. Both have done incredible work. Each has changed American K-12 education in profound and positive ways,” Mr. Finn said.

“Yet because many of these changes defy conventional thinking, established assumptions and entrenched interests, neither has been properly recognized for his vision, courage and accomplishments.”

The foundation “is pleased to help redress that injustice,” he said.

Mr. Hanushek’s research contradicted claims by the education establishment and teachers unions that more money was necessary to raise achievement.

In 1981, Mr. Hanushek reviewed 125 studies of school reform done over the previous 15 years and reported “consistent and startling” findings, says the foundation’s prize booklet.

“The performance of students is not systematically related to the amount of money schools spend per student. … Differences in class size, education levels of teachers, and experience of teachers — the traditional focus of much school policy — are also not systematically related to student performance.”

His conclusions remain the same today after reviewing some 400 studies of student performance and school resources and more than 275 analyses and analysts examining the impact of class-size reduction on achievement, the booklet says.

Mr. Fuller countered conventional thinking by founding the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national grass-roots coalition of activists who promote schooling options for children from low-income families.

He started the movement after several years in the late 1980s as head of Milwaukee County’s Department of Health and Human Services, where he “witnessed a heartbreaking parade of misery and dependency that left him deeply worried about his hometown, particularly the terrible conditions facing children who lived in poverty and attended Milwaukee’s woeful public schools,” the foundation says.

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