- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2017


OK, who do you trust on education reform?

This is an easy one because a simple, one-word answer will suffice: Obama or Trump?

First up, Barack Obama. In 2009, during the first year of his first term, Mr. Obama rolled out the School Improvement Grants (SIG), a program that called for state and local education agencies to use money to implement one of four federally designed models to turn around academically underperforming schools.

Local and state authorities could use the 1) Turnaround model to replace principals and replace staff, 2) Restart model to close traditional public schools and convert them to charter schools, 3) School Closer model to close schools and 4) Transformation model to change principals, other personnel and teaching techniques. (The Transformation model is intensely data-driven regarding both teaching and learning.)

Now, get this: A federal analysis released after Mr. Obama bid us adieu offers evidence that his SIG program earns a big, fat capital “F.”

There were no significant effects on students’ reading and math scores, on high school graduation, or on college enrollment when compared to poorly performing schools that did not receive SIG money.

How much did the “F” cost taxpayers? The Obama administration spent $7 billion on the SIG program.

What’s astonishing is that Mr. Obama’s chief cook and bottle washer of the education kitchen, Arne Duncan, sang the praises of the SIG program.

“The results have been encouraging,” Mr. Duncan, currently managing partner at Emerson Collective, wrote in a recent Time magazine article.

What a fallacy.

Honestly, unless parents and you, dear readers, can conjure a new convoluted grading scale at the snap of your fingers, “encouraging” results alone do not earn an “F.”

The gist of the Obama $7 billion SIG experiment: Money alone can change neither individual failing schools nor school districts.

Enter Donald Trump and other people trying to make education reform student-centric.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, for one, is trying once again to open school-choice doors for students by establishing a charter school authority and loosening restrictions on charter schools.

If Mr. Hogan’s legislative proposal passes muster in Annapolis, Maryland kids will have “access to a world-class education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” the Republican governor says.

Also, the charters they attend will have increased say over such learning tools as curriculum and books, and increased access to capital funds.

In the nation’s capital, meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that a former traditional school will stay in the hands of a charter, and another, Patrica Roberts Harris Education Campus, will be a charter incubator.

“We want to make it easier for every parent to choose a school that best fits their child’s needs,” Miss Bowser said.

And that’s the truth. That’s real progress. A Democrat whose political brethren initially cried foul when parents wanted to establish school choice is (hopefully) turning a corner. And a Republican governor, who stomped his Democratic competition in a historically blue state, is making inroads on school choice.

The national level is a bit more onerous.

Teachers unions and the Democrats they bed are fighting Mr. Trump’s Education Secretary-designee Betsy DeVos as if the president is proposing to resurrect laws against teaching slaves to read and Mrs. DeVos is a died-in-the-wool plantation owner.

They are both proponents of school choice and school reform.

What the Democrats and the unions do not like about school choice is that charter schools and vouchers programs empower parents and weaken unions. They also don’t like the fact that Mr. Trump whipped their girl, Hillary.

The vote on Mrs. DeVos is scheduled for Tuesday.

Who do you trust?

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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