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The Therapy Sessions
Friday, September 03, 2004

The discomforting truth

See! Even the poor hate vouchers! Many D.C. School Vouchers Go Unused:
More than one in five students who received vouchers to pay for private school tuition in the District are not using them, according to figures released yesterday on implementation of the nation's first federally funded voucher program.

After a lengthy application process, 1,359 low-income students were notified in June that they had won grants of as much as $7,500 a year to pay for private school tuition and fees, contingent on their acceptance by a participating school. Since then, the families of 290 students have dropped out or not responded to efforts by program administrators to reach them.

Nobody likes vouchers! Of course, this is how the Left will read this story.

No matter.

The Left has been deluding itself about vouchers for years. Fumbling an issue of such clear moral power, they stubbornly hold onto the status quo, just as their teacher's union masters order them to. Poor parent's wages are garnished to pay for the terrible schools their children attend. Even the uncommon poor parents who would dare dream of a better future for their children won't get the slightest nod from the government: by the time they are done paying their school taxes, they lack the money to pay a second tuition at a better school.

Liberals would never dream of sending their children to the ghetto schools that poor children attend. Because they have money, they have choices. They opt for nice suburban schools or private schools, while poor children are consigned to schools that prepare them for little more than prison.

When the abysmal educational outcomes of some schools are demonstrated, the Lefties argue that taxes should be further raised on everyone (including the poor parents). Throwing money at terrible schools will turn them into little Andovers, or so they've been hypnotized into believing.

As usual, liberals have misdiagnosed the problem. All the money in the world won't turn most of these students into scholars. It's been tried:
At 22, Jarmaine Ollivierre also is the meteor in another universe - the brightest academic light in a soon-to-conclude experiment called Say Yes to Education.

Eleven years ago, two Connecticut philanthropists set out to take him and 111 other inner-city sixth graders, all from Belmont Elementary School in West Philadelphia's hard-luck Mantua section, on an expense-paid trip to higher education. With the project's end looming in 2000, most have not made it.

Of the 26 who enrolled in four-year colleges, two graduated last year. Five more will get bachelor's degrees this month....

...George Weiss, who cofounded Say Yes with his then-wife Diane, has spent about $4 million to learn that lesson. The Weiss' gift - a rich package of tutoring, counseling, SAT-prep courses, summer programs and free tickets to continuing education - proved to be only part of the formula. In the absence of committed family, it did not necessarily add up to much.

I remember being very excited about what the Weiss's were doing in the eighties. Finally, we were going to see what copius amounts of money could do with a terrible school and the students who attended it!

The results were depressing, but enlightening.

But I would prefer to know a disappointing truth than be deluded by a comforting falsehood.

The experiment with the Belmont 112 culminated in nothing but disappointment. But the experience is what a scientist would call data, and the data here was something that the left would rather (and quickly did) forget: all the money in the world won't rescue these schools.

It is a lesson that is lost on Americans: the US spends more money educating its children than practically anywhere else in the world, yet their educational performance of our students is mediocre at best. (Of course, the averages improve when poor children, like the ones from Belmont, are subtracted).

The problem is not money; it's parental apathy. And most commonly, it's merely the apathy of a single parent. This apathy is depressingly common in the neighborhoods that culture the country's worst schools:
To comply with federal law, the Philadelphia School District has sent letters to 127,000 families, offering them a chance to transfer their children out of low-performing schools.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, districts are required to offer transfer options to parents with children in schools deemed "failing" for two consecutive years. In Philadelphia, 176 of the 264 schools fall into that category. The goal is to boost achievement of every student in the nation to proficient levels by 2014.

As of yesterday, only 637 families in the Philadelphia district - less than 1 percent - indicated they wanted to transfer their children in September. The deadline to respond is Friday.

Of course, if you are a liberal, stories like these mean that people are too stupid to know what's best for them and their children, and they need a large overbearing government to force them to do things.

People like me call that tyranny.

In truth, these parents are exercising their freedom. In this case, it's the freedom not to give a shit. They send their kids to school with this attitude, and - lo and behold! - they make for crappy students. These students swamp these schools and make them unmanageable day care centers.

But! Pay attention liberals! Even in those schools, there are students who want to be serious! These are the children who "ssshhh!" the loudmouths who disrupt the classes, and they get beat up for it. These are the children who are trying to learn, because their parents have told them that a better future awaits them if they are educated.

But it is a sad fact that the valedictorians (!)of these failing schools end up taking remedial courses if they go on to college; that is, straight-A students still aren't being prepared to tackle the coursework of higher education.

These are the children vouchers target.

Allow these children to pay their school taxes as tuition at a a private school where the competition is stiff, and they can (and do) excel.

Liberals recoil in horror. But that means less money for the terrible schools!

It might. It might.

But when something is clearly not working, do you keep doing it out of habit?

Among poor parents who care, vouchers are very popular. And they are very popular with people like me, people who believe that America should give everyone - and particularly the poor - the opportunity to do better.

And I don't give a crap if it scares the pants off the teacher's unions or the educational bureaucracy.

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