NBC News is on Day Two of its week-long series Education Nation. You cannot turn on any of the NBC family of networks (MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, A&E, Telemundo, etc.) without seeing Education Secretary Arne Duncan, or some Obama administration surrogate, flacking for the President’s education agenda. There are plenty of issues the journalists at NBC could be asking about but aren’t: the silent push toward national standards, the assault on for-profit learning, the waste in education spending. But most galling is NBC’s continued refusal to ask about the Obama administration’s war on school choice. The closest accountability moment came when an audience member asked President Obama a question on the Today Show:
Viewer: “As a father of two very delightful and seemingly very bright daughters, I wanted to know whether or not you think that Malia and Sasha would get the same high-quality, rigorous education in a D.C. public school, as compared to their very elite private academy that they’re attending now?”
Obama: “I’ll be blunt with you. The answer’s ‘no’ right now. The D.C. public school systems are struggling. Now, they have made some important strides over the years to move in the direction of reform; there are some terrific individual schools in the D.C. system. And that’s true by the way in every city across the country. In my hometown of Chicago there are some great public schools that are on par with any private school in the country. But it goes to the point Matt and I were talking about earlier. A lot of times you’ve got to test in, or it’s a lottery pick for you to be able to get into those schools and so those options are not available for enough children. I’ll be very honest with you. Given my position, if I wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha to be in, we could probably maneuver to do it. But the broader problem is: For a mom or a dad who are working hard but don’t have a bunch of connections, don’t have a choice in terms of where they live, they should be getting the same quality education as anybody else, and they don’t have that yet.”
This would have been a great opportunity for Matt Lauer to ask about the 216. Who are the 216? Like each of the families in Waiting for Superman, thousands of parents in Washington, D.C., are dying to get their children out of violent and non-functioning local public schools and into alternatives like the Sidwell School that President Obama chooses to send his kids too. One-thousand-seven-hundred low-income D.C. school children have attended private schools with the help of the $7,500 scholarships awarded through this D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.
In the fall of 2008, 216 new low-income students were notified by the Department of Education that they had been selected to receive scholarships. These kids had their winning lottery tickets in hand. Then President Barack Obama was elected with the help of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. At the behest of Obama’s union allies, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent letters to the 216 families informing them that he was taking back the $7,500 in scholarship money that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program had previously awarded them. In other words, President Barack Obama tore up their winning lottery tickets.
The NEA and AFT hate the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program because it has a proven track record of success. The Department of Education released a study last year showing that students participating in the Opportunity Scholarship program had statistically significant better reading scores than students who applied to the program but were not offered a scholarship. The students that were in the program the longest showed notable improvement reading at levels approximately 1.5 to two full school years ahead of the sample group. Also, students that used a scholarship to attend a private school had a 91 percent graduation rate. Less than half of children in D.C. public school graduate (watch our documentary on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, Let Me Rise, here).
Where are these 216 children now? Why did President Obama tear up their scholarships? What does the President think of DCOSP’s proven success? Why isn’t anyone at NBC asking any of these questions?