Check out today’s ad in The New York Times by the civil rights leader Kevin P. Chavous, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, condemning President Obama for his failure to support school choice nationwide. (The alliance advocates for vouchers and is supported by several pro school choice foundations, including the Walton Family Foundation.)
Chavous asks President Obama to endorse school vouchers, saying that the president himself attended the most elite school in Hawaii because of scholarships.
At the risk of being pilloried, I have to point out that the evidence is not strong that vouchers have dramatically improved the educational outcomes for black children or any children. I think the models that we ought to be replicating are KIPP and other public programs that emphasize intense remediation, more time on task and a relentless focus on achievement. I think vouchers will help the kids who need it the least — middle-class children for whom the $4,000 or $6,000 voucher means their parents can send them to a $10,000 private school.
At the same time, I think parents want more choices, which is why we ought to rethink district lines and school zones. And I think public schools ought to be experimenting with all sorts of models, so a parent can look at the options and see k-8 schools, single-gender, year-round, virtual etc.
Here is the text of the full-page ad:
Dear Mr. President:
One of the reasons I supported you, as did virtually all of the Black community in this country, is because we believed that you would stand up to vested interests and do the right thing even if it was not politically expedient. You have now left us confused and dismayed.
We simply cannot reconcile what you are saying about education reform with what you are actually doing to give parents the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children.
Last year, you refused to support the reauthorization of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program. As you know, this program allows low-income parents to receive government-funded scholarships so their children can attend private schools of their choice. This initiative has been an educational lifeline to thousands of children.
You acted to eliminate hope for thousands of low-income children who live just blocks from the White House, despite compelling data that confirms these children are receiving a better education than they would receive in the D.C. public schools.
While opposing this program would appear to be a contradiction to what you said on the Today show earlier this week, some might call it the height of hypocrisy. As a beneficiary of a privately funded scholarship, you attended the most elite private school in Hawaii. You and Mrs. Obama have also chosen a private school for your own children. Because there is not enough money to provide private scholarships to all low-income families, you more than anyone should be an advocate for government-funded opportunity scholarships nationwide.
Far too many of our children are confined in schools that continue to fail, year after year. As Dr. Martin Luther King said during the civil rights movement, we need to act with the fierce urgency of now. Our children cannot wait. Opportunity scholarships help educate kids today.
So, Mr. President, there is still time for you to throw off the shackles of the educational establishment and join our ranks. There are over one million empty urban private school seats in this country that are waiting to be filled if low-income families had government-funded scholarships. If you would like to learn more about our work at the Black Alliance for Educational Options or would like to meet some of the families who would like to participate in these programs, I would be happy to introduce them to you.
Please, Mr. President, let’s educate our children by any means necessary.