Fact-checking the presidential candidates’ claims about DC public schools

In between all those Joe the Plumber references, the DC Public Schools got some play in last night’s presidential debate. One of the few things Obama and McCain agreed on was that DCPS sucks. Here’s the relevant clip – DCPS pops up around 2:30.

McCain argues that D.C. is proof that vouchers work. Obama responds, “We’ve got a wonderful new superintendent there who’s working very hard with the young mayor there” and that they actually support charter schools. So what’s the truth?

D.C. does have a limited voucher program, created by Congress in 2004 as the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Vouchers are used by about 2,000 D.C. students but the program is set to expire at the end of the 2009-10 school year. The effectiveness of vouchers is debatable – a recent study found no difference in test scores between D.C. students who used vouchers to attend private schools and those at public schools. McCain would continue and expand the voucher program; Obama would not.

Charter schools play a far greater role in D.C. than the voucher program, with more than 25,000 students enrolled. The “wonderful new superintendent” (actually we call her “Chancellor”) that Obama mentioned, Michelle Rhee, definitely supports charter schools.

As for vouchers, last night her spokesperson said in a statement, “While Chancellor Rhee hasn’t taken a formal position on vouchers, she disagrees with the notion that vouchers are the remedy for repairing the city’s school system.”

However, Rhee does support McCain’s education policy over Obama’s, because it keeps No Child Left Behind, the cornerstone of Rhee’s performance-based evaluations.

So there you have it. If this has piqued your interest in D.C. schools, check out the profile the Atlantic just did on Rhee for a good history of DCPS and it’s current Chancellor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>