What Congressional pressure can accomplish

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews today engaged his colleague, Valerie Strauss, on the merits of Congressional pressure and school reform. While today’s Class Struggle headline¬†may lead the casual reader to wonder¬†if Mathews has now come to advocate for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship — he has not — the more cogent argument is a response to Strauss’ charge that Sen. Joseph Lieberman is “making a mockery of thoughtful school reform” by threatening to cut funds for D.C. schools if Congress fails to revive the Opportunity Scholarship.

Mathews writes:

Strauss quotes a study saying the voucher program, as it is called, has not raised student achievement. But she ignores the fact that another program imposed on the District by Congress 15 years ago, public charter schools, has had marked benefits for D.C. students. Two separate studies by the Washington Post, and other studies by independent scholars, have shown that D.C. public school students with the same backgrounds have done better in charters than in regular public schools.

That is not the case nationally. The results throughout the country show charters and regular schools making similar progress after you average out the many studies of the subject. But we are talking about D.C. schools. If Congress had not pressured a very reluctant D.C. school board to allow charters, the city’s overall achievement level would likely be worse now than it is.