On March 10, 2009, President Barack Obama gave a major education speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In that speech, he declared that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.”
On March 13, 2009, Senate majority whip Dick Durbin (D- Ill.) wrote of the Washington, D.C., scholarship program for students to improve their education by attending the school of their choice in the Chicago Tribune: “Many benefiting from this program want no questions asked about its efficacy. I think the taxpayers deserve better.”
As it turns out, the U.S. Department of Education has subjected both school vouchers and the popular early education program “Head Start” to random assignment studies. The results are now in: the voucher program improves reading scores and students’ satisfaction with their schools. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program works, and it is one of the few programs funded by the Department of Education about which we have supportive evidence of the highest possible scientific quality.
The Department found, however, that Head Start fails to produce lasting student gains when subjected to a random assignment evaluation.
Some have written that all of President Obama’s promises come with expiration dates, but perhaps that is unfair. If so, President Obama could keep the promise he made before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce by supporting the idea that works and calling for all Head Start funding to be transferred into the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
After all, as Senator Durbin said, the taxpayers deserve better.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Head Start Basically Has No Effect
National Review: Vouching for D.C.
New York Times: President Obama’s remarks to Hispanic Chamber of Commerce