Shirking the burden of proof

Last week, after the release of positive research findings on the impact of the DC OSP, the Chicago Tribune called out its own senator and the Secretary of Education:

Sen. Durbin, Secretary Duncan, the evidence is piling up on your desks. The burden of proof is squarely on you to prove why, after so few years, we should stop—and stop evaluating—a program that is showing certifiable prospects of changing the futures of disadvantaged kids.”

(Read the entire editorial here.)

This week, the Secretary’s department seems to have dismissed that responsibility.  In explaining the DoE’s recent decision not to admit new students into the program for 2009-2010, a spokesperson for Duncan told the Washington Post that he does not want to have new students begin a program that is in jeopardy, presumably so as not to disrupt their education too much.

This reasoning shows not proof but politics.  No one wants a child’s education to be unnecessarily fractured or disjointed, but the DoE’s decision will only be adding disruption for many families, especially given its timing.  Consider the following:

1. The DoE decision to decline new applicants came just one week after families with newly-eligible children had received letters encouraging them to apply for the scholarship.

2. The decision came after the DC public school “out of boundary” lottery was closed, and after the top charter schools were filled, leaving parents with even less choice than usual in their children’s education.

3. If rising kindergarteners aren’t able to join their siblings as scholarship recipients, families will face a difficult decision: try to juggle having children at two different schools, or remove older siblings from their preferred school and send all to the DC public school they had been trying to leave.  For those trying to make ends meet, running between multiple schools is often not just inconvenient–it’s an impossibility.

4. The decision came one week after the release of positive research findings about the DC OSP’s effect on student reading, leaving one to wonder exactly what kind of proof of success would be enough.

5. The decision disrupts the process that even Congressional opponents of the OSP had agreed on in the omnibus bill: continue the scholarships (including new applicants) for 2009-2010, and hold hearings this spring to examine the evidence for reauthorization.  Apparently giving the program a fair hearing is not what the DoE intends–at least, that will be the clear message coming from this abrupt discontinuation of new scholarships.

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