President Obama often says things about school reform that suggest he hasn’t read up on the effects of his policies, but he knew his stuff on vouchers cold during an interview with Bill O’Reilly, effectively smacking down the conservative commentator’s wishful thinking with the facts.
The Obama administration has steadfastly opposed vouchers, which use public money for families to pay for private school tuition, even while it has supported other reforms that critics say are leading to the privatization of public education.
The gap between his rhetoric and reality is often stark. In his recent State of the Union address, for example, Obama criticized standardized tests in which kids simply “fill in a bubble” without noting that it is his Education Department’s policies that have led to their growth in number and importance in public schools.
But in an interview with O’Reilly on Sunday, Obama was right about the research on voucher programs, including on the only federally funded program, in Washington D.C. Though supporters say voucher programs help student achievement, and the D.C. program in particular, a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office late last year concluded that it lacks the “financial systems, controls, policies, and procedures” to ensure that federal funds are being spent legally, and it said the U.S. Education Department has not exercised its oversight responsibilities well enough.
From the Fox News website, here’s the back and forth between the president and O’Reilly about education:
O’REILLY – The secret to getting a je — good job is education. And in these chaotic families, the children aren’t well-educated because it isn’t — it isn’t, um, encouraged at home as much as it is in other precincts. Now, school vouchers is a way to level the playing field. Why do you oppose school vouchers when it would give poor people a chance to go to better schools?
PRESIDENT OBAMA – Actually — every study that’s been done on school vouchers, Bill, says that it has very limited impact if any —
O’REILLY – Try it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA – On — it has been tried, it’s been tried in Milwaukee, it’s been tried right here in DC —
O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – And it worked here.
PRESIDENT OBAMA – No, actually it didn’t. When you end up taking a look at it, it didn’t actually make that much of a difference. So what we have been supportive of is, uh, something called charters. Which, within the public school system gives the opportunity for creative experiments by teachers, by principals to-to start schools that have a different approach. And —
O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – You would revisit that? I-I just think — I used be, teach in a Catholic school, a-and I just know —
PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Bill — you know, I — I’ve taken, I’ve taken — I’ve taken a look at it. As a general proposition, vouchers has not significantly improved the performance of kids that are in these poorest communities —
O’REILLY [OVERLAP] [INAUDIBLE] –
PRESIDENT OBAMA – Some charters — some charters are doing great. Some Catholic schools do a great job, but what we have to do is make sure every child —
O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – I got three more questions.
PRESIDENT OBAMA – Go ahead.