Not Vouching for Arne Duncan

Last month, your U. S. Congress pulled funding for the modest "Opportunity Scholarship" voucher program in the District of Columbia, which kicked in up to $7500 per year for about 1,700 low-income D. C. kids to attend private schools. The deed was done via a amendment from Illinois Senator "Dick" Durbin inserted into the $410 billion "Omnibus" spending bill.

Even a small program like this is anathema to the government-school establishment, who rely on having a lot of economically-captive "customers", and (probably correctly) see competition from private schools as an economic threat. (One of the compassionate Senators that followed teacher-union orders to vote against the program was NH's own Senator Shaheen.)

Things got more interesting after the vote; a legally-required study of the effectiveness of the voucher program was released last Friday (traditionally a day to dump news to which you don't want people paying a lot of attention). According to the Washington Post's Saturday article:

A U.S. Education Department study released yesterday found that District students who were given vouchers to attend private schools outperformed public school peers on reading tests, findings likely to reignite debate over the fate of the controversial program.
Of course, that news came way too late to affect any congressional votes; it would have made it very embarrassing for those who pledged to support "education reform that works" to vote against—y'know—education reform that works.

Some—specifically, some who thought about it for more than a few seconds—questioned the timing. The WSJ pointed out the "scandalous" fact that the results of that study had been known for months.

Voucher recipients were tested last spring. The scores were analyzed in the late summer and early fall, and in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year.
The WSJ also asserted that they tried, without success, to get Education Secretary Arne Duncan to answer questions about the timing of the report's release:
Mr. Duncan's office spurned our repeated calls and emails asking what and when he and his aides knew about these results. We do know the Administration prohibited anyone involved with the evaluation from discussing it publicly. You'd think we were talking about nuclear secrets, not about a taxpayer-funded pilot program. A reasonable conclusion is that Mr. Duncan's department didn't want proof of voucher success to interfere with Senator Dick Durbin's campaign to kill vouchers at the behest of the teachers unions.

But wait, it gets better. Arne Duncan sat down with the editorial board of the Denver Post a couple days ago. Unfortunately for him, David Harsanyi was among those present.

When I had the chance to ask Duncan--at a meeting of The Denver Post's editorial board Tuesday--whether he was alerted to this study before Congress eradicated the D.C. program, he offered an unequivocal "no." He then called the Journal editorial "fundamentally dishonest" and maintained that no one had even tried to contact him--despite the newspaper's contention that it did, repeatedly.
Harsanyi did his own checking:
When I called The Wall Street Journal, I discovered a different--that is, meticulously sourced and exceedingly convincing--story, including documented e-mail conversations between the author and higher-ups at his office.
Oops! Harsanyi's understandably irked at being lied to by a public servant.

Also weighing in, and worth reading, are two Cato@Liberty bloggers, Neal McCluskey and David Boaz, who find Duncan's anti-voucher arguments lame and fallacious. I liked this, from Boaz:

But note also: Duncan says that he wants to "help all those kids . . . by . . . coming back with dramatically better schools." But he ran the Chicago schools for seven years, and he was not able to make a single school good enough for Barack and Michelle Obama to send their own children there.
McCluskey's post is long and thoughtful, and it's hard to disagree with his conclusion:
Barack Obama and Arne Duncan are guilty of too successfully portraying themselves as something different, as people above political reality who can and will implement enlightened policies no matter what. For this they deserve to be taken to task. But they are not, ultimately, to blame for yet more empty promises; political reality almost requires such deception. No, government education itself - and too many people's blind fealty to it - is the root of our education evil.