Not Vexed By Vouchers: President Obama Doesn’t Buy ‘School Choice’ Propaganda

Obama didn’t buy what O’Reilly was selling, and with good reason. Vouchers don’t work in D.C. Vouchers don’t work in other places, either.

A lot of people are fooled by pro-voucher propaganda, but we’re pleased to note that President Barack Obama isn’t among them.

In a recent sit-down interview with Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, Obama didn’t fall for any of O’Reilly’s assertions about “school choice.”

Obama and O’Reilly briefly discussed the federally funded Washington, D.C., voucher program – which, Obama correctly acknowledged, has shown no signs of improving education for the students who participate in it.

Here’s the play-by-play:

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.

OBAMA: Oh, it has been tried; it’s been tried in Milwaukee, it’s been tried right here in D.C.

O’REILLY: And it worked here.

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: You would revisit that? I just think — I used be, teach in a Catholic school, and I just know —

OBAMA: Bill, you know…I’ve taken a look at it. As a general proposition, vouchers have not significantly improved the performance of kids that are in these poorest communities.

At that point, as The Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple pointed out, O’Reilly abandoned his line of questioning on vouchers perhaps because he didn’t have the facts to back up his points. (After all, teaching at a Catholic school – as the Post said O’Reilly did from 1970-1972 – hardly makes one an expert on vouchers.)

Even though Obama didn’t go into too many details about the failures of the D.C. voucher scheme, there is plenty of evidence to show they haven’t worked.   

A 2010 Department of Education study found “no conclusive evidence that the [D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program] affected student achievement.”

The D.C. program is also a clear bailout for struggling Catholic schools. In 2012, the Post reported that of about 1,500 voucher students, “more than half attend Catholic schools.…”

But vouchers aren’t subsidizing Christian schools exclusively. That same Post investigation found that one voucher school, the Muhammad University of Islam, is unaccredited and affiliated with the separatist and anti-Semi­tic Nation of Islam.

The school (if you can call it that) is found on the second floor of a one-time residential property. About one-third of its 55 students receive vouchers, and most cannot afford the annual tuition cost of $5,335. Those who can’t pay the full amount are asked to raise money for the school by selling things like pizza and coffee, The Post said.

Worst of all, the Muhammad University of Islam is reportedly lacking in basic hygiene. Its only bathroom reportedly had “a floor blackened with dirt and a sink coated in grime. The bathtub was filled with paint cans and cleaning supplies concealed by a curtain.”

Beyond the problem of the D.C. program using taxpayer dollars to subsidize religious instruction, the program has been rife with education of questionable value. The Post reported last year that one voucher school, the Academy for Ideal Education, bases its educational model in part on something called “Suggestopedia.” The underlying theory is that students can learn by tapping into the power of suggestion. 

Obama didn’t buy what O’Reilly was selling, and with good reason. Vouchers don’t work in D.C. Vouchers don’t work in other places, either.

We don’t need to simply “try it” when it comes to vouchers, as O’Reilly suggests. Many states have already given vouchers a shot, and it’s clear they don’t work.

Instead, let’s just dump them.