A report came out recently indicating that public school students perform as well or better than private school students with similar backgrounds, but you would never know it by visiting the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site. The department did all it could to bury the news.
The report had been commissioned by the department and was eagerly awaited by education researchers. When the results failed to jibe with the Bush administration’s pro-privatization bent, the department resorted to a common tactic: Department staffers released the report late on Friday afternoon with no fanfare and ran home for the weekend.
The gambit almost worked, but The New York Times got wind of the report and ran a front-page story about it the next day, highlighting the curious fact of its Friday release.
Observed The Times, “Its release, on a summer Friday, was made without a news conference or comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the union for millions of teachers, said the findings showed that public schools were ‘doing an outstanding job’ and that if the results had been favorable to private schools, ‘there would have been press conferences and glowing statements about private schools.’”
The report compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools. It was conducted under the auspices of the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the Education Department, and a private group, the Educational Testing Service. It went through a long peer-review process.
Ironically, while the Education Department issued no press releases or public statements about the report, its Web site at the same time highlighted fawning comments about Catholic schools Spellings made on July 15 to the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education.
Adding insult to injury, just days after the report was issued, Spellings and voucher advocates in the House and Senate called a press conference to announce they will introduce legislation to establish a nationwide voucher plan to get kids out of “failing” public schools.
Spellings insisted there was no cover-up, but her explanation for why the report was downplayed hardly put her in a favorable light. As the Associated Press reported, “Spellings said she first learned about the study – one produced by the Education Department’s research arm – by reading about it in the newspaper. She said the agency must improve the way it releases such reports. But she rejected any suggestion that the department buried the study because it put public schools in a favorable light compared to private ones.”