The Department of Education released a handbook last week aimed at helping parents make informed decisions when choosing schools for their children. But some felt the agency itself could have made a better choice when assembling a panel of parents to talk about the virtues of school choice.
Featured on the five-member panel were parents who had helped lead the fights in their respective cities for publicly financed private school vouchers in the District of Columbia and Milwaukee, as well as parents with children using such tuition vouchers in Cleveland and the nation’s capital.
The fifth parent enrolled her children in a charter school in Washington after consulting with D.C. Parents for School Choice, a group at the forefront of the successful fight last year to establish the city’s federally financed voucher program.
Panel members spoke passionately about their experiences in shopping for schools and their feelings on the need for parental choice. They also plugged the department’s new 43-page guide, “Choosing a School for Your Child.”
But the panel’s pro-voucher message raised concern among some of those on hand for the booklet’s April 12 unveiling at the Education Department’s Washington headquarters.
Susan Nogan, a senior policy analyst for the National Education Association, which strongly opposes vouchers, noted that the invitation to the event had highlighted the school choices available to families under the federal No Child Left Behind Act but made no mention of voucher programs.
Ms. Nogan said that “helping parents to make choices under No Child Left Behind did not seem to be the agenda of this panel.”
“It’s unfortunate that the department didn’t invite panelists who were qualified to speak about choices available under No Child Left Behind, since that was the stated topic of the event, and instead chose to use the opportunity to promote their ideological agenda,” she said.
Ms. Nogan did not criticize the booklet, though, calling it “reasonable.”
Published by the department’s office for innovation and improvement, the handbook gives parents a step-by-step checklist for selecting schools and provides thumbnail sketches of public and private schooling options.
Michael J. Petrilli, the office’s second in command, said in response to Ms. Nogan’s remarks that “panel members discussed choosing public schools, charter schools, private schools—they represented the full spectrum of the education system. It’s not factually correct to say that the parents only talked about vouchers.”