Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Writing in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan argued that the focus of school reform efforts should be doing what’s best for kids:

“We must close the achievement gap by pursuing what works best for kids, regardless of ideology. In the path to a better education system, that’s the only test that really matters.”

That’s refreshing to hear, since politics too often gets in the way of reforms that work best for children. But at this point, how can anyone take Secretary Duncan at his word?

After all, the Education Department has worked to end the D.C. Opportunity scholarship program on his watch despite clear empirical evidence that the program is helping kids learn. A federally-mandated study found that scholarship students are scoring higher on reading tests than their peers who remained in public school. Kids who have been using the scholarships the longest have made the equivalent of nearly two years worth of academic gains in reading more than their peers who didn’t get scholarships.

Yet just a week after this study was released the Department of Education sent a letter to 200 low-income families in D.C. informing them that their kids were no longer eligible for scholarships that they had been awarded since Congress has scheduled the program to end in 2010. So much for “pursuing what works for kids, regardless of ideology.”

If Secretary Duncan wants to regain credibility as a supporter of evidence-based reform, there’s an easy solution. He can listen to Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Collins and correct the mistake of pulling kids’ scholarships, and then join others in supporting the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program’s continuation and expansion.