Monday, May 4, 2015

School reform for rural America

Innovate with charter schools, Dan Fishman recommends, and expand career and technical education.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

These teachers deserve our appreciation

Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to celebrate the 3.5 million schoolteachers in this country, including some 400,000 working in private schools. But as I point out today in the Tulsa World, there are hundreds of thousands more teachers who also deserve our gratitude—teachers who are building human capital without making any demands on the public fisc. I invite you to read about them here.

Friday, May 1, 2015

'Two Tulsa teachers suspended amid cheating allegations'

Andrea Eger has the story.

Five questions for school-choice foes

Earlier this year, Tyler Bridges, the assistant superintendent of the Clinton Public Schools, posed some thoughtful questions regarding parental choice in education ("My Top 10 Unanswered #schoolchoice Questions"). I don't know if any other school-choice supporters took a stab at answering Bridges' questions, but former OCPA research assistant Patrick Gibbons did so here.

As it happens, over time I have come up with some questions of my own. Here are five questions that I'm hoping some school-choice opponents can answer.

(1) It is often said that Oklahoma's public education system is equipped with built-in accountability. Now if that simply means the system has rules and regulations, then I understand the point and cheerfully grant it. But for many of us, the concept of accountability means more than that. If the food is terrible, for example, the waiter brings us another meal or we don't have to pay. If it happens time and time again, the cook gets fired. In short, someone is accountable. Thus, when a longtime Oklahoma educator with a doctorate in education reminds us that "more than 20 percent of our state's population, or nearly 400,000 people, can't read," many of us wonder: Did some teachers or administrators get fired? Did schools close? Did taxpayers get their money back?

And so my first question is: What exactly is meant by the claim that public schools are accountable?

(2) Some supporters of the current public education system are opposed to school choice for financial reasons. As Keith Ballard recently put it, "the first 500 kids alone that go to a private school" are going to take $1 million out of the Tulsa Public Schools. This is harmful, the thinking goes, because schools have fixed costs. As one OEA official explained, "Whether a class has 10 children, 15 children, or 30, you still have to build classrooms, pay the electric bill, buy the school bus, and hire cafeteria staff."

My second question is this: Given this prevalence of fixed costs, as public education enrollment increases (whether by 15 students or 500 students or 5,000 students), why should policymakers provide additional funding for that enrollment growth?

(3) Whether intentionally or not, the people running the public schools sometimes give off the vibe that lots of people would exit their schools if given a choice. For example, Keith Ballard, mentioning "the first 500 kids alone" who leave, said ESAs would have "a disastrous effect on public schools." (The first 500? What, there will be more?) For his part, Joe Siano predicted that ESAs "will harm our public schools beyond the point of no return." This lack of confidence in one's own product is more than a little unsettling to parents and taxpayers.

So my third question is one that Isabel Paterson asked more than 70 years ago: "Do you think nobody would willingly entrust his children to you to pay you for teaching them?"

(4) I've seen various references to "corporate reformers" or "corporate raiders" or "corporate interests" that are hungry for profit. Now, I assume we're not talking about these companies which profit from public education. I at one time assumed that the corporate interests being referred to were in the charter-school sector. But then I read a comment by activist Angela Clark Little, who said of voucher programs: "What they are about is making money…lots of it. Big money, lack of transparency and accountability, and legislators collaborating with big business." (This I do not understand, since there are roughly 50 nonprofit schools participating in Oklahoma’s voucher program, none of which are big businesses making big money.)

So my fourth question is: What are the names of these corporations?

(5) Some have argued that lawmakers should not consider parental-choice measures until public education is "adequately funded." I infer from this argument that Oklahoma's $8,804 per student is inadequate. But it's hard to know exactly what is adequate. School-choice opponents in the District of Columbia, for example, make the case that nearly $30,000 per student is inadequate. One Oklahoma superintendent believes "there has never been enough revenue for public education, and there never will be," which could lead some to conclude that $300,000 per student would be inadequate.

So my fifth question is: At what level of per-pupil funding will Oklahoma's education system be adequately funded?

'Tulsa Honors Academy raises the standard for public education in east Tulsa'

Camile Rutherford has the story.

Tulsa investigation into record-tampering continues

"It has been nine months since teachers complained to Tulsa's Channel 8 saying they'd witnessed improper grade and attendance record changes," KTUL reports.

Were suspicious test scores investigated in Oklahoma?

That's a question Arthur Kane explores over at Oklahoma Watchdog.

Kane's reporting grows out of the Atlanta cheating scandal, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first broke in 2008. The newspaper subsequently found "suspicious test scores" nationwide—including in Oklahoma. In 2012 both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and teacher union president Randi Weingarten said these suspicious scores were concerning. 

Janet Barresi, who was state superintendent in 2012, looked into the matter and consulted with school administrators. In addition, one would hope the local school districts themselves—especially those where the odds of the results occurring by chance were less than one in 1,000—would want to perform their own investigations so they could clear their names. 

In the end, the main thing for parents and taxpayers is to get some answers. Whether cheating is a huge problem or a mild problem or barely a problem at all, people need to know.

Oklahoma's private colleges speak up for Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships

Today in The Journal Record, OCPA president Michael Carnuccio lauds Oklahoma’s private colleges and universities for speaking up on behalf of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

How to fix public schools

The question is often asked, “How do we fix public schools?”

Dr. Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas, has an innovative answer: “We can fix schools by going around them.”

“We can expand access to other educational options, including charter schools, voucher schools, tax-credit schools, ESAs, digital schooling, home-schooling, and hybrid schools,” he says. “We can also expand access to enriching non-school activities, like museums, theaters, historical sites, summer camps, and after-school programs.”

“Reformers should concentrate their energy on all of these non-traditional-school efforts and stop trying so hard to fix traditional public schools.”

Stop trying to fix traditional public schools? Why would he say such a thing?

Well, “the main reason we should stop focusing on fixing traditional public schools is that, for the most part, they don’t want to be fixed,” he says. “The people who make their living off of those schools have reasons for wanting schools to be as they are and have enormous political resources to fend off efforts to fundamentally change things.”

Professor Greene, who earned his Ph.D. in political science at Harvard, argues that “trying to impose reforms like merit pay, centralized systems of teacher evaluation, new standards, new curriculum, new pedagogy, etc. on unwilling schools is largely a futile exercise. They have the political resources to block, dilute, or co-opt these efforts in most instances.”

The best way to fix traditional public schools is to give parents more educational options. Because the truth is that school choice improves public schools. Repeat: school choice improves public schools.

Dr. Greg Forster, who agrees that we should fix public schools by not fixing them, recently surveyed the empirical research on school choice. He found that “23 empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.”

Giving parents more options really shouldn’t be controversial. After all, as Professor Greene has perceptively noted, in a free society the government rightly defers to parents when it comes to raising their children. And since education is simply a subcategory of parenting, the government should defer to parents when it comes to educating their children.

In the end, “public education” is not about propping up a monopoly. The goal of public education is an educated public—regardless of where that education takes place. Oklahoma parents should be empowered to choose among various delivery mechanisms.

Professor Greene acknowledges that his recommendation to fix schools by not fixing schools “sounds like abandoning the millions of children who remain in those schools”—but he says that is not the case.

“Just as starving children in Africa are not helped by our finishing all of the food on our plates, our futile efforts to impose centralized quick-fixes do not actually help those millions in traditional public schools. The measure of a desirable reform should not be the extent to which it makes us feel like at least we are trying, even if those efforts are counter-productive.”

In the end, it is parents—not government officials—who have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Let’s empower parents with educational choices, so that every child has an opportunity to receive an effective education that prepares them for life.

Choctaw High School teacher arrested on rape complaint has the story.

There is no teacher shortage in Oklahoma

Gallup tells us that Americans' confidence in the media's ability to report the news "fully, accurately, and fairly" is at an all-time low. One reason for this is that too many reporters, rather than writing for their customers, are simply doing conventional center-left stenography for their sources (often sources in government). Reporters on the education beat are particularly prone to this, as witness the steady drumbeat of uncritical reporting about Oklahoma's "teacher shortage."

Unlike many reporters, Andrew Spiropoulos has seen it all before and is not swept up in the teacher-shortage alarmism. Spiropoulos is the Robert S. Kerr Senior Professor of Constitutional Law at Oklahoma City University and a former senior counselor to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Oklahoma. As he writes today in The Journal Record,
A classic move of the partisan policy wonk is to stake your argument on a number that, to the uninformed, sounds impressive, but, once seen in the proper context, leads sensible people to reach the opposite conclusion. For example, 800 state teacher openings sounds high, but not when you know there are more than 40,000 Oklahoma public school teachers. Similarly, reading that there were 100 openings in Tulsa on July 30 causes concern, but when compared to the district’s nearly 3,000 teachers, you understand that it reflects a reasonable vacancy rate. Look, in any organization, you are going to have turnover. Some people retire, and others will resign, often at the last minute. Life refuses to adhere to the calendar, even the school one. 
The critical fact ignored or concealed by the myth makers is that each year Oklahoma teacher education programs produce many more new teachers than the number of open jobs. (Annually, the United States produces two-and-a-half times the number of new teachers it needs—and our state produces even more of a surplus.) Indeed, one of the principal reasons for low teacher salaries in Oklahoma, and elsewhere, is the glut of teachers on the market. 
The real problem with mythological arguments is that relying on them leads to poor public policy choices. There’s no doubt that there are some positions that, no matter how large the teacher surplus, are difficult to fill. Teachers fight over positions in the suburbs, but avoid troubled urban schools and isolated rural ones. Teachers with particular skills, including training in special and bilingual education, as well as those with real math and science degrees, are in high demand. We don’t need to raise the salaries of all teachers to reduce vacancies—we need to target our resources toward recruiting the teachers we really need.
I encourage you to read his entire article here. And while you're at it, check out Greg Forster's latest article for OCPA. "As for the so-called teacher shortage," he writes, "the unions have been inventing stories about a teacher shortage consistently for decades. The number of teachers can go up or down, it doesn’t matter; there’s always a shortage. If so, the best thing we can do is move students out of public schools, where the teaching profession is stymied by numerous union-backed barriers to entry, and into private schools that are free to hire talented young people into the profession."

Or as OCPA economist Wendy Warcholik recently argued in the Tulsa World, "the only real solution is to break up the monopoly by expanding school-choice opportunities."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

School choice mythbusting (cont'd)

"For 13 years, I've been a researcher in the school choice movement, and from day one the most important part of the job has been mythbusting," Greg Forster writes in the new issue of Perspective. "Ask any other researcher in this field and he’ll say the same. There’s no other issue in American politics where one side has built its case so thoroughly upon untrue factual statements. It seems like no media story on this topic can get by without repeating these myths as facts. It never stops."

Because the myths never stop ("public schools welcome all children," for example, and "the research on school vouchers is mixed")—and because it's been a while since Jay Greene and Marcus Winters last did some mythbusting in Oklahoma—Forster's contribution is most welcome. I encourage you to read it here.

Let's foster better education

"If Oklahoma is going to adopt sweeping reforms to serve foster children better," Greg Forster writes, "it shouldn't just think about homes. It should think about schools. As state policymakers scrounge to find $150 million to implement a proposed plan to reform the foster care system, they should also implement a policy which would actually save money. By doing so, they could revolutionize life for some of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children."