Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ed secretary: Consider school choice

Business as usual ain't gonna cut it, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told the members of a joint House and Senate Education Committee meeting this morning. "The same old thing isn't going to get it done," she said. "We need to look at things like charter schools and school choice -- a lot of things that are not business as usual."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oklahoma educrats full of hot air

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings once said, "School choice is part of the strategy to give every child an excellent education."

Secretary Spellings will be the featured speaker tomorrow at a joint meeting of the Oklahoma House and Senate Education Committees. One of the reasons choice is so important -- and one hopes Secretary Spellings will mention this tomorrow -- is that, as Kevin Carey has pointed out, the folks in charge of Oklahoma's government-run schools aren't leveling with parents when it comes to school performance. Mr. Carey is the author of the OCPA study Hot Air: How Oklahoma Inflates Its Educational Progress Under No Child Left Behind.

For example, according to Mapping Oklahoma's Educational Progress 2008, a new publication from the U.S. Department of Education, only 27 percent of Oklahoma's fourth-graders are proficient in reading. But Oklahoma's education officials would have you believe an astonishing 88 percent of our fourth-graders are proficient in reading. They are full of hot air, as you will see if you read Mr. Carey's report.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Next argument, please

In a letter to the editor published today in The Oklahoman, labor union official Jamie McCoy of Midwest City writes:

In "Bipartisanship for the children” (Opinion, Feb. 10), Brandon Dutcher is again demonstrating his persistence to push for vouchers and tax credits. Senate Bill 2148 is promoting itself as the "Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act." The bill would give money back to any Oklahoma taxpayer who donates money to fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.

It sounds good, but vouchers or tax credits reduce the resources available to ensure great public schools for every child. Our per-pupil expenditures are already among the lowest in the country. Dutcher continues to suggest limiting the funding for public education is good for Oklahoma.

It's hard for me, as an Oklahoma teacher, to understand how our legislators can justify taking away tax money that funds a public education offered to every child.

If McCoy truly is concerned about "per-pupil expenditures," one wonders why she didn't do even basic research on the tax-credit plan before denouncing it. She would have discovered that, um, per-pupil expenditures would increase, not decrease, under the plan. As Dr. Susan Aud explains:

When a student uses school choice, the local public school district no longer needs to pay the instructional costs associated with that student, but it does not lose all of its per-student revenue, because some revenue does not vary with enrollment levels. Thus, school choice produces a positive fiscal impact for school districts as well as for state budgets. ... Instructional spending per student has consistently gone up in all affected public school districts and states. School choice has not prevented those states and districts from spending more on the students who remain in public schools.

Indeed, accountant and OCPA research fellow Steve Anderson, formerly a state-certified teacher with 17 teaching certifications, has prepared a spreadsheet showing that under the plan McCoy denounces, expenditures would increase by more than $200 per pupil -- and that's if only 2,500 scholarships were granted. The per-pupil expenditure would rise with each additional scholarship granted.

School choice for autistic children

"Improved education for autistic children is the goal of a bill being considered in the Oklahoma Legislature," the Associated Press reported yesterday. "The bill filed by Senator Mary Easley is intended to allow more children with this developmental disorder to be included in regular classrooms and to give more support and training to teachers to make this happen."

Here's a better idea: Use vouchers or tax credits to help children with autism and other special needs, as Ohio and Utah are doing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

'School competition needs a push'

Charter schools "fill an important niche for families who want to stay in public schools but aren't happy with the traditional options," the state's largest newspaper editorialized today.

As we've noted before, charter schools exist because traditional public schools aren't getting the job done. That competition is a sore spot with many public school officials, and no doubt a key reason why legislators are so reluctant to further open up the education market. They're hesitant to go against the wishes of educators in the areas they represent.

We understand lawmakers' unwillingness to move quickly when it comes to charter schools and other sticky issues. But they've been beyond cautious with charter schools, operating at a snail's pace. It's time they quit catering to the whims of those who prefer the status quo and let the market — namely parents — decide whether more charter schools are a good idea. Perhaps then, traditional public schools will fully embrace the challenge of improving education for all students instead of complaining about the competition.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Horace Mann prophecy watch

Horace Mann, generally regarded as the father of America’s current government school system, once prophesied: "Let the Common School ... be worked with the efficiency of which it is susceptible, and nine tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete; the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged."

How's that workin' out for you? The Edmond Sun recently informed us that even in white-bread Edmond the middle schools require policemen and "drug recognition experts." And today I had occasion to visit Edmond Memorial High School and had another eye-opening experience. The solitary sign on the door had a very simple message. Not "Welcome to Edmond Memorial, Home of the Bulldogs" or anything like that. Rather, they just got right to the point:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Let my people go

New from our friends at the Reason Foundation:

When looking for a symbol that epitomizes the way public schools are failing our kids, look no further than Locke High School in Watts. Approximately 75 percent of 9th graders entering Locke do not graduate in four years. And less than five percent of Locke students go on to attend four-year colleges. It's hard to learn when you fear for your life. In the 2003-2004 school year, there were three sex offenses, 17 robberies, 25 batteries, and 11 assaults with a deadly weapon at Locke. In a new video, Drew Carey tells the story of a group of parents and teachers rising up to free kids from this failing, violent school. Carey chronicles how the school's principal and a majority of Locke's teachers decide they've had enough and revolt against their powerful union and school district in hopes of giving these kids a better education. Over half of the school's tenured teachers signed a petition calling for Locke to be converted into a Green Dot charter school. In September 2007, the Los Angeles Board of Education agreed, voting 5-2 to let Green Dot schools take over Locke High School in the fall of 2008.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Barack Obama on school choice

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Obama said he has been a strong supporter of charter schools "as a way to foster competition in the public school system."

He pronounced himself a skeptic of private school vouchers ... but indicated he might be open to supporting voucher programs if studies show they work. "If there was any argument for vouchers, it was 'Let's see if the experiment works,'" Obama said. "And if it does, whatever my preconception, you do what's best for kids."

For (vocational) school choice

A certain Oklahoma vo-tech school with an ample marketing budget is using all sorts of media — mail pieces, ads at movie theaters, billboards, and more — to inform Oklahomans that "It's About Choice." Which got me to thinking ...

If the vo-techs are really this fond of giving people choices, I'm sure they'd be happy for the legislature to enact a voucher or tax-credit plan allowing Oklahomans to choose the public or private vocational school of their choice. Surely the public vo-techs — seeing as how they're the nation's best and all — wouldn't for a moment be afraid to compete for students. If the schools are as good as their tax-funded PR campaigns would suggest, surely they wouldn't have any trouble attracting students. Surely they could provide a better product at a lower cost than their private counterparts. Surely they would be eager to compete on a level playing field.

After all, "It's About Choice."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bad news (for now) on school choice

I went to Room 419-C of the state capitol building this morning expecting to hear debate on Senate Bill 2148, an important piece of school-choice legislation. Didn't happen. The bill didn't even receive a hearing.

Reflecting on this at the water cooler later this morning, I told one of my colleagues that poor kids will continue to be trapped in rotten (and unsafe) schools that aren't teaching them anything. The labor unions don't care -- they simply cannot allow any child to escape. What's worse, the unions don't even have the decency to be ashamed of themselves.

Stay tuned ...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Shumate on school choice

In the current issue of Perspective, state Rep. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa) discusses school choice with OCPA research fellow Patrick McGuigan.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

School choice bill to be considered Monday

Senate Bill 2148, the school-choice legislation being sponsored by Sen. James Williamson and Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Monday, February 18 at 9:00 a.m. in Room 419-C of the state capitol building.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bipartisanship ... for the children

Everyone down the street at 23rd & Lincoln is talking about the need for bipartisanship. In this column in Sunday's Oklahoman, I make the case that a perfect place to start is with a school-choice bill authored by a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Washington U. in St. Louis to sponsor KIPP Academy

According to Monday's edition of Student Life, Washington University in St. Louis, a private institution, will sponsor a new St. Louis-area public charter middle school, the latest KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy, to open in the fall of 2009.

Trina Clark James of St. Louisans United to Attract KIPP told the paper, "These kids will learn about college and get the feeling that they will go to college.... To have a partnership with one of the top universities of this country, it makes it more real for them." KIPP spokesperson Debbie Fine said, "The primary mission is to get these kids to college and to prepare them for success in college life.... The basic premise is a lot of hard work to provide a high quality education."

If the middle school is successful, KIPP hopes to add an elementary and middle school in St. Louis.

KIPP has two charter middle schools in Oklahoma: KIPP Reach College Preparatory in Oklahoma City and KIPP Tulsa College Preparatory.

As of July 1, 2007, Oklahoma's comprehensive and regional state universities are eligible to sponsor charter schools in the larger school districts in the state's two largest counties; private colleges and universities are not permitted that opportunity. (Here is the Oklahoma State Department of Education's page on charter schools, with links to the applicable legislation.)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A school-choice progress report

Our friend Dan Lips, an education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation and co-author of the OCPA study "The Oklahoma Scholarship Tax Credit: Giving Parents Choices, Saving Taxpayers Money," gives a helpful big-picture overview of where things stand today.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Charter schools keep families in the city

To keep families in the center city, offer them real school choice. It's working in Cleveland:

When Citizens' Academy [a Cleveland charter school] surveyed its parents, more than 40 percent said the school -- consistently among the state's top performers -- played an integral role in their decision to remain in Cleveland. To Perry White, the East Side charter school's director, that means successful schools are as much an economic development issue as an education issue.

"To stem the exodus of families from Cleveland, we must leverage our best public schools -- charter and district -- as catalysts for creating neighborhoods of choice," White said. "The future of our city and region depends on it."

Josipa Peric can vouch for that. Peric, who works as a waitress, has a fourth-grader at Citizens'. Another son graduated from the school two years ago and was awarded a scholarship to attend University School, a prestigious private school.

Peric said she and her husband had planned to leave Cleveland and move to Eastlake with other Croatian immigrants. Through friends, they discovered Citizens' and transferred their two sons there from Catholic school. Now, they plan to stay in town and open a bakery here.

"We were planning to move, too, but the school is great," Peric said. "They are like family to us."

That kind of symbiotic relationship between parents and schools, which died in some neighborhoods decades ago, could be the greatest legacy of the charter movement.

When will business leaders and chambers of commerce in Oklahoma's big cities -- people with an economic interest in the prosperity of the inner city -- start putting the pressure on our public school boards to be more hospitable to charter schools and on our legislators to promote school choice?

(Cross-posted from BatesLine.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bipartisan school-choice effort underway

A conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat are teaming up to help children.

State Sen. James Williamson (R-Tulsa) and state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre (D-Tulsa) have introduced Senate Bill 2148, the Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act. The bill would allow a tax credit for any Oklahoma taxpayer who makes a contribution to a charitable organization which provides educational scholarships to low-income students to cover all or part of their tuition, fees, and transportation costs at a qualified private school.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, similar scholarship tax credit laws already exist in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

Sen. Williamson, the Senate’s Republican leader emeritus, holds a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Tulsa and taught social studies in the Tulsa Public Schools. He also holds a law degree from the University of Tulsa and has practiced law in Tulsa for nearly 30 years.

Sen. Eason McIntyre, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Oklahoma, worked for 31 years in the child welfare division of the state Department of Human Services. She also served on the Tulsa Public Schools board of education for 16 years, serving two years as president.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Opportunities and blessings in school choice

[This article by Patrick B. McGuigan appears in the February 2008 issue of Perspective, published by OCPA.]

During last year's legislative session, with his passionate advocacy of Oklahoma's charter schools and co-sponsorship of a bill to make it easier to support such institutions, Tulsa Democrat Rep. Jabar Shumate drew a lot of attention. Some of it was favorable, some of it highly critical from certain public school advocates.

In a recent interview, he explained his motivations for pushing the new charter law, which he described as "a great opportunity and a blessing in so many ways." Shumate said, "My political mentor and dear friend, David Boren, always modeled for me ways to find the middle ground, to work together with others for the common good. I watched him as a student, then as an employee of his at the University of Oklahoma."

Shumate reflected, "I have always based my politics, my work in public life, on working from the middle. This issue was a chance to do that, to make that real. Both Democrats and Republicans, in my experience, want strong education. I applaud my Republican friends for what they've done in the charter schools area. I must say I have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in politics. I am results-oriented.

"As I looked at this issue in terms of my district, I saw charter schools where the lights are on, when children are learning and where they are safe. I was not afraid at all of fighting for those kids and those schools. I saw too many children in neighborhoods in Tulsa, and elsewhere today, who are going to schools that were not doing them any good. They are not doing those kids any justice, any good in terms of reaching their potential, of finding all their options, of achieving what they can achieve."

For these reasons, he said, "Honestly, defending charter schools and fighting for that bill last year was a no-brainer for me. It was the right kind of issue for my people in Tulsa, and it was a way to put into motion the things that David Boren taught me."

Rep. Shumate said he was disappointed and upset with the decision of the Tulsa Public Schools system to file a lawsuit challenging that new public charter schools law. He called the litigation "very sad. First of all, the law we passed is perfectly good law. It will withstand this legal challenge. In some ways, this lawsuit will hurt charter schools for a time, because it's a scare tactic and we'll be dealing with question marks about these schools. That's not good. This is the epitome of a frivolous lawsuit. It is ludicrous and ridiculous."

"The folks that lose out are the kids," Shumate continued. "With this lawsuit by the Tulsa Public Schools, there is a law firm that will make a lot of money. The district's position is one-sided. They're acting in a vacuum and doing this simply because they can. The lawsuit will take money away from curriculum enhancement, from teacher training, from resources and research that could help our kids.

"By definition, the charter school bill is a middle ground, it is a compromise among all of us who worked for it. I think it's a sad day to look at the lawsuit that was filed. The bill would not have passed, it could never have become law without compromise. The district is turning away from that compromise, they have no broad approach to the issue. This is crying sour grapes, for no reason. It was a bill—something everyone could live with. In the end, it will be upheld."

I asked Shumate why, if the focus in education policy should be on children, it is various systems that get most of the attention and time in public discussion and debate. He answered, "That is an excellent question. In educational systems, you have a large fight, you have large fights over dollars. When it's about dollars, and it's about taxpayer dollars, you get into politics."

When that happens, he said, "People resort to name-calling and fall into a mindset of 'I, me and mine.' They disregard or disconnect form what we should be about, which is the kids. A good example is what happened in Tulsa after our discussion and after the new law that I supported. We've got lawsuits over charters and a mindset among opponents of those schools, people who are saying, 'That's my money.'

"We don't think enough about why we have that money. It's not for us, it's not for systems or individuals, it's for the education of our children. Nobody thinks about this. When I hear Tulsa opponents of charter schools say that the charter schools are taking away 'our money,' I point out to them that they should be a lot more worried about Owasso or Jenks, where our kids have already gone."

If one reform other than additional money could be made to empower kids, parents, and schools in public education, I asked, what would that one reform be? Shumate answered, "From the perspective of my legislative district, I would put more power in the hands of principals. I would allow autonomy, strength and the ability to change things for the better at the individual school level."

He elaborated, "As for parents, they need and deserve autonomy. If they are given more power, more control over their lives and over the education of their children, they will have more incentive to get involved. ... I would promote site-based management to give more power to principals and greater support to community leaders and parents to take our schools forward."

Asked for his perspective on other, broader forms of school choice — vouchers, tax credits, and similar proposals — Rep. Shumate replied, "I'll be frank with you. This is a rough discussion, this issue. As we look at anything beyond charter schools, you almost get a brick wall put in front of you. I am at the point of studying options beyond charter schools. My dilemma is that I don't want to advance things that would lead kids to, in fact, leave our neighborhoods in Tulsa, and not be able to stay at schools there in their, in our, neighborhood."

He continued, "Would I have scads of kids leaving north Tulsa to go to Cascia Hall? If you don't have neighborhoods with schools, then neighborhoods will die. I want kids to be educated within the community, so I'm in a careful and 'studying' approach."

There is new legislation supportive of expanded school choice options, a bill introduced this session by state Sen. James Williamson, a Tulsa Republican, and state Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre, a Tulsa Democrat. Asked to comment on the legislation, Rep. Shumate replied, "I have heard of Sen. Williamson's bill and indeed we have discussed it. It has piqued my interest. My question to him was: 'How do we not get into a situation where we don't first empower kids to look within their district?' I want to create means to help kids get a good education within our community. I would be concerned if the first result was for kids to leave to get their education. But I am very interested in what Sen. Williamson is proposing."

Some voices, including former House Speaker Lance Cargill (R-Harrah), have called school choice "the greatest civil rights issue of our time." Asked to respond, Rep. Shumate replied with laughter: "Actually, I think that Lance Cargill stole that line from me, after I stole it from someone else!"

He continued, "We hope in our educational system to give young people the chance to reach their potential. When we think about civil rights, about a person's advancement and success in life, much of all that depends on the ability to be, and to do, your very best. You must have the confidence to reach up, youngsters need confidence to reach their potential.

"My response on that issue is that every time we help move a bit further on the march to justice, we have done something good. No one rewards mediocrity or failures. To me, charters and perhaps some other forms of school choice are a way to advance civil rights. Whether kids are rich or poor or have some other circumstance, it seems to me that choice can serve us. Educational freedom and choice represent a great civil rights challenge we face today."

OCPA research fellow Patrick McGuigan (M.A. in history, Oklahoma State University) is a certified teacher with classroom instructional experience in urban schools. He is also an editor at The City Sentinel in Oklahoma City.