Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tulsa board chided for keeping charter schools suit alive

In a Friday editorial, the Oklahoman took the Tulsa school board to task for continuing its lawsuit against the state's charter school law. The TPS board claims the law is unconstitutional because it limits charter schools to certain parts of the state based on population and district size.

Charter schools exist because many parents and educators aren't happy with what they see at traditional schools. Some are in direct competition with traditional public schools; others have programs that serve students who have struggled in a traditional education setting. That's not to say all charter schools are perfect and a great fit for every student. But we believe the marketplace will sort the good from the bad, and parents ultimately will vote with their children's feet.

Charter schools were designed to be incubators for new ideas that could be replicated. Instead, we tend to hear excuses on why some of their innovations won't work in regular schools. Even Oklahoma City, which has been a more welcoming environment for charter schools than Tulsa, has had tense and sometimes hostile relationships with charter schools.

We said when the lawsuit was filed that it was a waste of money. It still is. Schools -- and school boards -- would do better to embrace the competition as an opportunity for students to receive a better education and a challenge to do better. That's not too much to ask.

The editorial refers to a December 15 attempt by TPS board members Brian Hunt and Lana Turner-Addison to drop the lawsuit. The motion failed by a 4-2 vote.

(Crossposted at BatesLine.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Horace Mann, homeschool dad

"We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools, not throwing our hands up and walking away from them," said President-elect Barack Obama, shortly before throwing up his hands and walking away from the D.C. public schools last month. This presumably wasn't too difficult for Obama, in that he already had experience in throwing up his hands and walking away from the Chicago public schools.

Of course Mr. Obama, a father of two, is merely the latest in a long line of public figures who champion public schools ... for other people's children. But until reading a new book by education professor Milton Gaither, I had no idea this grand tradition stretches all the way back to Horace Mann himself.

That's right, Horace Mann, generally regarded as the father of America's current public school system, was a homeschooler. "Ironically," Gaither writes, "some of the very people pushing so strongly for common schools that would raise the masses up ... were tutoring their own children at home out of a fear that these very masses would corrupt their own kids. One such individual was Horace Mann himself, whose wife Mary taught their three children at home even as he stumped the country preaching the common school. Mann's biographer Jonathan Messerli captures the irony well:
From a hundred platforms, Mann had lectured that the need for better schools was predicated upon the assumption that parents could no longer be entrusted to perform their traditional roles in moral training and that a more systematic approach with the public school was necessary. Now as a father, he fell back on the educational responsibilities of the family, hoping to make the fireside achieve for his own son what he wanted the schools to accomplish for others.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Attention! We stink at what we do!'

Education reporter Mike Antonucci nails it:
The people who collected $338 million this year for the specific purpose of getting higher salaries for teachers yesterday sent out a press release admitting they're no good at it, and haven't been for years.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

State budget shortfalls? School choice can help

The good news: Oklahoma state government will have less money to spend in the next budget year.

The better news: State lawmakers can help alleviate the budget shortfall by enacting school choice. "Lawmakers should take note of a state report from Florida," Cato's Adam Schaeffer writes, "that concludes Florida is saving millions of dollars with school choice. ... The Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability found that taxpayers saved about $39 million, close to 50 cents for ever dollar donated through Florida's education tax credit program last year. The report concludes much more could be saved if politicians expand the program and give families more choice."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

School choice works ...

... for the Obamas.

Quote of the day

"I don't know much about Arne Duncan, President-elect Obama's choice to be Secretary of Education," David Boaz writes this morning. "But I do note this: In seven years running the Chicago public schools, this longtime friend of Obama was apparently not able to produce a single public school that Obama considered good enough for his own children."

Friday, December 12, 2008

'School for $6 a month'

In a new commentary on, Chester Finn reports that "lots of needy kids are getting a decent education at an astoundingly low cost in spite of their governments' failure to provide anything of the sort."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What a surprise

The Chicago Public Schools weren't good enough for Barack Obama's children, and apparently they're not good enough for Rahm Emanuel's children, either.

The next frontier in school choice?

The venerable American Enterprise Institute hosts a discussion on tax credits Monday.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What the Big Three automakers could learn from public schools

Don't ask for a mere one-time bailout, Andrew Coulson says. Ask for permanent government ownership and control.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Private schools are regulated

"There is a widespread misperception that private schools avoid government oversight or are 'unregulated,'" the Friedman Foundation reports. But in fact, Oklahoma's private schools "are subject to a wide variety of laws and regulations that run the gamut from reasonable rules to ensure health and safety to unreasonable rules that interfere with school curricula, preventing schools from pursuing the educational approaches that work best for their students."

Black market alive and well

[Guest post by OCPA intern Emily Solomon]

The black market for school choice is still alive and well in Oklahoma.

In the December issue of Perspective, published by OCPA, Dr. Donald Tyler, pastor of Greater Grace in Tulsa, pointed out that in Tulsa, "Some kids are able, by using false addresses, to get into the better public schools -- Union or Jenks or Broken Arrow -- but there are kids who cannot go that direction. It's just awful to see the number stuck in an environment with not the best the teachers, not the best facilities, and not the best environment for them to learn and grow in."

Of course, it's not just Tulsa. Last year (and likely again this year), Edmond schools required enrollees to bring a utility bill on enrollment day to prove their residency within the district. This wouldn't be necessary if people weren't trying to cheat the system. But can you blame them? They just want what's best for their kids.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Nothing is forever

In a house editorial October 31, the weekly Oklahoma City newspaper Friday noted that
It is ironic how the industry and public in America shudder at the thought of government health care for everybody. We do not want socialized medicine. ... The further irony, that is never mentioned, is that, forever, we have had "socialized education." ... We don't even think about that. It's just a given.

In a letter to the editor published November 28, I wrote:

Thank you for your October 31 editorial reminding us that "forever, we have had 'socialized education.'" However, I want to take issue with that word "forever." In truth, America has a grand tradition, stretching back to colonial times, of educational freedom. As a matter of fact, it's a tradition that predates and is longer than our current tradition of delivering education through a government-owned-and-run monopoly.

Many people today are trying to roll back socialized education and regain a measure of that freedom, mainly through school-choice policies which empower parents to choose the safest and best schools for their children.

Big Labor is doing to education ...

... just what it did to the Big Three automakers.

The Truth about Teachers Unions from Union Facts on Vimeo.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Not your father's Senate

Sometimes life serves up delicious little morsels that need to be savored.

I realize that school choice still hasn't arrived in Oklahoma, but I ask you to ponder this (once unthinkable) factoid: Both the chairman and the vice chairman of the state Senate Education Committee are members of the group Oklahomans for School Choice.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What's next for school choice?

[Guest post by OCPA intern Emily Solomon]

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recently hosted a panel discussion that explored the future of school choice.

Since 1990, we have seen an 80 percent increase in the number of school choice programs in the United States. Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, believes that future expansion is inevitable. However, in order for expansion to occur, we must first realize the following:

· Vouchers are not an intervention; they’re an opportunity

· Parents choose schools holistically, so higher test scores are not the sole indicator of success

· School choice is about social justice and providing lower-income people with more opportunities

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Did Obama choose America's worst school?

Greg Forster is perplexed that Mr. and Mrs. Obama would pick Sidwell Friends, a "shockingly substandard school" (no unionized workforce, no collective bargaining, weak teacher benefits, and so on), "even though they had the opportunity to go with the nation's most lavishly funded and heavily unionized schools."
As patriotic Americans, how can we stand by while our president's family gets such substandard services?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Beyond mere slogans

The Tulsa World reports that state Sen. Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant) has filed legislation which would allow Oklahomans to purchase license plates bearing the motto "In God We Trust."

Sounds like a good plan to me. But as I've said before, suppose a teacher took that license plate off her car, brought it into the classroom, and hung it on the bulletin board. And suppose she said, "Students, you need to know that it is in God we trust. Really. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview, and in my classroom God’s Word is the interpretive principle of every subject."

That, of course, would not be permitted. Even if an individual teacher happens to trust in God, the schools themselves are agnostic as matter of law and public policy. In the ACLU we trust.

So here's my modest proposal this Advent season. The state Senate should pass Sen. Gumm's bill, but only after passing tax-credit legislation which would empower some children to attend private schools where "In God We Trust" is a day-to-day reality.

Slogans that will fit on a bumper sticker (or license plate) are all well and good. But let's actually empower Oklahoma youngsters to attend a school where they can learn to love the Lord their God with all their minds.