Friday, May 30, 2008

Educator-misconduct watch

According to a story today in The Oklahoman,
Ten states have taken action in recent months to crack down on sexually abusive teachers following a stream of arrests and reports that have documented the problem of educators victimizing students. ... They are focusing on an increasingly undeniable phenomenon: While the vast majority of America's roughly 3 million public school teachers are committed professionals, a disturbing number have engaged in sexual misconduct.

A recent analysis by the Associated Press found that "sexual conduct plagues U.S. schools" and suggests that sexual misconduct among male schoolteachers is at least as common as among male priests. A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study found that one in 10 public school students is sexually harassed or abused by a teacher or other school employee at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade.

School choice, not insurance mandates

The lead story in today's Oklahoman tells us that an Oklahoma family is moving to Ohio so it can participate in a special scholarship program for autistic children.

Rather than passing Nick's Law and driving up health insurance costs for Oklahomans, policy-makers should enact a scholarship program for autistic children.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tulsa charter faces TPS resistance to move to new sponsor

The Deborah Brown Community School, one of a tiny number of charter schools sponsored by Tulsa Public Schools, is seeking to end its contract with TPS a year early so they can operate under the sponsorship of Langston University. Recent legislation allows state colleges and universities to act as charter school sponsors, providing a bypass around uncooperative school boards. A majority of TPS board members are hostile to charter schools; in December, the board voted to challenge the constitutionality of the state's charter school law.

The Tulsa World reports today, in a front-page, above-the-fold story, that negotiations between Deborah Brown Community School and TPS attorneys have stalled. TPS wants reimbursement for DBCS's property, which was acquired with public funds, and the two sides cannot agree on a settlement amount.

Oklahoma school board members: The untouchables

Oklahoma voters need a way to dump lousy school board members. Case in point: Dennis McCord, president of the Welch School Board, who has been banned from school property by the superintendent for being a Sports Dad from Hell. Blogger and Welch HS alum Tyson Wynn reports that McCord is alleged to have cussed out coaches and threatened the superintendent over his kids' playing time. Despite unanimous censures from his fellow board members, McCord refuses to resign and nothing can be done to force him out, short of a criminal conviction. Patrons, students, teachers, and administrators seem to be stuck with McCord until his five-year term expires, but a grand jury petition is being circulated by an organization called Save Welch Schools in hopes of finding grounds to remove him. In the absence of full-fledged school choice, school board members should have to answer to voters more frequently than twice a decade, and in between elections recall should be an option.

Academic excellence

The Tulsa World reports today that the 12-member St. Pius X School middle school academic team won 21 consecutive competitions in Oklahoma and is now advancing to the first Junior National Academic Championship in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge

The newly minted graduates of this Tulsa high school have an invaluable possession: a Christian worldview.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Educator-misconduct watch

"A former high school principal and football coach at Midway High School in Council Hill is being ordered to stand trial on felony charges of having sex with two female students," The Oklahoman reports today. "Curtis Thomas Been faces 10 counts of lewd molestation, sodomy, second-degree rape and making indecent proposals to a child younger than 16. Two girls say they were 14 and 15 when they had sex with Been in his office and in the school's gym, weight room and cafeteria. Been denies the allegations and is suspended with pay from the school in Muskogee County."

A recent analysis by the Associated Press found that "sexual conduct plagues U.S. schools" and suggests that sexual misconduct among male schoolteachers is at least as common as among male priests. A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study found that one in 10 public school students is sexually harassed or abused by a teacher or other school employee at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade.

A 'milestone development'

"There has been a major development in the State of Georgia," conservative stalwart Paul Weyrich points out, "yet the so-called mainstream media has completely ignored it and even the alternative media hardly has covered it. This past week Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue signed into law the most expansive school-choice program in the nation."

"For many years the teachers unions used scare tactics to prevent school choice programs from enactment," Weyrich writes, but now "the public is able to see that union propaganda was a big lie. ...

"At a time when conservatives are in a funk, believing that nothing good is happening in America, it is time to celebrate this milestone development in Georgia. This is a victory not just for Georgians but for all parents who are concerned with the state of public education in these United States."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

'Devastating'

That's how the state's largest labor union describes the proposed New Hope Scholarship Act, which would have allowed roughly 0.16 percent of the state's public school students to attend private schools.

Think about that. It would be nothing short of "devastating" if 0.16 percent of the kids leave. The unions know what they know: Their product is unsatisfactory, and if students have a chance to escape, there's not much doubt that untold thousands will in fact try to escape.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lowering the bar

Yet another report shows how Oklahoma's education officials are lowering the bar and misleading taxpayers on student performance.

Todd Thomsen and new hope

In the face of massive misinformation being spread by the school-employee labor unions, last month Rep. Todd Thomsen (R-Ada) showed real courage and leadership in debating for and voting for a bill which would have given new hope to children trapped in the worst of the worst urban schools. This story in the Ada Evening News touches on Thomsen's vote for the New Hope Scholarship Act.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Horace Mann prophecy watch

Horace Mann, generally regarded as the father of America’s current public 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."

Not sure what he'd think of two elementary students in Enid bringing drugs (including marijuana) to school this week.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Anti-Catholic bigotry in Oklahoma's state constitution

Today's Washington Post reports that Florida voters will decide this fall whether to repeal that state's Blaine Amendment.
At stake is the Blaine Amendment, a type of law enacted in states about a century ago as an attempt by the country's Protestant majority to block government support for Catholic schools. The Blaine laws have long kept religious schools and, in some states such as Florida, many programs run by religiously affiliated organizations, away from the public coffers.

Unfortunately, this anti-Catholic bigotry is also written into Oklahoma's constitution. Until it is removed, school-choice proponents in Oklahoma would be well advised to continue going the tax-credit route.

Another school district snubs the labor union

Teachers in the Strother, Oklahoma school district have elected a non-union bargaining agent for upcoming negotiations, the Associated Press reports. "Strother is the fourth Oklahoma school district to decertify union representation. Last month, teachers in Dibble and Macomb decertified the teacher's union. Teachers in the Bridge Creek system were the first, decertifying the union in 2005."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

School-choice momentum continues

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue today signed a $50 million school-choice tax credit program into law. Georgia now joins five other states -- Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island -- which offer scholarship tax credits.

OU to sponsor charter school

Last week the OU regents approved an agreement to sponsor a charter school in south Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma gets an 'F' ...

... on its state proficiency standards.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

State GOP mentions school choice

In yesterday's e-mail I received the weekly update from the Oklahoma Republican Party, and I was pleased to see it cited favorably a recent column from Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner. "Our educational system is a national problem -- but one that calls for local solutions," Dr. Feulner says. "One approach is to provide school choice."

Hats off to the state GOP for giving this issue the attention it deserves. Now all we need is for Republican elected officials to get with the program.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Meaningless diplomas

An editorial in the Sunday Oklahoman pointed out some of the problems at Douglass High School.
Solid data is elusive, but [school principal Brian] Staples figures only about half of the students who started as freshmen four years ago will walk the stage later this month. Worse, he says, is that the school's average ACT score hovers in the 15 to 16 range. Translation: Even with a diploma in hand, many Douglass grads aren't ready for college or a decent job. That's a disgrace for which many are responsible.

"The old way of looking at high school just isn't good enough," he said. "A diploma isn't good enough. It's got to be a diploma that means something."

In debating against the New Hope Scholarship Act on March 13, state Sen. Constance "Sinking Ship" Johnson reminded her colleagues that she herself is a Douglass graduate, indeed "a proud Trojan," and acknowledged that the New Hope legislation "would impact children in eastern Oklahoma County, northeast Oklahoma City in particular, the school system of which I am a product." And yet she voted against it.

The performance in some of Oklahoma's urban schools is indeed "a disgrace." It's time to put some of these students in lifeboats.

Teachers quitting their labor union?

Reporting on "a really big development" in his front-page column in the current issue of Oklahoma City Friday, J. Leland Gourley writes that "teachers are beginning to quit the teachers union!"
Two teachers at John Marshall High School announced they were not joining the teachers union and said they were going to ask other teachers to do the same thing.

In Oklahoma, we have a right to work law, so that neither the union nor the school district can require teachers to belong to the union to have, or keep, their job. Good teachers get no benefit from the union. Only the bad teachers benefit, by being virtually guaranteed they won’t be fired. (There are ways, but difficult.)

The point of Leland's column is that weakening the union will lead to better reading instruction, but in my view a more important outcome will be greater possibilities for school choice.

'Free public schools are far from free'

In a column on Friday, education author Richard G. Neal discussed OCPA's study on the real cost of education.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Find a charter school ...

... near you.

Let the sunshine in

Increasingly, school districts around the country (like this one) are putting their checkbook registers online. Oklahoma school districts should do the same.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

'Choice is winning'

"A majority of U.S. students now study either in bona fide 'schools of choice' or in neighborhood schools that their parents chose with a realtor's help," Checker Finn writes on his blog. "That's an amazing change since I was a schoolboy in the fifties and a very positive one."

In defense of RINO hunting


"A Republican majority is only as useful as the policies that majority produces," former Republican congressman Pat Toomey writes today in The Wall Street Journal ('In Defense of RINO Hunting'). "When those policies look a lot like Democratic ones, the base rightly questions why it should keep Republicans in power."

Yep.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

'A glorious part of our history'

That's how President Bush recently described faith-based schools. He encouraged state and local policymakers to consider enacting vouchers and tax credits to ensure that these "centers of excellence" continue to thrive.
In neighborhoods where some people say children simply can't learn, the faith-based schools are proving the naysayers wrong. These schools provide a good, solid academic foundation for children. They also help children understand the importance of discipline and character. ...

We have an interest in the health of these centers of excellence; it's in the country's interest to get beyond the debate of public/private, to recognize this is a critical national asset that provides a critical part of our nation's fabric ...

OU's leftward tilt points up the need for choice

It's no secret that there's a left-wing bias at most of our nation's universities, including my alma mater in Norman. Thus, "it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that academics give more money to Democrats than Republicans," Professor Jay P. Greene writes. "But when you actually examine the political donations data, it is shocking to see just how uniformly one-sided the contributions are."

Dr. Greene (Ph.D., Harvard University), the endowed professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, went to the Open Secrets website last week and searched for the political contributions made during the 2008 election cycle. He discovered that at the University of Oklahoma (whose president recently endorsed Barack Obama), a full 93 percent of all dollars contributed by employees go to Democrats.

Greene’s analysis calls to mind something that happened back in 1999 when my friend Kyle Harper (then an OU student and OCPA intern, now an OU classics professor) was editor of The Fountainhead, an alternative (in the good way) student newspaper. Kyle went down to the Cleveland County election board and checked the voter registrations of professors in 19 departments (mostly in Arts and Sciences: economics, history, political science, etc.). He discovered 208 Democrats and 36 Republicans.

Universities pride themselves on their "diversity," yet the most important kind of diversity—intellectual diversity—is sorely lacking.

As I've said before, it's time for state legislators to fund students, not institutions. College students should be given a voucher redeemable not only at Oklahoma's public colleges and universities, but at nonpublic ones as well. After all, why should policymakers discriminate against education obtained at private institutions? Why should Oklahoma's (overwhelmingly conservative) taxpayers subsidize tuition at bastions of secular liberalism, but not at, say, institutions which seek to honor Christ?

As the late Milton Friedman argued, restricting higher ed subsidies "to schooling obtained at a state-administered institution cannot be justified on any grounds. Any subsidy should be granted to individuals to be spent at institutions of their own choosing."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Heritage Foundation president argues for choice

In his latest column, Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner (pictured here with Newt Gingrich) says it's time for school choice.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Why can't they read, y'all?

A front-page story today in The Oklahoman ('City effort sets out to erase illiteracy') informs us that "nearly 140,000 adults in Oklahoma County have trouble reading or writing." The story calls to mind a column of mine published October 27, 2003 in The Oklahoman, a version of which appears below.
By now the story formula is well known. A reporter or columnist will trot out Oklahoma's mind-boggling illiteracy statistics, profile a recovering illiterate, then end with some warm fuzzies about reading to your kids or becoming a volunteer tutor. In the case of "Henry backs reading program," an October 19 story in The Oklahoman, the warm fuzzy was the launch of a new marketing campaign called "Read Y'all." (In an Associated Press story which ran in the Amarillo Globe News, our governor pointed out, reassuringly, that "everybody in Oklahoma uses the word 'y'all.' It's a well-known fact that when someone says 'y'all,' they mean everyone.")

Moving right along. Literacy articles which profile adult learners or marketing campaigns have their place, but why must they always ignore the elephant in the living room? Surely I'm not the only one who wonders, "How did we end up with 421,000 illiterates in this state? I thought schools were supposed to teach people to read."

"The full truth can't be told," Joseph Sobran once remarked, "if some subjects have to be danced around like Uncle Harry's drinking problem." Let's be honest: our illiterates have been to school, for crying out loud. Oklahoma doesn't have a mere 100 literacy programs, as one source indicated. We have more than 1,800 of them. They're called schools, and taxpayers pour billions of hard-earned dollars into them.

Let us review: (a) Oklahoma has a compulsory attendance law which mandates school attendance from ages 5 to 18; (b) 95 percent of Oklahoma students attend a public school, the kind the First Lady taught in and the Governor has been funding his entire public life; and yet (c) 1,127,482 Oklahomans—nearly half the adult population—are barely literate at best, with a literacy repertoire ranging from practically nonexistent to "quite limited"!

Isn't it about time someone confronted poor Uncle Harry? I mean, this is getting a little out of hand. I'm not asking that every child become a National Merit scholar, but at $6,772 annually per child even if you taught them nothing else you could at least teach them to read. Y'all.

Gov. Henry is appalled at the illiteracy, but does he realize that his monopoly school system is partly to blame? Does he wince at the massive educational failure? The emperor won't disclose.

I don't mean to jump all over Gov. Henry for something that's scarcely his fault. But if he's going to appear with his wife on the promotional materials (distributed at taxpayer expense) and reap publicity and goodwill which will enhance his re-election effort, then he's pretty much fair game on this issue.

Here's a political speech I'd love to hear from Gov. Henry or any other politician: "Look, we're spending billions of dollars on education, but for whatever reason thousands of our children are not learning to read. Boeing or GM would never tolerate this kind of failure rate, and as stewards of the taxpayers' money neither should we.

"We must have an educated citizenry. But just because government provides education doesn't mean government has to produce all of it. Just as Medicaid dollars flow to private hospitals, and B-52 bombers are built by private contractors, and tuition grants can be used at private colleges, let's empower children to attend whatever school, public or private, will best teach them to read.

"It is wrong to keep children trapped in schools that won't teach and won't change. Let's say to the children, 'You have a right to escape. You're freed, y'all.'"