Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good news on alternative teacher certification

Men and women certified through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) are now allowed to teach in Oklahoma public schools.

Strange bedfellows

In a perceptive new blog post, David Blatt at the Oklahoma Policy Institute points out that on educational issues in Oklahoma, "old assumptions and old alliances seem to be breaking down."
So what's going on here? At its essence, these battles represent a profound frustration and disappointment in the poor performance of public schools in low-income, disproportionately-minority urban neighborhoods and a belief that poor families deserve a wider array of choices for their children. In Oklahoma and around the country, African-American political and civic leaders, along with some liberal education reform advocates, have become vocal supporters of expanding the choices available to low-income parents through charter schools, and in some cases, private school vouchers. ...

Not too long ago, the education debate at the Capitol did not extend to much more than funding, teacher pay and class sizes. As the debate has broadened to include such issues as charter schools, testing, merit pay and tenure, new perspectives, new alliances, and new conflicts have emerged.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The facts about school choice

The Alliance for School Choice has just released an excellent set of fact sheets.

Not as good as you think

Citing a new study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Thomas Friedman writes in The New York Times about "how far we have fallen behind in K-12 education and how much it is costing us."
There are millions of kids who are in modern suburban schools "who don't realize how far behind they are," said Matt Miller, one of the authors. "They are being prepared for $12-an-hour jobs -- not $40 to $50 an hour."

OCPA has previously pointed out that suburban students aren't doing as well as they may think.

Monday, April 27, 2009

School choice: A weapon in the war on poverty

"What is needed to liberate families from the stain of poverty is individual educational empowerment in the form of universal school choice," Phillip W. Smith writes in the Muskogee Phoenix:
School choice would be the first effective shot fired in the war on poverty. Health, education, crime and economics would all radically change in our poorest neighborhoods if we were to advance true school choice. We need a government dedicated not to "programs" but rather to individual empowerment.

Virtual choices

"Oklahoma students looking for alternatives to get their high school diplomas now have options of online and university-run schools to complete their education," Jennifer Griswold reported yesterday in The Oklahoman ('High school students have online options for diplomas').
Administrators with Oklahoma Virtual High School and University of Oklahoma High School report a steady increase in student enrollment during the past several years.

The growth is expected to continue through the next decade, said Jeff Elliott, president of the Oklahoma City-based company that runs Oklahoma Virtual High School. ...

Oklahoma Virtual High School is run by Advanced Academics, which is owned by DeVry Inc. The company is a partner with school districts and offers students an alternative to the traditional high school classroom.

Company representatives work with school districts to meet their needs by offering classes or programs they don’t have the resources or staff to offer on-site, said Elliott.

Hmmm. The government gives tax dollars to a private school on a per-student basis. Sounds suspiciously like ... well, you know. And it would be quite the outrage if it weren't for the fact that public dollars are already flowing to private schools all the time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Don't trouble me with evidence, I have 'no doubt'

In her latest column, state Superintendent Sandy Garrett announced that Oklahoma school districts are starting to receive the first round of the so-called stimulus dollars for reading and math instruction -- nearly $130 million, with a like amount forthcoming in the fall. She wrote:
Like most Oklahomans, I am concerned about our nation's economy and about the debt that could be passed on to our children's children. Yet, I have no doubt about the positive affect [sic] of investing in Oklahoma's boys and girls and their future.

No doubt? Honestly? Shouldn't this graphic give you at least some doubt? Indeed, wouldn't it make more sense to say, "I have no doubt that the positive effects will be slim or none"?

From homeschooling to Harvard Law

In a recent interview, homeschool graduate Lindsay See said homeschooling has prepared her well for the Harvard Law School:
Classes are challenging, and I certainly spend a lot of time studying, but I've also felt really comfortable with just the level of work that's required here. ... Even with the great students here at Harvard, not everyone is used to the amount of work that we have here. But I found, thanks to my homeschooling and college background, the transition to law school just really wasn't that new for me. And mostly I think that's because homeschooling taught me how to teach myself and also how to take responsibility for my own schedule.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Charter schools as civil rights issue

As state Rep. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa) never tires of repeating, providing educational opportunity for all children is the civil rights issue of our time. Click here to watch Rep. Shumate discuss his bill allowing Oklahoma's tribal governments to sponsor charter schools.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Juan Williams outraged over end of DC voucher program

National Public Radio Sr. Correspondent and Fox News Contributor Juan Williams is angry over the Obama Administration's decision to "hollow out" the generous District of Columbia school voucher program, which has enabled 1,714 children to escape DC's failed school system.

Williams, a liberal political commentator, writes that he finds himself "in a fury":

The cause of my upset is watching the key civil rights issue of this generation — improving big city public school education — get tossed overboard by political gamesmanship. If there is one goal that deserves to be held above day-to-day partisanship and pettiness of ordinary politics it is the effort to end the scandalous poor level of academic achievement and abysmally high drop-out rates for America’s black and Hispanic students.

Initial indications from President Obama and Arne Duncan, his Secretary of Education, were that the voucher program, which expires in 2010, had a chance to continue. Instead, Secretary Duncan withdrew awards for 200 students entering the program this fall.

His rationale is that if the program does not win new funding from Congress then those students might have to go back to public school in a year.

He does not want to give the students a chance for a year in a better school? That does not make sense if the students and their families want that life-line of hope. It does not make sense if there is a real chance that the program might win new funding as parents, educators and politicians rally to undo the “bigotry of low expectations” and open doors of opportunity — wherever they exist — for more low-income students.

The program made a difference: Students who were in the voucher program from the beginning had, after three years, a 19-month advantage in reading over their public-school counterparts.

Williams seems most appalled by the hypocrisy of the public officials who are killing this successful voucher program:

Of course, Secretary Duncan has said he decided not to live in Washington, D.C. because he did not want his children to go to public schools there. And President Obama, who has no choice but to live in the White House, does not send his two daughters to D.C. public schools, either. They attend a private school, Sidwell Friends, along with two students who got there because of the voucher program.

This reckless dismantling of the D.C. voucher program... does not speak well of the promise of President Obama to be the “Education President,’ who once seemed primed to stand up for all children who want to learn and especially minority children.

And its time for all of us to get outraged about this sin against our children.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Objectivity-strapped reporting

"Cash-strapped school districts in three rural Oklahoma counties are eagerly awaiting the outcome of a tax case tied up for years in the court system that could result in millions of dollars for schools," the Associated Press reports.

Notice the decidedly non-objective modifier "cash-strapped" to describe these school districts in Grant, Woods, and Beckham counties. Is the reporter perchance referring to the Wakita school district, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Public Education Finances 2006, spends $17,053 per pupil? I'm thinking Holland Hall and Casady -- to say nothing of several inner-city private schools -- would love to be that cash-strapped.

Or perhaps the reporter is referring to the Freedom school district, which spends a mere $13,833 per pupil? Or is it Waynoka ($10,423), Medford ($9,336), Deer Creek-Lamont ($9,039), or Erick ($9,038)?

No word yet from the AP on the cash-strapped-ness of the consumers and ratepayers also impacted by the court case.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but ...

This according to a new book forthcoming next month from NYU Press. According to the publisher,
This is how many young people of color call attention to the kind of public education they are receiving. ... By showing that young people are deeply committed to education but often critical of the kind of education they are receiving, this book highlights the dishonesty of public claims that they do not value education. Ultimately, these powerful student voices remind us of the ways we have shirked our public responsibility to create excellent schools. True school reform requires no less than a new civil rights movement, where adults join with young people to ensure an equal education for each and every student.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

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."

It hasn't quite worked out that way, of course. Not only have the crimes not become obsolete, they are now occurring in the schools themselves. Of course, the schools hire security guards to help alleviate the problem, but -- whoops! -- sometimes the security guards are child molesters. Hate it when that happens.

As the Tulsa World's Andrea Eger reports,
A security guard who pleaded no contest this week to molesting a girl he met at Hale High School worked more extensively at Tulsa Public Schools than officials reported after his arrest.

Tracy Richard Sullins, 49, is in the Tulsa jail awaiting sentencing on one count of lewd molestation, a felony.

In 2007, Tulsa school officials said Sullins was a security guard who had substituted for only a day or two at two or three Tulsa schools in 2006, but on Friday, they reported that he began working for the district in 1999.

School officials said he was the lead guard at Hale High School between 2004 and 2005. The only other schools they knew he worked at are Byrd Middle School and Edison Preparatory School, said Tami Marler, a spokeswoman for the district. ...

Det. Jim Murray, with the Diamond, Mo., police, said Sullins was as bold as any Internet predator he has encountered.

Sullins reportedly had more than 700 addresses for female juveniles in his e-mail account and more than 200 instant messaging contacts.

"I didn't realize the kind of monster we were dealing with until we got the forensic report back on his computer," Murray said. "He bragged about making girls his prostitutes."

Murray also said that unlike what was initially reported, Sullins had more than a few days of access to girls in local schools.

'Ugly truth' about schools: criminals are still in class

In an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal ('The High Cost of Coddling'), former schoolteacher Caitlin Flanagan reflects on the mass killing at Columbine High School 10 years ago. She writes, "The one aspect of Columbine that seemed unworthy of examination -- when it came to pondering the policy changes that might actually make American schools safer places -- was the fact that the two killers had a long track record of doing exactly what deeply disturbed teenage boys have been doing since time out of mind: getting in trouble -- lots of it -- with authority." ...
Today only the most incorrigible young offenders are removed from their guardians' care and forced to live and study in correctional facilities. Furthermore, to expel a student in most public school districts is an arduous business. An expulsion hearing is required, and parents may choose to appeal the decision, a process that rains down a world of legal woe on whatever teachers and administrators have been involved in the action. Many expulsions, moreover, constitute a strange reinterpretation of the very word: They are time-limited and include within them plans for re-enrollment.

It is, of course, the responsibility of the state to provide some sort of education to all its children under the age of 18, and so for a host of legal, moral and economic reasons we end up with an ugly truth about our nation's schools: By design, they contain within them -- right alongside the good kids who are getting an education and running the yearbook and student government -- kids whose criminal rehabilitation is supposedly being conducted simultaneously with their academic instruction.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hey, they're children of the state. Stuff happens

"Eighth-grader Savana Redding was scared and confused when an assistant principal searching for drugs ordered her out of math class, searched her backpack and then instructed an administrative aide and school nurse to conduct a strip search," the nation's largest newspaper reports today.
"I went into the nurse's office and kept following what they asked me to do," Savana, now 19, recalls of the incident six years ago that she says still leaves her shaken and humiliated. "I thought, 'What could I be in trouble for?'"

That morning, another student had been caught with prescription-strength ibuprofen and had told the assistant principal, Kerry Wilson, that she'd gotten the pills from Savana. The nurse and administrative assistant, both women, were alone with Savana in the nurse's office when they asked the girl to take off her shoes and socks, then her shirt and pants. The two women then asked Savana to pull open her bra and panties so they could see whether she was hiding any pills. None was found.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Showcasing successful schools

Check out this website, School Chain Showcase, which connects parents, potential school operators, investors, and government officials with successful and already-replicated schools from around the world.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Arne's choice

Even as Education Secretary Arne Duncan is, in Chicago hitman style, offing the D.C. voucher program, we learn that he himself is practicing school choice: real-estate-based school choice.

You see, unlike the families in the D.C. voucher program, Mr. Duncan can afford a home in Arlington. In an interview published in the April 10 issue of Science magazine (HT: Mike Antonucci), Mr. Duncan informs us that his daughter "goes to Arlington [Virginia] public schools. That was why we chose where we live, it was the determining factor. That was the most important thing to me. My family has given up so much so that I could have the opportunity to serve; I didn't want to try to save the country's children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children's education."

No, we can't be jeopardizing children's education, now can we? Thank you, Mr. Duncan, for the reminder that school choice is widespread. If you can afford it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

'Race to the top'

This looks interesting. Michael J. Petrilli points out that Secretary Arne Duncan has "put governors on notice that, if they want some of his $5 billion 'race to the top' fund, they are going to have to strip barriers to local reform out of state law, such as charter school caps or rules disallowing districts from using student achievement data to inform decisions around teacher tenure."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Entrepreneurs are educating the poor

I am reading James Tooley's excellent new book, The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves. It is quite moving. Next Wednesday morning at 11:00 CST, I recommend you check out the Cato book forum online -- if you're not attending a Taxpayer Tea Party somewhere (which I also recommend).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

'Learning to live with competition'

There's an excellent house editorial today in The Oklahoman
('Tulsa would be better off to embrace charter schools').
With the state and national landscape leaning toward innovation and competition, there's not a better time for Tulsa to embrace charter schools and competition as tools to improve public education.

Reality is that in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, schools aren't doing such a magnificent job that there's no room for improvement. The opposite is true. So while learning to live with competition may be uncomfortable, it's absolutely necessary. All children — especially those struggling in our inner cities — deserve the best education available regardless of the name on the door.

School choice makes sense ...

... for mayoral candidates, too.

'I guess there's no work to do back in the schools'

OCPA has many times spotlighted the unfortunate practice of public officials using your tax dollars to lobby for more of your tax dollars. And of course, public school officials -- no strangers to the marble corridors at 23rd and Lincoln -- are some of the most conspicuous violators.

Back in 2005 the president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, somewhat amused with the spectacle, remarked: "The school people are singing because I guess there's no work to do back in the schools. ... If the schools need more money, some of these superintendents that stand around at the Capitol all day, every day, ought to resign and come to work at the Capitol as lobbyists."

Well, that's just an evil capitalist speaking. But yesterday, corroboration came from the unlikeliest of sources: the Oklahoma Education Association. Yep, the state's most powerful labor union complained that "superintendents continue to lobby at the Capitol on most Tuesdays, driving school cars and spending school time, to lobby for SB 834."

Now as it happens, I'm in favor of SB 834 and I don't think the superintendents' primary motivation in this case is money. Still, it's really rich to hear the OEA complain about school officials "driving school cars and spending school time to lobby."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

'The civil rights issue of the 21st century'

"Oklahoma's tribal governments could soon sponsor charter schools, providing much-needed help to lower-income children," according to a new House press release.
Senate Bill 586, by state Sen. John Ford and state Rep. Jabar Shumate, would allow any of Oklahoma's 39 federally recognized Native American tribes to sponsor a charter school located in a district with more than 5,000 students in a major metropolitan area.

"I believe the civil rights issue of the 21st century is how we ensure a quality education for all children, regardless of their background," said Shumate, D-Tulsa. "It is exciting that our tribal governments want to take an active role in this effort and I am proud to carry this legislation." ...

Senate Bill 586 passed out of the House Common Education Committee today. It now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Preventing educator misconduct

According to a new state House press release, "Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Todd Thomsen that would increase the penalties for kidnapping and remove consent as a factor in the rape of a student by a school official or other person of authority has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee."
"In Oklahoma, we have heard of too many cases of teachers, coaches and other school officials abusing the authority they have over their students," Thomsen, R-Ada, said. "Though there are already statutory rape laws here, I thought it would also be necessary to ensure students above a certain age were protected. Even if the relationship is consensual, what these provisions do is clearly delineate the barrier that is very necessary for the protection of both the school official and the student from inappropriate sexual misconduct."

Now obviously, teachers and other school officials commit sexual misconduct in private schools as well as public schools. But as Greg Forster and Matthew Carr pointed out in a 2007 study, Disruptive Behavior: An Empirical Evaluation of School Misconduct and Market Accountability, "the important question for school-choice policy is whether 'market accountability' is as effective as 'regulatory accountability' in preventing school misconduct." Surprisingly,

despite the urgency of the question, no previous empirical studies have systematically compared misconduct levels in public and private schools.

This study uses the Nexis database to measure the frequency of employee misconduct at public and private schools in states that have school choice programs. It finds that cases of school misconduct occur disproportionately in public schools rather than in private schools. The study then applies a statistical test to these data, finding that they provide grounds for confidence that private schools subject to market accountability really are less likely to engage in misconduct than public schools subject to regulatory accountability.

Give me a break

John Stossel is not buying the universal pre-K scam. He thinks (and I agree) that educational freedom is preferable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It doesn't take a math major ...

... to see that school choice saves money.

'Study supports school vouchers' ...

... The Washington Post reports.

Charter school success stories

"It is immoral for the state government to keep children trapped in dangerous and failing inner city public schools," writes state Rep. Jason Murphey, "when it is now clear that they can succeed in the charter school environment."

Overstimulus package

Please, make it stop already.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Quote of the day

"Sometimes there's not much difference between a school bully and the way teacher representatives treat lawmakers."

-- West Virginia state Sen. Erik Wells (D-Kanawha)

HT: Mike Antonucci

Sunday, April 5, 2009

'Have a great f***ing day'

Great moments in customer service: Putnam City High School principal Don Wentroth drops F bombs on a patron.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Uncle Harry's drinking problem

"Oklahoma City has a literacy problem," writes Mary Surbeck, literacy program coordinator for the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, today in The Oklahoman. "Study after study confirms that adults in Oklahoma are not up to the reading tasks that their jobs and families require. They struggle to read to their children, follow safety regulations and instructions, complete health forms, etc."

Surbeck encourages volunteers to sign up to tutor illiterates, which is a good idea. But as I wrote in The Oklahoman in 2003, it doesn't get to the root of the problem:
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.'"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fiscal crunch? School choice can help

"There is no fiscal reason to eliminate any school choice options currently
available to students and families. On the contrary, an expansion of those
options would very likely yield savings to state and local taxpayers." That's the recommendation of Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West of Harvard's Kennedy School and Eric A. Hanushek of the Hoover Institution in a report prepared last month for the Florida State Board of Education (Sustaining Progress in Times of Fiscal Crisis). The authors write:
The choice alternatives available to Florida's parents appear to reduce rather than add to overall state education costs. Per pupil funding for charter schools is less than at district schools, and charter schools have demonstrated the ability to construct new facilities at a lower cost than traditional districts; courses taken online at Florida Virtual School cost the taxpayer less than similar courses provided by district schools; the McKay scholarship appears to have had salutary effects on public school performance; and those who make use of the corporate tax credit scholarship save the state any per pupil expenditures exceeding their scholarship, which is worth up to $3,950.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

'School choice support has mainstreamed'

"Support for school choice has mainstreamed, and it's only a matter of time before the political barriers are brought down," Adam B. Schaeffer writes.
Elite opinion matters; it is the foodstuff of mass public opinion. And it is of particular importance when the composition of elite communication begins to shift. ... When an issue that used to be considered free-market fringe is embraced as a moral litmus test for politicians by liberal editorial boards, the issue-argument has been won. That's certainly not to say the policy war has been won, but an important battle toward realizing that goal has been.

The opposition's intensity and moral certitude is bleeding out one program at a time. School choice is no longer an abstract proposition; faces and lives are attached to the 24 private school-choice programs in 14 states and the District of Columbia. ...

Choice opponents are on the wrong side of right and the wrong side of history.