Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another voice for choice

State Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre and state Rep. Jabar Shumate, Tulsa Democrats pictured here, are two of the most prominent Oklahomans who (a) support Barack Obama and (b) support school choice. Also in this category is Dr. Mickey Hepner, an associate professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma. Check out Hepner's newest column, "The case for educational choice scholarships."

Feds: Online learning beats classroom

Hate it when that happens.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Abandon HOPE

First the teacher unions backed a radical, irresponsible spender.

Now they're backing a radical, irresponsible spending scheme.

'They really don't give you enough work to do in high school'

"Many Oklahoma students say they're unprepared for college," KXII reports.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Don't you D.A.R.E.

In a book review in today's Wall Street Journal, Kay Hymowitz writes:
Education policy makers will find more cause for embarrassment in "NurtureShock." Drop-out programs don't work. Neither do anti-drug programs. The most popular of them, D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance ­Education), developed in 1983 by the Los Angeles ­Police Department, has become a more familiar sight in ­American schools than algebra class. By 2000, 80% of American school districts were using D.A.R.E. materials in some form. Now, after extensive study, comes the news: The program has no long-term, and only mild short-term, effects.

I'm just sayin'

Hmmm ... The lieutenant governor of Tennessee says if elected governor he will appoint a homeschool advocate to the state board of education.

Recession? We've decided not to participate

A February 26 Associated Press story was headlined, "Garrett wants stimulus money for reforms." But is there any chance "reforms" could be edspeak for "avoiding layoffs"?

As OCPA never tires of repeating, when it comes to the ratio of government employees to private-sector employees, Oklahoma ranks a disturbing 5th-highest in the country. And where exactly is most of this excess overhead? In Oklahoma's education establishment.

Since the recession began more than a year and a half ago, our government employment problem has only gotten worse. As Oklahoma's private sector was shedding more than 36,000 jobs, Oklahoma's state and local governments added 8,600 jobs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cash for clunkers? Let's try dollars for scholars

"Countless parents and students see their K-12 government schooling experiences as real 'clunkers,'" former Edmond resident Isabel Lyman writes. "A Dollars for Scholars rebate offer, available to students wishing to scrap their public schools for a more streamlined, less wasteful private or home school would jump start the entire education industry, struggling to stay relevant and viable in today's economy."

Union boss touts early education

An Oklahoma union boss says Oklahomans recognize the importance of early childhood education. And in the comments section below her column, I agree.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Parent-funded schools succeeding

"Children in rural Ghana walk miles, sometimes across swollen rivers, to get to a community-run school in Ghana started by Alice Iddi-Gubbels of Oklahoma City," Susan Simpson reports today in The Oklahoman. "Families pay tuition of about $11 per child and provide food for school lunches. They help the children get to school each day."

"It's a struggle for them just to get there and they come early," one school board member is quoted as saying. "They just can't wait."

This likely won't come as a surprise to readers of OCPA's Perspective. In this month's issue, James Tooley tells the story of children, parents, teachers, and entrepreneurs in the poorest corners of the globe who, in response to failed public education, are getting the job done themselves.

School district transparency needed

According to a new study (PDF is here) by Oklahomans for Responsible Government, a vast majority of Oklahoma's school districts are not delivering even a basic level of transparency.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Towards truth in advertising

"A change in Oklahoma state standards for student proficiency has led to dramatic decreases in Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test results for third- through eighth-graders at Tulsa-area schools," the Tulsa World's Andrea Eger reports.

Oddly, after 10 years I can scarcely muster the energy to say I told you so.

Underfunded-schools watch

The Mustang School District has a new $3 million health and wellness center.

Friday, August 21, 2009

For school district transparency

My friend Brian Downs has a good column in today's Oklahoman about the lack of transparency in many Oklahoma school districts. My favorite nugget: "According to the state Department of Education, 473 of the 532 school districts employ a technology director, but 59 of those districts do not have a Web site!"

Which stands to reason, since the Chinese are paying for all this anyway

"Jenks Public Schools has been awarded a $1.5 million federal grant to fund a Chinese language immersion program, the first in Oklahoma," the Tulsa World reports. "The Foreign Language Assistance Program grant is funded through the U.S. Department of Education."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

'Time is running out for city schools'

"Will the new board chair Angela Monson be able to lead the board in resisting pressure from the [Oklahoma City school] district's vested interests to maintain the status quo?" Oklahoma Gazette publisher Bill Bleakley asks in the current issue.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can the free market provide public education?


Providing preschool options

"There is little evidence to support the belief that large-scale government preschool programs are effective, by themselves, in improving long-term student outcomes," Adam B. Schaeffer writes in a new study ('The Poverty of Preschool Promises: Saving Children and Money with the Early Education Tax Credit'). "Reform of the existing K–12 system should therefore remain the primary focus of those interested in sustainable improvement in student outcomes."
Given that many states have already instituted pre-K programs, or are committed to doing so, this paper proposes model early education legislation aimed at maximizing their chances for long-term success. The Early Education Tax Credit aims to sustain any potential preschool benefits and establish a solid academic foundation for later success. The program would improve the quality and efficiency of preschool options by harnessing market forces and would pay for itself by using savings generated from the migration of students from public to private schools in grades K–4.

Garrett: 'Rigor is lacking in some schools'

Oklahoma's latest ACT scores tell us "that rigor is lacking in some schools and too many students are not making the most of the four years they are given in high school," state Superintendent Sandy Garrett says.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vouchers thwart the special-ed bounty system

A few years ago Greg Forster wrote about Oklahoma's shameful "bounty system." Well, in a new study published by the Manhattan Institute ('How Special Ed Vouchers Keep Kids From Being Mislabeled as Disabled'), Jay P. Greene and Marcus Winters show that offering vouchers to disabled students reduces the likelihood that public schools will label the students as disabled.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Georgia parents overwhelmingly satisfied with special-needs scholarships

According to a new report from the Center for an Educated Georgia, "Education Choice Works: Survey Results of Families Receiving the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship," parents with students using the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship are overwhelmingly satisfied with their child’s new private school.

'The worst scandal in America'

John Fund of The Wall Street Journal says it's "the education monopoly that keeps poor, inner-city kids trapped in failing public schools."

What was the NEA boss doing in Tulsa?

Education reporter Mike Antonucci wants to know.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told members of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association that the union "will support any compensation system that a local bargains," in response to the Tulsa Teacher Effectiveness Initiative. The plan will include performance pay and eliminate salary increases for advanced degrees and additional certifications.

"Compensation systems, plain and simple, are a local issue," Van Roekel said. "It's bargained between management and the union. It should never be imposed, and it's what you believe is a fair system -- you've got to know what you're paying for, how to measure it, and then you distribute the resources."

If it's so obviously a local bargaining issue, what was Van Roekel doing in Tulsa? There are other places.

Abortion business in public schools?

Pro-lifers are taking a close look at specific provisions of ObamaCare.

Enid editor suggests school choice

In a recent column, Cindy Allen, managing editor of the Enid News & Eagle, wrote: "What about our public schools, which spend billions and billions of dollars, yet our nation continues to flounder at the bottom in educational achievement? Our government has been in total control over public education, and it's a mess." She suggested we consider school choice.

I followed up with this letter to the editor.

Virtual School opens in Owasso

"Owasso Public Schools is traveling to cyberspace to reach a portion of its population," the Tulsa World's Rhett Morgan reports.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Union boss acknowledges problems

The Tulsa World's Andrea Eger reports that NEA president Dennis Van Roekel yesterday "encouraged Tulsa teachers to courageously face the stark realities of the American public education system, including overall high school dropout rates of 25 percent, with rates almost double that for black and/or economically disadvantaged students."

School choice for rural Oklahoma

In an essay collection I edited in 2003, "Why Oklahomans from A to Z Should Embrace School Choice," Chester Finn made the point that school choice can work in rural Oklahoma. His essay is reprinted below.
Oklahoma's rural communities should understand that school choice makes sense for them, too

By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Among the predictable questions that arise during just about every discussion of school choice is one along these lines: "We live in a rural community and there's no other school within 40 miles. How could school choice possibly benefit our children? We have enough troubles making ends meet and keeping our school open."

Many towns with faltering Title I schools have used a similar excuse for not providing public-school choice to their students, despite the No Child Left Behind requirement that they do so. "We only have one junior high school," went the argument, "so it's not possible to offer intra-district school choice to those students."

How compelling is this claim? What can school choice mean in rural and thinly populated parts of the country, in communities with just one or two schools, and in places where a huge "consolidated" school seems to suck all the oxygen from the education air?

I can think of at least five forms of school choice that can "work" under such circumstances. The contention that nothing is possible thus reveals either a failure of imagination or a mischievous attempt to drive a nail into the coffin in which some seek to entomb school choice.

First and most obvious, allow kids to choose public schools in nearby districts. At least a dozen states already give families the right to select any public school in the state. Even where that's not the case, NCLB says -- and the recent Education Department regulations emphasize -- that small districts with persistently failing Title I schools are supposed to make every practicable effort to arrange for students to opt into schools run by other districts. In the NCLB case, the "sending" district is also obliged to provide transportation and may use Title I dollars for this purpose.

Second, deploy some form of voucher to enable children to enroll in private schools -- in their own community or nearby. This already happens in parts of northern New England, where small towns, instead of operating their own high schools, "tuition" their youngsters into the public or private schools of their choice. Though rural America is not awash in private schools, it has some -- including boarding schools that also take "day students" -- and might have more if education funding were portable and could be used in this way.

Third, encourage charter schools. Although there aren't huge numbers of rural charters, I've seen enough of them operating successfully in the Colorado mountains, the Arizona desert, the Minnesota woods, and the California canyons to know that this is possible. The "Annenberg Rural Challenge" gave this development a boost and it continues in such organizations as the Colorado Rural Charters Network. Few places are more rural than Idaho, which now boasts some 15 charter schools open or on the way. Alaska is also making good use of this opportunity to bring educational innovations and improvements into remote places.

Fourth, run multiple schools under the same roof, like a cinema multiplex. "Schools within schools" are not a new idea. That's how public-school choice in East Harlem got started, with kids changing schools by climbing the stairs within the same building. But this could also work in rural America -- maybe not in wee village primary schools but surely in those big "consolidated" schools. Of the 10 new "specialized" public schools that opened in the Bronx last year, seven are operating within the walls of larger public schools. Medina, Ohio has four high schools functioning in a single building. Why couldn't something similar happen in the middle of Kansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina or Montana? A child might attend a "math-science" school in one wing of the building or switch to an "arts and humanities" school in another. One mini-school might emphasize Core Knowledge while a second does Expeditionary Learning.

Fifth, make use of distance learning and virtual education. These were made to order for rural America because they don't require the child to move at all. Staying right at home -- or at the neighbors', the day-care center or a parent's workplace -- a youngster can change schools by changing the URL on his computer screen. Sure, especially for small children, there also needs to be a competent adult nearby, but if the "virtual" program is solid, the adult-in-the-room-with-the-kid need not be a full-fledged teacher. And older pupils can do a great deal of virtual learning on their own.

This isn't a new idea, either. "Correspondence" courses were invented ages ago for youngsters lacking ready access to an acceptable brick-and-mortar school. In the Australian outback and remote corners of the Falkland Islands, classes delivered by radio have been available for decades. Today, though, the Internet makes so much more possible. The "APEX" program beams Advanced Placement courses into high schools that lack the staff or enrollments to provide their own and now offers customized virtual school programs as well. Florida has a statewide virtual high school. Virtual charter schools are proliferating from Pennsylvania and Ohio to California, Colorado and Idaho, as several firms develop Internet-delivered education programs and as more families -- some but by no means all of them former "homeschoolers" -- discover this way to bring a strong curriculum into their living rooms, even if they live on the remotest mountain top or at the end of a dirt road. (Full disclosure: I'm on the board of one such firm, a terrific outfit known as K12 and led by former Education Secretary William Bennett.)

In sum, education choice makes at least as much sense -- and is now as feasible -- for rural America as for inner cities and suburbs. The "no other school within 40 miles" argument should be seen for the red herring that it is.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rural students in charter schools

It's happening in Ohio.

Cash, clunkers

"Studies by ACT have shown that fewer than one-fourth of high-school graduates who take that organization's tests -- presumably because they intend to go to college -- are academically prepared for college-level work in English, math, and science," Chester Finn wrote last week. "That means three-quarters of them bought a lemon of a K-12 education."

Competition should play a role in early education

Friday, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City, recently ran a house editorial entitled "What price saving children?" I submitted a letter to the editor, which I have posted here.
Dear Editor:

Thank you for your July 31 editorial, "What price saving children?" Though I don't fully share your confidence in the salvific powers of "early childhood education," I think it's important to note something Dr. James Heckman mentioned at the recent early-childhood summit in Oklahoma City: School choice is important.

"Competition plays a role" in good education policy, said Dr. Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist. In early childhood education, there ought to be "multiple, diverse modes of delivery." He said such programs can and should accommodate the interests of "Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Southern Baptists, you name it."

Fortunately, some Oklahoma school districts already collaborate with daycare centers to serve a share of Oklahoma's preschool children. Policymakers should now provide Oklahoma parents a tax credit for educational expenses incurred in private preschool programs or home schools.


Brandon Dutcher
Vice President for Policy
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Inc.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

'Charter schools get promoted'

Good story in today's Wall Street Journal about expanding the charter-school option.

What, no guard towers?

What do you call a large complex, replete with security guards and metal detectors and which is sometimes put on lockdown, whose occupants (many of whom are illiterate) are there by compulsion?

An American high school!

"Construction crews are about a month away from finishing constructing fences and gatehouses at all three of the [Edmond] district's high school campuses," Jesse Olivarez reports today in The Oklahoman. "The 6-foot-tall metal fences are being built to enclose the entrances of the schools' parking lots. The gatehouses will be built for the schools' main parking lots so parking attendants can check whether those entering or leaving school grounds have permission to do so."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Socialization doesn't appear to be a problem ...

... for this homeschooler in Duncan.

Public-school choice in Tulsa

"Tulsa Public Schools this week will begin notifying parents of their right to request a student transfer out of 10 of the 11 school sites expected to be named to the Oklahoma School Improvement List later this month," the Tulsa World's Andrea Eger reports.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Homeschooling works, and at a fraction of the cost

More than a decade ago, Dr. Lawrence Rudner of the University of Maryland discovered that "in every subject and at every grade level of the ITBS [Iowa Tests of Basic Skills] and TAP [Tests of Achievement and Proficiency], home school students scored significantly higher than their public and private school counterparts." Stunningly, "by grade 8, the average home school student performs four grade levels above the national average."

But that was more than a decade ago. Comes now the most comprehensive study ever completed of homeschoolers' academic performance (PDF here).

The Home School Legal Defense Association reports that even though "the numbers and diversity of homeschoolers have grown tremendously over the past 10 years" -- the number of homeschooled students has essentially doubled -- "homeschoolers have actually increased the already sizeable gap in academic achievement between themselves and their public school counterparts -- moving from about 30 percentile points higher in the Rudner study (1998) to 37 percentile points higher in the Progress Report (2009)."

The national average for public-school students is the 50th percentile in all the standardized-achievement subtests (reading, language, math, science, and social studies). For homeschoolers the percentile scores are 89 (reading), 84 (language), 84 (math), 86 (science), and 84 (social studies).

Interestingly, the study found that homeschooled students whose parents did not have college degrees still performed at the 83rd percentile. ("When amateurs outperform professionals," Thomas Sowell once wrote, "there is something wrong with that profession.")

Moreover, the homeschooled students in the lowest income category (household income: $34,999 or less) performed at the 85th percentile.

And what did it cost to achieve these results? $9,666, perhaps? No, "the median amount spent per child each year was $400 to $599."

'Home-schooling is not for the faint-hearted'

In a new story in The Economist ('Kitchen-classroom conservatives / Barack Obama could hasten the spread of educating children at home'), the reporter is respectful and fair.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Other than that, the program's not working

The Friedman Foundation reports that "parents participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program report dramatically higher levels of satisfaction with academic progress, individual attention, teacher quality, school responsiveness, and student behavior when compared to the public schools their children previously attended."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Friedman's legacy of school choice honored at OKC Zoo

[Guest post by Patrick B. McGuigan]

The late, great free-market economist Milton Friedman continues to influence public policy three years after his death. Few might have suspected that his historic life, during which he impacted cause-and-effect studies of business and government for decades, would so profoundly advance advocacy for people of modest means to access top educational services, including private schools and homeschool programs.

In honor of Friedman's birthday and lifetime legacy, on July 31 the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice sponsored a School Choice Fair at the Oklahoma City Zoo. The event drew the hoped-for crowd of 300 private school patrons and prospects, as well as many passers-by who discussed education policy issues with the hosts.

Represented were two Catholic schools, St. Philip Neri and St. Charles Borromeo, as well as Oklahoma Christian Academy, St. John's Episcopal School, Faith Christian Academy, Gethsemane Lutheran School, Casady, and Trinity School.

This was a first-time program at the OKC Zoo. Those attending were given free child admission to the zoo as well as other treats provided by participating schools and program sponsors.

"The participating schools were pleased with the attendance and many asked that we hold the event again next year," according to Sandra Leaver, OCPA's events coordinator.

Getting an early start

One Oklahoma City principal says teachers and administrators now have a plan to address the biggest challenge at his high school: reading skills.

Amazing Grace

A 12-year-old Edmond homeschooler is taking college courses.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

'Changes we should enact'

The Muskogee Phoenix calls for "lifting restrictions on charter school numbers" and "linking teachers' pay to student achievement."

We're # 1

"Oklahoma's leadership in early childhood education has long been a source of state pride," the state's largest newspaper editorialized today.

I agree, though from a slightly different angle, and say it's time to enact further tax breaks to maintain our leadership in this area.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

And be sure to eat your vegetables

On a TV talk show with some woman from the education establishment, former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm once remarked, "My educational policies are based on the fact that I care more about my children than you do." When the lady replied, "No, you don't," Gramm said: "OK, what are their names?"

Sometimes the paternalism we get from bureaucrats is just downright creepy.