Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Acton fellow discusses school choice

Acton Institute research fellow Dr. Kevin Schmiesing discusses school choice and the history of public education in this country.

Monday, December 28, 2009

'The case for Special Education vouchers'

Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene say parents should decide when their disabled child needs a private placement.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Strange bedfellows address 'massive crisis in education'

"We are united in addressing a massive crisis that threatens to undermine the economic future of our nation."

Expand access to charter schools

Our friend Dan Lips at The Heritage Foundation points out that some 365,000 students were on charter-school waiting lists this year. I don't know how many of those students are in Oklahoma, but Janet Grigg, president of the Oklahoma Charter School Association, tells me "there is always a waiting list for most of the charter schools in the state of Oklahoma. I can't remember a time there wasn't." It's time for Oklahoma's policymakers to do something about it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Oil-rich state embraces universal school choice

No, not Oklahoma. Qatar.

Against government preschool

Carrie Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Forum and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, makes a case against government funding for preschool.

School choice can help black students

Yesterday in The Oklahoman, Walter Williams asked: "What's to be done about this tragic state of black education?"

Our friend Dan Lips has some answers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

School choice saves money (cont'd)

"The public education system could realize massive cost savings," state Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) writes, "if state government would encourage people to participate in private and homeschool education through the provision of a property tax refund, which often is proposed at $4,000 per year."

A 'permanent national recession'

"Our public schools are a drag on the economy," Carrie Lukas writes. "We are poorer and have lower standard of living because we have allowed this problem to persist."

Quote of the day

New York's Democrat Governor David Paterson wasn't referring to Oklahoma's SQ 744, but he might as well have been. "Because what these school districts and unions and otherwise have said: 'We aren't special interests, we're extra special. We're supposed to get all the money and everybody else can just divide up the crumbs.' ... It's clear to me they don't care about anybody but themselves."

HT: Mike Antonucci

Friday, December 18, 2009

Preparing for leaner times

Are there any Oklahoma school leaders interested in learning how to "tighten their belts while serving students better"? Check out this event being held in D.C. on Monday, January 11, 2010 (and which will stream live here). Here's more info:
How can they weather this storm and prepare themselves for even leaner times? Where might they find cost savings? Are there alternatives to simply cutting back educational programs or laying off teachers? The pressures are not likely to alleviate anytime soon but will only intensify in the years ahead as stagnant real estate values depress local and state revenues, as new federal initiatives and historic deficits squeeze federal spending, as one-time stimulus funding recedes, and as an aging and retiring teaching force creates greater pension obligations for states and districts. Not only is cost cutting essential in this era of constrained resources, but eliminating inefficient spending is also a critical step in freeing up the resources to drive reform and fuel school improvement.

Unfortunately, there are few visible or successful precedents for significant belt tightening, restructuring, and reorganizing in K-12 schooling. Yet, news accounts tend to celebrate new initiatives and bemoan any reductions in spending, and there is little research examining how best practices from other sectors might be applied to schools. AEI resident scholar and director of education policy studies Frederick M. Hess and Thomas B. Fordham Institute vice president Eric Osberg have commissioned ten papers to explore how schools can save money and enhance student achievement by overcoming the particular forces and factors that make effective cost cutting difficult. At this cosponsored event, the authors of the studies will present their findings and discuss them with expert practitioners.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You got a problem with that?

Let's see, half the kids in the district don't graduate. We're in the middle of a recession. So Tulsa Public School bureaucrats are about to get ... pay raises.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bill Price 'emerging leader' in school choice movement

In the current issue of The School Choice Advocate, published by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (one of the nation's leading school-choice organizations), the cover story is entitled "The Emerging Leaders of the School Choice Movement." One of the leaders spotlighted is Oklahoman (and OCPA trustee) Bill Price.

A former U.S. Attorney, Price is perhaps best known for his prosecution of the County Commissioner corruption scandal, one of the largest political corruption cases in U.S. history. For that work Price earned a Special Achievement Award from the United States Department of Justice. Now an attorney in private practice, he is devoting considerable time and energy to serving as chairman of the school-choice coalition in Oklahoma. "School choice is one of the most important issues of our time," Price writes.
I see a confluence of events in Oklahoma today that could create a unique opportunity for major reform—a public awareness that our schools are failing our children, and for the first time since statehood, a legislature more likely to stand up for parents and students than for the institutional forces that have thwarted reform in the past.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) is a well-established conservative public policy research organization. One of OCPA’s principal issues for many years has been the need for school choice. Brandon Dutcher, vice president for policy at OCPA, and Patrick McGuigan, a [former] research fellow, have written a number of articles advocating school choice, which have appeared in OCPA’s publications as well as state newspapers, setting the intellectual groundwork for school choice among state opinion leaders. Dutcher also chairs the center-right coalition that meets at OCPA’s offices every month and brings together conservative groups.

With the tremendous assistance of the Friedman Foundation, the OCPA, along with the center-right coalition and state legislative leaders on education issues, have formed the Oklahoma school choice coalition. As an OCPA board member and member of the center-right coalition, it’s been exciting to see these elements come together. Our plan is to expand this coalition to further educate and activate legislators and the public to create the momentum for choice.

Virtual schooling offers flexibility

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Educrat gatekeepers against memorization

In her blog at the Psychology Today website, author and engineering professor Barbara Oakley writes that "ideologically-motivated intellectual gatekeepers" in America are shutting the public schoolhouse door on time-tested educational methods that actually work.
Narrow intellectual gatekeeping is omnipresent in academia. Want to know why the government wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on math and science programs that never seem to improve the test scores of American students?[3] Part of the reason for this is that today’s K-12 educators—unlike educators in other high-scoring countries of the world—refuse to acknowledge evidence that memorization plays an important role in mastering mathematics. Any proposed program that supports memorization is deemed to be against “creativity” by today’s intellectual gatekeepers in K-12 education, including those behind the Math and Science Partnerships. As one NSF program director told me: “We hear about success stories with practice and repetition-based programs like Kumon Mathematics. But I’ll be frank with you—you’ll never get anything like that funded. We don’t believe in it.” Instead the intellectual leadership in education encourages enormously expensive pimping programs that put America even further behind the international learning curve.

Via Petitedov.

(Note: Linked article features a prominent image that includes a vulgar synonym for nonsense.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Your tax dollars at work

The good news: Oklahoma schools are teaching phonics.

The bad news: It's in college.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Challenging gifted kids is elitism?

The Daily Mail, published in London, reports in its December 11, 2009, edition, that many British schools aren't providing material to challenge and develop the gifts of their brightest students for fear of practicing "elitism."

As many as three-quarters of state schools are failing to push their brightest pupils because teachers are reluctant to promote 'elitism', an Ofsted study says today.

Many teachers are not convinced of the importance of providing more challenging tasks for their gifted and talented pupils.

Bright youngsters told inspectors they were forced to ask for harder work. Others were resentful at being dragooned into 'mentoring' weaker pupils.

In nearly three-quarters of 26 schools studied, pupils designated as being academically gifted or talented in sport or the arts were 'not a priority', Ofsted found.

Teachers feared that a focus on the brightest pupils would 'undermine the school's efforts to improve the attainment and progress of all other groups of pupils'.

This is notwithstanding official policy:

Schools are meant to identify the top 5 to 10 per cent of pupils as 'gifted and talented' and ensure they are given appropriate tasks to help them achieve their potential.

One suspects that this problem is not confined to the United Kingdom.

Gifted students are a society's future engineers, scientists, doctors, and leaders. Weighing them down, Harrison Bergeron-style, with boring make-work, refusing to provide them with stimulating challenges, in the name of "equality," is not only unkind to the students but is a strategic error that prevents a community from reaching its own full potential.

(Via Rob Port at Say Anything blog and on Twitter.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

More time in school? No thanks

In this month's issue of School Reform News, Lindsey Burke reports on President Obama's push for a longer school year, and quotes me in her story.
"As to what homeschoolers think of it as a policy prescription, I wouldn't presume to speak for a couple million people. We're a far too heterogeneous lot for that," said Brandon Dutcher, vice president of policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. "But there's a sense in which this idea is no different from fuzzy math, dumbed-down history, condom distribution, or whatever public-school follies are prevailing at the moment: Homeschoolers have simply chosen not to participate.

"Obama may want to separate children from their parents for longer and longer stretches of time, but we're teaching our children at home precisely because we want to be with them," Dutcher added. "Obama's plan would take us farther down the wrong road."

Critics do see a bright spot in the proposal, however.

"I am hopeful that just as Obama's overreaching in other areas has launched town halls and tea parties and has revived freedom-lovers everywhere, his overreaching here could end up driving more children away from government institutions and into the arms of their parents," Dutcher said.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The market is the answer (again)

Cato scholar Neal McCluskey writes:
USA Today has been running a lengthy series on the condition of food sold through federal school lunch programs, and today's installment is particularly interesting. It turns out that fast-food chains like Jack in the Box and Burger King -- predatory capitalists who want nothing more than to make filthy lucre off of unsuspecting hungry people -- have much higher meat quality standards than does the selfless government sworn to protect the public.

'School board democracy'

Reading today's news stories about local school-board candidates in Oklahoma (the filing period ended yesterday), I am reminded how much I agree with Professor Jay P. Greene on this matter: "Rather than rely on the phony democracy of low turnout and insider controlled school boards, reformers should rely on markets." Dr. Greene has concluded that people's widespread commitment to school board democracy
is part of our national secular religion of public school. It's actually more like a cult. We falsely believe that the public school is the foundation of our democracy when in fact our democracy preceded it by more than a century. We wrongly believe that the public school is the main engine of civic progress when we know that public schools were segregated by law for most of their existence. We wrongly believe that public schools are best at teaching political tolerance and other civic values, when the evidence shows that private schools actually serve these public goals better.

Another look at teacher pay

Earlier this year The Oklahoma Academy held its annual Town Hall conference, and I was pleased to contribute two articles to its 168-page background resource document, "Getting Ready for Work: Education Systems & Future Workforce." In reading through the publication today, I noticed an article ("The Value of Teacher Salaries") which referenced a website I hadn't seen before, TeacherPortal.com. The site, which is "dedicated to supporting current teachers and creating the next generation of educators," features "a proprietary way to tell how far a teacher's salary will go in each state. We look at cost-of-living, average salaries, starting salaries, and more." Oklahoma ranks a respectable 18th among the 50 states, a finding not inconsistent with what I have blogged before.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

'Charter schools against the odds'

"They're growing," The Wall Street Journal points out today, "despite union hostility."

9-year-old homeschooler ...

... plays with toy horses, dresses up Barbie dolls, and CLEPs out of Western Civ.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Does anyone think this will adversely affect student performance?

On May 4, 1991, the New York Times reported that, in addition to the district-office staffs of the 32 school districts in the New York City public school system, "supervising them are 3,930 central Board of Education employees. By contrast, just 33 people oversee the entire network of Catholic schools in New York City." (Student count: 110,000 Catholic school students; nearly one million public-school students.)

That article came to mind when I read Andrea Eger's report in the Tulsa World that "Tulsa Public Schools is looking to cut as many as 100 jobs in central administration to save $5 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year."

School choice as civil right

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) is in the news, Jennifer Rubin writes in The Weekly Standard, "taking a major role in the high-profile New Black Panther party (NBPP) voter intimidation case." But this is just one way the USCCR "is challenging liberal civil rights orthodoxies."
The USCCR is something of an oddity. Created in 1957 as part of the Civil Rights Act, it conducts investigations, holds hearings, and publishes reports -- about four a year -- on the key civil rights issues it decides the nation is facing. (Half of its eight commissioners are appointed by the president, half by Congress, with not more than four allowed from the same party.) ... Today a majority of commissioners favor a "conservative" view of civil rights -- opposition to racial preferences and adherence to a colorblind vision of the Constitution -- which they believe mirrors the original vision of our civil rights legislation. The USCCR's agenda includes voter fraud, the adverse impact of economic regulation on minority opportunity, school choice, and a number of other topics in conflict with liberals' civil rights agenda.

Oklahoma politicians trampling a fundamental human right

Thursday is Human Rights Day, a day celebrated around the world every year on December 10. According to Wikipedia, "the date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly's adoption and proclamation, on 10 December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights." Now what's interesting for the purposes of this blog is Article 26, Section 3 of the UDHR:
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Last year at a White House summit on faith-based urban schools, Dr. Charles Glenn, a professor at Boston University's School of Education, pointed out that "the right of parents to choose the schools that children attend is an internationally accepted norm."

Every country in the world except North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba allows parents to choose schools. Every Western democracy except the United States provides public funding to support those choices. As you all know, I think, under a decision of the Supreme Court in 1925, that right of parents to choose schools is recognized in American law as well. But there's a fundamental equity issue in the American situation in that parents who lack the resources to support nongovernment education for their children, are not able to exercise the right that they possess under those international norms.

The various international covenants for human rights spell out clearly that this is a fundamental human right, and the United Nations and UNESCO have both agreed that it is fundamental in vindicating the right to education that the education provided not only be adequate, but that it be acceptable to parents.

And yet, here in the United States, that right is trampled. Now some will disagree, asserting that parents in Oklahoma and the rest of the country are perfectly free to choose whatever education they want for their children. But are they? Edmond North High School, for example, is a "public" school, so surely anyone can go there, just as they could go to a public library. If you're an underprivileged student in northeast Oklahoma City, try enrolling at Edmond North and let me know how that works out for you.

But parents are free to choose a nongovernment school, right? Well, there's that "fundamental equity issue" -- after being taxed to subsidize a particular kind of education, often parents are no longer free to choose what they want for their children.

This is discrimination, and it needs to stop.

Monday, December 7, 2009

For 'charter colleges'

"As more donors and legislators rebel against campus intellectual repression," Prof. Marvin Olasky predicted in a recent column, "higher education's support base will shrink even as costs rise beyond the ability of financially beleaguered parents to keep up."
My own choice in this situation has been to leave the socialist sector of higher education and attempt to make a competitive private college work. That's hard going in today's economy, and for those who still hope to work within government-funded institutions a new alternative has emerged. Rob Koons, the University of Texas professor removed last fall as head of a UT Western Civilization program, is proposing that Texas legislators back the creation of charter colleges, as they now support the creation of charter schools.

Charter colleges could offer specific majors or they could be "core curriculum charters" that would offer "at least eighteen semester hours in ethics and the classics of Western civilization and of American thought." ... Charter colleges would receive per-student funding as charter K-12 schools now do. They could rent space in university buildings. Their liberty would be limited: They would have to be nonpartisan and nonsectarian in terms of control by religious institutions. They would have to offer a viable business plan, a governance structure satisfying the principles of professional responsibility and academic freedom, and a set of procedures and standards for hiring and retaining instructors."

Read Olasky's entire column here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

'The country is in gradual decline'

Checker Finn sees several "worrisome signs of national decay," among them "America's flat education results and sagging international performance."
Nearly all our major test-score trend lines have been horizontal for decades -- the small upward and downward blips tend to balance out -- and comparisons with other lands show us mediocre to woeful. We could once respond that the U.S. makes up in education "quantity" (e.g., graduation and matriculation rates) what we may lack in quality but that's not true any longer. Half a dozen countries now best us on those measures, too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Apparently no one's against it

KXII-TV, the CBS affiliate which covers southern Oklahoma, has an embarrassingly one-sided report on SQ 744.