Saturday, February 28, 2009

The audacity of hype

In a letter to the editor in today's Tulsa World, Tom McAlevey of Tulsa reminds Sandy Garrett that throwing more money at the failed status quo does not constitute "reform."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Garrett wants stimulus money for status quo

Here's the lede from a story the Associated Press moved yesterday:
TULSA, Okla. (AP) - State education officials hope to use funds from a federal economic stimulus package to expand early childhood education, longer school days in urban districts and an extended school year for others.

What's amusing is the headline the Associated Press saw fit to give the story: "Garrett wants stimulus money for reforms."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More tax-funded advocacy

The taxpayer-funded superintendent of the Duncan Public Schools is misinformed about school choice. I correct the record here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I trust those are snicker quotes, Jim

The Tulsa World's Jim Myers reports that
Oklahoma State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said Wednesday that funds in President Obama’s economic stimulus package will be used for "real reform" such as early childhood education expansion, longer school days for at-risk urban districts and an extended school year for others.

Talk is cheap

"Oklahomans may soon be able to get specialty license plates inscribed with 'In God We Trust,'" the Tulsa World reports today. "The Senate on Tuesday voted 44-0 for Senate Bill 2, which would add the new plate to the state’s list of specialty tags."

Slogans that will fit on a bumper sticker (or license plate) are all well and good, and I commend state Sen. Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant) for authoring this legislation. But I've got a better idea: Instead of sloganeering, let's empower some children to attend private schools where "In God We Trust" is a day-to-day reality.

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

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

So here's my modest proposal this Ash Wednesday. Let's pass a school-choice tax credit which would empower Oklahoma youngsters to attend a school where they can learn to love the Lord their God with all their minds.

Educator-misconduct watch

"An Owasso High School music teacher who is accused of sexually assaulting a student surrendered to authorities Tuesday night," The Oklahoman reports today.

You may recall that a recent analysis by the Associated Press found that "sexual misconduct 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.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Boren laments civic illiteracy

In a speech Saturday night at Mount Vernon, University of Oklahoma president David Boren "urged a renewed national focus on the teaching of American history," The Norman Transcript reports.
"To remain great, a nation must understand how it became great," he said. "Today Americans are shockingly ignorant of our own history."

He cited statistics showing that only half of U.S. high school graduates recently surveyed knew which side America fought for in World War II.

"The ignorance of our own history and the lessons that can be drawn from it in critical times like these is due to the fact that only 8 percent of America's colleges and universities require courses in American history and government to receive a degree," Boren said. "All students, regardless of their anticipated occupations, are citizens and their knowledge of our history and understanding of our constitution is vital to the future of our country."

I realize that Boren, ever the team player, is reluctant to criticize fellow members of the Takings Coalition (especially K-12 educators). But let's be frank here. It doesn't make sense to blame our widespread civic illiteracy on lax degree requirements at colleges and universities. Boren himself remarked that only half of high-school graduates knew which side American fought for in World War II. That's something a student should learn long before he graduates from -- or even drops out of -- high school.

Given his stature in Oklahoma, Boren would be doing a real public service if he would simply tell it like it is. To his credit, he did so in 2000, when he informed the regents that more than 48 percent of OU students admitted on the basis of their 3.0 high-school GPA needed remedial courses. "I'm sorry to say this may be a statement as to how well students are being prepared in the rest of our education system," Boren said.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Another day at the office

A former Oklahoma City high school teacher who had a sexual relationship with an underage student was sentenced this week to 476 years in prison, The Oklahoman reports.

By now these sorts of stories are commonplace. 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.

Also this week, "Star Spencer High School was placed on lockdown and every student was searched on Friday morning after reports of gang activity in the area," KOCO reports. "The lockdown comes a week after a student at Rogers Middle School brought a gun to school in a backpack."

School choice picking up steam

"In 2009, more American children than ever are benefiting from school choice," write Heritage Foundation researchers Dan Lips and Lindsey Burke.

Friday, February 20, 2009

School choice stimulus

The Associated Press reports that the federal "stimulus" package may include up to $339 million for Pell Grants in Oklahoma.

State Senate passes school choice tax credit

Despite facing a budget gap of $767 million, the state Senate yesterday passed legislation creating a $5 million scholarship tax credit program. The program would enable low-income students to attend private schools.

Alas, this took place in Indiana.

This week in the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate, a similar bill failed to make it out of the Finance Committee.

Heritage Foundation: Homeschoolers save taxpayers billions

"Now is a good time for policymakers to appreciate the growing homeschooling movement," says Heritage researcher Lindsey Burke.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

School vouchers in Enid!

According to Shawn Hime, superintendent of the Enid Public Schools, his schools have a voucher system that helps parents purchase shampoo and special combs for children with head lice.

Hey, I'm not going to pick nits. A voucher is a voucher.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

School choice saves money

Tom Waken of Oklahoma City has an excellent letter to the editor in today's Oklahoman:
Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, has said Catholic schools save taxpayers more than $19.6 billion every year. Ristau based the figures on an average public school cost per student of $8,701 per year, multiplied by the total Catholic school enrollment of 2.2 million students who would have been going to public schools if there were no Catholic schools.

Catholic schools are a gift to the nation; the enormity of the gift is more striking during these challenging economic times. In addition to the monetary rewards, the nation gains in other ways: Catholic school students excel academically on standardized tests, 99.1 percent graduate and 94 percent attend colleges or universities.

This is a good argument for school vouchers that would give parents a choice in educating their children. This would also relieve the overcrowding of our public schools and make them more productive in educating students.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Takings Coalition waking up to the dangers of SQ 744

In a visit last year to OCPA, conservative impresario Grover Norquist reminded his listeners that the modern American left can be thought of as a "Takings Coalition," a coalition of groups who view the proper role of government as taking money from people and giving it to other people to whom it doesn't belong. Says Norquist: "The Takings Coalition consists of the trial lawyers, the corrupt big-city machines, the labor union bosses, and the two wings of the dependency movement -- those who remain trapped in dependency and those who make $80,000 a year managing the dependency of others and making sure they don't get jobs and become Republicans."

Now where it gets interesting is when the budget gets tight and these various tax eaters start crowding each other at the trough. It's at this point, Grover pointed out, that they all start eyeing one another like the proverbial starving men in the lifeboat.

Which is why it didn't come as a total surprise to me when Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote a column opposing the OEA's proposed ballot initiative to hike school spending. Keep in mind that the AFT is part of the larger AFL-CIO. As Allen pointed out, the OEA plan would result in an $850 million loss to state agencies, and "unless the state receives a windfall in additional revenue, 12 percent across-the-board budget cuts for every agency will need to occur."
We cannot waive our responsibility to our most fragile citizens -- the old, the sick, the poor and the hungry. They depend on help with nursing home care, family health services to keep their children healthy, and in some cases they need the most basic necessity, food. These Oklahomans that most of us don't see on a regular basis can't take a 12 percent cut. The AFT will never support a proposal that leaves people behind with the sick becoming sicker and the poor made poorer.

Also left behind are state workers and their families, roads and bridges, corrections, public health and safety, and higher education, to name just a few. The simple truth is that large cuts will be made in every state agency unless current taxes or new taxes fill the $850 million loss.

If opposition from the center-right weren't enough to defeat the measure, opposition from the Takings Coalition is only going to compound the OEA's problems. And that opposition is starting to take shape. For example, in an e-mail today the TRUST (Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation) Coalition warned its members that "State Question 744 would break [the] state."

The Oklahoma Education Association is pushing the Helping Oklahoma Public Education (HOPE) ballot initiative for a vote of the people in the 2010 general election.

If passed, SQ 744 would constitutionally mandate per-pupil spending in Oklahoma be based on a regional state average. By the OEA's numbers this would shift $850 million of Oklahoma's existing revenues to Common Education.

A recent analysis compiled by Oklahomans For Responsible Government found the state could eliminate road and bridge funding entirely and the budgets for the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Conservation Commission, Department of Consumer Credit, Corporation Commission, Department of Environmental Quality, Insurance Commissioner, Department of Labor, Department of Tourism, Water Resources Board, Office of the Attorney General, Department of Public Safety, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Supreme Court and it would still not free up enough money to meet the OEA's demands. ...

TRUST is working with a broad coalition to begin educating Oklahomans on the catastrophic effects SQ 744 would have across all critical areas of state government, as well as the need to defeat SQ 744.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quote of the day

From Tulsa World editorial writer Wayne Greene:
One of the reasons Democrats have seen their decades of Legislative domination slip away is that they stopped being the party of education and started being the party of educators.

The new Republican coalition in Oklahoma counts among its numbers parents who are tired of education legislation always being about money and never about reform, never about results.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

American education 'stuck in the old way'

From Fred Barnes' interview with Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, published in today's Wall Street Journal:
What comes through when Mr. Bush is asked about education is how radical his views are. He would toss out the traditional K-to-12 scheme in favor of a credit system, like colleges have.

"It's not based on seat time," he says. "It's whether you accomplished the task. Now we're like GM in its heyday of mass production. We don't have a flourishing education system that's customized. There's a whole world out there that didn't exist 10 years ago, which is online learning. We have the ability today to customize learning so we don't cast young people aside."

This is where Sweden comes in. "The idea that somehow Sweden would be the land of innovation, where private involvement in what was considered a government activity, is quite shocking to us Americans," Mr. Bush says. "But they're way ahead of us. They have a totally voucherized system. The kids come from Baghdad, Somalia -- this is in the tougher part of Stockholm -- and they're learning three languages by the time they finish. ... There's no reason we can't have that except we're stuck in the old way."

So are Republicans, Mr. Bush believes. But with a few adjustments, the GOP can become a modern reform party. "I don't think there's anything that holds us back," he says. "I think we're actually well positioned to do exactly that." Mr. Bush would stand the party on its head by de-emphasizing Washington and mounting "a real effort to play offense outside of Washington in advancing a reform agenda. I think a respectful, policy-oriented opposition in Washington will be quite effective." But the states are where "being able to change things is easier to do."

Mr. Bush also has a suggestion for President Barack Obama.

"I think it would be great politically for President Obama" to break with one of his party's interest groups, Mr. Bush says. "I hope it's the teachers' union. He can bring about a transformation of education" and speak "on behalf of the kids that traditionally are shut out of the learning process, and [allow] a thousand flowers to bloom, not just one prescribed from Washington."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oklahoma's recruiting advantage

"Several Western states are launching aggressive efforts to poach jobs, talent and industry from California, sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the Golden State's current political and financial woes," Stephanie Simon reports today in The Wall Street Journal.

Oklahoma recruiters should join the fray. For as Scott Moody and I pointed out in the San Francisco Examiner and other newspapers, Oklahoma has its own unique recruiting advantage.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Horace Mann prophecy watch

Horace Mann, the homeschooling father of three who is 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. So it is that Oklahoma's most powerful labor union, the Oklahoma Education Association, finds itself lobbying for something called the School Protection Act. "House Bill 1598 will provide significant protection for teachers and education support professionals against violent students and parents," the OEA said yesterday.
The bill would:

* Make it unlawful and punishable by law to make a false criminal report against an education employee.

* Prohibit students from assaulting or causing harm to an education employee.

* Require suspension or restrict enrollment for students convicted of assaulting a school employee.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The surprising truth about teacher pay in Oklahoma

Democrat state Sen. Kenneth Corn is pushing for a $9,000 pay hike for public-school teachers and paid health benefits for their families. The state's largest newspaper suggests that, considering the fiscal crunch at 23rd and Lincoln, now might be a good time for Sen. Corn to act like "the responsible senator we know he can be, not a pandering candidate."

Interestingly, former public high-school teacher Terry Stoops, now an education policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation, has just released his annual report on teacher compensation in the 50 states. When adjusted for cost of living, pension contribution, and experience, teacher compensation in Oklahoma ($55,792) is higher than the national average.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Homeschool regs unnecessary

In a letter to the editor published today in the state's largest newspaper, my friend Karla Dial, managing editor of School Reform News, reminds us that it is wrong to assume that "homeschooling parents are guilty of a crime until they can prove otherwise. Leveling new regulations on families who legitimately homeschool their children will have little impact on the rare ones who enable truancy. In general, homeschooled children do at least as well academically as their peers in public school. In most cases, they do far better."

'Back on Uncle Sam's plantation'

"The legacy of American socialism is our blighted inner cities, dysfunctional inner city schools, and broken black families," Star Parker writes in her latest column ('Back on Uncle Sam's Plantation').

Monday, February 9, 2009

A universal education tax deduction

In the current issue of National Review, Cesar V. Conda, formerly an assistant for domestic policy to Vice President Dick Cheney, has a really good idea.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

$25,000 scholarships for special-needs children

The Oklahoman's Michael McNutt reports today that the autism debate remains a hot topic at 23rd & Lincoln.

Those wanting to help autistic children should turn their attention to SB 882 by state Senator Judy Eason McIntyre (D-Tulsa). It provides K-12 scholarships (up to $25,000) for students with special needs.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Obama's education secretary: states are 'lying'

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday that some states are "lying to children and families" about the quality of education they're providing.

Some prominent Oklahomans -- a state senator, the president of BOK Financial Corp., and the president of The State Chamber, among others -- are doubtless grateful for the air cover. This can only brighten the prospects for Senate Bill 1111, which will increase the transparency and accountability of student achievement data in Oklahoma.

School choice saves money

There's a $600 million budget hole at 23rd & Lincoln, with no guarantee that things will get better next year. Plus, there's a looming statewide vote on the school-employee labor union's irresponsible proposal to divert some $850 million more to education.

It's past time for policy-makers to understand and embrace this simple truth: school choice saves money. To see for yourself, check out this Fiscal Impact Calculator, a spreadsheet tool which can estimate how much school choice can save Oklahoma's policy-makers, thus freeing up money for roads and bridges, corrections, health care, and so on.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Let the sun shine in

Sunshine Week, spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, will be observed March 15-21, 2009. That would be a good time for state Superintendent Sandy Garrett to announce that Oklahoma's per-pupil expenditure in FY-2007 was in fact $10,942, and that from now on Oklahoma's education officials will no longer mislead taxpayers about the real costs of public education in this state. Read more at Sunshine Review, a terrific new wiki on government transparency.

Freedom fighters prevail

According to the Oklahoma Christian Home Educators Consociation (OCHEC), state Senator Jonathan Nichols (R-Norman), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, has declared that Senate Bill 308 and Senate Bill 472 will be killed in committee.

Quote of the day

From "School Choice as Simple Justice," a classic article by Berkeley law professor John E. Coons which appeared in the April 1992 issue of First Things:
We still arrange education so that children of the wealthy can cluster in chosen government enclaves or in private schools; the rest get whatever school goes with the residence the family can afford. This socialism for the rich we blithely call "public," though no other public service entails such financial exclusivity. Whether the library, the swimming pool, the highway, or the hospital—if it is "public," it is accessible. But admission to the government school comes only with the price of the house. If the school is in Beverly Hills or Scarsdale, the poor need not apply.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Senators discuss education reforms

The chairman and vice chairman of the state Senate Education Committee stopped by OCPA today to address a gathering I hosted of a couple dozen conservative leaders.

Sen. John Ford (center) and Sen. Clark Jolley (bottom right) outlined three key education reforms:

— Senate Bill 834, the School District Empowerment Program, which removes many of the state mandates from local school districts;

— Senate Bill 1111, which increases the transparency and accountability of student achievement data (along the lines discussed here); and

— Senate Bill 882, the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Educational Scholarship Act, which provides school-choice opportunities to students in low-performing schools and students with special needs.

Monson: Expanded school choice is 'going to happen, clearly'

Former state Sen. Angela Monson, a candidate in the Oklahoma City school board chairman's race, recently told The City Sentinel that the march toward educational choice will continue.
"That's going to happen, clearly." But she does not share the enthusiasm of advocates who want to extend options for inner city youth to include both private schools and a more robust charter system.

She reflected, "The reason there is such support for charter and private schools is that many public schools have not succeeded. They have not met the needs of our kids. They have not succeeded. Charter schools can require parental involvement, parental participation. That's crucial."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

BOK president points to 'inflated scores'

More earned media today for an important new study showing that education officials are misleading Oklahoma parents about student achievement.

Stan Lybarger, president and CEO of BOK Financial Corp., has an important editorial ('Inflated scores') in today's Tulsa World. He writes:
As CEO of a public company, I would never ask our chief financial officer to also serve as the bank's auditor. Proper checks and balances are required of public companies and are prudent for all business and government activities. It does not represent a lack of trust in the people involved; it is simply good governance to separate functions to protect the interests of all the stakeholders.

Oklahoma's K-12 education system, however, lacks appropriate checks and balances in its testing systems. The state Department of Education controls all functions of the state system, including developing the tests and interpreting the results.

Now, I hate to say I told you so — oh, who am I kidding? I don't mind it one bit — but I've been writing about this for 10 years. In one article (Reading Between the Lines), I pointed out that

The chief problem is simply that government is the main source of information about student achievement. No man should be a judge in his own case, but this is precisely what happens in education. The government owns and operates the schools, administers the tests, gathers the data on student performance, prepares the official reports announcing the results, and (perhaps most importantly) writes the attendant news releases.

'More than one way to skin a cat'

"A House committee Tuesday defeated a measure that would have required insurance companies to provide coverage of treatment for autistic children," The Oklahoman reported today.

Fortunately, as Democrat Senator Jay Paul Gumm pointed out, "There's more than one way to skin a cat around here, and we’re going to do our best to try to stand up for these kids." Parents should turn their attention to SB 882 by Democrat Senator Judy Eason McIntyre. It provides scholarships for students with special needs.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

And of course homeschoolers are notorious for their laziness

"I care about the kids not getting an education," state Sen. Jim Wilson says in this article. "What we're talking about is people too lazy to teach their kids."

I offer a few comments at the end of the article.

Monday, February 2, 2009

'An education stimulus?'

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. From a Washington Post house editorial:
Education is poised to win big under the economic stimulus plan hurtling through Congress. But it remains to be seen whether America's schoolchildren really will be helped by the huge investment of public funds that is being planned. After all, it seems that much of the billions of dollars of new federal spending is aimed at continuing programs and policies that largely have failed to improve student achievement. For the amount of money being spent, Congress should insist on real change, not simply more of the same.

HT: Mike Antonucci

Lost in translation?

The state's largest newspaper today makes mention of my cuddly little love note to state Senator Mary Easley.

Feds keeping track of school-choice progress

The federal government's National Center for Education Statistics has just updated its State Education Reforms (SER) website, which compiles and disseminates data on state-level education reform efforts, including school choice.

School-employee labor unions impeached!

Greg Forster reports from Washington.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Senator calls for truth in advertising

As I never tire of repeating, Oklahoma's education officials are misleading parents and taxpayers about student performance in this state.

Today in The Oklahoman, state Senator Clark Jolley (R-Edmond), vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, points to yet another study showing the same thing. The study "suggests our system leads children into a false belief they are prepared for college and/or the work force by inflating test scores," writes Sen. Jolley, himself a former public school teacher. "If you are a parent, you should have confidence that your children are performing at the level their scores suggest. If you are a taxpayer, you have the right to know how Oklahoma students truly compete nationally."