Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oklahoma ranks third in 'lying to children and families'

President Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, told The Wall Street Journal last month that some states are, ahem, "lying to children and families" about the quality of education they're providing. He repeated the assertion this month, telling George Will that "we have been lying to children and their parents because states have dumbed down their standards."

Now, which states might Mr. Duncan be talking about? This graphic from the Spring 2009 issue of Education Next speaks volumes:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Black senator says 'public education is hurting our kids'

The Education Gadfly reports that South Carolina state Senator Robert Ford (D-Charleston) has
introduced a bill to give students tax credits or tuition grants. His rationale is who will benefit the most: poor African-American students who are stuck in failing schools. "Public education is hurting our kids," he explained. "All of us have been defending the system. It's time to stop. I'm not pussyfooting with this anymore."

Welcome to the real world

Arguing that unionized public-school teachers are "professionals," labor union official Patti Ferguson of Tulsa writes in a recent letter to the editor that "teachers unions aren't about gaining power; they're about empowering teachers to give their all without having to worry about whether they'll have a job the next day."

But why should anyone -- professional or not -- be guaranteed a job? I strongly suspect that, especially in this economy, there are plenty of lawyers and accountants and other professionals who "worry about whether they'll have a job the next day."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Schools destroying freedom of speech

"Looking at America's public schools, it is difficult to imagine that they were once considered the hope of freedom and democracy," writes constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead. "That dream is no longer true."
The majority of students today have little knowledge of the freedoms they possess in the Constitution and, specifically, in the Bill of Rights. ... Clearly, high school civics classes are failing to teach the importance of our constitutional liberties. ... The horrific lesson being taught to our young people is that the government has absolute power over its citizens and young people have very little freedom.

Why we must fight ...

... for school choice.

Improving performance among Hispanic children

President Barack Obama recently delivered a speech on education reform to a national conference of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In a panel discussion later that day, Heritage Foundation analyst Dan Lips, co-author of an OCPA report on school choice, told the conferees of successful reforms in Florida.

"Over the past decade, no state has been more aggressive in reforming its public education system than Florida," Lips said. "And after 10 years, students in Florida have made dramatic gains in academic achievement." Indeed, on the NAEP 4th-grade reading test, Hispanic students in Florida now outscore the statewide average of all students in Oklahoma (something OCPA has pointed out before).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

No excuses

From an editorial column today by Yatin Mondkar in the student newspaper at Fullerton College:
Dove Science Academy, a predominately Latino charter school in Oklahoma, is comprised of a majority of students that come from poor families in communities where 60 percent of households do not speak English; yet the school achieves 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rates.

Hundreds of labor union members ...

... decided to skip class today.

Sen. Jolley echoes Obama's education secretary

President Obama's education secretary recently acknowledged that "sometimes you have to call the baby ugly." Clark Jolley agrees. Sen. Jolley, vice chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, writes in The Norman Transcript:
It is simply fact that 90 percent of fourth-graders were deemed "proficient and above" on the reading/English portion of a 2007 Oklahoma state test. But on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as "The Nation's Report Card," only 26 percent of fourth-graders were deemed proficient. That gap was similar for eighth-grade reading and math scores.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quote of the day

Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us. The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream.

-- President Barack Obama

For early-childhood choices

Adam Schaeffer, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute, says the push for universal preschool is really all about money, monopoly, and misdirection. A better idea: scholarship tax credits for low-income 4-year-olds.

'Some ugly baby, huh?'



"We have been lying to children and their parents because states have dumbed down their standards," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently told George Will. "Sometimes you have to call the baby ugly."

Homeschooling gave Blake Griffin a 'foundation'

There's a very moving story in The Kansas City Star about "a quiet little boy who blossomed into a 6-foot-10 behemoth with a million-dollar contract waiting for him after college." Bill Reiter reports that Tommy and Gail Griffin
had a son, Taylor. They'd take him to day care, and he'd sit quietly and wait to be dropped off. Then they had a second son, Blake, and this time he didn't follow his brother's example. He'd wail and cry. He wanted to be with his family.

"He'd always start out the same way," Tommy said. "He'd put his arms out and start crying. So Gail's crying the whole way in the car. It broke her heart every time."

As a result, they settled on a decision: They would homeschool their kids. Gail waited until the end of the semester and then quit her job teaching. In the quiet comfort of their home, using the dining room table as the schoolhouse, they instilled their values in their children. Home became a shelter from what the Griffins view as an America less and less open to the presence of God in our lives.

"Home school helped them a lot," Tommy said. "Because it gave them a foundation. We've deviated (in America) from our past to where we are right now. Here's a nation founded on the opportunity for freedom of religion, and every time you look around, there’s people saying God has to be taken out of this, out of this."

This, too, shaped that little boy into the Blake Griffin now leading the Sooners: Faith paramount to life.

"Our plans are good, but God's plans are better," Tommy said.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Oklahoma homeschool mom shines

The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, is an Oklahoma blogger (and homeschool mom) whose blog was recently named one of TIME magazine's 25 Best Blogs of 2009. What's more, Ree took home the award for the 2009 Blog of the Year.

Well, OK, maybe not terrible, terrible trouble

A couple of months ago, state Sen. Jim Wilson tried to warn Oklahomans that we got trouble -- terrible, terrible trouble -- right here in Oklahoma's homeschooling families. Sen. Wilson made the astonishing claim that, on average, homeschooled students are two years behind other students their age.

The state's largest newspaper promptly pronounced Wilson's claim "hogwash." For my part, I called the senator's office to ask for a citation on this rather bold assertion of his. I got his voice mail, so I left a message asking him to call me.

After two months, I'm starting to worry that he might not call me back.

"You hear examples of homeschool students excelling," Wilson said two months ago, "but that is not the norm." Well, apparently now it is the norm. Because now Wilson is telling the Tulsa World:
"I'll stipulate that nine out of 10 people who say they're home-schooling are really doing it, and they're doing a great job of it. I'll stipulate that all these kids are going to grow up to be National Merit scholars, OK? All of them. Fine."

Wow. That's quite a turnaround, senator. If there are approximately 33,000 homeschooled students in Oklahoma (as a state Department of Education spokesman estimates), that means Sen. Wilson accepts the proposition that there are more than 29,000 homeschoolers in Oklahoma who will become National Merit scholars.

Even I wouldn't go that far. Nevertheless, it's good to know that things in River City aren't so bad after all.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A tale of two management teams

By Bruce N. Shortt

Let’s conduct a thought experiment.

Suppose you have a critical project that is being carried out by two independent management teams. One team has a well-established track record of success even though it has always had very limited resources. The other management team fails at nearly everything it touches, despite having vastly larger resources than the other team. Nevertheless, the failed management team wants to regulate the successful management team. Would you agree to it?

State senators Jim Wilson (D-Tahlequah) and Mary Easley (D-Tulsa) introduced legislation this year that would have given the same pedagogically challenged bureaucrats who run Oklahoma’s failing government school system new power over Oklahoma’s highly successful homeschooling families.

Senator Wilson claims that he is motivated in large part by concern for the academic well-being of homeschooled children. Indeed, he has suggested in public statements that homeschooled students are behind their government schooled counterparts academically.

There is an element of humor in this. Fifteen to 20 years ago, government education bureaucrats, like Senator Wilson today, tried to discredit homeschooling by claiming that parent-directed education couldn’t possibly reach the lofty academic heights achieved by highly trained government education professionals. Sadly for the government education bureaucrats, however, when this "intuitively obvious" argument was put to the test, the results proved "counterintuitive," at least to the education bureaucrats.

In study after study, homeschooled children outperformed their government-educated counterparts. Moreover, studies found that this was not only true in the United States, but in other countries. Before long, the results became so profoundly embarrassing to the teachers' unions and other government education special interests that years ago they simply dropped the argument. Unfortunately for Sen. Wilson and Sen. Easley, someone forgot to send them the memo. Consequently, a brief review the situation is in order.

The facts about our two educational management teams—Oklahoma’s homeschool parents and Oklahoma’s government school bureaucrats—couldn't be clearer.

Management Team I

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as "The Nation’s Report Card," Oklahoma’s education bureaucrats have profoundly failed Oklahoma's children and taxpayers.
  • An astonishing 73 percent of Oklahoma’s 4th graders cannot read at grade level, and 35 percent cannot read at even a basic level. By 8th grade, 74 percent of Oklahoma’s children still cannot read at grade level, with 28 percent being unable to read at even a basic level.
  • In mathematics, 67 percent of the state’s 4th graders are below grade level, with 18 percent lacking even a basic grasp of mathematics. By 8th grade, math illiteracy is burgeoning in Oklahoma: 79 percent of students are below grade level in math, with 34 percent lacking even a basic understanding of mathematics.
Unfortunately, most Oklahoma parents generally don’t know much about the actual academic performance of Oklahoma's public schools. This isn't entirely their fault. Oklahoma's highly trained education professionals diligently work at making sure that parents aren't getting the facts.

Oklahoma’s education bureaucrats, together with their legislative enablers, have adopted a state "accountability test" (the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test) with standards so low that parents can be told that roughly 83 percent of Oklahoma’s 4th graders are reading at grade level, rather than the 27 percent that the NAEP reports. President Obama's education secretary said last month that some states are "lying to children and families"about the quality of education they're providing. Only Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia have been more aggressive than Oklahoma in trying to pull the wool over parents' eyes about reading performance.

But the bravura swindle by Oklahoma's highly trained education professionals doesn't end there. They’ve also managed to reduce the number of Oklahoma public schools failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind by 85 percent through the simple expedient of lowering standards. Because of a skillfully executed, but deceitful, public relations campaign, parents have been under the impression that 97 percent or so of Oklahoma’s public schools are making Adequate Yearly Progress, the highest percentage of any state in the nation.

Then there’s the embarrassing problem of Oklahoma’s dropout rate. Oklahoma is among the national leaders in underreporting its dropout rate (Oklahoma has ranked 12th out of 47 states in the national dropout lie-a-thon). So, parents and taxpayers also don’t know that roughly 30 percent of Oklahoma students drop out before graduating from high school.

And yes, Oklahoma’s government-school-bureaucrat management team accomplishes all this and more while spending, as OCPA research fellow Steve Anderson has demonstrated, $10,942 per student per year when all costs are taken into account.

Management Team II

What about the other management team—Oklahoma’s homeschool parents? No study anywhere has ever shown that homeschooled students in any state do worse academically than government-schooled students.

In fact, virtually every study ever done on the academic performance of homeschoolers shows that they do very substantially better academically than their bureaucratically managed government-school counterparts. For example, in the largest survey done so far on homeschool academic performance, the average homeschooled child scored at the 77 percentile on the nationally normed Iowa Test of Basic Skills. That’s 27 points better than the average government-schooled child, who is at the 50th percentile.

Further, studies have shown that the longer a child is homeschooled, the farther ahead academically he is compared to his government-schooled peers. One national study found that by 8th grade, homeschooled students were four grades ahead of the national average, and the average SAT score for students who had been homeschooled at least seven years was in the 92nd percentile.

Not surprisingly, no study has ever shown that regulation of homeschool parents by education bureaucrats has any positive effect on homeschooling academic outcomes. In fact, two studies have found that the degree of state regulation of homeschooling is not related to homeschool academic achievement or preparation for college.

But this is not all. Homeschooling research has revealed some additional interesting facts. For example, even if the homeschool parents lack a high-school diploma or are low-income, the available evidence shows that their children outperform the average government-schooled child by a substantial margin.

By how much? In a battery of tests covering writing and mathematics, government-schooled children with parents who hadn’t graduated from high school scored on average in the 34th percentile in writing and in the 28th percentile in mathematics. In contrast, in a battery of tests that included writing and mathematics, homeschooled children whose mothers had not graduated from high school scored in the 83rd percentile, while homeschooled children whose fathers had not graduated from high school scored in the 79th percentile.

Even more intriguing, there is at least some limited evidence that, unlike any other educational model, homeschooling may largely eliminate the achievement gap between blacks and whites. This may be one reason why minorities are probably the fastest growing demographic within homeschooling.

As for how homeschooling prepares children to become adults, a recent large study of homeschoolers who had reached adulthood found that adults who had been home educated had much higher levels of civic involvement, participation in higher education, and life satisfaction than adults who were not homeschooled. However, it should be pointed out that homeschooled children do lag their government-schooled counterparts in one area: they watch far less television.

Where is the evidence that homeschooled children would benefit from government regulation? Why would state legislators even consider giving more authority over homeschool parents to Oklahoma’s crack team of government educators—the folks who spend billions of dollars a year to achieve heretofore unknown levels of semiliteracy and illiteracy among otherwise normal children?

As unpleasant as it may be for the government-school special interests to acknowledge, children generally thrive in every way when they are homeschooled. This may explain why the National Center for Educational Statistics recently found that homeschooling grew by 36 percent between 2003 and 2007.

The state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, was right to criticize this “ill-advised proposal to crack down on homeschoolers.” Indeed, given the dismal track record of Oklahoma’s educational establishment, it would have made far more sense if Senators Wilson and Easley had introduced legislation requiring parents intending to send their children to government schools to register with homeschool parents, and for Oklahoma’s highly trained education professionals to be required to report to homeschool parents the academic progress of government-schooled students.

Bruce N. Shortt (J.D., Harvard University; Ph.D., Stanford University) is an attorney in Houston.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How to alleviate the budget shortfall

The budget hole this year at the state capitol is big, and next year's hole could be even bigger. But consider how much worse things would be if private-school parents weren't saving taxpayers a small fortune.

According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education (Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results from the 2007-08 Private School Universe Survey), there are some 300 private schools in Oklahoma serving approximately 34,354 elementary and secondary students.

What would happen if all these kids showed up at their local public school Monday morning? ("I'm here for my free education, please.") In order to maintain the current per-pupil expenditure in the public schools, politicians would have to come up with a few hundred million more dollars every year. And that's not counting construction costs. I've seen estimates of $15,000 to $35,000 per seat for a child in public school.

Politicians facing tough fiscal choices should be grateful for the many parents who are choosing to educate children on their own nickel, and should encourage this behavior by providing a school-choice tax credit.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who's committed to an educated public?

Supporters of school choice are sometimes accused of wanting to "dismantle public education." But in reality, school choice advocates are more committed to public education than Sandy Garrett, the OEA president, or Frosty Troy. As Andrew Coulson explains:
"Public Education" is a set of ideals. It is not a particular institution. It is the ideal that all children should have access to a good education, regardless of family income; that schools should prepare students not just for success in private life but for participation in public life; and that our schools should foster harmonious relations among the various groups making up our pluralistic society — or at the very least not create unnecessary tensions among them.

School choice advocates are more committed to those ideals than is anyone wedded to the current district-based school system, because that system is inferior in all of the above respects to a universally accessible education marketplace. This is documented in the literature review linked-to [here], in my book Market Education: The Unknown History, and in the work of James Tooley, E.G. West, my Cato colleagues, and many others.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Public school results at Casady prices

Sunshine Week, a project of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, is being observed this week. OCPA research fellow Steve Anderson thinks now would be a good time for a little sunshine and transparency from Sandy Garrett. Our state superintendent should inform Oklahoma's taxpayers that they're ponying up a whopping $10,942 per pupil.

Deregulation? Where?

Senate Bill 834, the School District Empowerment Program, has been approved by the state Senate and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The bill removes many of the state mandates from local school districts to give local school boards more control.

The state's most powerful labor union doesn't like this idea of school deregulation. Oklahoma Education Association advocacy specialist Linda Hendrix curiously averred, "We've seen how great deregulating is in the economic situation."

We have?

Where? When? "Under Bush, Congress passed one of the most onerous financial regulations in Sarbanes-Oxley, and added more than 1,000 pages per year in regulations to the Federal Register," Commonwealth Foundation scholar Nathan A. Benefield reminds us. Moreover, "the mortgage crisis was a failure of government. Government actors, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Community Reinvestment Act encouraged subprime lending. The Federal Reserve's effort to manipulate the U.S. economy by lowering, raising, lowering, and raising interest rates contributed to the boom in housing sales and prices, and then to the rise in mortgage defaults and foreclosures."

[UPDATE: A unionized school teacher in Tahlequah adds: "Remember how deregulation got us into trouble on Wall Street? Why would we want that in our schools?" A unionized school teacher in Moore is also sticking to the talking points: "Take a look at the financial markets. That's a good example of what's wrong with our country today -- economic deregulation. Are we gonna do the same with public education?"]

If the union is under the impression that a wave of deregulation has been sweeping Washington, D.C. or Oklahoma City, I'd sure like to know more about it.

This video explains how misguided government policies helped to create the housing bubble, which eventually led to the current financial crisis:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For early-childhood choices

Don Soifer of the Lexington Institute testified today before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. Key grafs:
Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman has been among the most prolific and persuasive advocates for the benefits of investing in quality interventions for financially disadvantaged, at-risk children that enrich children's early cognitive and noncognitive stimulation (such as motivation, self-discipline and understanding of time). "But it is foolish," he warns, "to try to substitute for what the middle-class and upper-middle-class parents are already doing." ...

A study by Jay Belsky and colleagues published in the journal Child Development in 2007 demonstrated that parenting quality significantly predicted all developmental outcomes measured including reading, math, and vocabulary achievement into the fifth and sixth grade, making it the most important factor in a child's development. A government program that would cause any child to enjoy less quality parenting time would thus be harmful to the child's educational prospects, and one that instituted a lower age of compulsory attendance would do so on a much larger scale. ...

Over eighty percent of children enrolled in early childhood programs in the United States are in privately run programs. Allowing tax dollars to follow the child honors a parent's choice while minimizing government entanglement. Parents with the fewest options economically could choose between part-day or full-day programs, based in a home, private or government center, or even a nonprofit or faith-based provider, as families whose incomes permit them to afford these choices do already.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

At least it's something

Superintendent Sandy Garrett informs us that "approximately 40,000 Oklahoma students transfer to the school of their choice annually." Well, maybe not their first choice. Nevertheless, public-school choice is better than no choice at all, and "parents wanting to transfer their children in or out of an Oklahoma school district for the upcoming school year have until Wednesday, April 1, to make their request."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A voucher milestone

"Through his press secretary Robert Gibbs, President Obama has declared that he will reverse congressional Democrats' phase-out of the DC Opportunity Scholarships program," Andrew Coulson writes in a new blog post.
The old guard of the Democratic party — typified by congressional leaders — still imagines that school choice is bad for them. They still think that they can roll back time to a period when the public school monopoly was inviolate. That time has passed. Real educational freedom is spreading — slowly — around the country. That is not going to stop.

The last Democrats to be found jamming their fingers into the dike, hoping to stop the flight to educational freedom, will find their political careers swept away when that dike finally crumbles.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where are the vaunted government watchdogs?

My friend Andrew Coulson wants to know.

'Prisons rather than places to learn'

Mitch Duprez recounts some experiences as a public school teacher in south Oklahoma City and concludes, "I must honestly say, after that experience I understand why some people would not send their child there. I could not see myself sending my child to the school where I taught."

Mr. Duprez says "schools can resemble prisons rather than places to learn."
It took me a while to adjust to the metal detectors, the bag searches, the students sitting on their hands lining the hallway while the teachers walk up and down the corridors like prison guards. Then the bell rings and all Hell breaks loose. ... Another major issue in my school was the gang problem. I'm talking about 13 and 14 year old kids in gangs. ... Keeping order in the classroom took up most of my time, leaving little time for actual teaching. ...

So, be careful when deciding whether or not you would send your child to public school.

Of course, if you can't afford private school tuition you may not have much of a choice.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Perhaps the education lottery proceeds can help fund the audits

According to a state House press release, "lawmakers voted today to subject Oklahoma schools to random audits to discourage embezzlers."

This is probably a good idea, given that "embezzling money to fuel a gambling habit is becoming one of the most typical crimes prosecutors say they deal with in Oklahoma courts," as the Tulsa World recently reported.
To [Muskogee County District Attorney Larry] Moore and many others, it seems an increasing number of residents, often with otherwise clean records, are resorting to embezzlement, theft or fraud to supply a gambling habit since Oklahomans approved state questions in 2004 that allowed the state to enter into compact agreements with the tribes as well as a statewide lottery.

D.C. schools have 'more money than God,' yet outcomes 'disastrous'

Washington Post staff writers Bill Turque and Maria Glod report:
History has shown that money alone does not drive school improvement, [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan said, pointing to the District of Columbia, where public school students consistently score near the bottom on national reading and math tests even though the school system spends more per pupil than its suburban counterparts do.

"D.C. has had more money than God for a long time, but the outcomes are still disastrous," Duncan said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters.

School choice can ease overcrowding

Jacqueline Sit of NEWS 9 reports that parents in Moore had to camp out for two nights in an attempt to ensure their children got a spot in kindergarten. "Enrollment for the all-day kindergarten starts Monday morning," she reports, "and parents are willing to do whatever it takes to score one of the 20 openings at Broadmoore Elementary School."
"I'd like the full day, but there's half day alternative. And we'd still have to pay out of pocket for daycare outside of the half day kindergarten. Ideally, I'm trying to get the full day. That's why I'm here on a Saturday night," parent Matthew Wells said.
Here's one solution. The Alliance for School Choice has pointed out that "the physical constraints of many public schools and the fiscal constraints of many state and local governments have forced advocates for increased public investment in early education to compromise with their legislative opponents in nearly every state by supporting the use of public funds for these young children to attend private schools." Indeed, "in the last two years, many of the states embracing greater public support for early education have chosen to allow for parental choice through vouchers or tax credits."

The time has come for that sort of compromise here in Oklahoma. Oklahoma parents who send their kindergartners to a private school should receive a tax credit for tuition expenses. Moreover, Oklahoma should enact a tax credit for donations to school tuition organizations which enable low-income children to attend kindergarten at private schools.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Quote of the day

"We've seen how great deregulating is in the economic situation. It has a nice name to it but that doesn't mean that it's a good thing."

-- Oklahoma Education Association advocacy specialist Linda Hendrix, voicing opposition to a school district deregulation bill in Oklahoma

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Quote of the day

"Research shows that 10 percent or fewer teachers at these [inner-city] schools actually want to be there."

-- State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton (D-Oklahoma City), in a press release today

The First Parent ...

... has a big decision to make.

Monday, March 2, 2009

POTUS does the right thing

"The most honest, decent, and thoughtful Democratic president of modern times, Jed Bartlet, was surprised to find himself supporting vouchers on an episode of NBC's 'The West Wing,'" David Boaz reminds us today. Click here for a terrific video clip.

'Dropout discrepancies'

The Tulsa World reports:
More than 120 students dropped out of Tulsa County middle schools during the 2006-07 school year, state data show. Yet each middle school recorded a 0 percent dropout rate in Oklahoma Department of Education records.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Thank you sir may I have another!

If 11 grand per student just isn't enough, you can always donate more money to the government.