Monday, January 31, 2011

More lawlessness?

Could it be that lawbreaking isn't limited to those infamous Tulsa-area school districts? According to state Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie), the state Department of Education (pre-Janet Barresi) refused to cooperate with a recent study of state's IT systems. "In fact, the department wouldn't allow state officials to conduct the study even though it is mandated by law."

What's up with that?

ESA, not KKK

State Superintendent Janet Barresi recently tweeted about a "thought-provoking column" on empowering parents with Education Savings Accounts. It's the same idea I mentioned recently in The Oklahoman. Over at National Review Online, Reihan Salam calls it one of "the most significant, transformative ideas I’ve ever seen advanced by an actual elected official with any real power."

The more I ponder it, the more inclined I am to agree. Education Savings Accounts just might be, in the words of my compadre Matt Ladner, "the way of the future."

Schools commit fraud

... by failing to educate.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

'A more powerful transcript'

In time, many Oklahoma parents will start to ask themselves: "Why should I settle for having my Johnny being taught by the football coach when teachers like this are available?"

Ed Kelley thinks Barresi 'will eventually win the war'

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Think tank measures educational productivity

There they go again. Another think tank that doesn't recognize the inherent sacredness of education, that seems to think education can be treated like some sort of business or something.

This latest think-tank report (Return on Educational Investment: A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity) concludes that "low productivity costs the nation’s school system as much as $175 billion a year." A separate website even provides an interactive district-by-district evaluation of educational productivity.
Our nation’s school system has for too long failed to ensure that education funding consistently promotes strong student achievement. After adjusting for inflation, education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades. But while some states and districts have spent their additional dollars wisely—and thus shown significant increases in student outcomes—overall student achievement has largely remained flat. ...

Without controls on how additional school dollars are spent, more education spending will not automatically improve student outcomes.

I could go on, but you've heard it all before from Heritage, Cato, AEI, etc. This report, however, comes from the lefty, Soros-funded Center for American Progress.

Credit union

"One of my top priorities in my first year in office," says Superintendent Janet Barresi, "will be to encourage innovation and choice in Oklahoma’s education system by working with Governor Fallin and members of our Legislature on policies like tuition tax credits."

I tell ya, these right-wing radicals are taking over. What would Democrats like Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Jimmy Carter say?

Public schools must take all comers?

Clifton Ogle is president of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. In a letter to the editor published yesterday in The Oklahoman ("Private schools, not parents, make student choices"), Mr. Ogle made the point that "most private schools and even many religious schools have admissions tests and other requirements. Unlike public schools, private and religious schools are free to reject or expel students for almost any reason."

Professor Jay Greene throws cold water on that selectivity argument:
Surprising as it may be, most private schools are not very selective. A study of the nation's Catholic schools concluded that the typical institution accepted 88 percent of the students who applied. Other research in D.C., Dayton, and New York private schools found that only one percent of parents reported their children were denied admission because of a failed admissions test. Moreover, the academic and demographic backgrounds of students who use vouchers to attend private school across the country are very similar to those who don't.

Private schools don't significantly alter their student populations by expelling low-achieving or troublesome students, either. One study found that, Catholic high schools dismiss fewer than two students per year, on average. While it is true that every student is officially entitled to a publicly funded education, students in public schools are regularly expelled. According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly one percent of all public school students are expelled in a year, and an additional 0.6 percent are segregated into specialized academies. That's more than in Catholic and other private schools. Moreover, public schools actually contract out 1.3 percent of their disabled students to private schools.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A dying breed

"We don't need reform, we need more money for an antiquated monopoly."   

In an insightful editorial ("Oklahoma Board of Ed power play may backfire on board members"), the state's largest newspaper observes: "If it's a power coup some members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education were seeking, they'll likely get their wish. Just not in the way they envisioned."

Here's hoping it will be in the way OCPA envisions.

Comments-policy reminder

Some of the comments I've received lately are not eligible for posting. Please remember: All opinions are welcome as long as they include the commenter's name and don't violate the common rules of netiquette.

Barresi touts tax credits during National School Choice Week

Price is right

Bill Price, a leader in the national school choice movement and chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition, talks with Dick Pryor.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fireworks at the state Board of Education meeting

Peter J. Rudy has the early report. OCPA's response is here.

Forbes cites Oklahoma special-needs article

In his Forbes “Fact and Comment” section, Steve Forbes (pictured here at OCPA) makes mention of a recent OCPA article:

Mother Knows Best

When Oklahoma legislators were debating the special needs scholarship bill in May, one state representative actually suggested that school choice was dangerous because parents “may think they know what’s best––but do they?” I promptly blogged on the matter, concluding with “a very important question for Rep. [Neil] Brannon: If the parents of House District 3 aren’t capable of choosing a good school for their children, how can they be trusted to choose a competent official to represent them in the Oklahoma House of Representatives?”

––Brandon Dutcher, vice president for policy, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, in School Choice Advocate

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

'A different child'

"Trent Kimery, now 8, struggled in his first-grade class in a Broken Arrow public school," Kim Archer reports in the Tulsa World.
As a child with Asperger's syndrome, a sensory processing disorder and other problems, the child was antisocial. He cried nearly every day. And he begged to be kept home.

Based on the passage of HB 3393 that directs public schools to provide private school scholarships for children with special needs, Trent's parents enrolled their son in Town and Country School, 5150 E. 101st St. ...

"Within that first month at Town and Country, we had a different child," Nancy Kimery said. "He smiles. He literally gets out of the car and runs to the door." ...

"I am not against public education. It just didn't work for my son. He was slipping through the cracks," [Nancy Kimery] said.

Not only is she a former public school teacher, but Kimery has a daughter in Broken Arrow's middle school and another who graduated from the school system and is attending Oklahoma State University. ...

"I knew how happy my son is where he is and we are dependent on that scholarship," Kimery said.

Meanwhile, the state's largest newspaper is none too pleased with litigious superintendents who are content to let children slip through the cracks. "The superintendents’ opposition to this law isn’t about what’s best for children, it’s about money," The Oklahoman editorializes today. "And their arrogance tarnishes the efforts of those who really are focused on improving public education."

School choice is good for teachers

According to this unionized teacher.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Great moments in harassment

Some school officials who don't like Oklahoma's special-needs scholarships are telling parents that the scholarships are taxable income. They're not.

Why do these officials persist in making life difficult for parents? Oh, I remember. It's because the bureaucrats just don't get it.

Barresi marks National School Choice Week

"State Superintendent Janet Barresi is honoring National School Choice Week, a celebration this week focusing on the need for effective educational options for every child," according to a news release from her office.
"One of my top priorities in my first year in office will be to encourage innovation and choice in Oklahoma’s education system by working with Governor Fallin and members of our Legislature on policies like tuition tax credits," said Barresi. "Choice encourages competition, and competition spurs excellence. We need to do a better job of providing parents with choices that will help their children, rather than attempting to force every family into a one-size-fits-all approach."

Barresi said decisions by some Tulsa-area school administrators to sue over special needs children tuition scholarships placed a spotlight on the need for more choice in Oklahoma.

"We've seen some local school districts make questionable decisions in defiance of state law, trying to force litigation and cost taxpayers more money," said Barresi. "We need to explore every option we can to empower parents, instead of thwarting their ability to do what's in the best interests of their children."

As part of events marking the national week, Superintendent Barresi will participate in a panel discussion Tuesday evening at a special showing of the new documentary, "The Cartel" at Oklahoma Christian University. "The Cartel" focuses on New Jersey's failing education system -- a state where per-pupil spending ranks among the highest in the nation but students graduate with shockingly low proficiency in reading and math.

"A growing number of documentaries over the past year have exposed the failures in America’s education system, even as education spending has increased by more than 200 percent over the past quarter century," said Barresi. "Far from being immune to these problems, Oklahoma faces a crisis. Studies show we are among the worst states in producing top-achieving math and science students."

Barresi joins other National School Choice Week participants across the country including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, commentator Juan Williams, Grammy-award winning singer Jon Secada, Black Alliance for Educational Options Chairman Kevin P. Chavous, and former New York Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

Three-fourths of Oklahoma students not proficient in science

"New results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released today show most Oklahoma students are not proficient in science," according to a news release from state Superintendent Janet Barresi. "Seventy-two percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders taking the test and 75 percent of eighth-graders taking the test fell below 'proficient' -- meaning they scored at 'basic' or 'below basic.'"

'The start of a new era, not a storm to be weathered'

Tom Vander Ark, writing at HuffPo:
Money manager Whitney Tilson suggests that the fiscal crisis "means that the 100+ year bull market in education funding is likely over." Over the last thirty years, we doubled staffing ratios, added generous pensions, and greased the wheels of reform with lots of extra spending -- that is over. The ARRA stimulus will be noted as the zenith of education funding (and federal control in education); states are broke, the cliff is here.

Oklahoma's bureaucratic-bloat argument

... is coming to a head.

Monday, January 24, 2011

'We face a crisis in education'

So says Oklahoma's state school superintendent.

Superintendents fight rearguard action

"The superintendents of the Broken Arrow, Jenks, Liberty, and Union school districts announced at a Monday afternoon press conference their plan to sue Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt over the issue of private school scholarships for disabled students," the Tulsa World reports.

So as this matter makes its way through the courts -- and the defenders of the status quo are forced to defend anti-Catholic bigotry -- policymakers should turn their attention to SB 969, a bill by Sen. Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) which will help special-needs kids and more.

Clearly these superintendents have no choice but to use force to maintain their salaries and benefits. (It's not like private firms are beating down their doors with offers to pay them two hundred grand a year.) They must block the schoolhouse door to keep the little revenue units trapped inside. David Boaz puts it well in his book The Politics of Freedom:
Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product. School boards, superintendents, and teacher unions are convinced that no one would attend public schools if they had the choice. Like Fidel Castro and former postmaster general Anthony Frank, they have a keen sense of the consumer demand for their product and are fighting a rearguard action to protect their monopoly.

But school choice marches on, and history won't look kindly on those who attempted to block the door, denying some children their only shot at the American dream. As Cato's Adam Schaeffer writes, "Choice opponents are on the wrong side of right and the wrong side of history."

National School Choice Week

... is underway, and Bill Price, chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition, has an article in today's Oklahoman calling for more parental choice.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Teacher offended by bureaucratic-bloat article

A recent article (and accompanying pie chart) by Dr. Greg Forster, "The Blob That Ate the Schools," caught the attention of a first-grade teacher in the Burns Flat-Dill City school district in western Oklahoma. She sent along her thoughts on the matter, which are published below (unedited) in their entirety.

This is in reference to Greg Forster’s article “The Blob That Ate the Schools”. Being a teacher in Oklahoma, I take offense to this article. Have you ever taught a day in our public school system. Not only do you expect us to teach our children, which I gladly and proudly do well, but you expect us to do so with out the assistance or limited assistance of janitorial staff, nurses, aides, bus drives and cooks. So we are to teach successfully as well as clean the toilets, cook their meals, take their temperature and drive buses (which we do anyway). We are to contract out to professionals to provide meal service. We are to do this in a rural town where we have one restaurant and two quick stops and the nearest town of decent size is twenty miles away. Please do not assume that we have a small enrollment because of what I have listed, in our grade school we have nearly 700 students, many classes with twenty five to thirty kids, so please do not offer up any comments on consolidation, we are consolidated. This would also take employment from our community and give it to a bigger community. The one thing I do agree on is we are definitely taking on the role of the parent. This is something I think our government has had a direct impact on make happen. Make the parents accountable to make sure their children are in school, and have been taught morals and values, are clean, do their homework, etc. Make them accountable when they fail in these areas and then their children don’t make the test scores. Another topic of high debate is extending the school day, this is not the solution, it just gives me the opportunity to be their parents. I am a parent and my children deserve me at home at a decent time. I have to be at school by 7:30, usually my school children have been dropped off before I arrive. I do not leave until five or six in the evening completing lesson plans, grading papers, tutoring and making parent contacts. As far as money going to private and charter school, I have no problem with this as long as you hold them to the same criteria public school has to abide by, you may not be selective as to whom you wish to attend your school. You can not simply cast out the bad apples and keep the good ones. My opinion, do not broadcast your opinion unless you have been in the classroom recently. I wonder if Mr. Forster has someone that cleans his office and bathroom or if he does that himself?


1st Grade Teacher, Oklahoma

UPDATE: As it happens, Mr. Forster does indeed clean his own bathroom.

Tulsa World editor gives helpful adivce on tuition tax credits

Alas, for 18-year-olds. Remind me again why we can't have them for 17-year-olds.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lawbreakers prepare to cave

If you can't make 'em see the light, make 'em feel the heat.

For Pennsylvania-style choice

In a post yesterday ('Speaker to file choice bill'), I noted that The Oklahoman reported that Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele said he would file a bill "based on a Pennsylvania measure. It allows individuals and corporations to donate to a scholarship-granting organization in return for a tax credit; children in any school district could apply for the scholarship to help pay the cost of attending the school of their choice or to help pay tutoring costs."

Needless to say, I was quite pleased that the Speaker would file a Pennsylvania-style choice bill. The Pennsylvania school choice program provides a tax credit for contributions to scholarship organizations which give private school scholarships. It also provides a tax credit for Educational Improvement Organizations (EIOs) which support innovative programs in public schools, but that portion was added in the sausage-making process merely to secure passage. It's the tail, not the dog, and no one in the school-choice movement is confused about which is which.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma HB 2133 is all about the government-run schools, with nothing for private schools. I'm not sure the bill merits opposition, but it's certainly nothing to get excited about. Still, I think it's too early to give up on it. The Speaker believes some children should have options to attend private schools, and thanks in part to his leadership those children now have those options. So I'm hopeful HB 2133 can be amended to look more like Sen. Dan Newberry's SB 969, which truly is a Pennsylvania-style school choice bill.

'If you are worried about socialism, start at the schoolhouse, not the White House'

In the January 24 issue of National Review, Kevin Williamson, author of the newly published The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, discusses the "right of eminent domain over the lives of American children."
It would be difficult to find in the United States any profession so dedicated to socialism as that of educators, and difficult to find any argument for socialism as popular as the cause of public education. ...

The public schools constitute one of the most popular instantiations of socialism in American life, though Social Security and government-funded transportation systems no doubt rank nearly as high. But popular with whom? Certainly the educators and administrators who run the system are largely pleased with it, as they should be; the noncompetitive nature of government-run education provides them with salaries and benefits far exceeding what they plausibly could earn in the private sector. Some parents and property owners are very happy with the public schools as well. The well-off and well-connected tend to enjoy reasonably good public schools, which help sustain high residential real-estate values in the largely suburban communities that host them. But other Americans are much less pleased with their government schools, particularly the poor, non-whites, and those living in inner cities. Black families, in particular, consistently rate their government schools as performing poorly, and their subjective impressions are borne out by empirical data. The public schools are not a random or inexplicable failure. They are a classical socialist failure, with massively misallocated resources, an ensconced bureaucratic class, and a needlessly impoverished client class. ...

In the United States, we have an education system that already is socialized to a greater extent than Lenin managed for Soviet agriculture. ... If you are worried about socialism, start at the schoolhouse, not the White House.

Barresi applauds Pruitt, urges lawbreakers to relent

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Speaker to file choice bill

The "65% solution" makes for good headlines, but the real news here is that the House Speaker himself is filing a Pennsylvania-style tax-credit scholarship bill. That's huge.

Legislation like this will help hundreds (and eventually thousands) of Oklahoma students. And unlike with the Henry Scholarships, rogue school districts won't be unable to interfere.

'Miss America, Miss Oklahoma shine light on homeschooling'

Nice editorial today in the state's largest newspaper.

Special Ed kids to private schools? It already happens

Here's something Cathy Burden, Kirby Lehman, Jarod Mendenhall, and the other rogue superintendents don't like to mention: Lots of special-needs kids already attend private schools at taxpayer expense. As my compatriot Matt Ladner explains:
Nationwide, 2 percent of children with disabilities attend private schools at school district expense. Generally speaking, they were the kids with parents who had the ability to hire fancy attorneys who specialize in federal disability law. Sometimes these kids have successfully sued the district to get to a private school, sometimes a consensual agreement is reached for a private placement. Sometimes it is consensual, and other times it is "consensual" in the sense that districts are pretty good at figuring out when they would lose a lawsuit and cut their losses.

In any case, [a special-needs scholarship] gives parents who don’t have fancy lawyers power -- the power to leave. [Special-needs scholarship] children stopped being a largely captive audience and became more like a client -- a client you can lose if you fail to satisfy them.

Dr. Vineyard need not worry

Retired Oklahoma educator Edwin Vineyard is worried that politicians are "undertaking wholesale changes in our educational system, its structure, and its academic standards and requirements without consultation with knowledgeable professionals."
Are we about to embark on changes without looking at research relevant to these decisions? Although we have an aversion to looking at practices elsewhere, especially internationally, we are nevertheless constantly comparing our student product and test scores. Should we not also look at their practices as well?

As one of those "education reformers" Dr. Vineyard is so leery of, I want to assure him that we have in fact undertaken a review of the international evidence and are proceeding accordingly.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Barresi takes note of Florida plan

This morning on Twitter, state Superintendent Janet Barresi pointed to a "thought-provoking column about giving parents more choices."

Indeed, the column by Patricia Levesque is about a proposal in Florida "that would extend choice to all parents." It's the same proposal I mentioned earlier this week in The Oklahoman. Reihan Salam calls it one of "the most significant, transformative ideas I’ve ever seen advanced by an actual elected official with any real power."

The times are changing, my friends. Even the folks over at Newsweek are now acknowledging that "momentum [for school vouchers] seems to be shifting — at least at the state level. Four new GOP governors have backed voucher programs, including three that also have Republican majorities in their legislatures. The most intriguing reforms are in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott is the first to propose making vouchers available to all students, not just those in low-income areas."

I'm not saying Gov. Mary Fallin or Supt. Barresi would necessarily go so far as to embrace Gov. Scott's idea. But make no mistake, education policy in Oklahoma is going places that Gene Stipe can't fathom and Stratton Taylor can't believe.

Pruitt to lawbreakers: The fun's over, kids

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

Attorney General Scott Pruitt has threatened legal action against the school districts that are openly flouting Oklahoma's special-needs scholarship law. Cathy Burden, Kirby Lehman, and Jarod Mendenhall are now on notice that "Willful neglect or disobedience to performing duties established by Law exposes you and members of your Board of Education to legal liabilities, both official and personal."

Please be advised that unless you notify me by no later than Monday, January 24, 2011, that you will discontinue your present course, and promptly execute the duties your School District set forth in the Act and promptly give scholarships for the period for which they were requested, I will take such legal action available to me as Attorney General of Oklahoma as appropriate to enforce the requirements of Law.

Bold action required to benefit students

[This column by Brandon Dutcher appeared January 17, 2011 in The Oklahoman.]

Recent news reports informed us the U.S. Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last year. Another informed us that a postal workers union had to extend its election deadline because thousands of ballots … got lost in the mail.

We laugh, but we shouldn't be surprised. Create a heavily unionized, government-owned, government-operated monopoly, and problems will ensue. That's true whether you're trying to deliver mail, or trying to deliver education.

Public education's productivity collapse has been nothing short of staggering, Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson wrote in 2009 in Investor's Business Daily. "Once upon a time, America could afford to sustain a parasitic school monopoly, fecklessly throwing billions more dollars at it decade after decade despite its failure to improve. That time has passed. … The perpetuation of that monopoly puts our economic future at unacceptable risk."

Indeed, a 2009 report from McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, found that America's "underutilization of human potential" imposes "the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession."

It's no wonder business leaders are starting to take note. In November, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The State Chamber of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition and others teamed up to host an Oklahoma City screening of the powerful documentary Waiting for 'Superman.'

And this month the presidents of the Oklahoma City, Tulsa and state chambers unveiled a joint agenda that includes proposals making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.

All of which is good. But when confronting a permanent national recession, tinkering at the edges is not going to suffice. As Coulson put it, "It's time to bring the field of education into the fold of the free enterprise system."

"Many policy proposals are on the table that could inject market forces back into the field of education, bringing to it the same long-term productivity growth that has been the norm in other fields," he said.

Currently there are limited voucher and tax-credit programs operating in 16 states. But according to Coulson, "the first states to combine and expand these programs on a grand scale will become magnets for businesses in search of better-educated workers and lower taxes, leading to an economic and educational boom. The states that don't will continue to burn in the budgetary hell created by monopoly schooling, needlessly jeopardizing their children's economic and educational futures."

If our policymakers want Oklahoma to become a magnet for business — if they're serious about beating Texas — then bold action is required.

My money's on Florida. "Why should we cling to models created in another century?" newly elected Gov. Rick Scott asked in his inaugural address this month. "Why should we allow bureaucracies to make our decisions for us?"

Scott is considering a plan that would essentially give everyone a voucher. Parents could create an education savings account for their child, then receive state funds equal to 85 percent of the child's per-pupil funding in the public school system.

Electronic funds transfer, please. Don't put the check in the mail.

The truth about school choice

"How are school choice programs meeting students' educational needs," The Heritage Foundation asks, "and what national trends define school choice in America today?" To find out, go to Heritage on January 26 or watch online.

Thank you, sir, may I have another?

Bless his heart, Jim Wilson is back for his annual shellacking. He wants to put homeschoolers in detention and make them report to their masters. Be sure to read this and this before you call your legislators urging them to oppose these tiresome bills which are going nowhere.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

But what about socialization?

The new Miss America, at 17 one of the youngest winners ever, was "home schooled until her junior year because she needed to grow out of being shy as a child."

[Cross-posted at Dutch, Reformed]

Friday, January 14, 2011

Teaching children to hate America

In public schools, anti-Americanism hides in plain sight.

Tulsa lawbreakers poised to relent

"The Tulsa school board will reconsider its decision not to process any more private school scholarship applications for students with special needs," Andrea Eger reports.

It's almost as if they see the writing on the wall.

ALEC highlights Oklahoma's success

"Oklahoma's children with special needs now have the chance for a better education -- an education chosen by their parents, not one mandated by government bureaucrats," Leslie Hiner writes ("Oklahoma Schools Other States") in Inside ALEC, a publication of the American Legislative Exchange Council. After quoting a famous line from our state song, Hiner continues:
To be sure, Oklahoma is doing better than okay. House Bill 3393, which will provide school-choice scholarships to students with special needs, passed both the state's legislative chambers after receiving bipartisan approval in the House and more narrow support in the Senate. On June 8, Gov. Brad Henry (D) signed the program into law, making it the country’s first private school choice program enacted in 2010.

The House measure -- named the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act after Gov. Henry’s infant daughter who died of Werdnig-Hoffman Disease -- redirects dollars spent on a participating child at his current public school to a public or private school of his family’s choice. Five percent of the funding amount will be retained by the child’s school district for administrative purposes.

Specifically, the scholarship amount is equal to the state and local dollars that would have been spent to educate the child in his public school or the amount of private school tuition, whichever is less. After a child receives a scholarship, he would continue to receive it each year through high school graduation. The program is a win-win for students, parents, taxpayers, and schools.

After all, scholarships allow participating students to enroll in private schools that better meet their unique needs. For those families that are happy with their children's progress in public schools, chances are they will keep their children in their current school. As with similar programs across the country, this is a choice -- not an order.

The program's fiscal effects reveal further benefits: Public schools will lose the liability of being sued by parents who want to remove their child with special needs from public school. In addition, there are no residual financial obligations by the public school if one or more of its students depart using a scholarship. If families are planning to remove their child, they must give the school 60-days notice.

Best of all, Oklahoma’s proposal is fiscally neutral, and may even provide cost savings to taxpayers. Remember, scholarships are worth either the state and local dollars currently spent on a child with special needs or the cost of private school tuition, whichever is less. In good economic times or bad, school choice eases the burden on state taxpayers.

Opponents of such programs claim private schools don’t ensure children are being protected and achieving academic success. Not true. First, the ultimate accountability agent is a student’s parent(s). Second, private schools participating under this program must be accredited, approved by the state board of education, fiscally sound, and must provide accountability information to parents regarding the child’s academic progress.

And as for the program's effects on public education, no credible study has ever found such programs harm public schools, according to The Foundation for Educational Choice.

"Oklahoma -- where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain," and where school choice history in 2010 was made.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

We're 'educating people out of their creativity'

...  in an education system "modeled on the interests of industrialization, and in the image of it."

Education and social goods

"Certainly the way children are educated can have a powerful impact on the kind of society they go on to build," Andrew Coulson writes.
And there are many social goals on which Americans strongly agree: that schools should prepare children for the responsibilities of citizenship as much as for success in private life; that they should encourage harmonious relations among people of different backgrounds (or at least not foment conflict); and that they should ensure that every child, regardless of background, has access to a quality education.

But does anyone seriously believe that our existing school system is doing a satisfactory job in any of these areas? ... If we are to remedy these profound shortcoming in American education, our best hope is to set aside our preconceptions about what kind of school systems should produce the social goods we seek, and instead ask which systems actually do produce them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reject the 'failing schools' model of choice

"It does nothing but divide."

Oklahoma earns a 'D' in student achievement

"Oklahoma's education system continues to rise in the state rankings released every year by Education Week," Megan Rolland reports today in The Oklahoman. "However, actual student achievement remained among the worst in the nation. ... Oklahoma scored an overall D on the K-12 achievement index, ranking the state 35th in the nation."

Oklahoma is going to have to do better if we ever hope to pass Bulgaria and Uruguay.

Amid 'education funding fatigue,' let's try school choice

"Education issues are a chief concern in Oklahoma as the new year begins," Andrew Mericle writes in a letter to the editor published today in The Oklahoman.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs has determined that we already spend $7,000 to $10,000 per student. The rejection of State Question 744 and some recent school bond issues demonstrates that a majority are experiencing education funding fatigue. Even if the Teach for America teachers are brought in, who would they replace? The National Council on Teacher Quality has given Oklahoma a D-plus partly because of bad policies for removing ineffective teachers.

It's time to face reality and to face realistic solutions. The best answer is school choice vouchers. Allow parents and students to select a school with taxpayer monies. Many of our students are literally trapped in failing (and frequently dangerous) schools. Competition in general usually causes improvement or extinction. This solution will no doubt be fought against -- especially by the leadership of the failing system -- but I hope that Gov. Mary Fallin and state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi will act boldly.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In 2011, 'we have an opportunity to rethink public education'

"Michelle Rhee, who gained national attention as the chancellor of schools in Washington, D.C., called Monday for giving students government-funded vouchers to attend private schools, rating principals based on student achievement and getting rid of teacher tenure," Stephanie Banchero reports today in The Wall Street Journal.
The release of the blueprint was the first formal action of Ms. Rhee's new advocacy group, StudentsFirst, which she launched in December, after leaving her job heading D.C. schools in October. Ms. Rhee said she was in discussions with the governors of Florida, New Mexico, New Jersey, Tennessee, Nevada and Indiana to adopt part, if not all, of the agenda. ...

StudentsFirst has attracted 140,000 members, including nearly 20,000 teachers, and collected $1.4 million in contributions, Ms. Rhee said. She has said her group would donate to political campaigns and help school districts fund chosen strategies. ...

"A lot of the reason I started the group is so we can provide the cover a courageous political leader needs to push this agenda," she said. "In these incredibly tough budget times, when school districts will take a big hit, we have an opportunity to rethink public education and put students first."

And in a column which also appears in today's Journal, Rhee says "public support is building for a frontal attack on the educational status quo" and says "for education reform, 2011 could be the best of times."

New Republican governor wants to give everyone a voucher

Alas, it's the governor of Florida. Here's hoping Oklahoma policymakers take note.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Barresi takes the reins

[This Marlin Oil advertorial appears in the January 13 edition of The City Sentinel.]

Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi took the oath of office on Monday, and in the long run that may be almost as significant as the start of Gov. Mary Falllin’s term.

Barresi is a proven reformer, having established two charter schools serving students right in the middle of the Oklahoma City public school district. Her Harding Charter Prep High School has been recognized as one of the best such schools in the nation. Barresi is determined to fashion higher academic standards and more accountability in a system where performance has been flat and transparency spotty.

Even before she assumed command at the agency, Barresi had asked for a performance and financial audit of the state Education Department. This is a sound instinct at an agency that has been under departing Superintendent Sandy Garrett for two decades.

To be clear, charter schools would not have come to Oklahoma when they did -- 11 years ago -- without Garrett.

Last year, she worked with sponsors of the historic special-needs scholarship program that passed, assuring the legislation backed by a coalition of conservatives and a few Democrats passed legal muster. Then, Garrett boldly criticized school districts who sought to kill the program before it ever got started.

Garrett has even advocated scrutiny of high legal fees paid to private lawyers to represent school districts, and put in place mechanisms to track those expenditures.

Still, it is not maligning her to state that Garrett has been, by and large, an ally of the education establishment. That was probably inevitable in light of her Democratic party affiliation. Last year’s Democratic nominee was in every particular determined to carry water for the status quo. Voters delivered an overwhelming verdict in Barresi’s favor.

With Barresi’s arrival on the scene, there will inevitably be conflict with the permanent statewide bureaucracy in public education, including with the Oklahoma Education Association. However, the once all-powerful labor union may have permanently damaged its clout with the vicious campaign, funded by the NEA, that tried to shove through State Question 744, a crippling shift in tax money toward common education.

Of greater concern to the new superintendent might be the power of the state Board of Education. Garrett was silent on S.Q. 744, but an absolute majority of the board supported the atrocious initiative. Barresi methodically criticized it as the wrong way to improve education in the state. In Oklahoma’s constitutional structure, boards and commissions can undermine executive power.

While she should always be willing to heed good counsel regardless of its origins, Barresi inherits a tough situation where she will have plenty of foes within the agency, and a board majority opposed to her reformist philosophy supporting more choices for students and parents, accountability, administrative efficiencies, cost sensitivity, and academic rigor.

All Barresi has going for her is the overwhelming mandate she got from state voters, and likely help from Fallin and the Legislature.

That should be enough.

'Why teacher pensions don't work'

"Defined-benefit systems [like Oklahoma's] aren't merely Ponzi schemes," Joel Klein points out today in The Wall Street Journal. "They actually create incentives that impede hiring and keeping the best teachers."

Lawbreakers double down

Even though there's a new sheriff in town, five Tulsa-area school districts remain committed to flouting state law. Here's what's going on:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Barresi serves notice to lawbreakers

In today's Tulsa World, Andrea Eger interviews incoming school superintendent Janet Barresi. Key grafs:
Q: Will you recommend that the state Board of Education take any action against the Tulsa-area school districts that have yet to comply with House Bill 3393, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities?

A: I am very disappointed in the rash way in which they proceeded on this, and in the strongest terms possible I am going to first urge them to reverse their positions. I will be communicating with Attorney General (-elect Scott) Pruitt to explore any type of remedies I have through the state Board of Education or that the attorney general can take in this matter.

Q: In the future, would you support any expansion of the scholarships or even vouchers for students who don't have special needs?

A: I have always been a supporter of competition in schools and choice for parents. I will continue to support that as long as good policy is developed with an eye toward creating new and varied opportunities for students that has a strong, strong accountability component to it.

Q: What is your take on virtual learning and its role in the future of public education in our state?

A: As a state, we need to develop a statewide look at the entire arena, if you will, of digital learning. It's a big area I'm excited to get into, but again, we need to make sure it is focused to students' benefit and ensure complete accountability for these academic results we are getting.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How the Internet is changing education

"When you can buy from anywhere," economist Gary North writes, "local monopolies die."
That happened to medieval urban guilds. It is happening to education. The local tax-funded school cannot deliver the goods. Today, it offers babysitting. It offers sports. It offers a central market where drugs are available. It offers opportunities for teenagers to hook up, which does not mean what it did in my day. It offers economies of scale in those features of education that are either peripheral or objectionable.

Family by family, parents are making the decision to pull their children out. They want a better education for their children.

Family by family, the realization is becoming clear: a mother can stay home with her children and monitor their performance. She can give them a better education than the local tax-funded school can.

The existing educational system is desperately trying to keep the public schools from losing its best students, but it cannot win this war. Digital technology is against it. Price competition is against it. The tax revolt is against it. The looming bankruptcy of municipalities is against it.

Speaker of the House: 'I'm all in for National School Choice Week'

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How other countries replicate great schools

"We all know there are too few good schools and too many lousy ones," Andrew J. Coulson writes. "The trouble is, we lack a mechanism for reliably scaling up the former and crowding out the latter. Competitive markets perform this service in other fields, from coffee-shops to cell phones. Can the same thing work in education?"
To find out, we’ve invited experts from both hemispheres to tell us what their nations have learned from decades of experience with private-school choice. Peje Emilsson founded the largest chain of for-profit private schools in Sweden’s nationwide voucher program. Humberto Santos has studied the academic performance of public schools, independent private schools, and chains of private schools in Chile’s voucher program. Responding to their findings and asking challenging questions will be Education Week journalist Sarah Sparks.

I hope you can join us for this fascinating discussion, and lunch, at noon on January 28th. Click here to register. The sooner we can stop "Waiting for Superman," the better.

Chambers of Commerce: Make it easier to fire bad teachers

The presidents of the Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and State Chambers unveiled a joint agenda today which includes support for
removing restrictions on a school district’s ability to terminate bad or low-performing employees by removing the right to a trial de novo, and allow[ing] for accountable, at-will employment in Oklahoma schools.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Come see The Cartel

Come see The Cartel on Tuesday, January 25 at 6 PM at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond. Pizza and soft drinks will be provided, and a panel discussion will follow the movie. Seating is limited, so register here.

2.04 million

That's the number of homeschooled students in the United States, according to researcher Brian Ray. And he expects a "notable surge" in the next five to 10 years.

Meanwhile over at the New York Times (!), the question is being asked: Do homeschoolers deserve a tax break?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The blob that ate the schools

"Here’s an eye-opening school statistic for you: only half of Oklahoma’s public education employees are teachers," Greg Forster writes in the current issue of Perspective. "The bureaucracy is now so big, it takes up half the system."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Education year in review: 2010

"As we enter a new year, education reformers will look back on 2010 as the year when education in the United States began to return its focus to the needs of students instead of the demands of adults," Heritage Foundation researchers Lindsey Burke and Rachel Sheffield write. "During this past year, public attention to the barriers of educational opportunity created by special interests groups grew, and educational opportunities made possible by school choice made significant strides."