Friday, April 29, 2011

Parents of special-needs kids sue Tulsa-area districts

"Twenty Tulsa-area parents are suing Broken Arrow, Union, Jenks and Tulsa public school districts for refusing to provide scholarships to their special needs children to attend private schools," the Tulsa World reports.
Eric Rassbach, the Becket Fund's national litigation director, said, "These school districts put the 'heartless' in 'heartless bureaucrat.' What kind of public servant holds special needs kids hostage to shore up the school district budget? Are these children supposed to be bullied every day so Jenks Public Schools can hold on to a few extra dollars?"

For more on heartless Tulsa-area bureaucrats, click here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

School choice is back

"Republican governors and lawmakers are pushing for a major expansion of voucher programs," Education Week reports.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scholarship tax credit clears state House

Senate Bill 969 by Sen. Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) and Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) cleared the Oklahoma House of Representatives this morning by a vote of 64-33. The bill had already cleared the state Senate, and now will make one more pass through the Senate before it goes to Governor Mary Fallin's desk.

Under this legislation, which is modeled after successful programs in Pennsylvania and Arizona, Oklahoma businesses and individuals can qualify for tax credits for contributions made to scholarship-granting organizations. These philanthropic organizations, in turn, offer private-school scholarships to qualifying students in need, special-needs students, and others. (Contributions can also be made to support innovative programs in public schools.) This scholarship tax credit idea is popular with Oklahoma voters, is supported by state Superintendent Janet Barresi, and was given a thumbs-up this month by the Supreme Court of the United States. There is every reason to be optimistic that Gov. Fallin will sign the bill into law.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Markets v. monopolies

"Call me old fashioned," Andrew J. Coulson writes, "but I prefer to reach policy conclusions based on empirical research."
So after comparing the performance of alternative school systems over the past 2,000 years, I surveyed the modern econometric literature on the subject for the Journal of School Choice. What I found is that the freest, most market-like education systems consistently outperform the sorts of state monopolies preferred by [teacher union leader] Ms. Weingarten and her fellow travelers. Appended below is the chart counting up how many studies favored education markets over state school monopolies, and vice-versa, in each of six outcome areas.

Click to enlarge

Saturday, April 23, 2011

1 in 10

That's how many of Oklahoma's black 4th graders can read at a proficient level.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Intramural debate on ESAs

Carrie Lukas says they're "the future of school choice," but Adam Schaeffer says beware.

UPDATE: Matt Ladner weighs in, as does Andrew J. Coulson.

'If homeschooling is so good, why don't more educators promote it?'

Earlier this month some 13,000 professors, researchers, policymakers, and others descended upon New Orleans for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. One of the sessions was entitled "If Homeschooling Is So Good, Why Don't More Educators Promote It?"

Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute made a presentation entitled "Homeschooling: Beneficial Learner and Societal Outcomes But Educators Do Not Promote It." From the abstract:
Twenty-five years of research link homeschooling (i.e., parent-led home-based education) with notably and generally positive learner outcomes (e.g., academic achievement; performance in college; social, emotional, and psychological development) and implications for local communities and societies at large. Furthermore, home-based education, de facto, is an expression of educational, societal, and worldview diversity. This point is emphasized by the fact that parents and families from a broad swath of backgrounds homeschool (e.g., atheists, Christians, Jew, and New Age adherents; low- and high-income families; rightists and leftists; and parents both being high-school dropouts and both with advanced degrees). ... On average, homeschool students significantly outperform students in institutional public schools in terms of academic achievement. This holds true even if homeschool parents have a relatively low formal educational attainment, are not certified teachers, or have a relatively low household income and if the state in which the home educated live exerts low regulation or control over homeschooling. The extant body of evidence shows the home educated to be at least as healthy as other students in their social, emotional, and psychological development. There is evidence that the home educated and their parents are relatively highly active in terms of community involvement and civic engagement. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find professional education-related groups or systems that promote homeschooling but it is relatively easy to find individuals and groups that oppose home-based education or want governments to more stringently regulate or control homeschooling. ... Publicly asks the professional educational community why, if they are interested in what is best for children/students and local communities, they do not promote an educational form that appears to have consistent positive effects on children, families, communities, and society.

Another presenter, Charles L. Howell of Northern Illinois University, asked the question "Who, if Anyone, Should Promote Homeschooling?" From the abstract:

Many studies have shown a correlation between homeschooling and academic achievement. Scholars have also suggested that homeschooling leads to stronger families (Wyatt, 2008) and protects against loss of family intimacy (author, forthcoming). Why, then, are educators not more active in promoting homeschooling? This presentation will draw on agency theory, a set of concepts and relationships employed in organizational research, to explain educators’ quiescence on the advantages of home education. Conceptual analysis is employed to connect organizational goals and incentives to educators’ behavior. Empirical evidence related to organizational aims and funding mechanisms supports this account. The following points emerge from this analysis:
  • • Schools are funded in proportion to numbers of students; each child educated at home reduces their income.

    • School officials have difficulty distinguishing between genuine homeschooling, parent-condoned truancy, and (particularly in Europe) attempts to hide abusive child-rearing practices (Conroy, 2009).

    • Current policy dictates that schools should meet the needs of all students; home education conflicts with this aim.

    • Many teachers are privately supportive of homeschooling. Indeed, a significant proportion of homeschooling families include a current or former teacher, and some teachers provide support and encouragement to friends or neighbors engaged in homeschooling. In both cases, teachers’ personal beliefs and commitments (to their friends and neighbors and their own children) diverge from the aims of their organization. Agency theory predicts this divergence, and also predicts that divergent behavior will be discreet so as not to incur sanctions.

    • At the university level, most professors of education work in programs that train future teachers and administrators. They establish partnerships with school districts to support student teaching and teacher professional development. They seek grants aimed at improving public schools. Consequently, their professional expertise, research interests, and public pronouncements are ordinarily directed toward institutional schooling, not homeschooling.

    • Homeschooling conflicts with dominant educational theories, including identity development theory, Kohlberg’s model of moral development, multiculturalism, democratic education, and equality of educational opportunity. Where university education departments are aligned with these theories, dissent invites sanction, particularly through the tenure and promotion process. Given these disincentives, educators' lack of interest in the advantages of homeschooling isn't surprising.
Who, then, would be in a position to promote homeschooling? Agency theory predicts that incentives for the following groups and individuals encourage support for homeschooling:
  • • churches and other voluntary institutions

    • non-school educational institutions (museums, libraries, local recreation programs)

    • university professors in fields other than education (psychology, sociology)

    • tenured university education professors (because they are freer to dissent)

    • homeschooling families and support organizations

    • private or community-based psychologists, doctors, and other service providers

    • smaller publishing companies who supply curriculum materials
Empirical evidence supports this prediction. Recognizing the role of these groups helps to expand conventional views of influences shaping families' educational choices and practices, particularly influences outside public schools.

James C. Carper of the University of South Carolina made a presentation entitled "The Public School as Established Church and Homeschoolers as Dissenters." The abstract:

State establishment of religion or state preference for a particular orthodoxy has always bred dissent. Consider, for example, the Baptist experience in colonial Connecticut with its Congregational establishment. One way to understand many of the controversies that have swirled around public schooling since its genesis in the mid-1800s is to view public education with its messianic orientation as the functional equivalent of a traditional established church from which groups and individuals have dissented. One can plausibly argue that public school officials, high clergy if you will, view radical dissenters, such as homeschoolers, as a threat to the welfare of their "church" and, consequently, the well-being of the public. How the older establishments responded to dissenters is instructive for understanding the present relationship between public education and parent-directed education.

Blane Després of the University of British Columbia made a presentation entitled "Resistance to Home Education and the Culture of School-Based Education." The abstract:

Public educator resistance to home education is part of the culture of school-based education. It is not a definitive or deliberate offense, but part of the culture of teaching, schooling and the grand culture in which schooling functions. Such resistance, especially at higher bureaucratic levels, stems from a faith stance that is misinformed, misguided and perhaps even blindly biased. A critical reading of the roles of teachers and resistance to change from a systemic thinking framework (Després, 2008a, 2008b, 2007a, 2007b) illuminates this work. The main purpose of this project is to present findings from a review of the literature in an effort to expose the factors that inhibit home education growth, acceptance -- especially by educators -- and greater inclusion as a mainstream education practice. Systemic thinking application in combination with the topic of home education offers multiple strands of understanding home education, systemic thinking, resistance, and the role of education in culture. The anticipated outcome of this session is that educators and researchers alike will want to reconsider the purpose of education, including home education, for the 21st century not as a utilitarian function for local and global economics but as the best opportunity to achieve the highest common good for children as persons.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Homeschooler wins national essay contest

More than 7,500 essays were submitted in the first annual "Stossel in the Classroom" essay contest. The topic: What's great about America? The winner: homeschooler Philip Wegmann.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's for the children, except when it's not

The Tulsa World reported this week on the results of a survey taken by Tulsa teachers (and some principals and certified staff members).

There's nothing wrong with surveying teachers, of course, but did TPS also survey parents? I know TPS is planning to hold some public forums to solicit feedback from parents, which is good. But I'm wondering if TPS plans to survey parents in the same way they surveyed teachers. If anyone knows please leave a comment.

To me the most striking result of the survey was the response to this question: "Would you be willing to close your current school and move with your students to combine with another school if students had greater access to better educational opportunities?" One would hope nearly 100 percent of teachers would answer in the affirmative, what with education being "for the children" and all. Sadly, only 33 percent said yes, and 38 percent said it depends. And -- God bless them for their candor -- a full one in five just flat said no.

I don't mind telling you, there are many reasons my children are taught at home by their mother and me. But the primary reason is that, as a very wise man once said in another context, the hireling doesn't care for the sheep like the shepherd does.

Barresi touts scholarship tax credits

"I'm urging passage of legislation enacting tuition tax credits in Oklahoma to offer parents more and better choices," state Superintendent Janet Barresi writes in the Edmond Sun ('Bold reforms will transform state's education system'). "Under the legislation, businesses and individuals could qualify for tax credits for contributions to eligible scholarship-granting organizations. Those organizations, in turn, would offer scholarships to qualifying families in need."

The legislation, Senate Bill 969, is currently making its way through the state legislature.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This is big

Arizona has adopted Education Savings Accounts for special-needs students. Our friends at the Foundation for Educational Choice say this new law is unprecedented, and Matt Ladner says ESAs could be the way of the future.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Barresi gives congressional testimony

APRIL 7, 2011

Chairman Kline and Honorable Members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, I am pleased to offer testimony today on education reforms and to address how I believe we can better promote flexibility and innovation.

I took office in January amid a bipartisan groundswell of support in Oklahoma for education reform. Most Oklahomans recognize we’re in crisis in education in our state.

In March, we learned that nearly 43 percent of first-time freshmen who entered Oklahoma’s public colleges in the fall of 2009 were not prepared for college.

In January, results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that 72 percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders taking the test and 75 percent of eighth-graders taking the test fell below “proficient” in science.

And research by Stanford economist Eric Hanushek that compared top-performing math students all over the world showed that Oklahoma ranked far down on the list near developing or struggling nations like Bulgaria, Chile and Thailand.

These results are like a dash of cold water. We understand mediocre doesn’t cut it anymore, and we’re taking action.

Just three weeks ago, I launched the 3R Agenda — a commitment to new fundamentals for the 21st century. The new 3Rs for our state’s future are: Rethink, Restructure and Reform.

RETHINK is a complete reassessment of how we’re delivering education to empower parents, children and teachers, and to embrace new tools like digital learning. RESTRUCTURE involves a transformation of Oklahoma’s State Department of Education.

I'll focus more on the third ‘R’ — REFORM — because it is the primary reason I am here today.

We’re now at the halfway point in our State Legislature’s annual legislative session, and significant progress has been made on a number of reform bills.

It appears we will implement a grading system for schools and school districts — an annual A through F report card just like students receive, so that parents can determine how a school is performing without having to interpret obscure or confusing metrics.

We will also likely end social promotion after the third grade — so students aren’t entering their most critical learning years unprepared.

And I am urging passage of legislation enacting tuition tax credits in Oklahoma to offer parents more and better choices. Under the legislation, business and individuals could qualify for tax credits for contributions to eligible scholarship-granting organizations, and those organizations, in turn, would offer scholarships to qualifying families in need.

But just as we embark on legislative implementation of the 3R Agenda, we are mindful of potential obstacles if the federal government is too inflexible. I am also hopeful that, while policymakers debate the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, reformers will follow the lead of states like Oklahoma.

A few examples.

Under the current implementation of No Child Left Behind, the Adequate Yearly Progress yardstick evaluation is rudimentary and does not provide meaningful information to parents. But most importantly, it does not recognize the ultimate goal of college and career ready status for all students facing the 21st century workplace. By contrast, Oklahoma’s new A through F school report card system will offer easy-to-understand results for parents, and it is based on a number of different measurements that incorporate gains and improvement.

Another example: As Oklahoma seeks to end social promotion after the 3rd grade, many districts would like to fund portions of this effort with federal funds. But it appears this would not be possible currently because of federal restrictions on supplementing versus supplanting. This demonstrates the ways in which entrenched federal guidelines present some barriers to innovative state policies.

On the one hand, the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines that on the surface seem to offer states more flexibility to meet local needs. But there seems to be a disconnect between good intentions at the top level and what actually occurs in practice.

And let’s consider the simple reform of tuition tax credits. Federal law offers parents in low-performing schools the opportunity to transfer to another public school. This isn’t true choice. Oklahoma’s reforms will offer parents an array of more choices — rather than only the option of transferring from one public school to another. I urge reforms that follow this same pathway by incentivizing states to provide an array of options for students.

As all participating states prepare to transition to Common Core curriculum standards, more flexibility is also needed in the use of federal funds for professional development that would support effective instructional practices. Additionally, broadening the scope of the designation of Title programs to include a wider array of subject matter, such as STEM initiatives, would help enable states to offer a more challenging curriculum.

Mr. Chairman and honorable members of the committee, the bottom line is this: we can turn our crisis in Oklahoma into an opportunity, but only if we are prepared to embrace the kinds of bold reforms that fundamentally transform our education system for the better — and only if the federal government is prepared to work with states like ours to allow the flexibility we need in order to innovate.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Public education is being redefined

[This column by Brandon Dutcher appeared April 3 in The Oklahoman.]

On March 15 in Oklahoma City, the past met the future.

Carrying signs that read "Stop the War on Workers," "Collective Bargaining: Backbone of the Middle Class," and "Don't Dismantle Public Education," hundreds of Oklahoma schoolteachers rallied at the state Capitol. They expressed concern over school spending, pension reforms, and legislation making it easier to fire bad teachers.

In many ways it was a scene right out of 1990, or even 1960. For many of these educators, "public education" still means, essentially, a government monopoly wherein kids are bureaucratically assigned based on geography. After all, isn't that the way we've always done it?

Indeed Arne Duncan, President Obama's secretary of education, recently lamented that "our K-12 system largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education."

But that's the wrong model for the information age. And the one Oklahoman who understands this better than anyone also made news on March 15. That's the day state Superintendent Janet Barresi unveiled a forward-looking education agenda, a "road map for long-term transformation."

Like Duncan, who urges "a fundamental rethinking of the structure and delivery of education in the United States," Barresi says "we must rethink our entire approach to education in the 21st century and buck the status quo."

Why? Well, unlike one state senator from Little Dixie who believes "our public schools are doing a great job in educating our students," Barresi understands "we face a crisis in education in our state."

"Our children don't have time for antiquated approaches," she says.

That's why she's promoting ideas like greater accountability, an end to social promotion, a transparent A-through-F grading system for schools, and more school choice (including tuition tax credits, which, incidentally, cleared the state Senate the next day).

Moreover, she says, "We have only scratched the surface of the potential for digital learning to fundamentally alter education." Visit and you'll see why some public school fifth-grade classes are doing math this way. Experience great teachers like historian J. Rufus Fears on DVD. Explore the Stanford and MIT courses available online for free. In 2011 why would any parents—from Little Dixie to the Panhandle—settle for anything less than a world-class education for their children?

No, ralliers, public education is not being "dismantled." It is, however, being redefined.

Put simply, "public education" means "educating the public." Pennsylvania state Sen. Anthony H. Williams, a liberal black Democrat, puts it this way: "An innovative and productive public education system can include homeschooling, parochial schools, private schools, cyber schools, public charter schools and, yes, traditional public schools."

Williams has no patience for folks who seem "more concerned with propping up a system than educating children. They cling to the antiquated belief that existing public school systems have the right of first refusal when it comes to educating our children." They don't.

So remember March 15, 2011. And to those educators and policymakers stuck in the past: Beware the march of ideas.

Homeschool mom is 'Oklahoma Young Mother of the Year'

Homeschool mom Jennifer King of Newcastle has been selected as the 2011 "Oklahoma Young Mother of the Year" by the Oklahoma chapter of American Mothers, Inc.

Eliminate the master's bump

"One of the most straightforward ways school districts can obtain cost savings without harming students," writes Harvard professor Paul E. Peterson, "is to eliminate extra pay for teachers who earn a master’s degree."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

School choice boosts cities

One of the positive by-products of school choice that doesn't get enough attention involves the revitalization of cities (click here and scroll). As law professor Andrew Spiropoulos, OCPA's Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow, pointed out March 31 in The Journal Record, high-quality private schools "are indispensable to the city’s survival."
Why? Because the health of the city and its public institutions (including the schools) depends upon the existence of vital communities. The city must attract, and keep, stable and successful (or, at least, self-supporting) families. Families will be far more likely to stay in the city if they can choose from a meaningful number of excellent and affordable schools for their kids. A set of thriving private schools, especially if they present a diverse range of religious and secular options, will appeal to numerous families and help persuade them that they need not flee to the dreaded suburbs.

So if you care deeply about fostering a new urbanism, you shouldn’t lament the exercise of parental choice; you should expand it. Our cities will be among to first to benefit from the enactment of meaningful school choice programs. No city worthy of the name is made only of the rich and poor. Middle-class Oklahomans must have a real choice of schools to live in the communities we wish to preserve. 

Public-school options supporters to meet at Capitol

The Oklahoma chapter of the National Coalition for Public School Options is having its first annual "Day at the Capitol" on Thursday, April 7. Here's the schedule of events:
9:30 AM to 10:00 AM: Check-in (Capitol building -- 1st Floor, Room 104)

10:00 AM to 10:30 AM: Welcome, legislative briefing, and talking to your legislator workshop (Room 104)

10:30 AM to 10:40 AM: Write your legislators (Room 104)

10:40 AM to 11:30 AM: Visit your legislators and sit in House/Senate galleries

11:30 AM to 12:30 PM: Lunch and talks from legislators (1st floor rotunda)

1:00 PM and 2:00 PM: Take Capitol tours or explore capitol on own (official tours at 1 PM and 2 PM at the Visitors Center (1st floor -- adjacent to the southeast entrance)

Big SCOTUS win for school choice

Cato has the details here, and I'll be on KTOK tomorrow morning at 7:35 to discuss it with Reid Mullins.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Negative productivity

Earlier this year in The Oklahoman I made mention of public education's productivity collapse. Friday in The Wall Street Journal, Stephen Moore hits on the same theme:
Where are the productivity gains in government? Consider a core function of state and local governments: schools. Over the period 1970-2005, school spending per pupil, adjusted for inflation, doubled, while standardized achievement test scores were flat. Over roughly that same time period, public-school employment doubled per student, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington. That is what economists call negative productivity.

But education is an industry where we measure performance backwards: We gauge school performance not by outputs, but by inputs. If quality falls, we say we didn't pay teachers enough or we need smaller class sizes or newer schools. If education had undergone the same productivity revolution that manufacturing has, we would have half as many educators, smaller school budgets, and higher graduation rates and test scores.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Early-childhood altercation

At Thelma Parks Elementary School in Oklahoma City, a student tied a preschooler to a pole and covered his mouth with duct tape. Not sure where the teacher was.

And in Wisconsin, a Head Start employee has been charged with making death threats against Republican legislators.