Friday, September 30, 2011

Barresi sticks up for parents (as opposed to suing them)

In her newspaper column released today, state Superintendent Janet Barresi says she is "dismayed by the recent lawsuit filed against parents by two school districts in Tulsa County."
These districts are suing the parents of special needs children over the state’s Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Law, which was a bipartisan effort signed into law by former Gov. Brad Henry. The law allows parents to place their special needs children in schools that will best serve them.

These parents have enough stress in their lives without having to contend with a groundless lawsuit.

And school districts all over Oklahoma should be encouraging parental involvement, not suing parents. School leaders should be committed to expanding choice for parents, not trying to thwart reforms.

I’ve already established a new office of Parent and Community Engagement. In the coming weeks, I’ll be examining additional ways to aid parent empowerment, advocacy and involvement.

Can't read my diploma

It's bad enough when an Oklahoma student who scores a 14 on the ACT is a high-school valedictorian, but what's worse -- mind-boggling, actually -- is graduating from an Oklahoma high school unable to read (something we already know is happening).

As I've pointed out before, it is wrong for policymakers to keep children trapped in schools where they aren't learning to read.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jenks and Union should teach math rather than sue parents

Three weeks ago, I tweeted the following from my @SchoolChoiceOK Twitter account:
Union, Jenks sue parents of special-needs kids Classic rearguard action

Jennifer Carter, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, retweeted it, adding her own colorful comment at the beginning:

Dirtbags @SchoolChoiceOK: Union, Jenks sue parents of special-needs kids Classic rearguard action

In today’s Tulsa World, Kim Archer has a news story on the matter (“Barresi staffer calls Union, Jenks administrators ‘dirtbags’ via Twitter”).

State Superintendent Janet Barresi defended her chief of staff for referring to Union and Jenks administrators as "dirtbags," describing Jennifer Carter's statement on her personal Twitter account as "a poor choice of words."

"While Jennifer's tweet was a poor choice of words, it is morally wrong for superintendents of school districts to sue parents who want nothing more than what's best for their children," Barresi wrote Wednesday in a statement to the Tulsa World. … Barresi said she believes that Oklahomans are "concerned and shocked that any school district would vindictively target the parents of special needs children with a groundless lawsuit."

"These parents' lives are stressful enough without having to deal with a vengeful lawsuit from two superintendents who make more than our governor," she continued.

Barresi said she is "absolutely committed" to defending the rights of parents and expanding their choices.

"We find it revealing," said Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman and Union Superintendent Cathy Burden, "that others apparently do not want this issue decided by the courts." That, of course, is false. No one is objecting to the issue being decided by the courts. It’s simply that Jenks and Union sued the wrong people. But, given their incompetence at Pin the Tail on the Defendant, I guess you can’t blame Lehman and Burden for trying to spin it that way. As for the scorn, well, this is what happens when you treat parents like dirt, and Jenks and Union should just get used to it. In his Journal Record column today, law professor Andrew Spiropoulos decried the districts’ vindictive thuggery, and in a press release state Rep. Jason Nelson

said the leaders of the Jenks and Union Public Schools should get used to criticism after targeting the parents of special-needs children with a frivolous lawsuit.

He said criticism is more than warranted in light of the districts’ apparent continued violation of state law and mistreatment of special-needs children.

“Apparently, Jenks and Union officials are shocked that anyone would call them ‘dirtbags’ for persecuting the families of children with special needs,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I’ve got news for them: Get used to it. Oklahoma citizens will no longer stand by while wealthy school bureaucrats abuse their power.

“I believe these districts continue to violate state law and know their actions are indefensible—which is likely the reason they did not include ‘suing parents’ on any school board agenda,” Nelson said. “I’ve not heard one person defend suing parents outside the administrators of Jenks and Union schools. I’ve visited with numerous people who shudder at the idea of a school district suing parents—especially in this case—and many of them used far more colorful language to express their opinion.”

Several months ago, the Jenks and Union school boards voted to sue the state attorney general to challenge the successful Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. However, they never filed that lawsuit, and instead suddenly sued parents who legally obtained scholarships as a result of the law.

Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships allow a student with a disability (such as Down syndrome or Autism) who has an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school that parents believe can better serve their child. The scholarships come from the amount of money already designated for the education of those children.

“At the start of September, the amount spent on all students receiving these scholarships statewide was a combined total of $197,345—far less than the combined salaries of the two superintendents at Jenks and Union,” said Nelson, who authored the scholarship law. “When you have school administrators obsessing over a month-old, offhand, one-word Twitter comment instead of working to provide each child a quality education, that suggests the school funds being wasted are those spent on administrators’ fat paychecks and not the pittance spent helping educate children with special needs.”

Rep. Nelson’s video message on the subject is also worth watching, and the World has a follow-up story here. Jennifer Carter has issued a statement here.

I agree with Superintendent Barresi that her staffer’s remark was “a poor choice of words.” Interestingly, however, when we turn to the authoritative lexicographers at Webster’s, we learn that dirtbag is a slang term used in the Army to describe a soldier “whose performance is lacking.” And by international standards, the performance of Jenks and Union is indeed lacking.

Now this will doubtless come as a surprise to Lehman and Burden and all the Jenks and Union folks accustomed to reading their own press releases and assuring themselves that their school districts—among the best in the state—are better than Muskogee and Cement. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for taxpayers, this week saw the release of a new study, “When the Best is Mediocre,” that could kick-start a much-needed discussion.

The study’s findings rest on a new index called the Global Report Card (GRC). According to the authors, “the GRC enables users to compare academic achievement in math and reading between 2004 and 2007 for virtually every public school district in the United States with the average achievement in a set of 25 other countries with developed economies that might be considered our economic peers and sometime competitors” (methodological appendix here).

According to the Global Report Card, the math achievement of the average student in Jenks is at the 41st percentile relative to the international comparison group. The math achievement of the average Union student is at the 40th percentile. In other words, some of Oklahoma’s best districts—districts with admittedly impressive artificial turf—produce students with math performance worse than that of the typical student in the average developed country.

Look at it this way. If you picked up the Jenks school district and plopped it down in Canada, it would be at the 33rd percentile in math achievement. If you placed it in Singapore, the average student would be at the 24th percentile in math achievement.

Same story for Union, which would be in the 32nd percentile if relocated to Canada and the 23rd percentile if relocated to Singapore.

“In short,” the authors say, “many of what we imagine as our best school districts are mediocre compared with the education systems serving students in other developed countries.” The average Jenks or Union student is not keeping pace in math achievement with the average student in other developed countries, “despite the fact that the comparison is to all students in the other countries, some of which have a per-capita gross domestic product that is almost half that of the United States.”

Oklahoma is on par with Croatia

In math

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Want to stop Jenks- and Union-style thuggery?

Move school board elections to November.

Hope, change

The chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition is now a member of the state Board of Education.

Utah pushing school class choice

As Heritage Foundation analyst Lindsey Burke explains, in Utah we're seeing "a real recipe for some innovative approaches and a real recipe for kind of breaking down the four-walls model of schooling, which is a hundred-year-old, perhaps archaic way to be approaching education as we move forward in the 21st century."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jenks, Union 'kick these families when they're down'

"As the parent of a child with autism, I experience the daily struggle of trying to emotionally and financially provide for my child," Christi Kellogg of Muskogee writes in an excellent letter published today in The Oklahoman.
Therefore, I was shocked to hear the recent news that the Tulsa Union school district and the Jenks school district are suing parents of children with special needs. These parents, who challenged the school district's refusal to comply with House Bill 3393, are now being sued by the school district. This bill provides a scholarship, or voucher system, so that parents may choose to take their child out of a school district that is not providing for their child's needs and place them in a school setting that is willing to provide the specialized education many of these children need.

I can only imagine what these parents are going through! I'm sure they're thinking between work, taking their child to numerous occupational and speech therapy appointments. Gee, I've got to find time to hire an attorney, too. Or they may ask, Do I pay for my child's prescription medications this month or pay legal fees? Leave it to the school districts to kick these families when they're down.

My question to Jenks and Union administrators who are behind this ridiculous lawsuit: How do you sleep at night, knowing the additional emotional and financial burdens you are placing on these already struggling families?

They sleep quite well, these superintendents Kirby Lehman and Cathy Burden, and at 20 grand a month they're doubtless swaddled in satin sheets. As another mom of a special-needs child put it, the bureaucrats just don't get it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Education Savings Accounts can help customize education, expand choice

[Guest post by Dan Lips]

Besides the traditional strategies to give families greater power to choose the right schooling option for their children, Oklahoma policymakers should consider new strategies as well. Some states are now considering education savings accounts as a new vehicle to allow families to customize their children’s education.

For decades, federal policymakers have advocated establishing tax-free savings vehicles to give families more control over funds spent on their children’s education and to save for college costs. The federal government currently allows two forms of education savings accounts (ESAs)—so-called 529 College Savings Plan accounts that allow families to save tax free for college and Coverdell ESAs that allow families to save for both K-12 and higher education expenses. Some states, including Oklahoma, provide state tax deductions to encourage families to save for their child’s education. For example, parents in Oklahoma can claim a tax deduction of up to $10,000 (or $20,000 for joint-filers) for contributions made into 529 College Savings Plan Accounts. As of July 2010, the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan had more than 42,000 accounts with a total savings of almost $360 million.

Building on the popularity of the current ESA programs, Oklahoma could enact a program to provide state-funded K-12 education savings accounts that would give parents the flexibility to create a customized learning experience to best suit their children’s needs. In 2011, the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based think tank, published a report that could provide a model for a state-funded ESA plan for Oklahoma. Under the Goldwater Institute’s plan, a parent could receive a portion of their children’s share of state public education funding in a state-authorized ESA if they agree to forgo enrolling their child in a traditional public school. Parents could use that funding to purchase the best education services for their children, such as private school tuition, online or virtual education programs, homeschooling curricula, and tutoring services.

State-funded ESAs would offer some significant improvements over traditional student-centered education initiatives like public school choice and scholarships or education tax credits. For example, ESAs would give families greater flexibility to use education dollars to best suit their children’s needs, spurring innovation among education service providers, including virtual and online learning programs.

A state-funded education savings account program would require that the state implement an appropriate oversight and accountability mechanism, to be established to ensure that funds were spent appropriately to benefit children’s education. But existing programs like Oklahoma’s 529 College Savings Plan would provide practical models for policymakers designing a transparent and accountable state-funded ESA program.

In 2011, Arizona enacted a new state-funded education savings account (ESA) program. Specifically, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1553, legislation that will require the state to deposit 90 percent of the state aid that would be spent on a child’s education in an “Arizona Empowerment Account.” To be eligible, students must be eligible for special education services and, to receive an account, families must agree not to enroll their child in public school and therefore take control over the responsibility for their child’s education. Beginning in the fall of 2011, as many as 17,000 children will be eligible to participate in the program.

Other states are also considering state-funded ESA programs similar to the Arizona program. In 2010, in Florida, Governor Rick Scott’s transition team announced the incoming governor’s support for the idea of providing universal state-funded education savings accounts for all children. Reihan Salam, a conservative writer and editor of National Review Online, called Scott’s proposal one of “the most significant, transformative ideas I’ve ever seen advanced by an actual elected official with any real power.” In April 2011, a Florida state Senate education committee approved SB 1550, an education savings account proposal that would allow parents to receive 40 percent of a child’s share of public school funding in an ESA to be used for private school tuition, tutoring, or for savings for college. In Ohio, 38 state representatives are sponsoring a bill that would expand Governor John Kasich’s proposed school voucher program to incorporate an education savings account mechanism, allowing families to save funds not spent on private school tuition for other educational purposes.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

'Every OEA member is a member of a labor union'

A report in today's Tulsa World informs us that the Oklahoma Education Association is, "technically," not a labor union.

Well, okaaaay. Of course, as education reporter Mike Antonucci points out, "it all depends on which technicality you want to emphasize and which you want to ignore. In Oklahoma, as in other non-collective bargaining states, OEA is not classified as a 501(c)(5) labor organization with the IRS; it's a 501(c)(6), which is, in fact, a "business league." This designation is used by chambers of commerce and trade associations. So, technically, OEA can claim it is not a union."

Antonucci says "the distinction is made merely to avoid negative PR" -- negative PR like this, for example, and (sing it with me!) this:

"The fact is, you can't belong to OEA without also joining NEA, which is a labor union by every definition," Antonucci says. "So every OEA member is a member of a labor union. OEA is a duly certified state affiliate of a labor union, subject to a labor union's constitution and by-laws. Additionally, OEA is highly subsidized (through UniServ) by a labor union. Its officers sit on the decisionmaking bodies of a labor union. The cash it spends on ballot initiatives such as SQ 744 comes almost exclusively from a labor union."

Technicalities notwithstanding, nearly everyone -- even liberal reporters and the past OEA president -- matter-of-factly refer to the OEA as a union.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

'To reform education, outsource it to parents'

"Reforming K-12 education is a wicked problem," Chunka Mui writes over at Forbes.
Even the best ideas are inevitably incomplete and contradictory. All fly in the face of entrenched interests and are beaten around by opposing ideologies. Not only are there no silver bullets, there isn't even a common view of the target. Rather than hope for reform, parents should consider opting out of the mess and focus instead on their own kids' learning.

Early academic instruction 'can do lasting harm'

"Preschool children don't need academic instruction," Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly write in their new book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know -- and Men Can't Say.

In fact, a significant body of research shows that formal early education can actually be detrimental to children. David Elkind, professor of child development at Tufts University and author of numerous books on cognitive and social development in children and adolescents, explains that children who receive academic instruction too early are often put at risk but have no apparent gain. By attempting to teach the right things at the wrong time, early instruction can permanently damage a child's self-esteem, reduce a child's natural eagerness to learn, and block a child's natural gifts and talents. 'There is no evidence that such early instruction has lasting benefits, and considerable evidence that it can do lasting harm. ... If we do not wake up to the potential danger of these harmful practices, we may do serious damage to a large segment of the next generation,' he wrote.

It's time to empower Oklahoma parents with choices -- choices we already know they want.

Labor union wants public schooling 'from birth'

The National Education Association's 2011-2012 resolutions are online, and the one on "early childhood education" is a beaut. I especially love the parts about recruiting more male teachers and having "diversity-based curricula." In any case, enacting all this stuff sure will require a lot of salaried (and unionized?) grown-ups!
The National Education Association supports early childhood education programs in the public schools for children from birth through age eight. The Association also supports a high-quality program of transition from home and/or preschool to the public kindergarten or first grade. This transition should include communication and cooperation among parents/guardians, the preschool staff, and the public school staff. The Association believes that such programs should be held in facilities that are appropriate to the developmental needs of these children. The Association also believes that early childhood education programs should include a full continuum of services for parents/guardians and children, including child-care, child development, developmentally appropriate and diversity-based curricula, special education, and appropriate bias-free screening devices. Early childhood education programs also must be sensitive to and meet the physical, social, mental, and emotional health and nutritional needs of children.

The Association further believes that early childhood education programs should maintain small group size with appropriate staff/child ratios for each age level. These programs must be staffed by the appropriate ratio of teachers, administrators, and support staff who are prepared in early childhood education and child development. When two half-day sessions are taught by one teacher, the total class load for both sessions should not exceed the number of students in a first-grade class. Males should be encouraged and recruited to enter and be actively involved in early childhood education. Preparation programs for staff should lead to credentials consistent with the educational standards in each state.

The Association recognizes the value of quality early childhood education programs in preparing young children to enter school ready to learn. High quality early childhood programs should be staffed by teachers, administrators, and education support professionals who possess a deep understanding of child development and specialized training in early childhood education. To provide the quality of early education and care necessary to prepare children for success in school, we recommend that—

a. All teachers working in publicly funded preschool programs hold a bachelor’s degree in child development and/or early childhood education
b. All instructional assistants working in publicly funded preschool programs hold an Associate’s degree in child development or early childhood education
c. Lead teachers in private child care centers hold a minimum of an Associate’s degree in child development or early childhood education
d. All teaching assistants in private child care centers hold a minimum of a Child Development Associate (CDA) or a state-issued certificate that meets or exceeds CDA requirements.

States should develop incentives and supports to enable teachers and education support professionals currently working in early childhood programs to obtain the recommended credentials without compromising the quality of education and care that children receive and without substantially increasing the cost of care to parents.

The Association also recognizes the importance of parental involvement in a child’s development.

The Association further supports the provision of training programs that prepare parents/guardians to take an active role in the child’s education. These programs should provide an awareness of the expectations that will be placed on the child as well as familiarization with new policies and procedures that the child will experience in the new environment.

The Association believes that federal legislation should be enacted to assist in organizing the implementation of fully funded early childhood education programs offered through the public schools. These programs must be available to all children on an equal basis and should include mandatory kindergarten with compulsory attendance.

The Association supports regulations requiring children starting kindergarten to have reached age five at the beginning of a kindergarten program.

The Association advocates the establishment of fully funded early childhood special education programs. These programs and necessary services should be readily accessible for children with disabilities and staffed by certified/licensed teachers, qualified support staff, and therapists.

Friday, September 16, 2011

'A half-century of tolerating mediocrity'

Over at Education Next ('Want a 3.8 GPA? Major in Education'), Frederick Hess points us to a new study by University of Missouri economist Cory Koedel, who writes:
Undergraduate education majors become teachers, teachers become principals, and principals become district-level administrators. Ultimately, a sizable fraction of the workforce in the education sector is trained in education departments where evaluation standards are astonishingly low. Should we be surprised that low standards persist in K-12 schools?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

'Life in school is life in bureaucracy'

Walter Russell Mead has some good advice for college students, but I would suggest it applies to younger students as well. And in my mind it's a great endorsement for homeschooling, which often can foster the kind of creativity and flexibility Mead has in mind. "The real world does not work like school," he writes.
Life in school is life in bureaucracy. You follow the rules, do what you are told, and rewards follow.

The real world was never very much like that, but the parts of the real world that look most like school (like for example law firms, universities and government, and private sector bureaucracies) have their heads on the chopping block. By the time today’s students are in their forties (and that is MUCH closer than you think, kids), most of those organizations are going to morph into something very different. Or they will die.

Inmates who spend a long time in prison become institutionalized; they adapt so well to the conditions of prison that they can no longer function in the free world. Something similar can happen to students. From age six or even younger, students are immersed in a predictable world that runs by the rules. Then you get out of school—and expect that this pattern will continue. If you go to a good law school and do well, you will become an associate at a successful firm. Do your job well, work hard, obey the rules and wash behind your ears and in due time you will make partner.

That’s the old system; the new one won’t work that way. Creativity, integrity, and entrepreneurial initiative will pay off; following the old rules and hoping for the old rewards is a road to frustration. You have to fight the tendency of the educational system to turn you into a timeserving baby bureaucrat, following the rules and waiting for the inevitable promotion.

"Most of your elders know very little about the world into which you are headed," Mead continues. Read the whole thing.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Homeschooling on the rise

In China.

Opportunity Scholarship Act gives students more and better choices

[Below is state Superintendent Janet Barresi's weekly newspaper column.]

Oklahoma started a journey recently towards giving parents more and better choices for where they send their children to school.

Senate Bill 969 -- the Opportunity Scholarship Act -- took effect just before the Labor Day holiday. Now, businesses and individuals making contributions to scholarship-granting organizations can receive a 50 percent state income tax credit. And families earning less than 300 percent of the requirement for the federal free and reduced lunch program or whose children attend under-performing schools can receive scholarships to move their child to a private school of their choice. Special needs children can access higher levels of funding.

A child’s education will no longer be decided by a parent’s income or a ZIP code.

The bill also benefits rural schools in Oklahoma. Those with plans for innovative education programs can apply for grants under the new legislation.

An important start to this process of school choice is being facilitated by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, which has posted application forms on its website for scholarship-granting organizations and educational improvement grant organizations. Now it's up to education-minded people to form these organizations and for parents and schools to apply to receive the scholarships and grants.

SB 969 (authored by state Sen. Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) and state Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) is a key plank in my 3R Agenda to rethink, restructure, and reform Oklahoma's education system.

I'm excited. Oklahoma students are a step closer to achieving their best.


A lawsuit Jenks Public Schools and Union Pubic Schools filed against the parents of special-needs children is frivolous, cruel, and misguided, says state Rep. Jason Nelson.

As someone once said, the bureaucrats just don't get it.

Umm, I thought we had compulsory school attendance

Oklahoma has 59 adult literacy programs, the Tulsa World reports. Think about how truly startling this is.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Were colonial Americans more literate ...

... than modern-day Americans?

Freedom works

"Our problem is not that we don't spend enough on education or health care," OCPA fellow Andrew Spiropoulos writes today in The Journal Record.
These systems have been so hamstrung by excessive bureaucratic regulation intended to protect the special-interest groups that benefit from the status quo that they have not been able to react as effectively to social and economic change as the less "managed" areas of our economy. What we need to do is take a "red" model approach to "blue" model priorities and then watch how, when given the chance, free people can solve the most intractable problems.

Friday, September 2, 2011

It's the year of school choice

... and Oklahoma figures prominently.

Taking your money so they can take more of your money

The Jenks school district has spent $650,000 over three years on lobbying.

This sort of taxpayer-funded lobbying strikes me as -- oh, what's the phrase? -- sinful and tyrannical.

Yet another good reason for school choice

Schools don't exist "to be ground-zero in sociopolitical warfare," Cato's Neal McCluskey writes. "Nonetheless, it is inevitably what happens when you force diverse people to support a single system of government schools."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Children as revenue units

"I don’t expect those working in the public school system to support every form of school choice; that would be asking too much of them," Andrew C. Spiropoulos writes today in The Journal Record. "But I would expect them, in formulating their policy arguments, to make children’s welfare their first priority."

Alas, that's too much to ask. Read the whole thing.