Monday, October 31, 2011

Spending money we don't have on stuff that won't work

American heroine Phyllis Schlafly -- George Gilder says "she changed the political landscape of her country" -- was in Oklahoma City last week and said it was a mistake for Oklahoma to apply for a federal grant from the Obama Administration dealing with children from birth to age five. No surprise there; analysts from The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Home School Legal Defense Association have said much the same thing.

Oklahoma policymakers who applied for the grant will be hard pressed to look at this chart and argue that Oklahoma students will benefit from Washington giving us more money.

Education forum this week at Langston-OKC

Bob Bowdon, the award-winning documentarian who produced and directed The Cartel, will be speaking at a forum Thursday evening at Langston University-OKC. Larry Sand, director of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, will also be speaking, and I will be giving a brief presentation on “Why Oklahomans from A to Z Should Embrace School Choice.” More information about the event is available here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Somewhere Tocqueville is smiling

There's a groundbreaking for a new classroom at San Miguel School this week, the Tulsa World reports. "Since 2004, San Miguel School has been educating children who are most at risk of dropping through the cracks of educational, social and economic systems. The school is mission-driven, not tuition-driven, supporters say, and is funded entirely by donations from the community."

Friday, October 28, 2011

More Oklahoma districts need improvement

"As federal standards steadily make it tougher for schools to meet academic performance requirements," The Oklahoman reports, "more and more schools and school districts in Oklahoma have found themselves on the notorious list of schools in need of improvement."

Owasso superintendent's tolerance only goes so far

"In what has increasingly become a troubling sign of the times, an Oklahoma public school district has barred a community-led Christian club for students from publicizing its before-school meetings," writes Matthew Sharp, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund.
Other similar clubs that teach values, self-esteem, and morality to students, like the Boy Scouts and the Young Men's Christian Association, are still allowed to publicize their events in the Owasso schools. Even a business like Baja Jack's Burrito Shack can promote its "tasty Mexican food for breakfast" to the students at Northeast Elementary.

But the Christian club, "Owasso Kids for Christ," which teaches the same values, self-esteem, and morality as the Scouts and YMCA but from a biblical perspective, is barred on the basis that it is "religious." ...

The bottom line: For some reason there appears to be some degree of animus aimed at Owasso Kids for Christ. So much so, in fact, that the district superintendent discouraged the more-than-100-member club from publicizing its activities in the larger Owasso community through signs and banners and through local media and advertising outlets because he believed such publicity would "stir up trouble."

What kind of power does a school district wield when it not only prohibits a Christian organization from announcing its Bible club for students while allowing dozens of other community groups to access the district's communicative mediums, but also takes upon itself the role of suggesting that the Christian organization not advertise at off-campus locations either?

Needs-improvement list

Here are the Oklahoma districts and schools on the needs-improvement list.

Personal digital learning

Is changing the world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Freedom of conscience requires school choice

Freedom of conscience requires school choice, writes Charles Glenn, a professor of educational leadership at Boston University and the former director of urban education and equity efforts for the Massachusetts Department of Education. "Today, every country in Western Europe has well-established policies providing public support to parental choice, including on the basis of religious preferences, and educational freedom was incorporated as a basic human right into international covenants after World War II."

Even as school superintendents in Jenks and Union continue to stick up for discrimination on the basis of religion, Dr. Glenn says the "state 'Baby Blaines' are a major barrier to expanding parental choice, and it is important to the cause of educational freedom that they be challenged at the state level."

'Our school system is like the Trabant'

"When government runs things," John Stossel explains, "consumers suffer."

Socialism's finest

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Owasso Kids for Christ sues Owasso Public Schools

"A Christian club which meets at an Owasso elementary school has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming Owasso Public Schools has violated the group's first amendment's right of free speech and free exercise and the Fourteenth Amendment's right for due process and equal protection," the News on 6 reports.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A nation (still) at risk

[Click infographic to enlarge.]

Schools teach how to do less with more

"The problem with public education is not lack of money," Mark Steyn writes, "but that so much money is utterly wasted."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Raises all around!

The state's most powerful labor union wants to increase teacher salaries $2,000 across the board in 2012. Even if a teacher is mediocre, or poor, or downright incompetent, the OEA believes a $2,000 raise is in order.

In addition, OEA wants to give more money to teachers with master's degrees and seniority, "even though there is no evidence that these things help students learn," as Bill and Melinda Gates point out today in The Wall Street Journal.

Friday, October 21, 2011

State legislator suggests voucherizing early ed

In addition to governors like Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is one who chose not to apply for a federal "early learning" grant from the Obama Administration. The ABC affiliate in Indianapolis reports:
State Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the state does not fund preschool but Indiana is also one of the few states in the black. "I think it's basically resources," Behning said. ...

The state has allocated more dollars toward funding full-day kindergarten, but Behning said more money does not always mean better results. He pointed to Oklahoma, which pioneered preschool programs but graduation rates there have not improved, he said. "There was absolutely no improvement at all. Just having early childhood (education) is not a silver bullet," Behning said.

The state currently spends $175 million on child care services through the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, money Behning said could be used to support early education. "There's no reason why we shouldn't try to make child care vouchers, and turn them into an early childhood education voucher," he said. "That's one way to leverage current dollars and not spend another dollar."

Jenks promotes home schooling

Neither the adults nor the children are in their own home, but hey, it's a start.

Preschool spending limits school choice

Oklahoma has applied for up to $60 million in federal "early learning" funds from the Obama Administration, even as The Wall Street Journal reports that "any expansion of testing is likely to fuel the debate over its value, especially among young children" and as a Heritage Foundation analyst warns of Oklahoma's risks in taking this federal money. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that "Florida will reject a federal early learning grant of up to $100 million if it comes with strings attached including any requirement for state funding, Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday." One hopes Oklahoma would do the same.

Unfortunately, as Heritage reminds us, all this government spending and regulation has a pernicious crowd-out effect (Tulsa's Trinity Episcopal Day School and Evangelistic Temple School are two of the latest victims), thus limiting school choice.

UPDATE: Some YWCA childcare programs in Tulsa are also biting the dust.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quote of the day

Even if vouchers were to take money away from the public schools -- and I should point out that not all voucher proposals do -- that does not in and of itself mean that public schools will be harmed.

When you have an area of the country -- and most often here we are talking about inner cities -- where the public schools are abysmal or dysfunctional or not working and where most of the children have no way out, it is legitimate to ask what would happen to the public schools with increased competition from private schools and what would happen to the quality of education for the children who live there.

U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware), September 30, 1997

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tea Party to governor: Spurn Race to the Cradle money

Warning that federal intervention could cause private schools to close, the Tea Party network in Florida urged Gov. Rick Scott not to apply for Race to the Cradle money. Gov. Scott applied for the grant anyway, but pledged he would only accept the Obama grant "if the award comes back with no strings attached."

Are public school teachers overpaid?

That's the question to be addressed at an American Enterprise Institute event November 1.
The public commonly accepts that public school teachers are "desperately underpaid," in the words of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and that raising teacher pay should be a priority of education reform. But is this true? AEI Resident Scholar Andrew Biggs and Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Jason Richwine will provide new data on teacher salaries, fringe benefits, and job security that point to significantly more value in teachers' total compensation packages than was previously evident. Although some teachers may be underpaid, the data suggest the majority are receiving higher pay than they would be likely to receive in private-sector employment.

'It's time for American education to catch up with the world around it'

"Students are living in a digital world," says former OCPA intern Taylor Stair, "but their education system is stuck in analog."

Are tax credits better than vouchers?

They're 'just babies'

Patricia Cox, superintendent of the Aline-Cleo Springs School District near Enid, says some of her students are "just babies." She says, "In a perfect world, a beautiful world, children would not start school until age 8."

Regardless of when they start, it's time for Oklahoma to diversify its preschool portfolio.

Fund students, not schools

In a recent OCPA report, Dan Lips explained how Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) can empower parents to customize an education for their children. Now Lindsey Burke, senior education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, is out with an excellent new memo on ESAs (“Education Savings Accounts: A Promising Way Forward on School Choice”).

A child entering kindergarten today “can expect to have more than $120,000 spent on his or her education by the time the child graduates high school,” she writes. “And approximately 90 percent of that money is derived from state and local sources. Education Savings Accounts operate on the philosophy that parents are best equipped to make the important decisions about their child’s education. Instead of automatically allocating a share of a child’s education funding to the public-school system, ESAs ensure dollars will be spent under the direction of parents, at any school of their choice.”

Burke recommends that state policymakers “transition from funding schools to funding students through Education Savings Accounts, empowering parents with control over their child’s share of education funding. ESA dollars should be universal and available for any education-related purpose, including: private-school tuition, private tutoring, online learning courses, or education-related services. Parents should also be allowed to roll over unused ESA dollars from year to year, or to save ESA funding for college tuition.”

Oklahoma has a fair amount of school choice already, but not nearly enough. ESAs “are broadening the school choice landscape in vital ways,” and it’s time for Oklahoma policymakers to consider them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Selective outrage on 'public money to private schools'

Thanks to Oklahoma's new special-needs scholarship law, "at least $700,000 in state public school funds will be paid this year to send special-education students to private schools in Oklahoma," Kim Archer reports in the Tulsa World.

That's good information to have, but I would suggest that some follow-up reporting would discover that $700,000 isn't the full story. Why? Because, as even the opponents of Lindsey's Law can tell you (see, for example, the first 15 seconds of this clip), even before Lindsey's Law was enacted school districts already sent special-needs kids to private schools. My recollection is there are hundreds of private placements each year (apparently at least 10 are out of state), with nary a peep from school administrators about "constitutionality" or "public money going to private schools."

Online learning

Is here to stay.

Monday, October 17, 2011

OEA membership declines

Education reporter Mike Antonucci has the latest union membership numbers, and he reports that the Oklahoma Education Association had 23,284 active members (i.e., working teachers, certified staff, and education support employees -- not students or retirees) in 2009-10, which is down 2.9 percent from the previous year.

'Public schools and the decline of Christianity'

IndoctriNation Trailer from IndoctriNation on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

'The Steve Jobs model for education reform'

In the weekend Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch says that's the education-reform approach he prefers.
If you read the front pages of the New York Times, they will tell you that technology's promise has not yet been realized in terms of student performance. My answer is, of course not. If we simply attached computers to leeches, medicine wouldn't be any better today than it was in the 19th century either.

You don't get change by plugging in computers to schools designed for the industrial age. You get it by deploying technology that rewrites the rules of the game.

Our children are growing up in Steve Jobs's world. They are eager to learn and quick to embrace new technology. Outside the classroom they take technology for granted—in what they read, in how they listen to music, in how they shop. ...

Just as the iPod compelled the music industry to accommodate its customers, we can use technology to force the education system to meet the needs of the individual student.

Steve Jobs knew all about competitive markets. He once likened our school system to the old phone monopoly. "I remember," he said in a 1995 interview, "seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said 'We don't care. We don't have to.' And that's what a monopoly is. That's what IBM was in their day. And that's certainly what the public school system is. They don't have to care."

We have to care. In this new century, good is not good enough. Put simply, we must approach education the way Steve Jobs approached every industry he touched. To be willing to blow up what doesn't work or gets in the way. And to make our bet that if we can engage a child's imagination, there's no limit to what he or she can learn.

Friday, October 14, 2011

'Oklahoma is ceding its ability to innovate'

Today in The Oklahoman, Bob Holland praises Oklahoma for its progress on school choice, but is disappointed that we have "followed the siren call of the big education establishment to embrace the so-called common core standards, an incipient national curriculum."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

'Parental authority is at the heart of school choice'

John E. Coons, an emeritus law professor at Cal-Berkeley who has championed school choice for four decades, says "parental empowerment can't exist unless the parent has the power to enforce his or her own rules or decisions."
You can't be a responsible person unless you have authority. The popular talk about parental responsibility needs to include this premise. Bill Cosby picks on parents who disengage from school. He’s right, but this stick of his has two ends. Passivity and despair are the response of powerless parents to the predicament we've arranged for them. It is the classic recipe for impotence and withdrawal by the adult and bewilderment by the child who learns that the role of parent carries little social or moral weight.

Whatever family may mean, if you value it, you’d better see to it that the not-so-rich American parent has real authority over who has access to the child's mind for the prime hours of 13 years of his or her life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

As Oklahoma races to the cradle, Heritage Foundation analyst warns of risks

"Tennessee will not apply for up to $60 million in onetime Race to the Top funds for early childhood education," The Commercial Appeal reports today.
"We want to be very careful in the current fiscal environment not to take on additional activities we can't sustain financially, " [Commissioner of Education Kevin] Huffman said. ... Instead, through a partnership with Vanderbilt University, Tennessee is researching the effectiveness of its current investment before adding more, Huffman said. 

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is applying for this Race to the Cradle grant, and over at CapitolBeatOK Patrick McGuigan reports ("Heritage Foundation analyst warns of risks in taking federal education grant dollars") on his conversation with researcher Lindsey Burke, who was in Oklahoma City last week. Burke said,

It's still to be seen what new requirements or costs will result from participation in the ELC [Early Learning Challenge] grant. But federal dollars typically come with federal strings and reporting requirements, which can create added expenses and headaches for states.

The Obama administration's ultimate goal is to encourage states to implement universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-old children, regardless of family income. But state preschool is a questionable investment for several reasons. Fade-out is a common phenomenon with preschool in general, with benefits dissipating by third grade. And, a study by the RAND Corporation found that preschool has few, if any, long-term benefits for middle- and upper-income children.

Oklahoma has been offering all 4-year-old children the opportunity to attend taxpayer-funded preschool since 1998. Oklahoma spent $139 million on early education in 2008, and spends more than $7,400 per child in preschool.

Yet, despite this expansive growth in state preschool at considerable taxpayer expense, Oklahoma has not seen improvements in academic achievement as a result. In fact, Oklahoma's 4th grade reading scores have declined since 1998 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. While numerous factors influence NAEP scores, if state-funded universal preschool was producing all of the benefits proponents claim, it would likely be evident in 4th grade reading scores.

It's theoretically possible that Oklahoma could be denied the federal grant, though it is highly unlikely given that prominent Obama fundraiser George Kaiser visited the White House 16 times (to discuss "early childhood education," et al.) and also appeared on the platform with Secretary Duncan and Secretary Sebelius when this grant competition was unveiled. If Oklahoma does receive the grant, Burke says it is "certainly a legitimate concern" that federal regulation of Oklahoma's private providers could follow.

Oklahoma parents want and deserve preschool choices. Regrettably, this federal grant -- like other attempts to nationalize education policy -- could prove hostile not only to federalism, but to school choice.

School-choice litigator to speak at OCU law school

Clint Bolick, director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute, will speak at 5:00 PM on Wednesday, October 19 at the Oklahoma City University School of Law. His lecture, "State Constitutions as a Bulwark for Freedom," will take place in the Homsey Family Moot Courtroom at Sarkeys Law Center. The lecture is free and open to the public.

A legal pioneer, Bolick has argued and won cases in the United States Supreme Court, the Arizona Supreme Court, and state and federal courts from coast to coast. He has won landmark precedents defending school choice, freedom of enterprise, and private property rights and challenging corporate subsidies and racial classifications. In 2003, American Lawyer recognized Bolick as one of three lawyers of the year for his successful defense of school choice programs, culminating in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shouldn't educators and journalists (of all people) tell the truth?

Fifteen years on, the Left is still getting mileage out of the Keating-called-teachers-slugs incident. (Gov. Keating, giving a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question, referred to some bad teachers as slugs. Thanks to misrepresentation by the education establishment and a sympathetic media, many people now remember something to the effect of "Keating called teachers slugs.")

He didn't, of course, but hey, the misrepresentation had the desired effect. Regrettably, a similar situation may be starting to unfold now. A capitol reporter for The Journal Record wants you to believe there are Oklahomans running around saying mean things about teachers, an accusation to which I respond in the comments section of his article. Fortunately, his rhetorical misdirection is easy to spot, but that doesn't mean the meme won't take hold. Let's hope it doesn't.

Homeschooling documentary in the works

Over at The Pioneer Woman, Kristen Chase writes about the first full-length documentary on homeschooling.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

OEA teacher warns of dangers coming from the Right

The People's World, which publishes the "news and views" of the Communist Party USA (not that there's anything wrong with that), reports from Tulsa on a new coalition formed to combat "ultra-right anti-labor legislative efforts" in Oklahoma. The paper quotes a teacher from the Oklahoma Education Association who warned of the dangers coming from the Right today: 
Too often we've made references to fascism as a knee-jerk reaction, but we are truly up against fascistic thought ... When we're saying, "Business would be just fine if they didn't have labor unions, in order for business to be successful you have to ... deny the right of workers," that's a huge step toward a type of social system that very much resembles fascism.

Values through History

This looks like a terrific program. Is anyone in Oklahoma (public, private, or home school) using this?


In a short news item, the Tulsa World reports that
The [Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship] program is ostensibly for children with autism and other special needs but is widely seen as a step toward a comprehensive voucher system for all students, something OCPA supports.

The story didn't have a byline, though it's possible it was written by Randy Krehbiel, who did a nice job covering the Mitch Daniels dinner in Tulsa. In any case, I would suggest that regardless of whether the program is "widely seen" (by whom, the reporter doesn't say) as a step toward something else, it is not accurate to say the program is "ostensibly" for special-needs children. If one reads the law, it's clear that the program is actually for special-needs children. In this instance, the reporter's motive-mongering gets in the way of clear reporting.

Preschool roundup

"Except in the case of severely disadvantaged, high-risk kids, preschool does almost no good to anyone," Shikha Dalmia writes over at "If anything, separating kids from their parents and putting them in an institutional setting at a young an age might do some real psychological damage" [as Karen Effrem, MD, has pointed out].

Meanwhile, some of our favorite nannies are wringing their hands over what they see as the "problem" of chronic absenteeism among preschoolers. Of course, some people don't see it as a problem at all.

And in the new issue of Perspective, economist Wendy Warcholik says it's time for Oklahoma to diversify its preschool portfolio.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Education is on the brink of an online revolution

Says a business columnist who has covered Silicon Valley for years.

How to improve SAT scores?

Advance policies that encourage marriage and family formation.

Heritage analyst: Oklahoma should resist federal overreach, embrace school choice

[The following is the testimony of Lindsey M. Burke before the Common Education Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives on October 6, 2011.]

Madam Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for having me here to testify today. My name is Lindsey M. Burke. I am Senior Policy Analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own, and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation.

No one denies that American education has room for improvement. American children ranked 32nd in mathematics among the mostly wealthy countries that participated in the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, falling below students in the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Iceland, Estonia, and Slovenia.

In all, just 33 percent of U.S. eighth graders are proficient in math. Moreover, a mere 17 percent of Hispanic students in America are proficient in math along with just 12 percent of African-American students.

While U.S. math achievement is troubling, reading scores aren’t much better. The United States ranked 17th on the PISA, falling behind countries such as Belgium and Estonia. Today, just 30 percent of U.S. students score proficient in reading. And when we examine U.S. subgroups, the outcomes become even more troubling.

Just 13 percent of African-American students scored proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also known as the nation’s report card, in 2009; just 16 percent of Hispanic students can read proficiently, according to the test. And on international comparisons such as the PISA, black and Hispanic 10th graders in America score closer to their peers in Mexico than they score to the average for all their classmates in the United States.

Beyond international comparisons, right here at home, there is ample evidence that American K-12 education is in a state of crisis. Since the 1970s, academic achievement has remained relatively flat. Math achievement for 13-year-old children has increased only nominally, and reading achievement has been completely flat for the past 40 years.

Not only has academic achievement remained flat, but academic attainment – that is, graduation rates – have also been stagnant. Graduation rates today hover around 73 percent, essentially unchanged since the 1970s. Sadly, in many of our nation’s largest cities, less than half of all students graduate high school.

And there are other signs that America’s education system is failing to meet the needs of millions of students: one-third of students need remedial coursework when they enter college, and the achievement gap between white and minority students, and between low- and upper-income students, persists. And, according to the new Global Report Card developed by University of Arkansas researchers, "achievement in many of our affluent suburban public school districts barely keeps pace with that of the average student in a developed country."

These failures have persisted despite significant growth in the federal role in education over the same time period. What began with President Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and the idea of compensatory education by spending taxpayer dollars through federal education programs, quickly morphed into Washington becoming involved in systemic education reform. Instead of targeted federal dollars to low-income districts in an effort to improve outcomes for poor children, federal policymakers began creating education programs designed to dictate school policy. President Jimmy Carter’s creation of the U.S. Department of Education in 1979 resulted in the first cabinet-level agency overseeing education, further entrenching Washington into the nation’s education system.

In the years to follow and throughout the 1990s, numerous niche programs were created, greatly increasing the size and scope of Johnson’s original Elementary and Secondary Education Act. President George W. Bush’s tenure included the eighth reauthorization of Johnson’s ESEA, which in 2001, was renamed the No Child Left Behind Act. Over the years, Johnson’s original ESEA grew from a mere 30 page, $1 billion bill to the 600-page, $25 billion law that it is today. And over that same time, the federal role in education grew to such an extent that virtually no aspect of school policy is off-limits to Washington today.

Like so many prior administrations, President Obama believes that he can improve educational outcomes from Washington. The Obama administration believes that a ninth reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is warranted – even though eight previous reauthorizations largely failed to improve outcomes. The administration also believes that national standards and tests should be included in attempts to reform education.

While many experts now examine the federal track record on education and conclude that decentralization – not further federal control – is more likely to improve outcomes, the Obama administration has not concluded that the federal role in education has failed. Instead of supporting states as laboratories of reform, the administration has coerced states into the standardization of content, pushing a one-size-fits-all approach to standards and tests. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in 2009, as the national standards push was intensifying, that "The idea of having 50 states designing their own standards is crazy."

American education is in a state of crisis: stagnant graduation rates, persistent achievement gaps, low levels of academic achievement, and mediocrity on the international stage. The Obama administration believes that national education standards and tests are the way to improve outcomes. But nationalizing the content taught in local schools tramples state educational autonomy, creates a one-size-fits-all approach to education, and will likely lead to the standardization of mediocrity, not high quality standards of excellence.

History of the standards push

The push for national standards and tests is not new. The federal government took an unprecedented leap into education policy in 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), the education component of Johnson’s War on Poverty. While the idea at the time was compensatory education, that is, providing additional federal resources through federal programs to improve outcomes for poor children, by the end of the 1980s, "education policymakers began to look beyond equity arguments to standards-based reform, also known a systemic reform."

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush provided grants to several organizations to develop common education standards. The grants came on the heels of a report by the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, a panel of policymakers and education experts, which called for national standards. The standards that were subsequently developed in U.S. History, English Language Arts, and mathematics came under scrutiny for the poor quality of the content. The U.S. Senate voted 99-1 in opposition to the history standards, the Department of Education cancelled its contract with the organizations crafting the English standards, and the math standards were widely criticized for promoting "fuzzy math."

President Bill Clinton signed Goals 2000 into law in 1994, marking the seventh reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Further entangling Washington into the nation’s classrooms, Goals 2000 included broad goals as standards framework, and required states to develop standards in reading and English Language Arts.

While Goals 2000 required states to develop math and English standards, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the eighth reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, was the first federal foray into testing. Building off of Goals 2000, NCLB now also required states to set standards in science as well as math and English, and began requiring states to test students in math and reading yearly in grades three through eight and once again in high school. And, for the first time, NCLB set a ticking clock on states: by 2014, all students would have to be proficient in math and reading, as measured by Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

While No Child Left Behind significantly expanded the federal role in education by putting Washington in charge of setting student proficiency deadlines and by mandating the frequency with which states test students, current efforts by the Obama administration far exceed existing federal overreach, and aim to get Washington into the game of defining the content of what students are taught in local schools.

To accomplish this goal, the administration has spent billions of dollars and provided incentives for states to adopt the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative began in earnest in the spring of 2009 with an announcement by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that they would be supporting the development of Common Core standards and assessments. While the effort was supposed to be voluntary – states could choose to adopt the Common Core State Standards in math and English Language Arts to replace their existing state standards – the Obama administration quickly became involved with the effort, creating question marks about the voluntary nature of the national standards push.

National standards timeline

I think it’s important to walk through the timeline of the national standards movement as it relates to the Obama administration’s education policy, to demonstrate that the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the federal government have become entangled both financially and programmatically.

On February 17, 2009 President Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the “stimulus,” into law, gifting an unprecedented $98 billion in additional dollars to the U.S. Department of Education. The Race to the Top program was carved out of the new stimulus funds, and invited states to compete for $4.35 billion. Applications for RTT funding asked states to describe how they would transform their standards and assessments to “college and career-ready” standards that were common to a significant number of states. The only “common” option available at the time was the Common Core State Standards Initiative, creating an implicit endorsement (both rhetorically and financially) of the Common Core push, and further laying the groundwork for national standards and tests. Moreover, Race to the Top required states to join one of two testing consortia crafting assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards Initiative. $350 million of Race to the Top was earmarked for the funding of national assessments.

On February 26, 2009 the Council of Chief State School Officers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Vice President Joe Biden for a briefing on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which included a discussion of standards and assessments.

On May 29, 2009, in a speech in May to the National Press Club a few months later, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was clear about the Obama administration's goals for the country. "We want common, career-ready internationally benchmarked standards," Duncan told the audience.

On November 4, 2009, President Obama delivered a speech to students at James C. Wright Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin. During his remarks, the president outlined the coming Race to the Top program stating:
“In the coming weeks, states will be able to compete for what we’re calling a Race to the Top award. We’re putting over $4 billion on the table - $4 billion with a ‘b’ – one of the largest federal investments that the federal government has ever made in education reform.”

He went on to say:

"...And I have to tell you, this was not an easy thing to get through Congress. This is not normally how federal dollars work."

"...I want to commend the leadership of the governors and school chiefs who've joined together to get this done. And because of these efforts, there will be a set of common standards that any state can adopt...and I urge all states to do so..."

By December 2009 Conservatives in Congress began voicing concerns that the Obama administration's support for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Representative Glenn Thompson (R-PA) stated:

"The only common, multi-state academic standards I am aware of are those being developed through the Common Core Initiative. Therefore, it stands to reason that any state wishing to receive funding through the Race to the Top program will be mandated to adopt the Common Core -- and to test its students based on those standards.

"In other words, the Common Core is being transformed from a voluntary, state-based initiative to a set of federal academic standards with corresponding federal tests."

On February 3, 2010, leaders of the Common Core State Standards Initiative announced that states that have adopted the Common Core standards must use the standards word for word. National Governor's Association program director David Wakelyn stated: "You can't pick and choose what you want. This is not cafeteria-style standards." Council of Chief State School Officer deputy executive director stated that "adoption means adoption." Education Week reported that "...NGA and CCSSO officials said that states must approve the entire common-standards document verbatim."

In February 2010 Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of governors that access to the nearly $15 billion in Title I funding for low-income school districts could also be tied to the adoption of common “college and career-ready” standards.

On March 13, 2010 Obama administration releases its “Blueprint” to reform No Child Left Behind. The Blueprint suggested renaming the Title I program for low-income children to the “College-and-Career-Ready Students program,” and states:

“Following the lead of the nation’s governors, we’re calling on all states to develop and adopt standards in English language arts and mathematics that build toward college- and career-readiness by the time students graduate from high school. States may choose to upgrade their existing standards or work together with other states to develop and adopt common, state-developed standards.”

There was now clear evidence that common standards will be supported in a significant way by Washington, with the inclusion of a requirement for all states to have college-and-career ready standards to receive funding from Title I, the largest pot of money provided under No Child Left Behind.

And most recently, just last month in September 2011 The Obama administration announced that it would offer No Child Left Behind waivers to states that agreed to conditions stipulated by the Department of Education. The first condition to which states must agree in order to receive a waiver is to adopt national standards and tests. The waiver application of the Department of Education’s website states:

“Over the past few years, Governors and Chief State School Officers have developed and adopted rigorous academic content standards to prepare all students for success in college and careers in the 21st century…to receive this flexibility, an SEA must demonstrate that it has college-and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics…”

After the conditions-based waivers were announced by the Obama administration, Senator Marco Rubio sent a letter to Secretary Duncan expressing his concern about the waivers and their requirement for states to adopt national standards and tests. Sen. Rubio stated that he is concerned with the waivers requirement that states “adopt a federally-approved ‘college and career ready” curriculum: either the national Common Core curriculum standards, or another federally-approved equivalent.” He went on to say:

“I am also concerned that the U.S. Department of Education has created, through its contractors, national curriculum materials to support these Common Core standards. Such activities are unacceptable; they violate three existing laws: NCLB [No Child Left Behind], the Department of Education Organization Act, and the General Education Provisions Act. All three laws prohibit the federal government from creating or prescribing national curriculum.”

There has been clear support, both rhetorically and financially, from the Obama administration for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Attaching federal funding to the effort and creating federal requirements for adoption to qualify for federal funding, has transformed the initiative to a federal push for national standards and tests that will define what every child in America must learn in school.

Common Core Adoption: An Unwise Choice for Oklahoma

Adopting national standards and tests would be unwise for Oklahoma for many reasons. Content matter experts, particularly math experts, have expressed concern about the rigor of the standards.

Members of the Common Core mathematics advisory panel said of the original draft standards that they would “encourage the same kind of bureaucratic enforcement of state standards that has already damaged math education.” The head of the mathematics advisory panel also noted the rushed timeline for the standards, and stated that “a normal timetable for standards adoption would go through multiple iterations, with pilot testing.” The rushed timeline is perhaps the reason that holes in the mathematics standards have come to light.

Ze’ev Wurman, a former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education and a member of the Committee that crafted the California math standards in 1997, notes that the common core standards require only Algebra I and segments of Algebra II and Geometry, despite the fact that most four-year colleges and universities require at least three years of math in high school: a minimum of Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. In a December 2009 article, Wurman and former Assistant Secretary of Education for Policy Bill Evers wrote: “In other words, students who graduate from high school having taken only math coursework addressing those standards…will be inadmissible to any four-year college around the country.”

Mr. Wurman also points out specific problems with the skills measured by the mathematics standards. Wurman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2009:

“They [the mathematics standards] offer more than 100 examples of the mathematics skills expected of students. Here is one: If everyone in the world went swimming in Lake Michigan, what would happen to the water level? Would Chicago be flooded?

Wurman writes that this is:

“An interesting but mostly non-mathematical problem. The math skills measured are estimation and division at the fifth-grade level, but how accurate is measuring even those low-level math skills when the answer depends mostly on non-mathematical knowledge: the Earth’s population; Lake Michigan’s surface area; Chicago’s elevation above the water level; or whether the water will spill over to Lake Huron before flooding Chicago. Out of the 105 examples, almost two-thirds have flaws of one type of another, making them inappropriate as reliable measures of math knowledge. This is deeply troubling, given these standards may shortly be imposed on the whole nation.”

There is also little if any empirical evidence supporting a move toward national standards and tests. Finding extremely limited existing evidence on the efficacy of national standards, in 2009 the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution conducted their own analysis of the relationship between student math achievement at the state level and the rigor of state content standards. Brookings researchers found no statistically significant association between the quality of content standards and student academic achievement. They concluded:

"The lack of evidence that better content standards enhance student achievement is remarkable given the level of investment in this policy and the high hopes attached to it."

In a subsequent study, Brookings researchers concluded that "...the creation of common standards will have little impact on our future in and of itself."

Proponents of national standards also frequently argue that nation’s that outperform the United States on international tests of student achievement have national standards. While many of the countries that outperform the United States on international tests have national standards, so do many of the countries that do not outperform the U.S. Countries including Belgium, Australia, and Canada have education systems that are decentralized, yet often outperform the United States on international tests of student achievement. And indeed, the best way the United States can improve the quality of standards is to decentralize the process of setting standards and assessments. According to education researcher Dr. Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas:

“When we have choice and competition among different sets of standards, curricula and assessments, they tend to improve in quality to better suit student needs and result in better outcomes.”

Concerns have also been raised about the subsequent process of maintaining and updating the standards, which has yet to be determined. National standards are likely to become rigid standards that are difficult to change and adapt, due partly to questions of ownership. Who will ultimately “own” the standards? Who will update them? Who will maintain them? Professor Greene, in testimony before the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee last month, warned:

“Once we set national standards, curriculum, and assessments, they are nearly impossible to change. If we discover a mistake, or wish to try a new or possibly better approach, we can’t switch. We are stuck with whatever national choices we make for a long time. And if we make a mistake we will impose it on the entire country.”

While some states certainly have low-quality standards, some states, such as Massachusetts, have exceptional standards that are internationally competitive. While there is variation in state standards, the rigor and content of national standards will face pressure to scale down toward the mean among states, undercutting states with high quality standards. Therefore, centralized standard-setting will likely result in the standardization of mediocrity, rather than establishing standards of excellence.

Another argument that proponents of national standards and tests often offer is that such standards will ensure parents can understand how their children are performing relative to other children across the country. Before assuming national standards will provide parents with useful information about their child’s performance, we should consider what types of information parents need about their child’s school success. Parents need two critical pieces of information to determine whether their child is excelling in school: (1) Parents need to know whether their child is mastering content appropriate to their grade level, and (2) Parents need to know that when their child has mastered fourth grade content, for instance, that they’re on pace with other fourth graders across the country.

To provide information about content mastery, states currently conduct criterion-referenced tests, which measure a student’s mastery of the content outlined by the state standards. To provide information about how rigorous the content is compared to other states across the country, many states also conduct norm-referenced tests, which measure achievement compared to other students nationally.

Moreover, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the nation’s “report card,” acts as an external audit of state standards, providing a common gauge for quality.

Meaningful information about student achievement already exists. No Child Left Behind required every state to issue report cards to grade school systems. What has been missing in some instances is transparency about that data. But inadequate access to information does not justify a national standards and testing regime. States should focus instead on supplying clear information to parents about school performance.

If not national standards, how does Oklahoma improve outcomes?
  • Strengthen state-based accountability systems by strengthening state standards and tests;
  • Provide school performance information to parents and taxpayers by publishing state standards and cut-scores in a manner that is accessible to parents; and
  • Empower parents to act on school performance data by offering more school choice options.

The problems that need fixing in American education are rooted in a misalignment in the power and incentive structure of public education. Focusing on the adoption of national standards and tests to define what every child in America will learn distracts from fixing the fundamental deficiencies of our education system: a lack of choice for families and the absence of competition to force schools to improve.

Centralizing standards and assessments will not improve educational outcomes. American education has long prided itself on the principal of local control. And for good reason: those closest to the students know them best.

A half-century of ever-increasing federal involvement in education has failed to increase academic achievement. Relinquishing control of Oklahoma’s educational autonomy to distant bureaucrats in Washington by adopting national standards and tests will fail to improve outcomes for children, and will further remove parents from the decision-making process. National standards would strengthen federal control over education while weakening schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers.

Moreover, states are far better at adapting and innovating than the bureaucratic federal government. Ten years ago, we could never have envisioned the technological advancements that have taken place, such as the iPad. And we cannot imagine what will take place ten years from now.

I hope Oklahoma will lead the way in improving its own state standards and pushing back against this unprecedented federal overreach into what is taught in your local classrooms.

Thank you.

NEA loses in court

"A giant corporation spent years trying to dodge its tax obligations but was finally brought to account by the U.S. Tax Court," Mike Antonucci reports.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Suing the parents of disabled kids?

"Maybe 'dirtbags' was a little strong," writes Charles E. Daniels of Bartlesville, "but I invite you to come up with your own description."

NCLB 'waivers' hostile to school choice

Hoover Institution fellow Bill Evers passes along this message from Eugene Hickok, a former deputy secretary of education.
Dear Colleagues,

Two weeks ago, President Obama announced his plan to grant “waivers” from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The plan, however, is a misnomer. The “waivers” plan does not give states more freedom. Rather, the plan forces states to comply with nearly 40 new government mandates. This is the nationalization of education policy. It would deny parent-driven tutoring to hundreds of thousands of low-income students trapped in failing schools. And it would force school choice and parental empowerment from cornerstones of education reform to afterthoughts.

In short, waivers are unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral.

In undermining Congress’ role in legislation, waivers are unconstitutional. See a letter from Senator Marco Rubio to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan making that case here.

In undermining parental participation and involvement, waivers are illegal. NCLB expressly denies the Secretary of Education the right to waive the parental participation and involvement it contains. In other words, the Secretary cannot waive school choice policies, and he cannot waive common-sense tutoring provisions which encourage parental engagement. By explicitly waiving these policies, the Secretary is exceeding his authority under the law. The United Farmworkers of America made this compelling case directly to the Secretary of Education.

Finally, in kicking 650,000 low-income children trapped in failing schools out of parent-driven tutoring, waivers are immoral. As Secretary Duncan has said, “children only get one chance at an education.” We already know that schools are failing to teach these low-income students. Without tutoring and school choice, they are condemned to a poor education. When we waive tutoring, we are “waiving” these children’s one chance at an education.

As advocates for school choice, parental empowerment, and state control of education, we must make our voices heard. Please blog about the issue, work with your membership and local organizations to get the word out, and contact your members of Congress to let them know you stand against waivers. …

We need to defeat the unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral waivers that will nationalize education policy. With your help, we can.


Eugene Hickok 
Former Deputy Secretary of Education

Monday, October 3, 2011