Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unsafe-schools watch

"Police are investigating an Oklahoma elementary school teacher who hosted a tree-trimming party at her home attended by several third graders whom the educator videotaped wearing Christmas-themed bras and panties she provided to the girls," The Smoking Gun reports. This third-grade teacher has resigned, but perhaps she can find employment at the OU Women’s Outreach Center, which has a "sexpert" program and on Monday hosted a "Coffee, Condoms & Cocoa" event.

In other news, it turns out the Catoosa school district has its own police department.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New school is helping autistic children

In The Sooner Catholic, Ray Dyer reports on a new school for autistic children believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. Di Smalley, president and CEO of Mercy Health System of Oklahoma,
credited the Oklahoma Legislature with helping to make the school a reality. The lawmakers supported the creation of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship that allows public funds to be used by parents to send their children with special needs to private or parochial schools.

Already little Lindsey, and her parents, are helping to improve the lives of special-needs children. 

White Johnny can't read

Nearly one in five middle- and upper-income white 4th graders in Oklahoma can't read.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Unsafe-schools watch

The Oklahoman reports that an Edmond student was beaten unconscious in a school restroom. He
was knocked to the floor, kicked and stomped, and could have been killed, prosecutors said. He suffered a fractured skull, a severe concussion and head lacerations, along with a seizure.

Friday, November 18, 2011

So rest easy

A superintendent who is paid $17,500 a month to oversee a school district in which half of the sixth-graders can't read at grade level, and in which the math achievement of the average student is at the 25th percentile relative to an international comparison group, would like you to know that he believes in accountability.

American schools not getting the job done

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On the bright side, the little girl wasn't sued

If mama ain't happy -- tough luck

Tahlequah Public Schools superintendent Shannon Goodsell, who is paid $124,858 annually to oversee a school district on the federal needs-improvement list, is not a fan of school vouchers. Among other things, he raises the issue of accountability:

The only entity the private school is held accountable to is Mom. If Mom is happy, the money stays with the school. If Mom is not happy, then Mom has the right, if she wants, to pull them out and put them back into the public schools ...

That is very well said, though, oddly, Mr. Goodsell appears to think it's an argument against vouchers.

In any case, let us contrast this private school's accountability with the accountability faced by Mr. Goodsell's public schools. Let's say Mom sends her children to a Tahlequah public school, and is not happy that Tahlequah produces students with math performance worse than that of the typical student in the average developed country. Indeed, let's say Mom is downright embarrassed that the math achievement of the average student in Tahlequah is at the 32nd percentile relative to an international comparison group. Let's say Mom is appalled to discover that if one picked up the Tahlequah school district and dropped it into Canada, the average Tahlequah student would be at the 23rd percentile in math achievement. Or that if it were relocated to Singapore, the average Tahlequah student would be at the 17th percentile in math achievement. Or that if it were relocated to Finland, the average Tahlequah student would be at the 16th percentile in math achievement.

In short, let's say everyone acknowledges the obvious: the Tahlequah Public Schools desperately need improvement. To whom are these educators accountable? Ah yes, and how is that accountability to distant bureaucrats working out for Mom, who can only watch as another year goes by and her son's childhood continues to slip away?

As the late Steve Jobs once said: "I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell [telephone] 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."

No, they're going to get paid whether Mom is happy or not. They're not accountable.

How much is your school spending?

"Can you tell me ... how much your local public school spends each year?" Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli ask in the current Hoover Digest. "Five thousand dollars per student? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand?" The correct answer is: "Nobody knows, not even the principal—that’s how opaque our system is."

"Because of the various funding streams that feed the system," adds Jonathan Butcher in the current issue of Inside ALEC, "discovering exactly how much taxpayers spend per student is more like deciphering a riddle than reading a balance sheet."

When it comes to deciphering the riddle, I believe OCPA has done as good a job as anyone.

Reform-minded Democrats say ZIP code is being replaced with choice

"Only in education have we empowered strangers and geography rather than parents to make choices as to what is best for children," write two reform-minded Democrats. "Someone in your local school district, who does not know you or your child, orders you each fall to send the child to a school based on these five digits regardless of whether its programs fit your child’s and family’s needs or delivers strong academic outcomes."

Fortunately, they write, "ZIP code is being challenged and replaced with choice."

Bullied students sending distress signals, need life preserver

It’s no secret that bullying is a big problem in Oklahoma’s schools. Examples of emotional, mental, and physical abuse are too numerous to chronicle.

Parents in Broken Arrow, for example, say their son was beaten with nunchucks by another student, had his head forced into a toilet, and was even shoved by a substitute teacher. Unsurprisingly, the boy cried daily and said he wanted to kill himself.

One mother in Tulsa says she was compelled to leave her job as an engineer in order to tutor her son after school because the Tulsa public schools failed to protect him from harm. For three years she came to the school playground during recess to ensure his safety.

Patricia Hughes, an educational psychology professor at Oklahoma State University, says bullying in Oklahoma schools “is leading to suicide more and more often, more and more young. We’re seeing an escalation in the incidents, in the violence. Here, we’re seeing suicides happening very, very, very close to us.”

Last year in The Edmond Sun, Patty Miller reported that

After being told by school administrators “that is just the way middle school students act and hopefully within a few months these girls would target someone else,” the Duncans requested that more be done.

After interviewing the girls the administrator told the Duncans’ daughter that things were probably going to get worse and she would just have to live through it.

An hour after the interview Kathleen picked her daughter up for lunch. “She was standing at the curb, shaking all over,” Kathleen said. “She jumped in the car, curled up in a fetal position on the floor and started sobbing uncontrollably.”

The Duncans had her evaluated by a professional counselor who advised them she was too traumatized to return to this school environment. She would never feel safe there again.

“That is when we moved her to a private Catholic school,” Duncan said. “Luckily we found the money to pay for private school tuition, unlike many parents who do not have that option.” ...

“On one front your child’s spirit is broken,” Duncan said, “and there is no more frustrating feeling than watching your child be abused.”

“The other front is the fact that the school administration just wants you and the problem to go away.”

No child should “just have to live through it” (and indeed, the kids who commit suicide don’t). Victims of bullying deserve an escape hatch.

Fortunately, those victims who happen to be special-needs students can receive a Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship to go to a private school. But we need to give all bullying victims a way of escape. If indeed school administrators “just want you and the problem to go away,” then bullying victims should have that option.

In a new report published by the Independent Women’s Forum, Dr. Vicki Murray Alger says “students should not have to wait years at a time or become victims of violent crime before their parents are allowed to transfer them to safer schools.” She recommends that states adopt a Safety Opportunity Scholarship (SOS) program which would empower parents to transfer their children immediately to a safe school, whether that school is public or private.

With all these children sending out distress signals, it’s time for the legislature to toss them a life preserver.

[Cross posted at Inter Alia]

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sand Springs school board vouches for the failed status quo

Sand Springs Board of Education

"The Sand Springs Board of Education went on record Monday night opposing a state voucher system for special education students," Paul Waldschmidt reports in the Sand Springs Leader. "Board members voted unanimously to sign a resolution opposing the use of vouchers in general, and specifically special education vouchers."

Now one might think board members Michael Mullins, Debra Thompson, Krista Polanski, Jackie Wagnon, and Bo Naugle would be more focused on pressing concerns -- such as the inferior academic performance of a few thousand of their students -- than on a scholarship being used by none of their students. One would think they would be reluctant to defend a policy born of bigotry. One would think they would be ashamed to discriminate openly against some of their constituents on the basis of religion. Alas, no.

Perhaps the most puzzling part of the resolution refers to an alleged "negative impact that vouchers will have on all Oklahoma public school districts." Researcher Greg Forster (Ph.D., Yale University) has found 19 high-quality empirical studies which demonstrate that school choice improves public schools, but no studies which find that school choice harms public schools. Since Mullins, Thompson, Polanski, Wagnon, and Naugle obviously just filled in the blanks drafted this resolution themselves, they must be aware of high-quality empirical studies that have escaped widespread notice. I urge them to send them to me as soon as possible. My address is 1401 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73104.

Incidentally, why does the resolution include this curious instruction: "Send to: 8506 E. 61st Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74133"? Is Union so flush with cash that, in addition to having astroturf in their football stadium, they can afford to run an astroturfing operation against Lindsey's Law? If so, is this an appropriate use of staff time and taxpayer resources?

The Sand Springs superintendent, Lloyd Snow, also supported the resolution, telling board members: "Until we stand up to this nonsense [which strikes me as an inapt word choice to describe the educational freedom on which our country was founded], it's going to keep increasing." Little does he realize that even as he stands up to it, it's going to keep increasing. And I doubt it would do much good to explain it to him; after all, as one mom of a special-needs child put it, the bureaucrats just don't get it.

It's telling that Mullins, Thompson, Polanski, Wagnon, and Naugle have so little confidence in their own schools that they fear people would leave if given a choice. And it's disappointing they would oppose a policy which is favored by their constituents. This is yet another reminder that we need to move school board elections to November (an idea which is gaining traction as the 2012 legislative session approaches). With any luck, it won't be long until school boards in Oklahoma start doing what the school board of third-largest district in Colorado did: Unanimously approve a voucher program which uses public money to send students to private schools, most of them religious schools.

UPDATE: Linked by BatesLine, one of Oklahoma's best political blogs (according to Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post). Michael Bates reminds us that the filing period for school board in Sand Springs and across the state is December 5, 6, and 7. "Please consider running. It's apparent that the current school board members are more devoted to preserving their power than to providing the best education possible so these special-needs kids can reach their full potential."

'My teacher is an app'

"More kids than ever before are attending school from their living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens," The Wall Street Journal reports. "The result: A radical rethinking of how education works."

And of course the National Education Association is not happy, because it's difficult to unionize an app.

Lindsey's Law Q & A

Helpful memo from the State Department of Education here.

Head in the Sand (Springs)

The recent news that 73 percent of Oklahoma's fourth-graders are below proficient in reading, and 66 percent are below proficient in math, is but the latest in a litany of bad news on school performance. But it's news that doesn't trouble the superintendent of the Sand Springs Public Schools, a man named Lloyd Snow, who is quick to assure us that "education hasn't failed, except maybe in a few overcrowded, underfunded urban districts." In other words, it certainly hasn't failed in Sand Springs (where one of the schools just made the federal needs-improvement list).

One suspects Mr. Snow will be equally untroubled by a new index called the Global Report Card, which indicates that the math achievement of the average student in Sand Springs is at the 33rd percentile relative to an international comparison group. In other words, Sand Springs produces students with math performance worse than that of the typical student in the average developed country.

Here’s another way to look at it: If you picked up the Sand Springs school district and dropped it into Canada, the average Sand Springs student would be at the 24th percentile in math achievement. If you placed it in Singapore, the average Sand Springs student would be at the 18th percentile in math achievement.

Education hasn't failed? In the private sector, imperviousness to reality will get you fired. In government, it will get you nearly 15 grand a month.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quote of the day

"People are capable of incredible self-deception, and university-trained and intelligent people are probably the most self-deceived," says John Hood of the John Locke Foundation. "They [Head Start boosters] convince themselves that a little bit more money would do the job."

'Better education through lower taxes'

"Raising taxes has a long record of educational failure," Andrew Coulson writes. "Surprisingly enough, lowering them actually works."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Teachers favor Oklahoma's school-choice law

The Association of American Educators -- "the largest national, non-union, professional educators’ association, offering an alternative to the partisan politics and non-educational agendas of the teacher labor unions" -- recently released its 2011 membership survey.

A full 78 percent of survey respondents nationwide approve of Oklahoma's new law providing a tax credit to individuals and corporations that donate to organizations providing Opportunity Scholarships for children to attend private schools.

How much will it cost Oklahoma to implement Common Core?

The California Department of Education estimates that Common Core will cost nearly $800 million to implement in that state.

What's the cost of implementation in Oklahoma?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

School vouchers are the solution

"School vouchers for private schools are the solution to our education problem," David Harding of Moore writes today in The Oklahoman.

The shift to digital learning

It's happening faster than you think, writes Tom Vander Ark. "The old system is being enveloped by new capabilities and the pace of tech development continues to accelerate. We’re living on an exponential curve."

Child abandoned at bus stop

His mom says the Cleveland, Oklahoma, public school is unapologetic.

Monday, November 7, 2011

New law is helping autistic children

With a boost from Lindsey's Law, the Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy is providing specialized help for autistic children.

'This has been a godsend'

Parents say Lindsey's Law is helping their special-needs children.

Oklahoma leading the nation

A new digital-learning report card says Oklahoma is leading the nation in transforming education for the digital age.

'Sobering statistics' on sexual harassment in schools

A new report from the American Association of University Women "presents the most comprehensive research to date on sexual harassment in grades 7-12 and reveals some sobering statistics about the prevalence of sexual harassment and the negative impact it has on students' education."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Another reminder that Lindsey's Law is necessary

Chart shamelessly swiped from Matt Ladner

More of the same

"The Nation's Report Card released Tuesday showed stagnant test scores for Oklahoma, leaving the state among the worst performing education systems in the U.S.," The Oklahoman reports today.

Legislators looking out for taxpayer interests

"Here’s an eye-opening school statistic for you," Greg Forster wrote in an OCPA article this year. "Only half of Oklahoma’s public education employees are teachers. The bureaucracy is now so big, it takes up half the system. It’s the blob that ate the schools."

To his great credit, state Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow) is trying to do something about it. The Oklahoman reports today that "Brumbaugh told members of a budget subcommittee on education that legislators should encourage public school districts to privatize food services as well as medical services and janitorial services. Contracting out transportation services also could be considered." After all, as Dr. Forster pointed out, 

There's absolutely no reason for any sector of government to directly employ bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, or any of the rest of this category. The whole enchilada needs to be privatized posthaste. You wouldn't just eliminate unnecessary positions that are there due to featherbedding, although that's considerable. More important, though, you’d be able to pay the market rate for the positions you kept, instead of hyperinflated civil-service salaries and benefits (think pensions). And you’d be able to fire people if they didn’t deliver good services.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this assessment. State Rep. Ann Coody (R-Lawton) said a school district in her area tried to privatize janitorial services. "It was a disaster," she said. "It was not effective at all. Our school custodians take great pride in their work."

That's disappointing enough coming from a Republican, but coming from a member of ALEC ("limited government, free markets, federalism") it is extremely disappointing. (Though, to be honest, not as disappointing as arguing against school choice for special-needs children.)

Just a guess here, but if Republicans can't even pluck this low-hanging fruit, my guess is they won't be showing a lot of interest in the new Heritage/AEI study which concludes that American public-school teacher salaries are $120 billion over market value.

Even so, Rep. Brumbaugh and other conservatives in the legislature deserve credit for their continued attempts to protect taxpayers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011