Saturday, March 31, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lawmakers expand ESA's

In Arizona.

UPDATE: Jonathan Butcher has more.

Tulsa judge got it wrong

Oklahoma parents of children with special needs no longer will be able to receive education scholarships for their children if a ruling by Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca Nightingale is not overturned on appeal.

Law professor Andrew Spiropoulos makes the case that it should be:
If the Henry program breaches the wall of separation between church and state, then so does every state-funded program where an individual can choose the provider of the service. If a Medicaid patient receives care at a Catholic hospital or a recipient of a state-funded higher education scholarship attends a church-affiliated university, the school districts' arguments require that these important and long-standing programs be invalidated. I don’t think that’s what the framers of our constitution had in mind.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reason for optimism?

There's nothing wrong with occasional boosterism, especially from politicians (who are particularly prone to it). Normally I can just let it slide. But this sentence from state Rep. Randy McDaniel today in The Oklahoman is a head-scratcher:
Oklahomans have many reasons to be optimistic about the future, including low unemployment, quality schools and affordable homes.

Low unemployment and affordable homes, yes. But "quality schools" that give Oklahomans reason to be "optimistic about the future"?

Oklahoma's education system is among the worst in the country, and even our "best" school districts are mediocre by international standards. Moreover, there's precious little in the trend lines to give Oklahomans reason for optimism.

Education reporters must adapt

Education reporters are going to have to adapt to the new reality of "public education," former reporter Ron Matus writes.
They’ll have to cover more ground with more depth. Readers won’t be well served if education coverage continues to be reflexively focused on traditional public schools. And newspapers’ bottom lines won’t be well served when growing numbers of parents see that their schools are either 1) not being covered or 2) being snared in simplistic story lines that don’t mesh with their realities.

School choice saves money


Lindsey's Law timeline

In today's Tulsa World, Kim Archer has a helpful Lindsey's Law timeline:
June 2010: Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act, or HB 3393, is signed into law.

Fall 2010: Broken Arrow, Jenks, Union, Tulsa and Liberty school boards vote not to process the scholarships.

Jan. 18, 2011: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt threatens legal action against those school districts and individual board members if they fail to comply with the law within the week.

Jan. 24, 2011: Union, Jenks, Broken Arrow and Liberty school districts announce that they will sue Pruitt over the constitutionality of the law. They also vote to process scholarships under the law until a decision on its constitutionality is made.

April 25: Twenty parents sue Broken Arrow, Jenks, Union and Tulsa school districts, alleging that their special-needs children were denied private school scholarships in 2010-11. Liberty Public Schools is not named in the lawsuit.

May: The state Legislature passes HB 1744, which transfers responsibility for administering the scholarship program from the districts to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. It took effect Aug. 26.

July: In light of that legislation, federal Chief Judge Claire Eagan grants the parents a stay so they can pursue "administrative remedies" through the state Education Department. Eagan also invites the school districts to file their challenge of HB 3393's constitutionality in state court, saying it would be a "better means of resolving the controversy between the parties."

Aug. 26: Pruitt asks the state Auditor's Office to investigate whether the Broken Arrow, Jenks, Liberty, Owasso, Tulsa and Union school districts complied with the law in 2010-11.

Sept. 2: Jenks and Union school districts file a countersuit in state court to challenge the constitutionality of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act on behalf of all school districts. Their suit names the parents of three students in each district who participated in the federal lawsuit against the schools.

Nov. 3: A federal lawsuit filed against the Broken Arrow, Jenks, Tulsa and Union school districts by a group of parents alleging that their special-needs children were denied private school scholarships was dismissed at the parents' request.

March 27: Tulsa District Judge Rebecca B. Nightingale struck down the law, ruling it is unconstitutional. Opposing attorneys said they would immediately file a motion for a stay to keep the law intact until the appeals process is complete.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'It’s like suing grandma for using Medicare'

[The following press release was issued today by state Rep. Jason Nelson.]

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 27, 2012) – State Rep. Jason Nelson said a Tulsa judge’s ruling against a law providing scholarships to special-needs students is just “one battle in the overall fight to help special-needs children” and vowed to continue advocating for families in need.

“I will keep fighting for the families and fighting to uphold this very necessary law,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I support an appeal to the Supreme Court and a motion for a stay of the judge’s ruling pending an appeal. The strong reason we needed this law in the first place still stands – to help families of special-needs students who are not being served by public schools.”

Nelson noted the judge’s ruling could have far-reaching consequences for Oklahomans.

“The judge’s ruling is baffling and will likely impact many state programs affecting everything from preschool to Medicaid,” Nelson said. “The judge ruled on the merits without comment, perhaps because her decision is indefensible.”

The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act allows students with a disability on an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend private school. The scholarships are funded with money already designated for the child’s education.

In response, the Jenks and Union school districts sued some of the parents of children with special needs who obtained the scholarships provided by the law.

Under the judge’s ruling, Nelson noted that it is now possible for Medicaid patients to be sued for being treated at a Catholic hospital.

“This is a horrible precedent,” Nelson said. “It’s like suing grandma for using Medicare. I will keep fighting to defend parents’ rights to do what is best for their children. This is the standard everywhere else in state government. This ruling now calls into question other critical programs in health care, foster care, prison ministries, preschool and higher education tuition grants.”

Nelson praised the parents of special-needs students for staying strong.

“These parents have displayed great courage while going through an unprecedented legal assault by two government school districts,” Nelson said. “They have not backed down, and neither will I.”

Nelson thanked the Becket Fund for coming to the aid of the parents of special-needs children, as well as Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who defended the law, and Bob Latham, local counsel for the School Choice Coalition. He also thanked state Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid), who co-authored the law, and all legislative colleagues “who supported these parents.”

“Most of all, I want to thank former Governor Brad Henry and his family for supporting the program and allowing the law to be named for Lindsey,” Nelson said.

UPDATE: CapitolBeatOK's reporting is here and here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

School choice saves money


High schoolers reading books at 5th-grade level

Sandra Stotsky writes:
According to Renaissance Learning’s 2012 report on the books read by almost 400,000 students in grades 9–12 in 2010–2011, the average reading level of the top 40 books is a little above fifth grade.

Weak schools causing national-security risk

"Flaws in U.S. schools are increasingly causing a national-security risk, producing adults without the math, science and language skills necessary to ensure American leadership in the 21st century, warns a report issued Tuesday by the Council on Foreign Relations," Jason Dean reports in The Wall Street Journal.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy Pi Day

[Below is State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s newspaper column for March 16, 2012.]

An assistant state superintendent greeted me with “happy Pi Day” this week. It made me smile. I like pie as much as anyone (and think it’s a wonderful coincidence that pie is circular), but I love Pi for a completely different reason.

Pi – the Greek letter that symbolizes the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter – excites the math enthusiast in me.

At the State Department of Education our focus is to increase awareness of the need for a more intensive focus on math education in schools as we work to prepare students for the demands of college and careers in the 21st Century.

Over the next 6 years, 65% of all new jobs coming to the state of Oklahoma will require as minimum competency for entry-level positions, the mastery of Algebra, Geometry, Statistics, and Data Analysis and Technical Reading skills.

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and two colleagues recently conducted a study that ranked American states and foreign countries side by side based on the percentage of students performing at the advanced level in math proficiency. Obviously, the students scoring highest are the most likely to get the best jobs in the future.

Oklahoma was near the bottom of the list alongside countries such as Uruguay, Bulgaria and Serbia.

We have some work to do, but I’m confident that as we hone our focus on math instruction, our students will begin to excel in this necessary discipline.

So how does all this relate to Pi?

Pi is interesting. It’s an irrational number meaning that the digits after the decimal point never end and never repeat. The most common approximation of Pi is 3.14, which is why March 14 is considered Pi Day. And Pi Day allows us all to have some fun with math – never a bad way to get students to learn.

I read this week how students all across the state celebrated Pi Day. Students at Ardmore High School, for instance, held a pie-eating contest and got to throw pies at their teachers. Oh what educators will do to teach a lesson!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

7-year-old Ada girl's broken leg may be result of bullying

"An Oklahoma school is investigating Thursday whether bullying left an Ada girl in a wheelchair," KOCO-TV reports.

Registration set for Edmond 'public' schools

"Preregistration for kindergarten students at Edmond Public Schools for the 2012-13 school year will be March 28 and March 29," The Oklahoman reports.
Parents must bring two proofs of residency such as a current utility bill or mortgage contract, deed or lease agreement and a birth certificate. ... Parents who have applied for transfer to a school outside their neighborhood should preregister at their neighborhood school unless they have been notified their transfer request has been granted.

Yes, that "proof of residency" is critical. (After all, this is Edmond. We can't let just anyone in, you understand.) As the liberal Berkeley law professor John E. Coons has observed,

We still arrange education so that children of the wealthy can cluster in chosen government enclaves or in private schools; the rest get whatever school goes with the residence the family can afford. This socialism for the rich we blithely call "public," though no other public service entails such financial exclusivity. Whether the library, the swimming pool, the highway, or the hospital—if it is "public," it is accessible. But admission to the government school comes only with the price of the house. If the school is in Beverly Hills or Scarsdale, the poor need not apply.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Edmond students discuss drug use

"About half the people who spoke during an Edmond Public Schools forum mentioned drug use in the schools, especially the high schools," Matt Patterson reports today in The Oklahoman.
Andrea Batt, a senior at Edmond North, also spoke. She said her fellow students often talk openly in front of school staff about drug use, but little is done.

“I think it's a really sad situation because everyone knows it's there but everyone feels like they are so powerless to do anything about it,” she said.

Kevin Hill has three children in Edmond schools, including a son who is a junior at Edmond Memorial. Hill said he was shocked to see that several students who were arrested for drug possession off school grounds before the Christmas break took part in extracurricular activities during the break.

"It made me sick to my stomach," Hill said. "I am of the belief that it shouldn't matter whether they were arrested on school grounds. It's not a right to play baseball, or whatever the extracurricular activity is. It's appalling to me that the district doesn't have policies that let these coaches deal with these situations."

Dawn Craft said her younger sister has been bullied for reporting another student's drug use. She said more needs to be done to protect those who report drug use and other rules violations in the schools.

“When that student returned to school after being suspended, the bullying started,” Craft said. “There was stalking and assault and battery. She's the one who did the right thing, and she is the one being picked on and run off. How are any of these students going to come forward when they see that?”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

'Solyndras in the classroom'

Does “investment in education” produce an attractive return? Most Oklahomans don't think so, and over at Louis Woodhill agrees.
The nation and its people would be much better off today if most of the additional “investment” in education that we have made over the past six decades had been used to create more nonresidential produced assets. GDP, real wages, and our standard of living would all be considerably higher.

Also, imagine if, instead of being given a 2009 education for $158,717, an average student were given a 1967-style education for about $58,000, and $100,000 in capital with which to start his working life. This would be sufficient to start any number of small businesses. Alternatively, if put in an IRA earning a real return of 6%, the $100,000 would grow to about $1.8 million over 50 years.

The huge government “investments” made in education over the past 50 years have produced little more than “Solyndras in the classroom.” They have enriched teachers unions and other rent-seekers, but have added little or nothing to the economic prospects of students. America does not need more such “investment.”

Head Start and unreliable government research

Sen. Tom Coburn and others are demanding answers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

School choice increases student safety

According to a new report from an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School for Education.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Horace Mann, false prophet

Horace Mann, generally regarded as the father of America's current public school system, once predicted: “Let the Common School ... be worked with the efficiency of which it is susceptible, and nine tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete; the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged.”

Suffice it to say it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Not only are the crimes not obsolete, they are now being committed in the schools themselves—and with such frequency that the federal government has to issue an annual report on the matter ("Indicators of School Crime and Safety"). Scarcely a day goes by that we’re not treated to an appalling new headline about some student or teacher behaving badly. It’s not a stretch to say that many schools—architecturally soulless buildings replete with metal detectors and police officers, and sometimes even put on lockdown—bear a striking resemblance to prisons.

Saddest of all, none of this seems out of the ordinary anymore. As one parent told The Oklahoman, it's just something "the kids feel like they have to get used to."

Ironically, crimes are now being committed in schools named for Horace Mann himself. The Oklahoman recently reported that “a student at Horace Mann Elementary School in northwest Oklahoma City has accused two classmates of holding her down while a third fondled her naked breasts in the presence of a substitute teacher and other students.” According to the police report, “This all took place in the classroom at the end of the day with 15 other students and a substitute teacher (present).”

As a parent, and as someone who once served as a volunteer reading tutor at that particular school, this is heartbreaking (and infuriating) news. As I never tire of repeating, if a child is in an unsafe school environment, or is being bullied, or is simply fed up with being treated like an inmate, that child deserves a ticket out. His or her parents deserve a voucher or a tax break so they can send the child to a nonpublic school.

After all, this is the way we operate in nearly every other area of American life. Just because the government provides something doesn’t mean the government has to produce all of it. Food-stamp recipients shop at private grocery stores. Medical-welfare recipients go to private doctors and hospitals. Perhaps more to the point, even many Oklahoma inmates are housed in private prisons. There’s no reason education should be any different. Parents should be free to choose.

Charles Burris, a history teacher at a public high school in Tulsa, points to what must surely be the final indignity. “In downtown Tulsa there is an ancient brick building that exemplifies the entire history of compulsory government schooling in one facility,” he writes. For years it “served its appropriate captive clientele” as the Horace Mann Junior High School, and then continued to do the same when it became the Horace Mann Community Correctional Center. “From ‘prison’ to ‘prison’ without anyone noticing any substantial change in mission statement.”


If Mr. Mann were alive today, I don’t think he would be surprised to learn that many parents are choosing the very option Mann chose for his own children: homeschooling.

Let parents choose how to spend it

A new report from the research affiliate of The State Chamber indicates that Oklahoma public schools spend $9,121 per pupil.

That's a lot. It's time to let that money follow the child. One promising idea is an Education Savings Account, described thusly by Education Week:

Under the program, parents who sign up get a debit card loaded with 90 percent of what would have been the state's allocation to the school district for their child. They can use the money for tuition, textbooks, therapy, or college classes while students are still in high school—or the money can be saved and used to attend college full time after graduation.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Obama's education takeover

School choice's track record is promising

"Choice's track record so far is promising and provides support for continuing expansion of school choice policies," nine scholars and analysts write in a new essay in Education Week.
[W]e fear that political pressure is leading people on both sides of the issue to demand things from "science" that science is not, by its nature, able to provide. The temptation of technocracy—the idea that scientists can provide authoritative answers to public questions—is dangerous to democracy and science itself. Public debates should be based on norms, logic, and evidence drawn from beyond just the scientific sphere.

That said, science has a role to play. We have diverse viewpoints on many issues, but we share a common commitment to helping inform public decisions with such evidence as science is legitimately able to provide. We do not offer false certainty about a future none of us knows. But the early evidence is promising, and the grounds for concern have been shown to be largely baseless. The case for expanding our ongoing national experiment with school choice is strong. 

More Democrats for school choice

"School choice appeals to the best instincts of both political parties," four prominent Colorado Democrats write.
It allows Democrats to adhere to their core principals of equality and opportunity -- so that a student’s zip code does not determine the quality of their education. It allows Republicans to introduce moderate -- and managed -- market dynamics and the beginnings of limited competition in the public school sector.