Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

'Public schools to get voucher-created savings'

"Indiana public schools will divvy up $4.2 million in May, thanks in part to the state's private school voucher program," the Northwest Indiana Times reports.
Most private school students participating in the Choice Scholarship Program receive a voucher worth 90 percent of Indiana's per pupil funding for public school. State law requires the remaining 10 percent be paid to school corporations.

Among Northwest Indiana schools, Hammond will receive $60,297; Gary, $51,688; Crown Point, $27,025; Munster, $14,550; Portage Township, $32,078; Duneland, $21,701; and Valparaiso, $23,268.

State funds pay for nearly 4,000 students to attend private schools.

Teacher-union excesses 'more a symptom than a cause'

Our school-performance woes are not the union's fault, Andrew Coulson writes over at HuffPo. "It is the natural result of operating K-12 education as a fully state-funded monopoly."
[I]t is not an attack on government to observe that government is bad at running schools, anymore than it's an attack on shovels to note that they make lousy Web browsers. No single tool can do every job. Nor is it an attack on the ideals of public education to say that state monopolies are an ineffective way to pursue them. That's a confusion of ends and means. Public education is a not a particular pile of bricks or stack of regulations, it is a set of goals: universal access, preparation for participation in public life as well as success in private life, building harmony and understanding among communities.

If the true allegiance of reformist Democrats is to those ultimate ideals, then they should have no problem acknowledging that government monopolies are ill-suited to advancing them, and that teachers-union excesses are more a symptom than a cause of our monopoly-induced woes. Finding the best policies for advancing our educational ideals then becomes a practical, tractable problem. The participation of reformist Democrats in solving it will be a tremendous boon to the children they seek to help.

'School offers help and hope for OKC-area students with autism

Great story by Carla Hinton today in The Oklahoman.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Homeschooling docs

Over at CNN, pediatrician Bethany M. Gardiner explains why she chose homeschooling, calling to mind the story of an Oklahoma City doc who did the same.

New online community discussing Henry Scholarships

There's a new Facebook page for parents, policymakers, and others interested in the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities.

'School vouchers gain ground'

"Louisiana is poised to establish the nation's most expansive system of school choice by adopting a package of vouchers and other tools that would give many parents control over the use of tax dollars to educate their children," Stephanie Banchero reports today on page A3 of The Wall Street Journal.

"The initiative would effectively redefine vouchers, which have typically helped lower-income public-school students pay for private schools. Vouchers could now also be used by students to pay for state-approved apprenticeships at local businesses, as well as college courses and private online classes, while they are still in public schools."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Give parents preschool choices

In the latest issue of School Reform News, Ashley Bateman has an interesting story on early childhood education. She quotes Carrie Lukas, managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum:
The problem is not getting children into childcare but to give families the means to keep a parent at home, or encourage a system where money follows the child. Put power in the hands of parents to choose programs that make sense for them rather than a one-size-fits-all government program. ...

The fallacy is that early childhood programs lead to better education outcomes, but unfortunately there’s very little evidence that holds true. And a lot of families make sacrifices to keep kids at home. The value a stay-at-home mom is providing is seen as less when you can put a kid in a building nine-to-five. If other people get subsidized daycare, government is picking one lifestyle choice over another.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Are Oklahoma school districts cheating?

According to a March 25 report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (‘Cheating our children: Suspicious school test scores across the nation’), “suspicious test scores in roughly 200 school districts resemble those that entangled Atlanta in the biggest cheating scandal in American history, an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows."
The newspaper analyzed test results for 69,000 public schools and found high concentrations of suspect math or reading scores in school systems from coast to coast. The findings represent an unprecedented examination of the integrity of school testing.
The analysis doesn’t prove cheating. But it reveals that test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools.
Says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: “These findings are concerning.”

According to the report—which has also attracted the attention of NPR (‘Evidence Builds Of Schools Cheating To Boost Students' Test Scores’) and The Atlantic (‘Investigation Finds Suspicious Achievement in Schools Across the Nation’)—“196 of the nation’s 3,125 largest school districts had enough suspect tests that the odds of the results occurring by chance alone were worse than one in 1,000.” These districts, in the AJC’s analysis, “appear to most resemble the pattern of test score jumps and drops found in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.” The Oklahoma districts on this list are Choctaw/Nicoma Park, Owasso, Stillwater, and Tulsa.

In addition, the AJC listed 10 Oklahoma districts which “do not match the Atlanta pattern as closely” but which “certainly deserve further examination.” These are: Bartlesville, Broken Arrow, Edmond, Muskogee, Mustang, Norman, Oklahoma City, Sand Springs, Western Heights, and Yukon.

“Some school leaders accused of cheating have attributed steep gains to exemplary teaching,” the AJC notes. “But experts said instruction isn’t likely to move scores to the degree seen in the AJC’s analysis.” Through teaching alone, said James Wollack, a University of Wisconsin-Madison expert in testing and cheating who reviewed the AJC’s work, “it’s going to be pretty tough to have that sort of an impact.”

“I can say with some confidence,” he said, “cheating is something you should be looking at.”

The AJC continues: “Statistical checks for extreme changes in scores are like medical tests, said Gary Phillips, a vice president and chief scientist for the large nonprofit American Institutes for Research, who advised the AJC on its methodology. ‘This is a broad screening,’ he said. ‘If you find something, you’re supposed to go to the doctor and follow up with a more detailed diagnostic process.’”

Many agree. The AJC reports that “a U.S. senator from Georgia and a national teacher union leader on Sunday called for investigations into possible cheating in school districts cited in an investigation into suspicious test scores by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“The indications of the report are troubling, to the point where these systems must follow up and see whether there is in fact impropriety,” said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
If these districts fail to do so, Isakson said the governors of the states should intervene. And should they drop the ball, “there may be a federal interest ... I don’t think Congress could look the other way.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the two major teachers’ unions, told the AJC that the findings suggest the need for more investigation in many school districts across the country.
“It should go to another level,” she said, such as systematic analysis of erasures on test papers and, if necessary, investigations by law enforcement officers—both of which helped prove widespread cheating in the Atlanta Public Schools.
“If the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s findings are valid, they certainly merit further inquiry, but we must also be cautious about painting with too broad a brush,” says Oklahoma state Superintendent Janet Barresi. “We will be looking closely at these findings, and consulting with state policy-makers and Oklahoma school administrators.”

Tulsa superintendent Keith Ballard, undisturbed by one-in-a-thousand odds, doesn’t think any diagnostic follow-up is necessary. “I am pleased with the growth that our students have shown,” he says, “and don’t see any validity in the story.” Move right along, folks, nothing to see here.

But Beth Johnson, a math teacher at Tulsa’s Hale High School, correctly points out that “if it doesn’t get fully investigated, then some people might leave thinking that it’s going on even if it wasn’t.”

She’s right. And if it is going on, it needs to stop. As the AJC reported, “The newspaper’s analysis suggests that tens of thousands of children may have been harmed by inflated scores that could have precluded tutoring or more drastic administrative actions.”

Over at The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead puts it well:
In the short run, the authorities should come down on the cheaters like a ton of bricks. Students need to see that cheaters don’t prosper. Longer term, the solution is to keep bringing education closer to the grass roots and to give parents more say in how and by whom their children are taught.

'The new face of public education'

Over at redefinED, Ron Matus writes:
[Rev. Manuel L. Sykes is] a Democrat. He’s president of the NAACP in St. Petersburg, Fla. He thinks public schools did a fine job with his kids.

Privatizing schools? Mention the idea to Sykes, who is pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church, and you’ll get a slow burn about elitism, resegregation and crony capitalism.

But Sykes, 55, also supports vouchers and tax credit scholarships. And for folks who think they see a contradiction, he offers a quip and a laugh: "Stereotyping is a function of a lazy mind."

Sykes isn’t a leader in the school choice movement, but like thousands of others he quietly defies the story line. In that respect, he is symbolic of the new face of public education. It’s not public or private. It’s not liberal or conservative. It’s pragmatic.

"You can’t plant roses in every environment," Sykes told redefinED. "You have to find the right environment for that flower. Or that orange tree. Or that apple tree. If we're wise enough to know that with trees, why don’t we have the same common sense with children?"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'Home-school, private-school families win tax break'

The Associated Press reports that "proponents of helping parents send their children to private schools won approval Wednesday in the South Carolina House.
The bill would allow parents to take a $4,000 tax deduction per child for tuition paid, $2,000 for homeschool expenses and $1,000 per child who attends a public school outside the district where he or she lives. It would allow people to claim tax credits for donating to newly created nonprofits giving scholarships to poor and disabled students.

Religious bigotry and school choice

Ron Matus has an excellent post here.