Monday, June 30, 2014

'Uncle Sam wants you — unless you're 71% of youths'

"More than two-thirds of America's youth would fail to qualify for military service because of physical, behavioral or educational shortcomings," Miriam Jordan reports in The Wall Street Journal.
About a quarter of high-school graduates also can't pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which measures math and reading skills, Gen. [Allen] Youngman said. "They aren't educationally qualified to join the military in any capacity, not just the high-tech jobs," he said.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mixed success for educational choice in 2014

Gov. Walker says vouchers have helped the public schools improve.
In a visit to OCPA on May 29, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker offered a passionate defense of Wisconsin’s statewide school voucher program.

It’s not a matter of public schools versus private schools, Walker said. (His own children went to public schools.) Rather, it’s a matter of ensuring that every family has the opportunity to choose the best school for their son or daughter.

Oklahomans want those opportunities. In December 2013 the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice commissioned a statewide survey of Oklahoma voters. The survey was conducted by Braun Research, Inc., a company which has been used by such research firms as Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

Right now more than 9 in 10 Oklahoma students attend a traditional public school. But the survey found that Oklahomans want more choices.

The results are especially pronounced among those voters who are paying the closest attention: parents of school-aged children. One in three parents say they would choose a traditional public school for their children. The rest would choose a private school, a charter school, or homeschooling.

Doubtless aware of this underwhelming demand for its product, the government school monopoly fights hard every legislative session to make sure none of the little revenue units head for the exits. In 2014 the results were mixed.

The monopoly folks were able to squash a charter school expansion bill, a parent trigger bill, and a bill which would have provided Education Savings Accounts to allow low-income kids in Oklahoma’s worst-performing schools (basically the bottom 10 percent) to go to a private school.

They were less successful on other fronts.

The state's scholarship program for Special Education students — which is already saving lives (go to YouTube and type in “Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Stories”) — was expanded to include students who have been provided services under an Individual Family Service Plan through the SoonerStart program (see photo below). 

Gov. Mary Fallin inked legislation to expand the Henry Scholarship program.
In addition, Oklahoma’s popular tax-credit scholarship program (63 percent of Oklahoma voters favor it, 28 percent oppose) was expanded.

Under the program, Oklahomans can donate to philanthropic organizations which help families pay private-school tuition. The newest such organization, the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, was launched this year. Board members include OCPA president Michael Carnuccio and state Sen. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa).

With these scholarships, kids get an opportunity to go to a school where the third-grade illiteracy rate is — here’s a concept — zero. And donors get a 50 percent tax credit. A new law increases the tax credit to 75 percent.

In his OCPA visit, Gov. Walker made the point that Wisconsin’s voucher program is causing the public schools to improve. No surprise there. As education researcher Greg Forster has noted, “twenty-three empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.”

Let’s empower Oklahoma parents with the choices they want and deserve.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Americans support educational choice

... "but are skeptical of Common Core and test-based accountability," Jason Bedrick writes

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

National Center for Science Education dumbs-down science education

"The National Center for Science Education targets the nation's schools in order to enforce the supposed 'consensus' on hot-button scientific controversies — specifically, evolutionary theory and Global Warming theory," Casey Luskin writes. "Its dogmatic approach violates principles of free speech and academic freedom, and actually makes it less likely that students will receive the science education they need if they are to make informed decisions in the future."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

CQ overview of homeschooling

Veteran journalist Marcia Clemmitt has a helpful report here.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Is school choice un-American?

No, says James Shuls, "school choice is about promoting individual liberty, and it doesn't get more American than that."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hofmeister supports suing parents of special-needs children

I don't agree with Supt. Janet Barresi on every issue, but there's no question she is a strong advocate for giving parents as many educational options as possible. The same cannot be said for her opponents. Below is a new ad and a press release from the Barresi campaign.

While State Superintendent Janet Barresi has always fought for parents’ right to choose the best education for their children, her opponent Joy Hofmeister actually conspired to prevent some of Oklahoma’s neediest children from obtaining a quality education, according to public records.

“Throughout her career, Janet Barresi has fought for the right of parents to provide their children a quality education, no matter what a family’s social or economic background. This includes her support of state-funded scholarships for children with special needs such as autism,” said Robyn Matthews, campaign manager for Janet Barresi. “In contrast, public records show Joy Hofmeister wanted to deny those children educational opportunity and even conspired with bureaucrats who filed frivolous lawsuits against those families.”

A new ad released by the Barresi campaign today highlights Hofmeister’s duplicity. In it, Deborah McGrath notes that her son, Michael, has thrived thanks to the scholarships. Michael has Dysgraphia, which impacts motor and information processing skills, and Dyslexia.

“The scholarships made the difference between his needs not being met and a child who believes he can go to college,” McGrath said. “So I would ask Joy Hofmeister, ‘Why?’ Why would you keep a child from having a specialized education to overcome significant obstacles? I’d like to see her try to explain to him why she thinks it is okay to take that away from him.”

The Oklahoma Legislature voted to create the Lindsey Nichole Henry scholarship program, which provides state-funded scholarships to children with special needs. The program allows that small group of children to receive specialized education at private schools. In response, the Jenks and Union school districts filed harassment lawsuits against the parents of children who legally qualified for scholarships.

In 2012, the Oklahoma Supreme Court tossed the schools’ lawsuit out of court. The Supreme Court noted the schools had suffered no losses due to the scholarship program and had no standing to sue. And the court explicitly noted “the parents are clearly not the proper parties” to be sued.

In response, the Oklahoma Legislature later passed a law requiring school districts to pay parents’ legal fees if they engage in similar frivolous litigation in the future.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling made clear that the districts had filed a baseless harassment lawsuit whose only intent was to financially bankrupt the parents of children with special needs.

Yet emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request show Hofmeister conspired with the litigious school officials. Hofmeister participated in email exchanges with Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman and others discussing efforts to deprive children with special needs of educational opportunities.

On Nov. 20, 2012, after hearing of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Hofmeister emailed Lehman: “What does this mean? Is it final word, now no more challenge to constitutionality?”

In a March 8, 2013 email, Hofmeister discussed the legislation requiring schools to pay the legal fees of parents who successfully defend themselves against bogus lawsuits. Hofmeister declared, “I’m having a hard time containing my rage. What are these legislators thinking?”

In a March 22, 2013 email exchange, Hofmeister endorsed a proposal to change state law to discourage private schools from accepting children with the scholarships, declaring, “Great idea!” That proposal would have resulted in children being qualified for state scholarships, but unable to use them.

Further evidence of Hofmeister’s hostility to families of children with special needs can be seen in her campaign finance reports. Dozens of Hofmeister’s campaign contributors work for the districts that sued parents or the law firm that represented the schools, while Lehman has personally hosted fundraisers for Hofmeister.

“The emails leave no doubt that Joy Hofmeister supported lawsuit harassment of families whose children have special needs,” Matthews said. “She then opposed legislation to protect those families from financial ruin if they are targeted by frivolous lawsuits. And then she endorsed efforts to gut the scholarship program so children with special needs are left trapped in schools unable to serve them. Her indifference to the very real challenges facing these families is staggering.

“While Janet Barresi is a forceful advocate for parental rights,” Matthews concluded, “Joy Hofmeister believes the wants of government officials should override the real-world needs of children and their parents.”

The Hofmeister emails can be viewed here.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Violence plagues OKC school district; union chief thinks violence numbers greatly under-reported

"One student punched his teacher in the jaw after she asked him to leave a hallway," The Oklahoman reports today.
Another chased a fellow student with a knife at recess threatening to kill him. Still another, chest bumped the school principal and threatened to knock her out.

The perpetrators? Nine-, 10- and 11-year-olds. The place? Bodine Elementary School in south Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma City School District, like many large urban districts, long has been plagued by school violence. ... Today, some teachers and parents believe violence in the 45,000-student district is at an all-time high. Most concerning, they say, is that the perpetrators are younger and younger.

In the 2012-2013 school year, Oklahoma City Public Schools reported more than 2,400 violent incidents in its 89 schools. Of those, 857 were in elementary schools and 42 of those involved a student assaulting a teacher. In fact, the number of elementary teachers assaulted by a student was four times higher than high school teachers and twice that of middle school teachers, district statistics show. ...

Ed Allen, president of Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, said he doesn’t think the general public realizes how bad things are. He believes the district’s school violence numbers are greatly under-reported.

It's for the children

From the annals of Oklahoma's underfunded schools, comes now this news from the Dickson school district in southern Oklahoma, which was recently the subject of an audit by the state auditor and inspector's office. From an excellent editorial today in The Oklahoman:
Reviewing records from July 1, 2011, to Oct. 1, 2013, the audit found the school was paying staff members to drive to Oklahoma City to hand deliver paper copies of teacher contracts to the state Department of Education. Then staff members would eat at locations such as the Cheesecake Factory, paying for meals with a district credit card.

Sherry Howe, who served as Dickson's superintendent from 1996 until she resigned on Oct. 1, 2013, told auditors she wanted staff to travel to Oklahoma City to obtain written proof of receipt from the Department of Education.

“The necessity of these trips is questionable and attendance of three-to-five employees per trip may appear excessive,” the audit notes (emphasis added). “A phone call or email to the Department of Education possibly could be used to collect information. Several postal options are also available that provide proof of delivery.”

Then there's the $485 spent on food at a special Dickson school board meeting — held in Oklahoma City. That meeting's agenda was posted in compliance with state law, but the audit notes Oklahoma law also requires public bodies to meet at “places which are convenient to the public.”

“A meeting held over 100 miles from the school district would appear to be 'inconvenient' for district citizens,” the audit dryly notes.

District officials topped that with a one-night planning session for administrators in 2013 — held at the Gaylord Texan Resort near Dallas. That cost $1,842, including meals (although the figure doesn't account for transportation expenses). Howe told auditors she “selected the Gaylord because she was considering using this hotel for a future board retreat.”

The audit found “minimal evidence” school policy was enforced regarding use of district-owned vehicles. Dickson's Chevy Suburban was driven more than 14,000 undocumented miles. School vans were driven nearly 6,800 undocumented miles. Of six vehicles reviewed, only 47 percent of the total miles driven were documented as required by school policy. Less than 10 percent of miles driven in the Suburban, which the audit notes was “used most often by administration and individuals” like Howe, was documented in compliance with school policy.

Howe's reward for these questionable uses of limited school funds was the highest salary of any superintendent in Carter County — $146,685 to head a school district with a 2013 enrollment of 1,341 students.