Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Former school science aide charged with assaulting girls

The Oklahoman has the story.

Former Oklahoma middle school band director sentenced in child pornography plea

The Oklahoman has the story.

Former Canton teacher's assistant accused of having sexual relationships with students

KOCO-TV has the story.

Opposition to Common Core spurs jump in homeschooling

Perry Chiaramonte has the story.

Common Core combatants find common ground: parental choice

In a November 11 debate at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Michael Petrilli and Jenni White disagreed strongly on the wisdom of adopting Common Core State Standards. They did, however, find one area of agreement: the need for parental choice in education.

"We both agree that parental choice is hugely important, that it’s a fundamental right, and that it’s also a fundamental way to improve our public education system, that empowering parents is something that we absolutely have to do," said Mr. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. "As parents, we definitely want to have that sense that we are in control of our own kids’ education."

Mrs. White, who serves on the board of Restore Oklahoma Public Education, agreed. “The only way to solve the majority of these issues is educational freedom. Freedom that allows parents to choose the school with the curricula and set of standards best in line with their children’s unique and individual needs. Instead of funding flowing to the school, funds should flow from the parents to the school in the ultimate act of educational accountability.”

Here’s a brief video clip with some more of their comments:

[Cross-posted at OCPA]

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lawmakers need not fear the OEA

Journalist Patrick McGuigan recently pointed out that the OEA lost an election this year which they themselves had dubbed "November's most important election." Comes now Bobby Stem, executive director of the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors, writing in another context:
While the Oklahoma Education Association was able to recruit 25,000 teachers to a rally at the Capitol last session, it was unsuccessful in rallying enough voters to elect Kevin Black, an OEA member, to the Legislature. This loss may seem like a mere election night casualty, but it should serve as a clear signal to legislators that they can lead without fear.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Think tank exec: It's time for ESAs

It's time to move Oklahoma’s K-12 school financing system "out of the dark ages," Jonathan Small writes today in The Oklahoman.
It’s time for the educational option that best suits students and their parents or guardians to be an option — just like in Medicaid, welfare assistance, transportation, higher education and numerous other state services where funds follow the person who needs the service. This is why the state should implement education savings accounts.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ben Carson to address Oklahoma homeschoolers

Dr. Ben Carson (pictured above with me and one of my favorite Oklahoma homeschoolers) will be speaking on February 10, 2015, at the 30th annual Capitol Day, which is sponsored each year by the Oklahoma Christian Home Educators Consociation (OCHEC). Learn more here.

The future of parent information

This week on Oklahoma City's FOX 25, state Superintendent-elect Joy Hofmeister made the point that it's important for parents to have good information so they can make good decisions about what schools to choose for their children.

What kinds of information exist to help parents make those choices? Fordham Institute president Michael Petrilli yesterday hosted a panel discussion exploring that very question, and Oklahoma's own Damon Gardenhire was one of the panelists:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Police investigating sexual assault allegations at Choctaw Middle School

News 9 has the story.

'Landmark' charter school plan approved

The state Board of Education today approved a charter school plan for two juvenile detention facilities.

Union power?

Journalist Patrick McGuigan reports that members of a powerful school-employee labor union tried to topple state Rep. Jason Nelson. They were unsuccessful.

School choice heals religious divisions

Writing in the Edmond Sun, Dr. Greg Forster explains.

Rescue a child, get a generous tax break

In the Tulsa World, Charlie Daniels, vice president of the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, explains how the Frammis Widget Co. saved the Poore kid.

Hofmeister: 'I have a very open door when it comes to all forms of school choice'

Does Joy Hofmeister favor parental choice in education?

It's hard to say. Certainly the case can be made that she does not. She is, after all, part and parcel of Oklahoma's educational statist quo (and the particularly nettlesome Jenks branch at that). "My commitment, and the reason I actually ran, is I believe there’s an attempt to privatize public schools," she says. So, not exactly Scott Walker stuff.

Nevertheless, she did run as a Republican (that's how one gets elected in Oklahoma), so she is forced to acknowledge and deal with the ramifications of doing so. Her supporters overwhelmingly — and I do mean overwhelmingly — favor parental choice. Thus, Mrs. Hofmeister is on record saying she supports the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program. And the tax-credit scholarship program. And the prospect of Education Savings Accounts.

To her great credit, Mrs. Hofmeister affirms that parents "are the most important person in the life of their students' education," as you can see below in an interview which aired this week on KOKH FOX 25 in Oklahoma City. "It's a parent's responsibility to educate their children."

She's right. Indeed, as Professor Jay Greene has noted, in a free society the government rightly defers to parents when it comes to raising their children. And since education is simply a subcategory of parenting, the government should defer to parents when it comes to educating their children. "The state's role and authority to foster the well-being of children is a subsidiary one," writes Melissa Moschella, an assistant professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America, "meaning that it is secondary to the role of the parents, and serves the function of helping parents in their educational task, not usurping or undermining the parents' educational efforts.
Parents should not be forced, for financial reasons, to send their children to schools in which the values taught conflict with those they want to pass on to their children. An effective voucher or scholarship program of some sort is therefore also a requirement of parental rights.
One doubts that Mrs. Hofmeister would go that far. However, "as a state superintendent, my goal is to be able to stand with parents in supporting their decisions for the best learning environment for their own children," she says in the interview below. And what might those decisions be? Well, a Braun Research survey released this year asked Oklahoma parents what type of school they would select in order to obtain the best education for their children. While 33 percent of Oklahoma parents said they would select a traditional public school, 38 percent said they would choose a private school, 14 percent said home school, and 7 percent said charter school.

"We certainly want to support any kind of choice that works for kids and the best student outcomes," Mrs. Hofmeister says. "That’s what I am for. I have a very open door when it comes to all forms of school choice, but I also think that a focus for the state Department of Education — of public instruction — is to focus attention right now on our neediest of schools and make certain that the school around the corner is also a top choice."

Fair enough. If I'm a GOP politician, but also a Jenks insider and a longtime supporter of the monopoly system, that's pretty much how I'd finesse it. The good news is that the empirical research is clear on one way to fix those neediest of schools. Dr. Greg Forster recently surveyed the empirical research on school choice and found that "23 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."

I have no doubt that Mrs. Hofmeister wants what is best for children. Here's hoping for a successful 2015 (and beyond) for her and her team.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lawmakers look for ways districts can save money

"The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education held an interim study Wednesday on ways Oklahoma's school districts can save money," according to The CEO Briefing, a weekly update from Fred Morgan, president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma.
Heather Kays, education research fellow with the Heartland Institute, said districts can share administrative and capital costs regionally to provide the benefit of scale. She also outlined studies finding school choice achieved educational benefits while spending taxpayer money more efficiently.

Brent Bushey also spoke. He's executive director of the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC), a nonprofit that provides member school districts with programs aimed to stretch funding dollars. Those include financial management, instructor training, technology systems management and legal services.

Senator Kyle Loveless, who requested the interim study, emphasized that even a little wasteful spending by a school district can have a big impact on the budget when multiplied over 500+ school districts. Senator Loveless encouraged more discussion and urged subcommittee members to move forward to find solutions.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stand for grown-ups: Group hires anti-choice crusader

"An education advocacy group has agreed to pay a $10,000 penalty for failing to file reports with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission," the Tulsa World reports ("Stand for Children to pay $10,000 fine for ethics violation").
The group provided funds to support Melissa Abdo of Tulsa in her failed attempt to be elected to the Legislature. Abdo works for Stand for Children Oklahoma as its Tulsa city director. She was hired after her race, [executive director Amber] England said. The group also provided funds to oppose Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, and Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City. Both were re-elected. Brecheen was the Senate author of legislation that repealed Common Core standards. Stand for Children Oklahoma opposed that legislation.

Stand for Children Oklahoma, which is run by a former Democrat operative, favors more government spending on the failed monopoly school system. This should come as no surprise. As I pointed out last year when national activist Jonah Edelman, founder and chief executive officer of Stand for Children, was in Tulsa to announce the launch of Stand for Children Oklahoma:

Unfortunately, liberals have a long history of spending money — "for the children," of course — on ineffective government programs.

According to the Tulsa World, Mr. Edelman "said he founded Stand for Children as a way to carry on his parents' legacy of service." His mother, Marian Wright Edelman, is president of the Children's Defense Fund. She is a former trustee of the Industrial Areas Foundation, which was established by community organizer Saul Alinsky to train people in the tactics of revolutionary social change. She considered Alinsky "brilliant" and delivered a eulogy at his funeral. As Kay S. Hymowitz writes:

"When the country debated welfare reform, [Mrs. Edelman] vigorously resisted work requirements — though she had seen with her own eyes that even the most destitute gain self-respect from hard work and orderly lives. Edelman was in high dudgeon when President Clinton, her former friend and ally, was on the verge of signing a welfare-reform bill: she called it 'national child abandonment' and 'a defining moral litmus test for your presidency' in an open letter published in the Washington Post. She organized the 'Stand for Children' march on Washington. And when the president signed the bill and her husband [civil-rights attorney Peter Edelman, who had been the issues director for Ted Kennedy's presidential campaign] resigned from his post as assistant secretary of HHS, she called it a 'moment of shame,' comparable to the worst human evils: 'Never let us confuse what is legal with what is right,' she reproached. 'Everything Hitler did in Nazi Germany was legal, but it was not right.'"

Indeed, that 300,000-person-strong march on Washington — which Jonah Edelman helped organize — was Stand for Children's founding rally. So I suppose it’s not surprising that the organization would continue to push for more government spending on ineffective government programs while continuing to resist reforms that are proven to work.

Reforms like parental choice, for example. During his visit to Tulsa Mr. Edelman was quoted as saying, "If you look at the research on vouchers, there is no indication of student achievement progress." (One can only hope Mr. Edelman was simply misinformed rather than lying.)

I can't say I'm surprised that Stand for Children Oklahoma hired Melissa Abdo, who opposes private-school choice with a vengeance. As the heroic American Federation for Children Action Fund, an influential First Amendment money organization, correctly noted during Mrs. Abdo's campaign, she is guilty of "surrounding herself with liberal lobbyists and special interests" and "supporting higher taxes and more government spending." One notable example: Mrs. Abdo — who wants us to "save the environment" by "going green!" — encouraged people to attend a teacher union rally in March calling for a 600 percent tax increase on Oklahoma oil and natural gas drilling.

I confess to having no idea what exactly Stand for Children is trying to accomplish. I thought it was odd and pointless and unwise to try to take out Brecheen. It's as if they didn't realize the anti-Common-Core freight train had left the station and was now unstoppable. What did they think toppling Brecheen would accomplish? As it turned out, they couldn't elect a Democrat even in that Senate district (of all places), just as they couldn't elect a parental-choice foe in Jenks, the very belly of the anti-parental-choice beast. They don't seem to realize that Oklahomans — and especially Oklahoma Republicans — favor parental choice.

The whole thing reminds one of Mr. Obama after his latest shellacking. He doesn't recognize that his circumstances have changed; he just keeps doing what he's always done.

UPDATE: The state's largest newspaper weighs in, saying "Stand for Children should take care lest its campaign tactics lead people to conclude that its Oklahoma agenda is more anti-Republican than pro-education."
Oddly, during his visit to Tulsa Mr. Edelman was quoted as saying, “If you look at the research on vouchers, there is no indication of student achievement progress.” - See more at:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

'Administrative costs' and other eye-catching numbers

Reporting today on the state's teacher shortage, the Tulsa World quotes Ryan Owens, general counsel for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, as saying administrative costs are only 3.54 percent of district expenditures statewide.

Where does Mr. Owens get this figure? Well, as the school monopoly folks like to remind us, "Section 18-124 of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes defines administrative costs in public schools and establishes caps on the amount of the funds districts can use to pay for central office administrators and staff. These costs are typically referred to as 'administrative costs' in rhetoric regarding education funding."

But as Dr. Greg Forster has pointed out ("Yes, Oklahoma, There Is Bloat in Public Schools"), this definition of "administrative costs" is misleading. Indeed, could it be that "states have an incentive to tweak their official definitions in ways that reduce the amount of spending that gets called 'administrative'"? After all, "they look a lot better when that number is lower, and most people don’t stop to check the definitions." Dr. Forster continues:
The data-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Education sets its own definitions for categories of spending. This is useful for making valid comparisons across states, but it also reduces the danger of shenanigans in the definitions. Where government agencies are collecting data on government systems you can never fully escape self-serving incentives, but in my experience the federal education data professionals have a reasonably good track record of playing it straight. So it’s useful to turn to their data and see what they say Oklahoma spends.

According to the most recently available federal budget data, 8 percent of Oklahoma public education spending went to administration in 2010-11. That includes 5 percent ($266,368,000) for administration in local schools and 3 percent ($165,215,000) for administration at the district and state levels. That’s roughly in line with the nationwide figure, which is 7 percent for administration at local, district, and state levels.

However, there are even more eye-catching numbers elsewhere in the public school budget. Most Oklahomans would probably be shocked to learn that only 51 percent of public education spending in their state goes to what is supposed to be the core function of schools: instruction. The rest goes not only to administration but to a variety of "support services" and "other expenditures" like guidance counselors, nurses, buses, and cafeterias.

This imbalance is also reflected in the education workforce. Only half of Oklahoma’s public education employees are teachers. In fact, the most up-to-date staffing statistics reveal that, after hovering just above the half-teachers mark in recent years, Oklahoma has now fallen a tiny bit below it in 2011-12. Only 41,349 of the 82,719 FTE public education employees in Oklahoma are teachers. The rest are administrators, aides, guidance counselors, nurses, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc. (On all these figures, Oklahoma is roughly in line with the nation at large.) 
Why carry all these inessential services on the public payroll? ... It’s so their unions can keep the dues money rolling in. The unions, in turn, ensure political protection for their monopoly by mobilizing their members as voters in elections for legislatures and school boards. Politicians in both parties and the government school unions look out for each other, and everyone wins — except for the rest of us. 
Oklahomans know what they know. I recently had a state lawmaker tell me that, almost without exception, this little thought-experiment resonated powerfully with constituents on the doorstep:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Innovative policy, not blank checks

"The midterm elections reinforced, once again, that voters may be pro-education but they’re also not spendthrifts," the state's largest newspaper editorializes today. "Oklahoma lawmakers should take note."
This spring, a teacher union rally drew around 25,000 people to the Oklahoma Capitol. Rally participants called for a 600 percent increase in taxes on horizontal drilling. Lawmakers ultimately ignored that demand. Voters rewarded tax increase opponents with solid re-election support this month.

In short, time and time again voters have rejected calls to increase taxes and spend more money on schools simply to spend more money. At the same time, they’ve rewarded politicians who support school choice and education reform. Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott was re-elected after expanding private school scholarships for low-income students, eliminating tenure and tying teacher pay to performance. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was re-elected after expanding vouchers and reforming collective bargaining.

In North Carolina, Thom Tillis was elected to the U.S. Senate after helping create a state voucher program. In Illinois, Bruce Rauner was elected governor. Rauner is a longtime proponent of charter schools who also supports teacher tenure reform and private school scholarships for poor children.

Notably, those Republican victories occurred either in Democratic blue states or highly competitive states. Yet in Republican-dominated Oklahoma, the only education initiative officials have recently touted is a vague promise to increase spending and teacher pay. Financial reality suggests there’s less to those promises than meets the eye. Proposed raises would cost $213.4 million. Last year’s state budget included around $290 million in one-time revenue sources that must be replaced simply to preserve existing appropriations.

More significantly, spending increases are — at best — status quo measures. Extra money may preserve the current system, but history shows it does little to improve educational achievement. Given that Oklahoma student performance ranks in the bottom 10 states, simply preserving the status quo is a form of failure.

To ensure that Oklahoma children get a quality education, lawmakers need to focus on policy. If Republicans in Democratic states can win on serious education reform, there’s no reason Republicans in one of the reddest states in the nation can’t do the same.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Muskogee grandmother to open school for autistic children

"A Muskogee woman with two autistic grandchildren says special needs students have the right to learn everything other kids learn, and she’s doing something about it," the Muskogee Phoenix reports. She's starting a school.
"Once parents see the pain of their children getting kicked out of school, they are acutely aware of the value that a school like Future Scholars can provide," said Walterine Pickett. "Muskogee Public Schools are suspending and expelling too many kids at an alarming rate because of behavior. Kids with undiagnosed special needs are being punished for something they want to do that they can't, like normal social interaction. So we need to quit expelling them, quit punishing them and give them what they need, a nurturing environment."

Tulsa investigates allegations of altered attendance records

KTUL has the story.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Oklahoma educational-choice champion wins 'November's most important election'

"Going forward, the GOP needs to study the trends and look for ways, through solid policy, to give citizens good reasons to vote for them instead of staying home on Election Day," The Oklahoman notes today in an excellent editorial.
One place to start is with education. Republicans in the Legislature backpedaled this year from education reforms such as third-grade reading tests and Common Core. They might note the re-election of Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. Nelson supports school choice, charter schools and greater parental control. He authored legislation to create education savings accounts that allow parents to use state dollars for a child’s tutoring or private schools. That such an agenda can win in a truly competitive district shows school choice and parental empowerment are winning issues. Statewide, several pro-school choice candidates from both parties won legislative races.

Not only did Nelson win in a competitive district. He won despite being targeted by state's most powerful school-employee labor union, which dubbed his race "November's most important election."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Authorities investigate altercation at PC West

"Law enforcement authorities are investigating an altercation involving a knife that took place Thursday morning at Putnam City West High School," The Oklahoman reports.

Where is the money going?

As Dr. Greg Forster has previously noted, there's a tremendous amount of bloat in Oklahoma's monopoly school system. I encourage you to read his article, but if you want to understand the concept in 15 seconds or less, I present the following.

Monday, November 3, 2014

School officials want parental involvment, except when they don't

"The need for parental involvement in a child's education is almost universally acknowledged," The Oklahoman editorializes today. "Yet too many school officials send mixed messages regarding their support for parental participation."
Some school administrators in Oklahoma, who undoubtedly cite lack of parental involvement as an education challenge, have fought against legislative proposals that would boost parental power.

Most famously, school officials in the Tulsa area sued the parents of children with special needs who qualified for state scholarships. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ultimately tossed that lawsuit, but it sent a clear message: School administrators' support for parental involvement has its limits, particularly if the parents of a child with autism seriously seek the best education possible for that child.

In 2012, legislation was filed to create a "parent trigger" law in Oklahoma. Under that proposal, if 51 percent of local parents signed a petition to intervene in a chronically low-performing school, they could force the replacement of staff or convert the school to a charter school.

School administrators opposed the bill.

This year, legislation was filed to create education savings accounts (ESAs) that would allow low-income parents of children at failing schools to use state money to pay for a child to receive tutoring or attend private school. Another bill was filed to allow the creation of charter schools in rural communities when local parents want more options.

School administrators opposed both those bills as well.

Apparently, some administrators think parents should be involved in children's education — but not too involved.

It's wrong and misleading to call a tax-credit scholarship a 'voucher'

Longtime journalist Jon East explains why.

It's no secret why the defenders of the monopoly system, both nationally and in Oklahoma, use the word "voucher." They believe it to be a dirty word, and thus useful for demonization purposes. I don't think they realize that Oklahomans actually favor vouchers by a wide margin (survey methodology here). Given the popularity of vouchers, I cheerfully encourage voucher friends and foes alike to use the V word liberally.

But we shouldn't use the word voucher when we're talking about tax-credit scholarships.