Sunday, May 31, 2015

State's largest newspaper says ESAs are 'an idea that deserves support'

In a house editorial today, The Oklahoman recaps the 2015 legislative session.
Most disappointingly, lawmakers failed to authorize education savings accounts, not even as a pilot program for low-income students in Oklahoma’s worst schools. ESAs would have allowed children’s families to use taxpayer dollars that currently go to bad public schools and instead use the money to send needy children to quality private schools. It’s an idea that deserves support.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Homeless students on the rise in Oklahoma

Nate Robson of Oklahoma Watch has the story, along with a nice profile of Positive Tomorrows.

As I've pointed out before, school choice can help:

OKC teachers tell of being verbally and physically abused by students

Tim Willert reports that yesterday was "the end of the road for potentially dozens of teachers and support staff at Roosevelt Middle School, where student misconduct went largely unchecked over the last several months at the direction of district officials, several teachers told The Oklahoman."
“Some of the behavior I’ve experienced is intolerable, and a lot of teachers don’t want to come back because of the environment,” said one of three Roosevelt teachers who spoke to The Oklahoman, but asked that their names not be used for fear of retaliation. “The students know what they can and can’t get away with. It’s clear to them.”  
One of the Roosevelt teachers predicted a mass defection of staff from the school over the next two weeks. “You’re going to see a 70 percent turnover in this building,” the teacher said. ... 
Some of the teachers said discipline at the school, 3233 SW 44, began to deteriorate in November, when district discipline policies were abandoned at the school. “We were told we were no longer using the discipline procedures we had been using,” one of the teachers said. “Basically, there was no program in place to allow discipline to occur.”  
Another teacher said staff members were told during a faculty meeting last month to stop suspending students altogether. ... 
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu, who has acknowledged that student discipline is a major problem confronting the district, said no such direction was given to site administrators at Roosevelt or any other schools. ... 
Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, finds Neu’s explanation at odds with what he’s heard from his union members. “What we’ve heard for months is that principals are being told to either reduce suspensions or eliminate suspensions altogether,” said Allen, whose union represents 2,700 teachers. “I hear that so much that I have to believe that some message is going out.”  
Roosevelt teachers told of having personal property damaged by students, of having students walk out of class without permission and of being verbally and physically abused by students. 


That's the grade OCPA president Michael Carnuccio gave Oklahoma's 2015 legislative session, largely because policymakers failed to empower parents with education savings accounts (ESAs).

Friday, May 29, 2015

Does school spending matter?

Jay Greene is not persuaded "to abandon the long-standing and well-established finding that simply providing schools with more resources does not improve student outcomes."

UPDATE: Over at Education Week, Rick Hess has more. And Eric Hanushek has more here.

'I cannot imagine why some kids don’t like to come to school, can you?


A longtime principal at Jenks Middle School paints a troubling picture of "daily life as a student in a typical middle or high school classroom in America today." Happily, these kids have options.

UPDATE: An Oklahoma high school teacher has some interesting observations here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

School choice improves public schools

Jason Bedrick has the latest on some public school bureaucrats who are upping their game.

Does early childhood education impede emotional and cognitive development?

"Twenty years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates," David Kohn writes in The New York Times.
But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up. 
The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm. 
But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.
Let's just give moms the money and let them decide what's best for their children.

Are Oklahoma's private schools too expensive to make ESAs worthwhile?

Not at all, says Oklahoma State University professor Vance Fried. Oklahoma should enact ESAs and put parents back in charge.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

'It’s ridiculous for schools to expect us all to learn in the same way'

"There is a need for online school," says Emily Mee, a recent graduate of Oklahoma Connections Academy, a government-funded online school. "Some people need more time, some need to be challenged. It's ridiculous for schools to expect us all to learn in the same way."

Educational choice continues to grow

"Private school choice initiatives have become increasingly common across the United States," Patrick Wolf writes. "Far from being rare and untested, private school choice policies are an integral part of the fabric of American education policy."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Oklahoma City student severely beaten in school

Lance West of KFOR has the story.

Homeschooled children up 61.8 percent in 10 years

Terence P. Jeffrey has more details.

Enrollment numbers affect per-pupil funding

In recent comments on this year's state budget agreement, Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, makes an important observation. As Nate Robson of Oklahoma Watch reported, "Hime said flat funding means less money will make it into the K-12 classroom because districts' fixed operational costs are going up. If the state sees another large bump in new students, that means there will be less money per student" [emphasis added].

In other words, the enrollment count affects per-student funding. If you have more students, that's less money per student. If you have fewer students, that's more money per student.

That's something to keep in mind when school-choice foes tell you that thousands of kids will leave the public school system if education savings accounts are enacted.


State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister reminds us that "when you have a flat number and a growing student population it will ultimately mean fewer dollars per student." She doesn't deny that Oklahoma education funding is at an all-time high, but again mentions the growing student population.

Reporters for Oklahoma Watch acknowledge that enrollment numbers affect per-pupil spending: "Oklahoma City Public Schools expects to add up to 1,000 students next school year, diluting its per-pupil revenue."

Former state Rep. Wallace Collins, the outgoing chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, also seems to acknowledge as much, saying that "a flat appropriation is, in reality, a cut given the regular inflation of other expenses, increases in requirements, and the more than 40,000 student increase in enrollment."

Sean Murphy of the Associated Press reports that "many education supporters say a standstill budget amounts to a cut because of rising fixed costs and an increased number of students."

The Tulsa World reports that "the lack of additional dollars for common education translates into a budget cut because of an increase in students and overall costs, [House Minority Leader Scott] Inman said."

Economist John Merrifield discusses the fixed-costs fallacy.

Oklahoma City Public Schools, "which is operating about 60 percent of capacity, is facing $11 million in cuts to state aid over the next two years based on projected enrollment declines," The Oklahoman reports

Nude pictures disrupt Tulsa kindergarten class

Morgan Downing of FOX 23 has the story.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Oklahoma City teacher says elementary students are cursing and assaulting teachers

"A teacher who coaches and evaluates new teachers for Oklahoma City Public Schools says it's not low pay or exhausting hours that’s driving them out the door," The Oklahoman reports, "but verbal and physical abuse by students."

Horace Mann, call your office.

Oklahoma parents not getting the full picture on student proficiency

Lindsey Renuard of the Skiatook Journal has the story.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A false narrative?

I found a couple more quotes for my "ed in the sand" file. It seems that some Oklahoma bloggers are bothered by "the false narrative that public schools are failing" (or, if your prefer the creepier version with capitalization, "the false narrative that Public Education is failing").

I suppose it depends on the what the meaning of the word "failing" is. Only one in three Oklahoma fourth-graders is a proficient reader. The numbers are even worse for eighth-grade math.

Unfortunately, another new report reminds us that Oklahoma's state tests continue to mislead parents about this unacceptably poor student achievement (something OCPA has been pointing out for nearly a decade).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Private schools for me, but not for thee

"In what would traditionally be considered a gaffe," Scott Whitlock writes, "Barack Obama on Tuesday attacked those who send their children to private schools and play at 'private clubs.' (The President does both.) On Wednesday, ABC, CBS, and NBC avoided Obama's questionable comments, despite eight hours of available air time."

UPDATE: Matt Ladner reminds the president that he's not entitled to his own facts, and Neal McCluskey urges the president not to scapegoat private schools.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Parent of molested child files lawsuit against Tulsa Public Schools

The Tulsa World has the story.

Opt-out movement can 'loosen the state's grip on the children'

"To a large extent, the opt-out conflict is no different than the seemingly endless battles over countless matters into which public schooling forces Americans," Neal McCluskey writes today.
[A]ll children, families, and communities are different. They have different needs, desires, abilities, values, educational philosophies, and on and on, and no single system can possibly treat them all equally. That is why educational freedom—connecting educational funding and decisions to individual children—is the essential reform. That said, if parents are allowed to opt their children out of government-dictated tests it would be a welcome move in the right direction. It would loosen the state's grip on the children, at least a little bit.

The heart of the reform agenda

"School choice relies above all on the mediating institutions of society," Jason Reese writes in an excellent post over at OCPA. 
The parochial system relies upon the Church. Charter schools rely upon the kind of localism that used to characterize public education in its earliest manifestations. Independent private education relies upon the American genius for association that so fascinated Tocqueville. This is so because school choice avoids the false choice of statism and libertarianism. Government can focus on what it can do effectively (sometimes too effectively), namely transfer payments, and leave administration and vision to those with a greater stake in the outcomes.
Read the whole thing here.

Oklahoma enacts course choice

With charter schools, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, a thriving homeschool sector, and more, Oklahomans already have plenty of educational choices. And with the governor's signature on a course-choice bill yesterday, Oklahoma adds another arrow to its quiver. MiddleGround News senior reporter Jay Chilton has the story.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Boren: 'We must increase private support for public education'

Two items caught my eye over the weekend related to providing private funds to public education.

First, it appears that some Oklahomans do not want the upcoming 0.25 percent state-income-tax rate reduction to go into effect. They are disappointed in a recent statement from Gov. Mary Fallin's office that "no one currently involved in budget negotiations ... is considering delaying the tax cut." Oklahoma PTA board member Lori Wathen told News 9's Lisa Monahan: "Personally, if I get that tax cut, I'm writing a check back to the State of Oklahoma."

As luck would have it, Oklahoma law does in fact allow citizens to make voluntary contributions to state government. The statute says "gifts of cash or the equivalent of cash shall be made to and receipted for by the Director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services." Wathen and others may mail their checks to 2300 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Room 122, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105.

The second item was an op-ed in the Tulsa World by David Boren. "Each of us who cares about the quality of public schools must work to increase state funding for our schools," he wrote. "We must also increase private support for public education. The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is working year-round to help cultivate young minds through programs in American history education, through the support of youth mentoring, through grants to teachers for professional development, and through outreach to public school foundations."

And though Mr. Boren did not mention it, another avenue to be aware of is the Catalyst Education Fund. According to its website, "the Catalyst Education Fund (CEF) is a unique tax credit program that allows businesses to directly support innovative educational programs in Oklahoma's rural public schools."
You will be supporting innovative and groundbreaking projects within our state's public education system. Students will benefit firsthand from the CEF, as these funds will augment programs and further advance opportunities for a high quality, challenging education. 
All contributions are eligible to receive a tax credit, or tax deduction which will directly reduce the taxes you pay on a dollar-for-dollar basis. By law, donors can receive a 50% tax credit for the first year's donation; if donors pledge for three years, the tax credit increases to 75% for the first year and 50% for the following two years. 

'The level of control you are attempting is not possible'

"Bureaucratic accountability," Matt Ladner writes today, "will always face severe political limitations, and even under the best of circumstances is no substitute for parents possessing an exit option. Even under the best theoretical systems there will always be kids who would be better off somewhere else for both academic and non-academic reasons. Decentralized accountability works best with transparency to inform choices, but centralized accountability without choice will inevitably face the gravity well of regulatory capture."

Friday, May 8, 2015

A great Mother's Day gift

Mothers want educational options for their children, and today in The Journal Record OCPA president Michael Carnuccio says it's time to deliver.

'This is like choosing between death by guillotine or being burned at the stake'

State Rep. Brian Renegar (D-McAlester) really doesn't like charter schools or vouchers.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Let teachers earn big money

Education rally at the Oklahoma state capitol, March 30, 2015

Andrew J. Coulson makes the case for organizing education in such a way that the best teachers routinely earn a lot of money.

Pruitt defends Henry Scholarship program

"Attorney General Scott Pruitt has filed a brief with the Oklahoma Supreme Court defending the state's school-funding concept for the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities," Nour Habib reports for the Tulsa World.

Overcrowded schools?

School choice can help.

Monday, May 4, 2015

School reform for rural America

Innovate with charter schools, Dan Fishman recommends, and expand career and technical education.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

These teachers deserve our appreciation

Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to celebrate the 3.5 million schoolteachers in this country, including some 400,000 working in private schools. But as I point out today in the Tulsa World, there are hundreds of thousands more teachers who also deserve our gratitude—teachers who are building human capital without making any demands on the public fisc. I invite you to read about them here.

Friday, May 1, 2015

'Two Tulsa teachers suspended amid cheating allegations'

Andrea Eger has the story.

Five questions for school-choice foes

Earlier this year, Tyler Bridges, the assistant superintendent of the Clinton Public Schools, posed some thoughtful questions regarding parental choice in education ("My Top 10 Unanswered #schoolchoice Questions"). I don't know if any other school-choice supporters took a stab at answering Bridges' questions, but former OCPA research assistant Patrick Gibbons did so here.

As it happens, over time I have come up with some questions of my own. Here are five questions that I'm hoping some school-choice opponents can answer.

(1) It is often said that Oklahoma's public education system is equipped with built-in accountability. Now if that simply means the system has rules and regulations, then I understand the point and cheerfully grant it. But for many of us, the concept of accountability means more than that. If the food is terrible, for example, the waiter brings us another meal or we don't have to pay. If it happens time and time again, the cook gets fired. In short, someone is accountable. Thus, when a longtime Oklahoma educator with a doctorate in education reminds us that "more than 20 percent of our state's population, or nearly 400,000 people, can't read," many of us wonder: Did some teachers or administrators get fired? Did schools close? Did taxpayers get their money back?

And so my first question is: What exactly is meant by the claim that public schools are accountable?

(2) Some supporters of the current public education system are opposed to school choice for financial reasons. As Keith Ballard recently put it, "the first 500 kids alone that go to a private school" are going to take $1 million out of the Tulsa Public Schools. This is harmful, the thinking goes, because schools have fixed costs. As one OEA official explained, "Whether a class has 10 children, 15 children, or 30, you still have to build classrooms, pay the electric bill, buy the school bus, and hire cafeteria staff."

My second question is this: Given this prevalence of fixed costs, as public education enrollment increases (whether by 15 students or 500 students or 5,000 students), why should policymakers provide additional funding for that enrollment growth?

(3) Whether intentionally or not, the people running the public schools sometimes give off the vibe that lots of people would exit their schools if given a choice. For example, Keith Ballard, mentioning "the first 500 kids alone" who leave, said ESAs would have "a disastrous effect on public schools." (The first 500? What, there will be more?) For his part, Joe Siano predicted that ESAs "will harm our public schools beyond the point of no return." This lack of confidence in one's own product is more than a little unsettling to parents and taxpayers.

So my third question is one that Isabel Paterson asked more than 70 years ago: "Do you think nobody would willingly entrust his children to you to pay you for teaching them?"

(4) I've seen various references to "corporate reformers" or "corporate raiders" or "corporate interests" that are hungry for profit. Now, I assume we're not talking about these companies which profit from public education. I at one time assumed that the corporate interests being referred to were in the charter-school sector. But then I read a comment by activist Angela Clark Little, who said of voucher programs: "What they are about is making money…lots of it. Big money, lack of transparency and accountability, and legislators collaborating with big business." (This I do not understand, since there are roughly 50 nonprofit schools participating in Oklahoma’s voucher program, none of which are big businesses making big money.)

So my fourth question is: What are the names of these corporations?

(5) Some have argued that lawmakers should not consider parental-choice measures until public education is "adequately funded." I infer from this argument that Oklahoma's $8,804 per student is inadequate. But it's hard to know exactly what is adequate. School-choice opponents in the District of Columbia, for example, make the case that nearly $30,000 per student is inadequate. One Oklahoma superintendent believes "there has never been enough revenue for public education, and there never will be," which could lead some to conclude that $300,000 per student would be inadequate.

So my fifth question is: At what level of per-pupil funding will Oklahoma's education system be adequately funded?

'Tulsa Honors Academy raises the standard for public education in east Tulsa'

Camile Rutherford has the story.

Tulsa investigation into record-tampering continues

"It has been nine months since teachers complained to Tulsa's Channel 8 saying they'd witnessed improper grade and attendance record changes," KTUL reports.

Were suspicious test scores investigated in Oklahoma?

That's a question Arthur Kane explores over at Oklahoma Watchdog.

Kane's reporting grows out of the Atlanta cheating scandal, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first broke in 2008. The newspaper subsequently found "suspicious test scores" nationwide—including in Oklahoma. In 2012 both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and teacher union president Randi Weingarten said these suspicious scores were concerning. 

Janet Barresi, who was state superintendent in 2012, looked into the matter and consulted with school administrators. In addition, one would hope the local school districts themselves—especially those where the odds of the results occurring by chance were less than one in 1,000—would want to perform their own investigations so they could clear their names. 

In the end, the main thing for parents and taxpayers is to get some answers. Whether cheating is a huge problem or a mild problem or barely a problem at all, people need to know.

Oklahoma's private colleges speak up for Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships

Today in The Journal Record, OCPA president Michael Carnuccio lauds Oklahoma’s private colleges and universities for speaking up on behalf of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program.