Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fire! Get the money!

[Guest post by Greg Forster]

University of Oklahoma President David Boren wants voters to hike the state sales tax to fund a slate of goodies for educators, with the bulk of the proceeds going to an across-the-board $5,000 raise for all teachers. Such a measure is extremely unlikely to have a positive effect on school outcomes. Even the smaller portion of boodle that will supposedly go to “incentive pay” schemes is an almost certain loser.

The whole boondoggle reminds me of a 30-second video, entitled “Get the Money!”, produced by entrepreneur Jean-Marc Le Doux during the 2008 crisis to satirize equally loopy bailout schemes. In the video, the tranquility of a placid suburban home is shattered when the occupants discover that an electrical outlet is on fire. “Fire! Get the money!” shrieks the wife. The couple barrels into the room clutching two big buckets full of money, which they proceed to throw at the fire in a futile effort to extinguish it.

Educational mediocrity is indeed as urgent as an electrical fire in our national living room, so a sense of urgency is appreciated. But throwing even more money at the same old broken system is no more likely to improve its outcomes than throwing money at an outlet is likely to put out the fire. Indeed, after two or three generations of Boren’s “Get the Money!” solution, we have now wasted so much precious time that the educational fire has already burned down the living room and spread to the kitchen (economic stagnation), the bedroom (breakdown of the family), and the guest room (intergenerational poverty).

Boren’s scheme would raise $615 million a year, of which $378 million would fund a $5,000 raise for all teachers. By comparison, a piddling $50 million would go to “locally controlled reforms like incentive pay,” in the words of The Oklahoman. “Another $125 million would go to higher education to keep down tuition and fees,” because throwing more subsidies at colleges has such a great track record of lowering tuition and fees (in fact, colleges always respond by raising tuition and fees, for reasons that are obvious to anyone with either a working knowledge of economics or an ounce of common sense). Boodle would also be doled out to early childhood programs, which consistently fail to improve later educational outcomes, and vocational education.

The $5,000 teacher raise would be indiscriminate, offered to all teachers—effective and ineffective alike. There is therefore no particular reason to expect it will improve educational results. It will help attract and retain good teachers, and also bad ones. Boren is putting no more thought into his solution than those shrieking homeowners in the video.

If it were true, as is so often claimed, that teachers in general are severely "underpaid," there might be some grounds to expect that this “underpayment” was driving better teachers away from the profession, and a raise would restore balance. But even if this were true, it would still be wiser to concentrate the money on reforms that target higher performance. Why not a $10,000 bonus for all teachers at the 50 percent of schools that improve their graduation rate most in the coming year? Even better, why not start by identifying the 50 percent of schools with the lowest graduation rates and then offer a $20,000 bonus to all teachers at the 50 percent of those schools that improve graduation rates the most? Or use the money to strike a bargain with the education establishment—bribe them to accept a universal ESA program?

In fact, however, teachers are not underpaid. Few of the people making this claim have even thought about what “underpaid” means. Teachers make less than brain surgeons, yet no one thinks this makes teachers underpaid; ditch diggers make less than teachers, yet no one thinks this makes ditch diggers underpaid. Professions make different amounts based largely on the entry requirements of the profession, and U.S. Department of Labor data have consistently shown—for years!—that teachers make about the same as other professions with similar entry requirements. If you consider that their benefits packages tend to be more generous than average, while they make comparable pay, they are if anything overpaid (as a result of their past political strength, which allowed the unions to manipulate the market in their favor).

How about those “locally controlled reforms like incentive pay”? It’s not clear what “incentive pay” means, but one thing is clear. If the reforms really are locally controlled, the chances that they will include meaningful merit pay are approximately zero. One of the most severe systemic problems in our education system is the colonization of local school boards and other school governance structures by the school unions. The inmates run the local asylum. (This problem is one reason some education reformers have foolishly turned to increased state and federal power over schools, in a vain attempt to strongarm school districts into reforming.)

Even if the reforms did include merit pay, they’d be unlikely to work. Merit pay programs for teachers have a dismal record. The measurements of teacher “merit” never seem to align with actual teacher merit. (Hence in my example above I used graduation rates as the measurement we could reward teachers for improving, if we must choose some measurement—we do know how to calculate that reasonably well, and it’s not even all that tough to catch schools when they lie about their graduation rates.) Even more discouragingly, the teachers themselves generally have no confidence in the measurements even when they’re good ones; the teachers ignore the merit pay programs because they don’t expect the programs to reward merit.

All this is a distraction from the real issue, and in two senses. On the one hand, Boren is offering to throw more money at our educational house fire primarily because the scheme includes money for him (“to keep down tuition and fees”) and to his school-union allies (OU has a college of education, which makes OU part of the K-12 education blob). All his rhetoric is meant to misdirect us from what is, at bottom, a cynical power play to grab cash. On the other hand, talking about funding levels is a distraction in a more substantive sense. The more money we throw at the house fire, the longer it takes us to come to our senses and pick up the bucket of water labeled “school choice.” 

[Greg Forster (Ph.D., Yale University) is a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. He is the author of six books, including John Locke’s Politics of Moral Consensus (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (Crossway Books, 2014). He has written numerous articles in peer-reviewed academic journals as well as in popular publications such as the Washington Post and the Chronicle of Higher Education.]

Why America is behind Europe on educational freedom

"The United States ranks among the lowest of Western democracies in governmental support for educational freedom," Charles Glenn writes, "and particularly for the right of parents to select schools that correspond to their own religious convictions."

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Former OU prof has sensible suggestions for our 'broken education system'

Today in The Oklahoman, Gary Greene, who taught for 20 years at the University of Oklahoma in the College of Education, has a column with many sensible observations. Some highlights:
Most school administrators are relatively overpaid when you compare the daily work of a teacher to that of principals/superintendents. ...

The median income for Oklahomans is $25,229, with teachers starting at $31,606 for about 10 months of work, and Oklahoma has one of the lowest costs of living in the nation. The average pay for Oklahoma City teachers is $53,449. ... 
Why do Oklahoma schools have so many coaches? Most Oklahoma schools employ head coaches and many assistant coaches and well-paid athletic directors. Can we play competitive sports with fewer coaches? Sure we can. It will save dollars that could be applied to academics. 
Oklahoma spends hundreds of millions of dollars on student transportation. In most of Europe, it's the parent's responsibility to transport kids to school. Maybe Oklahoma parents should do the same by providing private transportation or paying a fee for school bus transportation. ... 
Prior to 1970, most local schools were responsible for vocational education. Oklahoma has developed a CareerTech system that centralizes vocational training at a huge expense. For example, the state Department of Career Tech has 176 employees with a budget of $171 million. ... There is significant duplication of CareerTech and community colleges programs. ...
Oklahoma has 517 school districts. Johnston County has six school districts all located within a few miles of each other, all operating independently, producing a product that is consistently below standard. ...

Friday, December 25, 2015

An education ranking that's worth celebrating

State Rep. Lee Denney discusses Oklahoma's ranking in the National Association for Charter School Authorizers' latest analysis of nationwide charter school policies.

Monday, December 21, 2015

College craziness points up the need for higher-ed choice

Economist Richard Vedder, who helps Forbes compile its annual college rankings, recently observed:
As Milton Friedman told me more than a decade ago, higher education today has some negative externalities, ones that seemingly exceed the positive spillover effects, suggesting maybe we should be taxing rather than subsidizing universities in the United States.
With Oklahoma's political leaders staring at a massive "revenue failure" for 2016, all options need to be on the table. Of course, we can't end higher-ed subsidies overnight, as Cato Institute scholar Neal McCluskey points out in a recent article in The Weekly Standard. "The best starting point would be to turn state higher education funding into grants, connecting it explicitly to student choices rather than allocating it to institutions. At least then what policies and people are punished or rewarded would be based on individual, not government, decisions."

In suggesting student grants McCluskey echoes Friedman himself, who believed that restricting higher-education subsidies "to schooling obtained at a state-administered institutions cannot be justified on any grounds. Any subsidy should be granted to individuals to be spent at institutions of their own choosing."

Oklahoma's college students should be given a voucher redeemable not only at public colleges and universities but at nonpublic ones as well. After all, why should our political leaders discriminate against education obtained at private institutions? Why should Oklahoma taxpayers be forced to subsidize a public university's polytheistic "holiday" event celebrating "all religions" (including Islam) at Christmastime? Or why should they be forced to fork over $40,000 of their hard-earned money to a hip-hop artist with a history of obscene, violent, misogynistic language?

"Conservatives are rightly aggravated by college craziness," McCluskey writes. "But they have no right not to be aggravated—only not to pay for it." It's time to expand higher-ed vouchers in Oklahoma.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Achievement gap? No excuses, please

"We reject any and all attempts at genetic explanations for achievement gaps, leaving differences in education policy and culture as possible sources for achievement gaps," Matt Ladner and Dan Lips write.
We note, however, that the control of culture is precisely the mission of schools. The school staff controls the school culture and keeps the focus of students on academic achievement. Ineffective schools fail to control school culture. In the worst cases, students seize control of school culture and stigmatize academic achievement through peer pressure and/or violence. 
We do not believe anyone has ever seen evidence of a "racial combat effectiveness" gap in the United States Marine Corps because it doesn’t exist. The United States Marine Corps enlists people from all states, races, and classes of American society, but because it is an organization with a strong culture and mission, it transforms people of all backgrounds into Marines. Likewise, the job of schools is to transform ignorant children into numerate and literate young people with at least the minimum skills to succeed in the world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The poverty excuse is 'a crutch that is unfounded in evidence'

"[P]overty can’t explain away America’s lackluster academic performance," write Michael J. Petrilli and Brandon Wright. "That excuse, however soothing it may be to educators, politicians, and social critics, turns out to be a crutch that is unfounded in evidence. We need to stop using it and start getting serious about improving the achievement of all the nation’s students."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

For better mental health, consider delaying kindergarten, Stanford study suggests

"A study by Stanford Graduate School of Education professor Thomas Dee suggests that delaying kindergarten by one year, known as 'redshirting,' can significantly reduce hyperactivity and boost attention spans," Eric Schulzke reports.

Left and Right agree on need for market-based teacher pay

Terry Stoops explains.

Lamb, Pruitt, Bridenstine discuss educational choice

Last month, The McCarville Report released the results of a SoonerPoll survey it commissioned regarding Oklahoma’s 2018 governor’s race. Three names polled were Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, and Congressman Jim Bridenstine. I recently sat down with all three of them to discuss their views on parental choice in education.

[Cross-posted at OCPA]

Pruitt stands up for school choice, religious freedom

"Many states, including Oklahoma, have amendments in our constitutions that limit religious liberty far more than what the U.S. Constitution allows," Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt recently said in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tulsa Pastor Says #MyDreamIsSchoolChoice

"About 5,000 Tulsa students are attending underperforming schools, according to a study by the Metropolitan Baptist Church," KTUL reports.  
The church is partnering with the Tulsa C.A.R.E. Alliance to create a movement in improving education in the city. ... "Our schools today are not serving all children equally. There are some children that are in schools that are continuing to struggle, said Pastor Ray Owens of the Metropolitan Baptist Church. Owens said his church and the Tulsa C.A.R.E. Alliance are hoping to change that struggle by starting a movement #MyDreamIsSchoolChoice. 
"We got to help parents find the school that works for their children. Every school is not right for every child. So, we're pushing the idea of choice so that, we believe, parents are the best advocates for their kids," said Owens.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Duncan student arrested for sticking students with needle

"A Duncan Middle School student was arrested Thursday after allegedly sticking other students with a needle during class," Christian Betancourt reports.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Is teacher pay a scarcity issue?

"What is scarce is valued more highly than what is common," Stevi Knight reminds us. "This basic economic principle explains the high value of diamonds, the competition between contestants on The Bachelorette, and why pennies are found forgotten in the middle of parking lots." Does scarcity also help to explain teacher pay?

The school choice information problem

“I support school choice,” some education policymakers say, “but we need to make sure parents choose good schools!” In this month's issue of Perspective, Greg Forster discusses how we can help parents make wise choices.

School choice reduces racial segregation

A common myth about private-school choice programs is that they are examples of “white flight” used by rich families to avoid sending their kids to school with minorities.

The empirical research says otherwise. “School choice reduces racial segregation and provides a more racially integrated school experience,” writes education researcher Greg Forster. “Of the eight studies that have examined racial segregation in private choice programs, seven found that choice moved students from more segregated classrooms and schools into less segregated classrooms and schools; one found no visible difference. No empirical study has ever found that private school choice increased racial segregation.”

And the evidence keeps mounting. A new study by economist Benjamin Scafidi, “The Integration Anomaly: Comparing the Effects of K–12 Education Delivery Models on Segregation in Schools,” finds that private-school choice programs increase integration.

This is just common sense. After all, “the government school system is very heavily segregated by race because it’s tied to residence,” Forster reminds us. “People tend to live in racially homogenous neighborhoods, and tend to go to school where they live. School choice breaks down racial barriers by making it possible for students to go to school outside their neighborhoods.”

School choice also goes hand-in-hand with urban revitalization, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Oftentimes the most vocal advocates of private-school choice programs are minorities. The nationwide 2015 Education Next/Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance survey found strong support among African-Americans for a variety of school choice measures. For example, 66 percent support vouchers for low-income families, while only 17 percent oppose.

Minorities are often far less concerned with racial balance. What they want is the social and economic upward mobility that comes with a good education.

And as they move to schools that better meet their needs, they help make those schools more racially, ethnically, and economically diverse.

School choice increases integration, and that’s good for everyone.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Fund parents, not bureaucracies

What constitutes a good education in the 21st century? That was the topic of a panel discussion yesterday at Rose State College organized by political science professor James Davenport. My message (starting at the 21:45 mark) was essentially this: There are more than 700,000 students in Oklahoma. I do not presume to know what constitutes a good education for each of them. That is for their parents to decide. Oklahoma's political leaders, who are committed to funding education, should give the money to parents rather than to the system.

Will ESAs be the downfall of public education?

In 2010, arguing against the proposed Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities, Democratic state Sen. Jay Paul Gumm predicted the program would "do maximum damage to public education."

Has that happened? No, it hasn't. (Indeed, that turns out to be the most laughable prediction since that time David Boren said Barack Obama is a "nonpartisan" leader who would bring Americans together.) Only a tiny fraction of Oklahoma's eligible students are utilizing the Henry Scholarship program. And new survey research tells us that 74 percent of Oklahoma voters think the program is "a good thing for Oklahoma," while only 11 percent say it’s a bad thing.

State Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) remembers the doomsday predictions surrounding the Henry Scholarship program. They didn't come to pass, just as the current doomsday predictions about ESAs will not come to pass. Sen. Jolley discussed ESAs on MiddleGround radio yesterday with Dave Bond; listen here beginning at the 1:28:00 mark.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Obama's new voucher plan for high school students

"The Obama Administration recently announced an experimental program to provide vouchers to allow public high school students to take courses in public or private institutions—as long as those institutions are postsecondary," the Council for American Private Education reports.
As the Department of Education put it, “For the first time, high school students will have the opportunity to access federal Pell Grants to take college courses through dual enrollment.” 
“A postsecondary education is one of the most important investments students can make in their future. Yet the cost of this investment is higher than ever, creating a barrier to access for some students, particularly those from low-income families,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. 

McLoud school district, taxpayers to pay $1.4 million to sexual-abuse victims

"The families of 14 young girls who were victimized by former elementary schoolteacher Kimberly Crain have reached a $1.4 million settlement with McLoud Public Schools," The Oklahoman reports.
Crain rattled this community four years ago when it was disclosed she had secretly videotaped students in suggestive poses and various stages of undress. She also had encouraged them to engage in classroom video chats with strange men, including one the children referred to as “Uncle G.”   
McLoud schools Superintendent Doran Smith said the $1.4 million is “a total amount” for the families of all 14 children involved in the case. He did not know how the funds would be split up among the families, saying “their lawyers are handling that.” 
Smith said the district's insurance provider is covering $1 million of the settlement, which is the cap on such claims. The remaining $400,000 will be paid in the coming years by local residents whose property taxes support McLoud Public Schools.

Oklahomans 'emphatically support school choice expansion'

Oklahoma voters and parents “emphatically support school choice expansion.” That’s the assessment of respected public-opinion researcher Pat McFerron, president of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates, after reviewing the results of the firm’s latest survey.

“Oklahomans, particularly those with children in school, are clamoring for greater school choice,” The Oklahoman’s editorial board notes (“Oklahoma lawmakers should move ahead with ESA measure”). “It's always been clear that there are no legitimate policy reasons to oppose ESAs in Oklahoma. Now it's evident there are no legitimate political reasons for lawmakers to withhold their support either.”

UPDATE: Michael Carnuccio discusses the survey in a Journal Record column here.