Friday, June 28, 2002

Blogging the Blob

The Center for Education Reform sent out a special school choice update today that included a collection of negative responses from the public school establishment and others.

BLOB and OPPOSITION RESPONSE: When you throw open the doors to change, you can generally expect those in the entrenched positions to react negatively. We were not disappointed. Below is just a smattering of responses from the BLOB and their attendant supporters. (We never cease to be amazed by the lack of respect they give parents while revering a system that is continually failing our children.)

"The National Education Association pledges to ...oppose divisive and counterproductive proposals to divert energy, attention, and resources to private school tuition vouchers." We will continue to fight in allegiance with the vast majority of American parents who want good schools in their communities."

Bob Chase, President of the National Education Association

"Vouchers are bad education policy. Our nation's commitment to public education is longstanding, built upon the principle of open and equal access for all our children. This means these schools--just as public schools are--must be open to all students. They must comply with civil rights laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, gender or national origin.... These schools must meet the same standards required of public schools and report to the public about student achievement, graduation rates and teacher qualifications."

Sandra Feldman, President of American Federation of Teachers

"Vouchers divert funds from public schools that are already inadequately funded ... We will continue to fight voucher programs and advocate for programs that improve education for all children."

Shirley Igo, National PTA President

"A legal ruling will not persuade parents, community leaders and elected officials to change their minds about opposing the use of public money in private schools."

Julie Underwood, National School Board Association General Counsel

"[T]odays's ruling is very disappointing and could prove to be quite damaging to America's public and private education system in years to come--vouchers may hurt both public and private schools."

Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi, Executive Director, National Association of Secondary School Principals

"Private school vouchers may pass constitutional muster, but they fail the test when it comes to improving our nation's public schools....It's flat wrong to take scarce taxpayer dollars away from public schools and divert them to private schools."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts

"Despite what advocates of vouchers may say, we cannot rescue troubled public schools by providing a way for students to abandon public schools."

Chris Link, Executive Director of the ACLU

"This decision represents a serious crack in the constitutional wall between church and state....Cleveland and other urban school systems are in tough financial straits. Giving this voucher program a 'green light' only makes that situation worse."

Ralph G. Neas, President of People for the American Way

"The Supreme Court thinks it's all right to force taxpayers to put their money in the coffers of religious schools....America. watch your wallet or it may end up in the collection plate."

Rev. Barry W. Lynn. Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

All the usual suspects. I'm trying not to gloat, but it's good to see them all on the defensive.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

More School Choice Commentary

Michael Lynch's reason commentary celebrating the victory.

And Joanne Jacob's take on the Supreme Court decision.

Eternal Vigilance

I heard the decision right before I was leaving to take my children to their summer program at their private school. So, I put on my "Parents In Charge" t-shirt, and thought, "Today this really means something. The Supreme Court says I am in charge!"

My heart has been beating a little faster all morning. In the school-choice community we may never have another day like today.

This is it. All systems go. So why do I feel some fear lurking behind the victory?

In the spirit what seems to be this year's defining theme from Spiderman, I thought, "With great power comes great responsibility."

I can't help but think of Marshall Fritz today, and all the others, who fear that this is not a victory for parents and children over government schools, but a victory for the government over private schools.

It is our responsibility to not take their fears lightly. We cannot brush them aside as paranoid delusions about government power. It is time to dust off your copies of Andrew J Coulson's seminal work, "Market Education: The Unknown History," and remember how we got into this government-monopoly system in the first place. We need to remember that it didn't take a school voucher program to give the state control of education.

Eternal Vigilance. The fight will never be over.

We know from efforts to regulate charter schools, compulsory education laws, efforts to regulate homeschoolers, and education management companies that sacrifice their business models for government contracts, that regardless of the circumstances, the government will never stop pushing to gain more control over private decisions about education. And the private education industry cannot be blamed for seeking some of the $350 billion that state education controls.

We must be careful not to open the door. We must keep pushing back.

It is up to us to be eternally vigilant, to make sure that school vouchers remain an opportunity for children to have more education choices, and not an opportunity for government legislation to constrain and regulate private schools.

I know what our first test will be. The school choice/school reform movement has embraced standardized testing as a way to determine the performance of public schools. We have to grapple with whether we want to shackle private schools that accept vouchers with these testing requirements. The urge to do this will be great. After all, we want to make sure that private schools are performing at least as well as public schools. Several major media outlets already lament the fact that voucher students do not have to be tested.

We must stay true to the choice. We must trust competition, the market, and the individual choices of parents and their right of exit to police private schools.

It is a serious dilemma. On the one hand, we want the likes of Paul Peterson, Caroline Hoxby, and Jay P. Greene, to be able to continue with their school voucher studies. The easiest way to help them out is to ensure that they have a data set, by making standardized tests mandatory for private schools that participate in publicly funded voucher programs.

On the other hand, we must remember the lesson we are already learning from the “No Child Left Behind Act.” States that have higher standards than the requirements of the NCLBA are considering or actually lowering their standards to be in line with federal testing requirements. We want competition to set the standard for private and public schools--not an arbitrary testing benchmark mandating minimum requirements for success.

This is just one example of the work that is yet to be done. This is the real deal. We have lots of opportunity, but we must resist accepting restrictions on private schools and the competition they represent in exchange for politically feasible school-voucher programs. We have to strive for the best practices: the pilot programs that let school children have more choices in the least restrictive environment for private schools.

"With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility."

Eternal vigilance, my friends.

Enjoy the day.

School Kids Win!

Hooray! Supreme Court rules in favor of Cleveland Voucher program. Much more to come.

Here is the actual Supreme Court opinion.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Real-Estate Driven School Choice

Paul Peterson and William Howell argue that "African Americans suffer most in today's real estate–driven system of school choice."

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Washington Post and Me

Today, Jay Mathews's Washington Post Class Struggle column is about me and my fight for school choice. Here's a sample:

Lisa Snell admits she was not in the most receptive mood when she visited the central registration office of her school district last year to talk about her son Jacob. If I were a school administrator and saw Snell heading for my office, I would be tempted to shut the door and tell my secretary I was going to be in conference for the next week or so.

Snell is a dark-haired, 34-year-old woman with a pleasant demeanor, on the surface no different from any soccer mom you might meet in the Riverside County, Calif., community of Lake Mathews (named after a prominent attorney to whom I am not related). She has two degrees in communication from California State University system, an accountant husband and two small children.

But she is also one of the most aggressive consumers of educational statistics in the country, and a leading national critic of the government's monopoly over public schooling. Her job is director of education and child-welfare programs for the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, an organization dedicated to notions of liberty and limited government.

I tell the story of Snell's short, aborted encounter with the Corona-Norco Unified School District because I think it illuminates, in ways the usual political debates do not, what irks many Americans about the way we decide where to send our children to school. It also exposes the sloppy way reporters like me have been describing the fight over private management of public schools, as well as potential flaws in the "No Child Left Behind" law just adopted, with great fanfare, by the president and both parties in Congress. Snell, for instance, thinks sustained annual improvement is a noble goal when viewed from the airy heights of Capitol Hill, but does not work so well for schools at the bottom making only minimal gains.

Monday, June 24, 2002

Education Funnies

Via Daryl Cobranchi.

Slate has pages of amusing education cartoons.
Cellular College

As if college students wouldn't call home using their cell phones.

Saavy students like Gardere are saving money for themselves, but costing cash-strapped public universities millions of dollars by not using the school-provided telephone services in residence halls and dorm rooms.

Universities say it is only a matter of time before they will have to consider raising student costs to make up the difference.

It seems to me that you do not have to be particularly savvy to take advantage of a flat-rate cell-phone plan.

Stay Tuned

Supreme Court is expected to rule on vouchers this Thursday.

The Best Way to Build New Schools

Let the developer do it:

In deals that could save Pasco County taxpayers a couple of million dollars, the developer of New River is considering paying out of pocket for a regional park and two schools north of State Road 54.

Swiss-born businessman Beat Kahli said he plans to hand over 160 acres for a regional park and additional land for schools at the 1,800-acre development between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.

But he wants to go even further: Kahli said he might build the public schools himself and help pay off the debt with $1,694-per-home school impact fees that home buyers at New River would pay over the years.

California has legislation that lets any developers keep school impact fees and build the school themselves. This arrangement saves time. Woodrow Wilson Elementary, in Corona, California, was built in 9 months. It saves taxpayers money and cuts out the usual school district bureaucracy that can tie up school construction for years.

No Correlation

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune completed a comprehensive statistical analysis of school spending and test scores in Minnesota. The results found no connection between per-pupil funding and student achievement on test scores. The poverty level of the students was a much more accurate predictor of test scores than per-pupil funding.

However, the federal free lunch program was used to determine the number of students living in poverty. See my earlier post on problems with this indicator. The Star-Tribune analysis would change significantly if Minnesota has a free-lunch over-identification problem.

Zero-Tolerance Victory

After much legal wrangling one victory over zero-tolerance.

Federal Education Tax Credits?

The Feds are considering an Arizona-style tax credit program.

Customer Service

James Lileks has a great blog today about the various stores he visited this weekend and his different experiences with customer service. His story has nothing to do with education, yet it says everything that is wrong with public education in America. Schools have no real customers and no customer service.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Edison Scores

With about one-half of Edison's 2001-2002 test scores so far recorded, the average annual improvement rate thus far is approximately 6.5 points on 100- point scale.

According to John Chubb the system-wide gains recorded thus far include dramatic improvement rates in Washington D.C. (average gains of seven, 10 and 17 percentiles in three schools); Chicago (an average gain of 14 percentiles in a K-12 charter school); Baltimore (average gains of 10, 16 and 24 percentiles in three schools); and Dallas (average gains of seven percentage points in seven schools).

[Update] The Atlantic-Journal Constitution also runs a somewhat favorable article about Edison and local experiences with the company.

And this Star-Telegram story offers more insight into test scores in Dallas.

PTA Defections

According to the Associated Press the local PTA in Brecksville, Ohio defected from the national PTA.

In 1962, the national PTA had 12 million members. Now, despite expanding school enrollment, it has 6.5 million.

In Ohio, the PTA peaked in 1961 with 750,000 members. Its Ohio membership has dropped to 140,000.

Apparently, the Brecksville PTA did not share the national group's view against vouchers and charter schools.

More Kids on Drugs

The Sacramento Bee has a comprehensive three-part series "Kids on Meds," covering the increases in drug treatments, from Ritalin to antidepressants, for kids under 18. The kids keep getting younger and the treatments more experimental.

As another measure of the growing emphasis on medication, California spent $24.6 million last year on psychiatric drugs for kids covered by Medi-Cal, the state's insurance program for the poor -- a 32 percent jump over 2000.

The three articles have many stories and examples of the childrens' behavior that led to medication. I can't help but recognize my own children (3 and 5) in some of these stories. And I recognize many other preschool children I have known over the years. I'm not saying that some of these children are not over the top in terms of behavior problems, but I can't help but wonder how many normal children under five might be easier to handle when they are medicated--and perhaps this explains why the use of these medications have tripled in some places.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

More School Lunch Fraud

Via Reason's Brickbats:

Lunch Lunacy (6/20)
More than one-quarter of the students in the National School Lunch Program aren’t really eligible. Nationwide, possibly as much as $1 billion in tax money is being spent each year on feeding children who shouldn’t be on the list. Studies cite lax enforcement by the federal government. And schools have an incentive to pad the program’s rolls: The number of students receiving free or reduced price lunches helps determine how much federal and state money the school receives.

The Courier Journal article that Reason links to is very comprehensive on many of the possible fraud angles. But the one area that has been neglected by the press is how this school-lunch data distorts test-score data. If 60 percent of urban poor students score below basic in reading on the National Assessment of Education Progress, but if more than 25 percent of those students are actually misidentified as poor using school-lunch data, then the public schools are actually doing an even poorer job teaching reading than we thought. And for that 25 percent, their poor home life, can no longer be used as a scapegoat for why the public schools failed to teach them to read.

Cornfield Education News

Yesterday David Hogberg of Cornfield Commentary analyzed fourth grade reading scores in Des Moines, Iowa. Des Moines standards are actually higher than many places. David's criticisms apply nationwide:

But read a little further, and you get the depressing news that 71% puts Des Moines among the top performing urban districts in the nation. (Oh wait, it’s starting to kick in.) And then you learn what the public education system considers to be an acceptable goal: "[Superintendent Eric] Witherspoon has pledged that by June 2003, 75 percent of all the district's students will read at the level expected for their age group." 75%!? WOW!!!! (Ah! It’s approaching high speed now!)

What this means is that fully 1 out of 4 fourth graders will not be reading at grade level. This is important, because fourth graders are near the crucial age at which they either have good reading skills, or they are unlikely to ever develop them.

Public School Police State

I just can't get over this article in The Guardian which reports that 12,000 students were truant in England, and more than half the truants were with their parents. The article goes on to argue that the kids had no good reason to be with their parents and explain how the parents were jeopardizing their children's education.

The government said yesterday it will be keeping up the pressure by ordering further patrols in September. A campaign will also be held at the end of August to warn parents not to take their children on holiday in term time.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

NYT Gets Florida Special Ed Vouchers Wrong

In Today’s New York Times, Richard Rothstein argues that Florida’s special-education voucher program has failed poor disabled children. He writes, “critics suspect that vouchers are really intended as a step toward privatizing education for the benefit of the well-to-do. Florida's special-education program gives plenty of ammunition to those critics.”

He cites as proof of this the fact that Florida parents can add their own money to the voucher to buy a more expensive special-ed program.

Rothstein tells a story of one good private school that can no longer afford to accept students for just the voucher amount. The school will charge learning-disabled students $2,500 more than the voucher amount next year. One child, Logan Marsh, who thrived under the private school program, will no longer be able to afford the tuition. The most telling part of Rothstein’s story was that Logan's mother did not choose to reenroll her child in the public school where he would receive special-education services. Instead, she chose another private school—even though the school did not offer specific special education services. And this is typical of most of the student’s receiving the McKay scholarship. These students and their parents have not been clamoring to return to public special education classes. In fact, the Florida program expects to enroll up to 10,000 students in the scholarship program this fall.

Rothstein makes the claim that only rich students will afford the most expensive specialized services. True. In fact, the richest students bypass public education and go directly to expensive private schools. He overlooks the fact that many private schools have set up their own charity programs to subsidize students who cannot pay the full tuition amount. And simple economics tells us that any one particular private school will not be around for long if it prices all of its potential voucher students out of the school. Especially since there are now 400 private schools in Florida competing for the 5,000 special-ed voucher students. The 400 schools represent a healthy mixture of very specialized schools designed to handle specific disabilities such as the “Center for Dyslexia” or the “School for Autism” as well as traditional private schools with good environments, small class sizes, or other characteristics parents might find desirable. Parents have a wide array of choices from full-inclusion models to schools that serve a very specific type of disability.

Rothstein also makes the faulty claim that “private schools accepting those students were not required to monitor their progress ever again. Indeed, private schools with voucher students did not have to offer any special-education services at all.” What Richard really means is that the child’s progress did not have to be reported to the public school and that, now, the parent was responsible for monitoring his own child’s progress. And in Rothstein’s Logan Marsh story, he proves that, at least in the case of this particular child, the parent was very capable of evaluating the progress her child was making in the private school.

With 5,000 participants, I have to wonder if that was the worst story that Richard Rothstein could come up with to show that the Florida program is failing. The McKay scholarship program cannot be evaluated by telling a few stories. The actual demographic data and the parents’ school choices must be analyzed. And the fact that some higher-income students may pay more to subsidize their school voucher should not stop lower-income students from enrolling in less-expensive private schools that are still much better than the public school special-ed program.

Finally, it is unclear to me why Rothstein considers letting any special education child participate in the voucher program a "compromise in program integrity." Instead, by opening the program to every special-education child, it ensures that all special education children can participate--not just those children who have parents that are savvy enough to "prove" that the public special-education program is not meeting their child's needs.

Let Parents Choose

Cato Institute's Casey Lartigue makes a compelling argument, In Parents We Trust, for letting parents choose their child's school--even though some parents will be poor choosers.

In addition to all of the scholarly reasons educators and others give for why they fear parents having power over how their children are educated, here's one not discussed: everyone has relatives.

People can all think of a relative or friend who either is a bad parent or makes bad decisions in other aspects of their lives. And we can be sure that the relative or friend will become no more intelligent once he or she has a school voucher.

But the fact that some parents make bad decisions doesn't defeat the argument for school choice. Instead of being forced to send their children off to the local public schools, parents would be better off with several options. Many of us may lament as we stand in a grocery store that there are 52 brands of dishwashing powder or liquid, but few of us would like it if the only "choice" were the government brand. Restricting choice because there might be mistakes brings to mind what philosopher Herbert Spencer said in 1891: "To protect people from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools."

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Increasing Parental Involvement

Yet another reason to send your kid to a private school or homeschool. This Chicago Tribune article details how schools are moving toward more and more restrictive parent volunteer policies--including criminal background checks.

This is ironic as more evidence piles up showing that many school sexual abuse policies are often little better than the Catholic Church.

Florida Private School Expansion

In answer to one traditional argument against school choice: that there is not enough private school capacity to handle voucher students, this article in the Miami Herald shows how quickly private schools start adding capacity when faced with the prospect of voucher students.

Five county schools received their second F in four years Wednesday, when the state released public school grades for the 2001-02 academic year. They are the county's first double-F schools. Their students are now eligible to transfer to a better-performing public school or to get an ''Opportunity Scholarship'' -- a voucher -- to attend a private school.

Eyeing about $4,000 per transfer student and subjected to minimal oversight, 57 Miami-Dade private schools have signed up with the state for the voucher program.

Some schools that volunteered to accept vouchers are now building additions, renovating classrooms and adding grades to meet the new demand for a private education paid for with public dollars.

Four of the 57 schools -- El Shaddai School, Il Savior Academy, Trinity Christian School and one Lincoln-Martí school -- told the state they had no students this year, meaning they may use vouchers to fill their first seats.

Test Your Science Knowledge

Science illiteracy has been in the news lately. See how well you score on these sample questions from the National Assessment of Education Progress's 4th, 8th, and 12th grade sample questions.

Thanks to Geekpress.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Kindergartners in College

According to the Sacramento Bee

California is considering giving its brightest students the right to skip from elementary school directly to college -- missing high school altogether.

Students of any age, even kindergarten, could demand to take the state's high school proficiency examination under legislation approved recently by the Assembly.

Passage of the test -- which measures reading, writing and arithmetic skills -- would qualify young students to enter community colleges as if they had obtained their high school diplomas.

The bill, AB 2607, is meant for thousands of students so bright that they strain schools' ability to serve them and can get bored with even the highest-level traditional classes.

I would have been out of school way before I turned 16!

Virtual Victory

Via Associated Press

A state court on Monday dismissed the Pennsylvania School Boards Association's challenge of the legality of online charter schools and said districts should have an opportunity to question tuition bills for the schools.

Commonwealth Court ruled that the Department of Education should provide an "expedited opportunity" for districts to challenge any decisions by the department to withhold money from them for refusing to pay cyber charter school tuition bills.

But the districts have no standing to question whether cyber schools, which deliver instruction over the Internet, are allowed under a 1997 law that authorized the creation of publicly funded, independently operated charter schools, Judge Rochelle S. Friedman said. "The General Assembly did not give them any rights to participate in the (chartering) process; the General Assembly only placed on such school districts the obligation to pay for their students who attend charter schools," Friedman wrote in her majority opinion.

Class Action

I'm not sure how much more damage this class-action lawsuit will do. But it can't be good for Edison's future.

The named Defendants are Edison, Adam Feild, H. Christopher Whittle and Christopher D. Cerf ("Defendants"). The docket number of the case is 02-CV- 4269. The Court is located at 500 Pearl Street, New York, New York.

The Complaint charges Defendants with violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10(b)-5 promulgated thereunder and Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act of 1934. Edison is the largest for-profit private manager of public schools and charter schools in the United States. Between December 14, 1999 and May 14, 2002 inclusive (the "Class Period") Edison reported impressive financial results from its operations and in particular the Company reported spectacular growth in revenue. However, the Complaint alleges that Edison's financial reporting was false and misleading because it failed to disclose that from fiscal year 1999 until the first six months of fiscal year 2002, Edison never actually received a material portion of the revenue supposedly realized by the Company. An investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SEC") revealed Edison recorded as "revenue" monies it paid for expenses such as teachers' salaries, students' transportation and utility bills that were remitted directly by school districts.

In addition, the SEC investigation revealed two more accounting improprieties committed by Edison. Between 1999 and 2001, Edison improperly accounted for proceeds of a warrant purchased by a philanthropic organization causing the Company to overstate its balance sheets by $1.9 million. The SEC investigation also revealed that in 1999, Edison improperly accounted for a severance agreement between the Company and one of its senior officers causing Edison to overstate its balance sheets by $2.5 million. As a result of the SEC investigation Edison will restate its financial results for the Class Period.

When news of Edison's false and misleading accounting practices reached the market, the price of Edison's stock fell dramatically, causing harm to members of the Class. Plaintiff seeks to recover damages and other relief on behalf of all members of the Class. Plaintiff is represented by the law firms of Goodkind Labaton Rudoff & Sucharow LLP and Faruqi and Faruqi LLP both of New York, New York and two firms with extensive experience prosecuting class actions on behalf of defrauded investors.

New Math

Via Reason Express

"Rufus is a pimp for three girls. If the price is $65 per trick, how many tricks per day must each girl turn to support Rufus' $800 per day crack habit?" - - Question on a math test given to students at Juniper Middle School in Thompson, Manitoba. The teacher responsible for the test was suspended.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

"Edison Revisited"

Daryl Cobranchi links to my Reason Public Policy Institute commentary on privatization versus school choice. I think Daryl misinterprets my amazement that Chris Whittle keeps emerging from battles with school unions and keeps convincing others to invest in Edison as an endorsement. It is amazing that he just secured millions more in venture capital and financing in light of the negative press coverage and recent contract cancellations. He must be very good at what he does (selling Edison’s vision) or education investors must be more gullible than the average bear.

The company has invested heavily in research and development to design strong curriculum. They are not short-changing students when it comes to material or school design. However, they have also not faced the true market test. As I said before, companies like Edison exist to the extent that government agencies award them contracts.

[Update] the Boston Globe article on Edison is very overwrought and pathetic. 1. Blaming Chris Whittle for childhood obesity and addiction to television because “Channel One” played in the public school classrooms for ten minutes a day with (gasp!) commercials.

2. Complaining that Chris Whittle can secure $40 million in funding while schools across the nation are forced to cut back because of budget constraints. It's just not fair! As Derrick Z. Jackson laments: "There is no Merrill Lynch for the public schools.” Please! Private investment in public schools and public school philanthropy is at an all time high. Annenberg’s challenge grants to poor urban schools and the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation grants alone make investments in Edison pale by comparison. And while there may not be a Merrill Lynch, there are millions of poor saps sending billions in taxes to support the public schools. Whether state budgets are tight or not: the fact remains that school spending at the local, state, and federal level continues to go up, up, up. A $40 million round of financing is a drop in the bucket compared to Title I's $2 billion dollar increase this year.

3.When Chris Whittle misrepresents his financial status, the Securities and Exhange Commission is all over it. I'd like to see every school district in America forced to show that kind of budget transparency. Let's investigate and find out why schools do not have enough revenue to keep summer school open.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

Homefeeding Movement

A Satire:

The recent tragic death from malnutrition of seven-year-old Johnny Marfan of Bensonville draws our attention to the growing trend toward so-called "homefeeding."

While the majority of the local children still receive their nutrition from state cafeterias or approved, registered private cafeterias, a growing minority of parents - hundreds by some estimates - are engaged in homefeeding, a practice in which children receive at least breakfast and dinner in their own homes as provided by their parents.

In accordance with law, the Marfans informed the state health department that they were homefeeding Johnny. But in this state, homefeeding is relatively unregulated, giving carte blanch to parents to feed their children virtually any food under the sun; meat, milk, cookies, butter, pie - anything goes.

Some states require parents to have a certified degree in nutrition or at least be monitored by an accredited nutritionist. But here, parents do not even have to fill out periodic reports detailing what they are feeding their children.

Read the rest. It is kinda funny, if it didn't hit so close to home.

Friday, June 14, 2002

School Takeover Frenzy

This week schools in New York, Michigan, and New Jersey have all been threatened with or actually taken over by the Mayor or the Governor.

Reason Public Policy Institute has a study of previous school takeovers that found that while these "takeovers" often restore financial stability to a school or district, they do little to improve the academic performance of the students enrolled in the schools.

Simply changing the school bureacracy, without giving students a right of exit or making the schools subject to competition, will do little to improve student achievement.

Failing History II

Although higher than Florida's requirement of scoring 23 out of 100, Alabama high school students need to receive a score of 52 out of 100 to pass the history portion of the state's graduation exam.

The test covers American history from the early days of the nation through World War II.

Based on the new passing score, 55 percent of 10th-graders who took the test in March passed it.

Father Knows Best

In honor of Father's Day, Isabel Lyman at the Homeschooling Revolution, links to several articles, essays, and interviews with homeschooling dads.

First Dodge Ball, Now Tag

Daryl Cobranchi and Joanne Jacobs report that a Santa Monica school principal has banned students from playing tag at recess.

According to Joanne, the principal wrote in a newsletter:

The running part of this activity is healthy and encouraged; however, in this game, there is a 'victim' or 'It,' which creates a self-esteem issue. The oldest or biggest child usually dominates.

She asks: "What will these kids do when they grow up and encounter the bumps, bruise and esteem-crunching reality of adult life? Whine, I guess. Sue, definitely."

At The Growing Place, where my kids go to school, the teachers allow dodge ball and tag. They even let Jacob bring a squirt gun to school today for water play. Of course, Jacob told me that he wasn't allowed to call it a "gun." The preferred term is "water toy."

Thursday, June 13, 2002

F for Opportunity

Ten Florida public schools have received a second "F" under Governor Jeb Bush's A+ plan. 8,000 students are now eligible to attend a private or public school of their parents' choice under the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

More Drugs in School

Via Our Horrible Children:

Balloon Boy: I would just be drooling over the chance to argue with school administrators over this one: 7th grader suspended for 3 days for sucking helium from party balloon. Ben's father said that he was stunned by the punishment leveled against his son and the report suggesting his son abused a foreign substance. Jeez, if this foreign substance is so harmful, then exactly why are the school officials bringing them into the school where students may be exposed to it? Isn't that a bit dangerous?

BTW, he was suspended from a Catholic school and the newspaper linked above reports it under their Crimestoppers column.

Private School has Its Advantages

Education Week reports on a new National Center for Education Statistics report that finds that students who go to private schools are twice as likely to finish college.

And what's more, students who attend private schools who come from families of the lowest quartile of poverty in the nation are nearly four times more likely to get a higher education degree than comparable students who attend public schools, the federal report released late last month says.

How Low Can You Go Part II

The Connecticut state Board of Education votes today on a plan to lower Connecticut's standards for student proficiency to conform to new federal requirements.

Pipe Dream

In Class Activist, 16-year-old Selemawit Tewelde explains her fight against Edison's takeover of her failing Philadelphia school. Her central argument: "Administrators will answer to corporate shareholders instead of students and parents."

I am glad to see that economics is such an important part of the curriculum at Selemawit's school. And I feel better now that I know the truth about Philly administrators being responsive to parents and students.

Selemawit's solution to Philadelphia's education woes: "increased funding is the answer."

Of course. Big surprise.

Good Money After Bad

Walter H. Annenberg's $1.1 billion gift to the public schools resulted in modest improvements but failed to fundamentally change American education.

He shouldn't feel so bad. At least he created modest gains.

Hell, the federal government has spent more than $160 billion over 30 years, just on remedial education, without demonstrating any gains for disadvantaged students.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Pizza Procurement Policy

Joanne Jacobs has a hilarious post on how a teacher would go about procuring a pizza for an end-of-year party.

Monday, June 10, 2002

Separation of School and State

Isabel Lyman has an interesting interview with Marshall Fritz, the founder of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, up at the Homeschooling Revolution. I especially like the part where he describes his heroes. More than 6,000 new folks have signed his proclamation for the separation of school and state in the last two months.

Congressional Hypocrisy

Kevin Teasley from the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation sends this link to the Heritage Foundation's annual look at how members of Congress exercise school choice. Once again in 2001, 47 percent of Representatives and 50 percent of Senators sent their kids to private schools--compared with 10 percent of the general population.

As Kevin explains in his GEO Foundation electronic news update, had the same members of Congress who send their kids to private schools, voted in favor of school choice proposals, they would have been signed into law.

Drugs in School

According to a new Lexington Institute study, since the U.S. Department of Education determined that children with ADHD could qualify for special-ed under IDEA in 1991, there has been a 700 percent increase in the use of Ritalin in public schools--with the US consuming 90 percent of the world's supply of the drug.

The report analyzed DEA data on Ritalin distribution for the entire US, using per capita distribution rates that take into account the number of children in every county. Ritalin use varies up to 100-fold across US counties. For example, in Utah less than 3 percent of elementary children use Ritalin. But in Gretchen's home state of Virginia, between 14 and 17 percent of elementary and junior high kids are on the drug.

The study also found no association between Ritalin use in Virginia and educational outcomes at the school-district level.

Maybe Utah has such low rates of Ritalin use because it has so many homeschooled kids. Just a thought . . .

Sunday, June 09, 2002

With At Least One Exception

Unlike the thousands of other South Florida students mentioned in the previous post, the Miami Herald tells the compelling story of Vanessa Mendez, a Cuban immigrant, who went from not speaking English in fifth grade to becoming her High School Salutatorian and being accepted to Harvard by 12th grade.

FCAT Blues

A Miami Herald story reports on 2002 FCAT reading scores in South Florida:

More than 142,000 South Florida public school students share a sad secret. They can barely read.

In Broward, 71 percent of ninth-graders scored in the lowest two of five performance levels on the 2002 FCAT. In Miami-Dade, the number is 80 percent.

Stand and Deliver

In Stand and Deliver Revisited, reason contributor Jerry Jesness looks at the fate of Jaime Escalante, the great high school calculus teacher made famous by the movie “Stand and Deliver.”

Thanks to the popular 1988 movie Stand and Deliver, many Americans know of the success that Jaime Escalante and his students enjoyed at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. During the 1980s, that exceptional teacher at a poor public school built a calculus program rivaled by only a handful of exclusive academies.

It is less well-known that Escalante left Garfield after problems with colleagues and administrators, and that his calculus program withered in his absence. That untold story highlights much that is wrong with public schooling in the United States and offers some valuable insights into the workings -- and failings -- of our education system.

Escalante’s students surprised the nation in 1982, when 18 of them passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam. The Educational Testing Service found the scores suspect and asked 14 of the passing students to take the test again. Twelve agreed to do so (the other two decided they didn’t need the credit for college), and all 12 did well enough to have their scores reinstated.

In the ensuing years, Escalante’s calculus program grew phenomenally. In 1983 both enrollment in his class and the number of students passing the A.P. calculus test more than doubled, with 33 taking the exam and 30 passing it. In 1987, 73 passed the test, and another 12 passed a more advanced version ("BC") usually given after the second year of calculus.

By 1990, Escalante’s math enrichment program involved over 400 students in classes ranging from beginning algebra to advanced calculus. Escalante and his fellow teachers referred to their program as "the dynasty," boasting that it would someday involve more than 1,000 students.

That goal was never met. In 1991 Escalante decided to leave Garfield. All his fellow math enrichment teachers soon left as well. By 1996, the dynasty was not even a minor fiefdom. Only seven students passed the regular ("AB") test that year, with four passing the BC exam -- 11 students total, down from a high of 85.

In any field but education, the combination of such a dramatic rise and such a precipitous fall would have invited analysis. If a team begins losing after a coach is replaced, sports fans are outraged. The decline of Garfield’s math program, however, went largely unnoticed.

As Reason's Editor-n-Chief Nick Gillespie has said: "This is as damning an indictment of public school bureaucracy as you've seen." Read the whole story.

It made my stomach hurt. And it reminded me of how in 6th grade at a new school, Raymond Elementary, my teacher, Mrs. McGraw, misplaced my math test placement scores. So instead of retesting me, she started me with the fourth graders. My school used a new math program called "Directed Lessons." At the end of my 6th-grade year, I was “officially” performing below grade level because of where I was in the complex "Directed Lesson Program." I was ahead of the fourth graders but behind the sixth graders, so I spent most of that year in the library doing math dittos--waiting for my lesson. In Junior High, it took me until 8th grade to get back into an honors math class. (I was doing pre-algebra in fifth grade.)

Choice Legislation

The Education Commision of the States compiles voucher, tax credit and tax deduction legislation that is being considered by state legislatures in their 2002 legislative sessions. The report is updated once a week.

In their 2002 legislative sessions, the following states are considering legislation to create a voucher, tax credit or tax deduction law:

California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah

In their 2002 legislative sessions, the following states are considering legislation to amend a previously enacted voucher, tax credit or tax deduction law:

Arizona, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Vermont

Saturday, June 08, 2002

More Early College--Story of My Life . . .

When I was fifteen my home life was less than ideal. I was working part-time as a bookkeeper for a corvette shop, Coast Corvette, and I wanted to go to college. In order to do that, I had to wait until I was 16, take the California High School Equivalency exam (a test that made the GED look rigorous), and then wait for the results. When I turned 16 and I had proof that I passed the exam, I enrolled in Fullerton community college.

That was one of the best decisions I ever made. Escaping the mandatory constraints of my junior and senior year of high school, allowed me to work, study, and survive in a way that would not have been possible if I was forced to attend high-school full time.

From Fullerton College I went on to finish my masters degree at California State University Fullerton (CSUF) and began coaching argumentation and debate for CSUF and teaching public-speaking courses at various California community colleges. I was 22.

So I was heartened to see yesterday's New York Times story, A Year of Squeezing 6 into 4, by Karen Arenson, describing a New York program that lets high school students attend early college.

In 2001, New York City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy invited Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, to design a model early college program. In September 2001, the Bard High School Early College opened its doors on the fourth floor of a public middle school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

This year the program had 246 students from diverse ethnic backgrounds; 35 percent are black, 30 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent Asian. According to the New York Times, "Many are from poor immigrant families. Some came from undistinguished public high schools, others from private schools or selective public high schools. The goal was not to find high scorers on tests, but ambitious students."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plan to use Bard as a model for creating up to 70 new early-college high schools across the country.

My fellow education-blogger, Jeff Sackmann, describes the role school choice will likely play in the continuing success of the program:

"This program works so well, I bet, because students chose it. (Say "duh" if you'd like.) This school didn't manage to magically attract the few dozen motivated students in the NYC metro area to one school; it found the few dozen students who would be motivated by a program like this one. Or, more accurately, the students found the school.

To me, that is a big part of why school choice is so important. To the extent that a wide range of schools appear (and, given the financial incentives inherent in vouchers, they will), every student will be attending a school that is attractive to him or her (or, at least, the student's parents)."

The new study by the Center for School Change (CSC) at the University of Minnesota, "What Really Happened? Minnesota's Experience with Statewide Public School Choice Programs," offers more support for Jeff's argument.

In 1985 the Minnesota Legislature adopted the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options Act (PSEO). This law allowed high school juniors and seniors to attend colleges or universities full or part time, with tax funds following them from school districts to pay for tuition and books.

In 1985, 3,500 11th and 12th graders chose to attend post-secondary courses offered on college campuses. By 2001, more than 7,000 students were enrolled in courses at Minnesota colleges and universities. In addition, close to 10,000 more students were taking college courses offered at their high schools by post-secondary institutions. Thirty percent of these students were actually full-time college students. The college credits count toward a high school diploma and a college degree.

The PSEO program has offered students a wide variety of courses that would not otherwise be available to them. The program has benefited both low-performing and high-achieving students. The Center for Social change study describes Ann, a high-performing student in a suburban high school:

"She enrolled in one course during her junior year to see how she would do in college, By her senior year, she was enrolled full-time in the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology. She went on to complete her bachelor's degree with honors-at the age of twenty."

Even more compelling, the CSC study describes what Paul, the underachiever, wrote about his experience:

"If I hadn't had the opportunity to enroll in Post-Secondary Enrollment Options, I would certainly not have become an honors student, much less a college student. High school was just holding me back. I was in trouble in grade school; my junior high performance was poor. But when I found out about this program I decided to go for it. Here at the university I have yet to get a C. All my grades are A's or B's. I never used to get an A or a B. This program was the saving grace for me and changed my life around."

The Center for Social Change's 2001 survey of the PSEO program participants found that:

* 78 percent report learning more than in high school.
* 75 percent are being challenged more than high school.
* 80 percent feel more academically prepared for college.

The program prohibits high school students from taking "remedial" college course to prevent students from using the program as a way to enroll in less challenging curriculum than high school.

While there has been a national trend in increases in high school offerings of advanced placement courses, in Minnesota some of the increase in AP courses has been attributed to competition from the PSEO program. In 1986 297 students took 374 AP exams. By 2001, almost 15,000 students took more than 23,000 AP exams.

The PSEO program has also had a positive impact on the relationship between school districts and post-secondary institutions. A legislator's audit report cited in the CSC study found that 52 percent of school principals reported increased cooperation with Minnesota colleges and universities.

Like Paul, going to college early helped change my life. It played a significant role in my escape from childhood poverty (we didn't have a phone, my mom usually didn't have a car, and getting our electricity shut off was the norm).

My "choice" to attend college early is one of the reasons I believe in school choice for every child. Programs that let children get a head start in college are but one of the many school-choice options available to truly help kids and their parents use education as a way to improve their lives.

Friday, June 07, 2002

Michigan Union Dues at Work

The Michigan Education Association is suing the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for quoting the union's president in a fundraising letter.

According to the Detroit Free Press:

The letter said: "This fall, Luigi Battaglieri ... stated, 'Frankly, I admire what the Mackinac Center has done.' Mr. Battaglieri, whose union is generally at odds with the Mackinac Center, said this with respect to how Mackinac Center research has shaped education reform in Michigan and around the nation."

The quote was taken from a speech Battaglieri gave last September in Lansing. The letter was sent last November.

MEA spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley said the union sued because the Mackinac Center is using Battaglieri's name to raise money. She angrily denied the Mackinac Center's charge that the MEA is trying to stifle free speech.

The Institute for Justice is defending Mackinac and their Litigation Backgrounder is here. If the judge does not dismiss the case by the end of summer, trial is set for November.

Zero Tolerance for Imagination

Via Reason's Brickbats

Finger Pointing

Seven fourth graders in Colorado’s Dry Creek Elementary School received a week’s detention after they were caught using their fingers as imaginary weapons during a game of soldiers vs. aliens. According to Principal Darci Mickle, the boys’ game violated the school's zero-tolerance policy toward violence.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Stating the Obvious

The findings from Standard and Poor's newest installment of its $10 million contract to evaluate Pennsylvania's schools are worth repeating.

Increased school spending over time has not always meant better state test scores in Pennsylvania.

The report found that 289 of the state's 501 school districts increased their spending annually from 1997-2000 while also improving test scores.

On the other hand, 168 districts saw their test scores decline during the same period, despite increased spending. Eleven districts reduced their spending and improved their scores.

"Those findings show that student achievement is affected in part by how money is spent, rather than the amount of money spent," company officials said in a June 3 news release. Duh.

For what its worth, a separate "statewide insights" report compiled by the company in May found that 60 percent of districts with above-average scores on state assessment tests had below-average spending, while nearly one-third of districts with above-average spending had below-average scores.

Politicians are notorious for sending their kids to private schools.

But homeschooling?

South Carolina's Republican candidate Mark Sanford said Wednesday he and his wife would consider home-schooling their children if he's elected governor.

How Low Can You Go?

This topic is one of my pet peeves. A piece in Kentucky's Courier Journal describes the No Child Left Behind Act's fatal loophole:

Although students would have to make ''annual yearly progress'' toward proficiency, each state would decide what constituted it.

''If you wanted to win, you would low-ball your definition of 'proficient,' '' John Poggio, a testing expert who advises the Kentucky Board of Education, told board members.

''In other words, the federal law is making every state have standards, but they don't care what they are,'' said Keith Travis, a board member from Central City.

I pointed this out last summer, before the NCLB act passed in Schoolhouse Crock--a cover story for Reason.

Time will tell just how low the standards will go.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Special-Ed Vouchers

Today's Washington Times op-ed, by the Lexington Institute's Robert Holland, reports on the timely coincidence between the US Supreme court ruling on school vouchers and the reauthorization of IDEA. Holland summarizes international and domestic evidence that demonstrates that school-choice works better for disabled students:

There is persuasive evidence from 22 nations that when vouchers have made choice truly universal, families of special-needs children are among the biggest beneficiaries. Lewis M. Andrews found in an 18-month study of the nations that aid parents in sending their children to private schools that special-education children tend to thrive "to an extent not even imagined by American educators."

In fact, Mr. Andrews added, "The more American parents of learning-disabled children become knowledgeable about the benefits of school choice around the world, the more the advocates of the status quo may regret ever trying to exploit the issue of special education in the first place."

Florida has had great success with their special-education voucher program. The greatest asset of the Florida program is its sheer simplicity and parent-friendliness. The only requirement for a special-needs child to transfer to a private school is that his parents express dissatisfaction over his progress at meeting the goals of his individualized instructional plan.

Student voucher awards are based on a student’s current per-pupil funding in the public school and range from $4,000 to $20,000, depending on the severity of the child’s disability. One stipulation of the scholarship program is that a student must be enrolled in a public school with a valid IEP for a year before becoming eligible for the voucher program. Average voucher awards are approximately $6,000. The majority of students participate in the $4,000 range. Less than 1 percent are in the high-end voucher range-- but one child at $15,000 can skew figures.

Parents are free to add money to their designated voucher amount in order to buy a higher quality or more specialized education for their child. In fact, many of the more expensive specialized schools use their own private donor pools to help families increase the size of their voucher.

In the program’s first year 105 private schools in 36 of Florida’s 67 districts signed up to enroll more than 900 special education students. This year more than 5000 students are participating in more than 400 private schools. The scholarship program already has 1000 new intentions to participate filed for next year and the notification letter to eligible parents has not gone out. Diane McCain, Director of the “Choice Office” at the Florida Department of Education, estimates that the program could double in participation next year.

The Florida program bypasses much of the costly litigation over a “Free and Appropriate" education. When parents are free to choose the school that best meets their child’s needs—they are less likely to sue the school district for a better placement.

And as Robert Holland so rightly observes, “Vouchers could have another benefit: They could be a powerful disincentive for public schools to slap labels on kids. Overlabeling could provoke an exodus of students and public funds from the system.”

The Florida program stands in stark contrast to my earlier post about the New Jersey special education school-contracting fiasco. The main difference in Florida: the parents act as school-monitor on a case-by-case basis, rather than government bureaucrats, who are assigned to oversee vast amounts of tax dollars.

School Numbers Racket

The Chronicle of Higher Education's, today's news, reports on an Independent Review article by Michael Herberling, discussing how government monopolies on gambling through state lotteries can actually lead to tax increases and do little to supplement education funding.

In the end, the tax increase that the lottery was intended to prevent occurs anyway, because the initial influx of funds leads to prodigal spending. Not only that, but despite "all the rhetoric to the contrary, the states have been unable to deliver on their promise to increase spending on education by adopting the lottery," he writes. And "once a lottery is implemented, it proves nearly impossible to terminate."

So what is to be done? Mr. Heberling believes that the first step is to "remove the exemption of government agencies from oversight by the FTC" and then to consider privatizing the lotteries. "For certain activities, such as law enforcement and national defense, the government should have a monopoly," he observes. "'Running a numbers game,' however, is not such an activity."

This reminds me of a paper I heard presented at The Public Choice economics conference in San Diego, by Noel Campbell, an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at North Georgia College and State University. His paper, "How Sticky are Lottery Funds for Education?” concluded that, "lottery revenues for educational capital and technology projects have no discernable impact on county educational spending. If political support depends on such spending; it is misplaced."

Male Bias in School Sexual Abuse Cases

Reason contributing editor Cathy Young, writes about the "double standard" for male victims of sexual abuse by teachers.

The latest chapter in the infamous saga of Mary Kay Letourneau, the seattle schoolteacher who had a sexual relationship with her student, Vili Fualaau, when she was 34 and he was 12, ended last month when Fualaau and his mother, Soona Vili, lost their civil case against the school district and the local police. The jury refused to award them damages, deciding that the school and the police bore no responsibility for allowing the sexual abuse to happen. Commentators who followed the case said that Fualaau and Vili undermined their own case. He gave contradictory testimony at different times; she was easily painted by lawyers for the defense as a greedy and negligent parent. Yet one has to wonder if there is a gender angle here as well. Do many people, including jurors, still find it difficult to see a male victim in such a case as a true victim?

A few days after the verdict in Fualaau's lawsuit, a controversy in New Jersey provided a shocking illustration of this bias. Pamela Diehl-Moore, a former teacher who repeatedly had sexual relations with a male student when she was 40 and he was 13, was sentenced to probation by Judge Bruce Gaeta. What drew public attention was not the light sentence but the comments made by the judge in explaining it. "It's just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship," Judge Gaeta said. "I really don't see the harm that was done, and certainly society doesn't need to be worried."

It's almost pointless to add that such a reaction would be unthinkable if the sexes were reversed. In 1993 in Virginia, a male teacher who had sex with three teenage female students was sentenced to 26 years in prison - while the next day, a female swimming coach who had an "affair" with an 11-year-old boy and sexual encounters with two others got 30 days.

No Profit in For-Profit Schooling?

The accusation that a New Jersey private school operator has used taxpayers’ money to benefit relatives highlights an obvious risk of school privatization. Government money corrupts.

Daniel Greco and Philip Scardilli, co-founders and owners of the six schools in Paterson, Pompton Lakes, and Morristown, were indicted in January on charges that they stole $3.66 million from taxpayers by giving eight of their relatives and friends high-paying jobs that did not require them to work.

The schools are for students with emotional problems and learning disabilities. They receive nearly 100 percent of their budget from about 50 public school districts that contract with Windsor for specialized instruction for their students.

The districts in New Jersey pay $30,000 per pupil for 342 kids to attend the Windsor special-education schools.

I have a couple of questions.

First, without the large government subsidy would the New Jersey education market support 342 students attending a $30,000 per year school? Second, in a real free market, if parents agreed to pay $30,000, and their kids were getting a high-quality education—would it matter what the school owners pay their relatives?

The owner of my kids’ private school employs her daughter and her sister. Some of my tuition pays their salaries. I have no idea how much the owner’s relatives actually work. But as long as my kids are learning and the school personnel are attentive to my children—who they pay, is none of my concern.

This is what I don’t get in New Jersey. The school districts agreed to pay the school $30,000 per pupil. The parents and the school district are actually happy with the schooling that Windsor is providing. As a January Bergen Record column reports:

Over the years, Windsor has garnered an excellent reputation from public school educators for its state-of-the-art facilities, including computer labs.

Classes are small. A teacher and two aides work with a maximum of 12 elementary students. Kindergarten classes have a teacher and four aides. Students also receive group and individual counseling to help learn how to cope with roller-coaster emotions. Several parents of current and former students were shocked at the news.

Cheryl DeGrosa of Hackensack credits Windsor with dramatic improvements in her son Matt's grades. She often dealt with Greco and called him "one of the most professional persons I have ever dealt with.

"I have nothing but high praise for that school," she said. "I would probably be one of your more shocked parents if any of these allegations are found true. "

The school adminstrator's do not like how Windsor’s owners are spending the $30,000 per-pupil. They are making their friends and family rich:

Defendants in the Windsor Schools scandals and how much each earned from their alleged no-show jobs:

Kevin Thompson, Bloomfield $766,443

Mary Scardilli, Chatham $758,289

Janet Greco, Pompton Lakes $750,632

Arthur Scardilli, Oak Ridge $449,280

Denise Rivera, Portland, Pa. $342,868

Juliann Zuchowski, Pompton Plains $273,768

Victor Scardilli, Brick $199,562

Sydelle Scardilli, Brick $127,334

If these allegations are true, then the real question becomes why didn’t school district administrators know they were providing such a high profit margin to this company. Why didn’t they know that the company had so much extra money left over, after providing individualized service, that they could pay so many people for allegedly not working?

Perhaps a more competitive bidding process might have preempted this problem.

Maybe Edison should go to New Jersey.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Even Public School Choice Works

The Center for Education Reform reports on a new study of Minnesota's public school choice laws conducted by Penn. State University and the University of Minnesota.

A new study of four public school choice programs in Minnesota finds that opponent's claims of harm to public schools are baseless and that these programs have spurred improvement for both students and the system. The study, "What Really Happened? Minnesota's Experience with Statewide Public School Choice Programs" finds that the number of students involved in one of the four major choice programs (open enrollment, charter schools, Second Chance options and Post-Secondary Enrollment Options) represents about 30 percent of all secondary students. Findings also show that the growth rate of these programs has outpaced the growth rate of the state's overall K-12 student population, 1300 percent to 17 percent. In the study long-standing predictions about the creation of elite academies, re-segregation, creaming, and lack of innovation are shown to be inaccurate.

I've always said that reorganizing public schools by open-enrollment and dropping the residential requirements would be a vast step forward in school choice for all parents. And public schools couldn't complain that they were being abandoned or that public dollars were going to (gasp, horrors) the private sector.

Monday, June 03, 2002

K12 Comes to California

Bill Bennett's K12, the most well-known virtual school, has created a new virtual charter-school partnership in California. In conjunction with The California Virtual Academy, K12 will now offer school children in grades K-5 throughout Southern California a viable school-choice-like option.

I have been seriously considering the K12 option for Jacob (6). If we did not live in such a kid-barren neighborhood (where the average age is over 65), and if I didn't actually have a real job promoting school choice for everybody else's kids, I might trade in my private school for the K12 option. The curriculum is very impressive--especially the science and music programs. K12 supplies everything--including the computer and online support.

The California K12 partnership should yield some useful future data on the comparison between kids attending a virtual school and kids attending a traditional public school. The K12 kids will be required to participate in California’s standardized testing programs.

This week K12 will be offering Open Houses for parents in several California cities. I plan to attend the Riverside open house on Wednesday--so I can be even more guilty about NOT homeschooling my children. I suffer from homeschool envy.

More Powerful Schools (MPS)

Dan Bernstein wrote his Sunday column for the Riverside, California Press-Enterprise about Michael Catellier, who bought his son a black t-shirt in a motorcycle store with the letters SMP, which he took to mean Standard Motor Products.

His sixth-grade son, Matthew, liked the shirt so much he actually wore it to Raney Intermediate in Corona for months. Then, a few weeks ago, school officials told him to leave the shirt at home. SMP, he was told, could mean "Smoke More Pot." Or "Sex, Money, Power."

The elder Catellier: "USA could mean `Use Some Alcohol.' Should I let the school know?"

An Internet "acronym finder" yielded 45 "most common definitions" of SMP. No. 1? Sine Mascula Prole (Latin: Without Male Issue). Also-rans: Symmetric Multi-Processor; See Me, Please; Slow Moving Person; Special Milk Program; Statutory Maternity Pay.

Sex, Money, Power ranked 12th. Smoke More Pot, 22nd. New York-based Standard Motor Products didn't even show.

The Raney Intermediate principal defended the decision by arguing that it is what the kids think that matter. So Dan Bernstein took his own poll:

Convinced that the subversive nature of SMP was widely known, I conducted my own survey to prove that, as usual, I was out to lunch. I arrived at Riverside's Central Middle School brandishing a sheet of paper bearing the letters SMP.

I beelined to a knot of 20 students bunched around picnic tables and basketball hoops. The first student I polled said he thought SMP had something to do with bikes.

"So Many People?" ventured another. Everyone else gave me vacant stares and shrugs. Ask the eighth-graders, someone advised. I did. They shrugged, too.

Bernstein concluded that Mathew's Dad could appeal to the PTA, "But I have to wonder if he feels strongly enough about this to get mixed up with the Palestinian Terrorist Alliance."

Zero Tolerance Matters

Neoflux's Our Horrible Children is a blog that juxtaposes real horrible acts by children with stupid examples of zero-tolerance policies. Sometimes the children are truly horrible and sometimes the school officials are horrible.

But either way, zero-tolerance policies have real consequences for real people. They tie the hands of teachers, principals, and administrators to make individual judgments based on their knowledge of a situation. They create “one-size-fits-all” policies that lead to both absurd and tragic consequences—-a five year-old being expelled for pointing a chicken finger and saying “bang-bang" on the one extreme and a child dying because they were not allowed to carry their asthma inhaler on the other.

They give many publications “fodder” to use against public schools. From the Wall Street Journal’s zero tolerance watch” to Reason Online's brickbats, zero tolerance incidents make amusing and compelling stories for publication. As the examples from Our Horrible Children demonstrate, zero tolerance policies often undermine the credibility of public school administrators, and then they hurt their credibility later when administrators might need to be taken more seriously.

Failing History

As explained in today's Reason Express, Palm Beach County high school students are taking a new history exam:

The national fetish for measuring the progress of public school students with standardized tests has reached it logical conclusion in Florida. Students in Palm Beach County high schools need to answer just 23 of 100 multiple-choice questions correctly to pass their new history exam.

The exam exists in order to comply with state-mandated "core knowledge" strictures that seek to make sure students graduate with a bare minimum of hot-button facts about women, African-Americans, the Holocaust, and such. (Maybe the test should include a question on confusing presidential ballots, but who would grade it?)

School district officials say it is a little odd that the passing bar is so low (and that a score of just 39 will earn students a B). But given that the test is new for this year, they add, it would somehow be unfair to expect scores to be any higher.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

A Rant on Education Privatization

My house is located in a rural area of Riverside County. When my family moved into the neighborhood, we had to decide who would pick up our trash every week. There were seven different trash haulers. We asked the neighbors which company they recommended and we picked one. We had to provide our own trashcans and every week our trash was picked up. We didn't spend much time thinking about our trash service.

Then two years ago Riverside County decided this was too confusing for residents. They "competitively" bid out the countywide trash collection and selected a trash hauler for all the residents in the county. The new trash company gave residents new trash bins and recycle bins. But the company consistently "forgets" to pick up our recyclables. Sometimes 3-4 weeks have gone by without the recycle truck coming out to our house. They rarely keep to their collection schedule. We have complained to the company. We have complained to the county. But unless the company fails on a grand scale it is unlikely anything will change. Perhaps in four more years when the contract is up, the county will have another competitive bid and select a different trash hauler. I liked it better when we could choose between the seven companies serving our neighborhood.

But this is a minor problem compared with the government-run school in my neighborhood. Today I went to to see how the school that my kids will never set foot in was doing and to confirm the fatal flaw (for parents like me) in the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). I quickly confirmed three facts I already knew about my neighborhood school:

1. Overall Test Score Performance: Below Average--This school has a rank of 4 out of 10 on the 2001 Academic Performance Index.

2. Performance Compared to Similar Schools: Well Below Average--This school has a rank of 2 out of 10 compared to similar schools.

3. Test Score Improvement: Met Its Improvement Targets.

Here's the flaw: my school is "below average" or "well below average" depending on which measure you use as a benchmark, yet it is meeting California's low requirements for adequate yearly performance (AYP). As far as the NCLB act is concerned my school is improving. This school will never be labeled a failing school and there will never be a right of exit for students who do not want to attend a "below average" or "well below average" but not "failing" school. In twenty years, give or take a decade, this school might meet California's target of 800 points on the Academic Performance Index. Students at this school and other schools in my district will never even receive the extra reading-tutoring voucher that kids at failing schools will get. And these kids need some extra reading help. My school district has an average of 48 percent of students scoring above the 50th percentile on the Stanford 9 in reading.

The education situation in my neighborhood is more critical than the poor-performing trash collector. Unless parents can afford to "buy" their way out, they will be stuck with low performance for a long time. Unlike the poor-performing trash collector, El Cerrito Elementary's contract will most likely never run out.

This is why education privatization is better than the status quo. It introduces some accountability into the system. An education service provider, like Edison, has a contract with actual requirements for performance. And when they fail to meet those performance measures everyone hears about it and some districts or schools cancel their contract. That's the point, and it shows privatization works better than the status quo.

But this minor improvement over the status quo should never be confused with a real education market with competition and choice. The media confuses the two all the time. Take this sentence from the Financial Times last week covering the Philadelphia school privatization: "The plan marks the biggest trial of school privatisation, the controversial approach that pits advocates of public education against free-market reformers."

Privatization is usually equated with a free-market in the press and by most education reform activists. Yet, privatization is only a poor proxy for competition in education. Even when a school is privatized, that school does not face a true market test. The kids that go to the privatized school in Philadelphia, for example, will be the same kids who went to the public school last year. And if Edison or their counterparts fail, then those same families will send their kids to the next government-selected school the next year. The parents never exercise choice and the schools, whether private or public, are not threatened by the right of exit of the school children they serve.

While Edison and other education service providers are arguably more responsive than the public school providers, ultimately the government agency and not the parent is their customer.

When I think of this dilemma, I remember two speeches I heard back to back at the Association of Education Practitioners and Providers conference last summer at USC. Chris Whittle gave a speech on Edison's model of national schooling companies and economies of scale. Jack Clegg, the CEO of Nobel Learning Communities, gave a speech on why public education needs a new heart made up of school choice, where parents pick the school that most fits their child's needs. At the time I thought it was striking how the themes in the speeches matched the companies' business models. Chris Whittle has tried to go national by wooing large school districts and ramping up several schools at a time based on government contracts to run multiple schools. Jack Clegg, on the other hand, has grown by attracting parents to his schools--one school at a time. Guess which company's stock has a higher value? Guess which company is meeting the market test without a government sanction?

Now don't get me wrong, I work for a think tank that has advocated privatization for thirty years. Just last week the Financial Times called me a "pro-privatisation advocate." I applaud Edison. I'm impressed they have lasted this long in the brutal world of labor negotiations and government contracts. The recent Gray Davis/ California Teachers Association brouhaha proves that teacher's unions eat their own kind. And as Checker Finn said yesterday in an editorial in his Education Gadfly about Edison, "Never forget that the teacher unions HATE Edison and the other EMO's and are doing their best to subvert and bankrupt all such ventures. . . . they so look forward to dancing on its grave."

I applaud Chris Whittle and find it fascinating that Edison has lasted this long. They have, partly because they have a superior product, and when the product is well implemented and the contract goes their way, student achievement goes up. Ultimately though, this is a poor proxy for real competition and choice. In a real free market system, Edison wouldn't need a well-written contract to ensure that they could properly implement their business model. Instead, they would need customers that were willing to support their model and enroll their children.

When school districts, school boards, or state governments choose an education service provider, it is no different than the city choosing your trash hauler or your cable service. If you have a complaint, you are at the mercy of the government agency that selected the provider. Likewise, if you like Edison, and the school board does not (think San Francisco), you are still at the mercy of the government agency. Either way the government is still choosing.

I can't hire a trash company that actually picks up my trash and I can't find a local government school that can teach my kids to read. But at least with the school situation, I can pay a private school in downtown Riverside, The Growing Place, to teach my kids to read. The law prevents me from hiring a different trash hauler. Things could be worse. And for many kids, things are worse.