Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The Risk of Vouchers

You may recall that I said after the Supreme Court decision in favor of vouchers that private schools will have to be eternally vigilant to avoid being regulated by the state. In today's Washington Post, Jay Mathews writes about private schools' resistance to public data collection. Mathews' article makes it clear that participating in state testing programs will most likely be a requirement for voucher schools.

I pointed out to Mathews (which didn't make it into the article) that many private schools willingly share data with potential customers in private.

Many prominent school reformers assume that private schools will participate in state testing regimes as a condition of accepting a voucher:

>"I think it's very hard to argue that private schools receiving public funds should not be subject to the same information requirements as traditional public schools," said Doug Harris, assistant professor of education and economics at Florida State University and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Some experts say private schools should provide more information, whether they accept public funds or not. "I think their results should be as transparent as those of the public and charter schools, and they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to trade on status and reputation and rumor and exclusiveness, rather than hard evidence of educational effectiveness," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington and an education official in the Reagan administration.

The problem with Checker's statement is that it assumes that status and reputation grow out of thin air or that reputation can be maintained without substance. Schools that fail to deliver education value to parents and students would not be able to trade on their reputation for very long.

I do get a chance to disagree in Mathews' article:

And some activists who otherwise agree on needed educational changes are not in accord on the private school data issue.

Jeanne Allen, for instance, is president of the Center for Education Reform in Washington and, like Finn, strongly backs vouchers for ill-served public school students to attend private schools. But she is also a private school parent and thinks demanding more data from such institutions is wrong. "Private schools should not be expected to deliver the same kind of assessments . . . as they are private and account for their success or failure directly to their patrons," Allen said.

Lisa Snell, director of the education program at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, said private schools are likely to provide more information once they find themselves in competition with high-quality public and charter schools. "But the parents have to act as the enforcers," she said. "In a school-choice scenario, it becomes the parent's responsibility."

Right now the customer service at most private schools is so far superior to service at most public schools (even good ones) that private schools continue to win without the competitive need to disclose data.

Daryl Cobranchi gets that private schools are already accountable to their paying customers and says "THAT'S WHY THEY'RE CALLED "PRIVATE" SCHOOLS. Here's a great example of the arrogance of some reporters: private secondary schools are being pressured to release "accountability" type data and they're pushing back."

Monday, September 23, 2002

More on School Choice Black Market

Education Intelligence Agency reports that

School Choice Black Market Dragnet Nabs Teacher.

Parents lying about their place of residence in order to get their children into better public schools -- what EIA has termed the black market in school choice -- made headlines yet again last week. This time the "culprit" was a Florida elementary school teacher.

Eileen Hickman of Pinellas County provided a false address to the Palm Harbor University High School, which placed her daughter in classes there. When the district discovered the subterfuge (through anonymous phone calls, according to the report in the St. Petersburg Times), Hickman's daughter was expelled. The twist in this case is that Hickman is employed by the district and received a five-day, unpaid suspension for her actions.

Federal Education Funding Follies

Today, I received this from the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

"When it comes to funding education reform, Democrat leaders have no plan, no budget, and no credibility," Boehner said. "In the House, Democrats voted against the President's budget this year but didn't offer an alternative plan of their own. And in the Democrat-controlled Senate, they didn't even pass a budget resolution this year - the first time since 1974 that the Senate has failed to do so."

"By contrast, President Bush put forth a responsible budget that makes education a priority even in a time of war and economic turmoil," Boehner said. According to an independent analysis by National Journal, elementary, secondary, and vocational education funding will increase by 40.8 percent over the next five years under the President's budget - despite the fact that defense and federal law enforcement are being increased much more dramatically than expected prior to the September 11 attacks.

Specific Funding Increases include:

Special Education

· GOP Budget for Special Education: Provides $8.53 billion -- a $1 billion increase over last year -- for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grants to states. This also accommodates a 12 percent annual increase in IDEA spending for future years -- a rate of increase that would allow for full funding of IDEA within ten years.

· House Democrats offered no budget to meet the needs of special education students.

Low-Income School Districts

· GOP Budget for Low-Income School Districts: Provides $1 billion increase in Title I grants to low-income schools -- on top of last year's $1.6 billion increase -- focusing resources on the highest-poverty school districts.

· House Democrats offered no budget to help low-income school districts.

Teacher Quality

· GOP Budget for Teachers: Provides $2.85 billion to states and schools districts to train, recruit, and retain high quality teachers -- a 35 percent increase in federal teacher quality funds over the last Clinton budget to help states and local schools put a quality teacher in every classroom by 2005.

· House Democrats offered no budget to help teachers.

Reading First

· GOP Budget for Reading First: Provides $1 billion -- a $100 million increase -- for the President's plan to improve reading instruction by addressing reading difficulties at an early age, and ensuring that teachers use proven teaching methods.

· House Democrats offered no budget for Reading First.

Head Start

· GOP Budget for Head Start: Increases funding by $130 million to increase children's preparedness for learning when they enter school.

· House Democrats offered no budget for Head Start.

Charter Schools and School Choice

· GOP Budget for New Elementary and Secondary Education Programs: Supports the President's request for the following initiatives: $100 million for charter schools; $50 million for research encouraging both private and public school-choice options; and $25 million for a voluntary public school choice program, particularly for parents of children attending low-performing schools.

· House Democrats offered no budget to help charter schools or encourage school choice.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)

· GOP Budget for HBCUs and HSIs: Provides a 3.6 percent increase for historically black colleges, universities and graduate institutions, as well as Hispanic-serving institutions.

· House Democrats offered no budget for HBCUs and HSIs.

Pell Grants

· GOP Budget for Pell Grants: Maintains the maximum Pell Grant at an historic high of $4,000.

House Democrats offered no budget for Pell Grants.

I get the Republican ploy. But I liked it better when Republicans wanted to abolish the Department of Education. Somehow I doubt there will be a 40 percent increase (or any increase) in student productivity to go a long with 40 percent funding increases. Also, guess how many of the listed programs already have low performance outcomes. Failure is perceived as need and is continually rewarded.

Condensed High School

In more local Riverside Unified School District news, Riverside students will no longer be reading novels in English class. As Press Enterprise columnist Dan Bernstein reports:

Last year, the typical RUSD junior had to read “The Great Gatsby,” “Scarlet Letter,” “Of Mice and Men” and “Huckleberry Finn.” This year, a hot new item: a thick, colorful, heavy anthology brimming with bite-sized short stories, essays, poems, author bios and brief excerpts from time-consuming works of fiction that, frankly, my dear, contain nice turns of phrase but lack the essential ingredients for new and improved test scores.

"I would have died for this as an English teacher,” raves district Supt. Susan Rainey. “This anthology has an expanded list of authors, it’s more diverse. Students will get a rich and in-depth curriculum. We have a gigantic lesson plan for teachers to help them with all kids.”

Imagine kids learning to read a “gigantic” book instead. I hate that curriculum is often dumbed-down in the name of testing. Bernstein goes on to say that “It’s all about the test scores. The new anthologies are tailored to make sure students “master” state standards.” I’ll post the link to Bernstein’s column when it’s available.

Suicide Watch

I'm sure that Charles Tucker, who committed suicide during school hours on the football field of our local high school, had very serious problems. However, the school's indifference to his frantic mother is shocking and sadly typical.

As neighbors stopped by her home to console and pray, Charles' mother, Deborah Carter, recounted the frantic moments Friday after one of Charles' friends called her to say he thought the teen was suicidal.

She said she called the school attendance office and the phone rang 20 times without an answer. She grabbed a cell phone and called 911. While she spoke with an emergency operator, she said, she called the main school number on her other phone, pleading not to be transferred to attendance, but she was anyway.

As the 911 dispatcher assured her that police were on their way, she called La Sierra High a third time. After struggling to make the urgency of her call clear, she was transferred to Principal Don Austin, she said.

By then it was too late.

I'm not saying that the school could have stopped the suicide. But, a call like that should be taken seriously the first time around--no questions asked. And so much for zero-tolerance gun policies.

Tutoring Choices

New York City appears to be ahead of the game in signing up providers to offer "free" (read tax-supported) tutoring to students stuck in failing schools.

The state just licensed 32 for-profit and nonprofit education firms as eligible to provide such services in some 321 schools throughout the city.

The city Department of Education also has been approved to provide the service.

The private remedial services fall far short of the need. Around 30,000 of the 220,000 thousand eligible students will be offered tutoring—the worst students will receive tutoring first.

Teachers from the various firms will get $800 to $1,300 per student tutored. Even with the limitations this is a windfall for private tutoring companies, who have been trying to break into the Title I/remedial education $13 billion a year federal program for years.

Title I has spent more than $170 billion dollars over the last thirty years with zero results in terms of raising student achievement for low-income students.

Eligible providers include: New York University's Steinhardt School of Education, Compass Learning, Kaplan K-12 Learning Services, Sylvan Learning Center, The Princeton Review, Tutor.Com and Ventures Education Systems Corp.

I hope that performance is a key component of these companies’ contracts with the state. Incentives matter.

Parent Rebels

The New York Post has a story about Harlem parents fighting for more choices for their kids.

Mom Eunice Greene said, "I'm getting out of District 5. I refused to have my son go from one failing school into another failing school."

Greene's 12-year-old son, Christopher, was told to attend IS 172 - where 99 percent of eighth-graders flunked the state's math exam. She said she has applied to home-school him instead.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Where's the Money?

I continue to be baffled by this. Today in the New York Times Abby Goodnough reports on the amount of money that school teachers must spend to stock their own classrooms with basic supplies.

Ms. Fiske, a second-grade teacher at Public School 195 in the Soundview section of the Bronx, has still spent about $4,000 of her own money on books and supplies for her classroom, including $400 in the last few weeks. In other words, Ms. Fiske has funneled roughly 5 percent of her total earnings from her new career back into a school system that has long scrimped on everything from writing paper to paper towels. She is among legions of public school teachers around the country who dig deep into their own pockets to pay for the ever-larger list of supplies that schools insist they cannot afford.

Even with below average per-pupil spending of say $5,000 per student (the average is closer to 8 G's) for 25 students that equals $125,000. The teacher's salary is roughly $40,000. Yet there is no money for tissues or letters for the wall. Capital costs are not paid for with per-pupil spending, textbooks are expensive, and administrative costs may be high--but still, where is this money? What happens to the per-pupil funding that is not buying textbooks or paying for the teachers' salaries?

I've seen several articles like the NYT piece. What gets me is that no one ever questions why there is no money for supplies. Doesn't it ever occur to reporters to inquire why school districts do not have enough money for Kleenex and why teachers must share one copy machine and put in requests for copies weeks in advance. The productivity crisis in education isn't just about achievement.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

School Choice Crackdown

Via Education Intelligence Agency

Baltimore County Makes Latest Attempt to Snuff Out Black Market in School Choice.

Several times in the past, EIA has reported on the phenomenon of parents lying about their place of residence in order to place their children in better public schools, and the extraordinary efforts of school district officials to halt the practice. The latest to join the crackdown is the Baltimore County schools in Maryland.

Some principals in the district estimate that as many as 5 to 10 percent of their students are ineligible to attend their schools. Most of these students come from the city of Baltimore, which has the same problems associated with most inner-city school districts. Baltimore County parents made it clear they don't want those students in their school system. "When you allow that to happen, you allow those behaviors to come in -- negative behaviors," community activist Ella White Campbell told the Baltimore Sun.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston vowed to put 35 staffers to work on the problem. The task force would check student records, pay visits to listed county residences, and examine tax rolls to confirm residency claims.

Isn't Baltimore also breaking the law by not implementing the public school choice provision of the No Child Left Behind Act. Parents with children stuck in failing schools were suppossed to be able to transfer their kids to better performing public schools. Baltimore has made only a few transfers available to thousands of eligible kids. Where's the crackdown?

Monday, September 16, 2002

Whittled Away

My new piece on why Edison Schools inc. does not represent market failure in education is up at reason online.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Nationalized Testing

With the Supreme Court ruling in hand the feds are now endorsing drug testing at public schools.

The Bush administration's drug czar is telling public schools in a new document that drug testing of students has "enormous potential benefits" and that concerns about damage to individual privacy are "largely unfounded."

And in this case the National Education Association is on the right side:

"Our position is that just because drug testing is legal doesn't mean it is a good idea."

Saturday, September 07, 2002

History Buff

Isabel Lyman at the Homeschooling Revolution notes the story of "a German exchange student who outscored her Hilton Head classmates on an American history test. Stephanie Mayer, 15, had been in our country only a month when she pulled off this academic feat."

Stephanie attributes her initial success to the multiple-choice format of the test, which she said is easier than what she's used to at school in Germany.

"We don't have multiple choice in Germany. Here, almost every test is multiple choice," she said. "It easier to (take) the test here."

That's not the only difference between American and German schools she's noticed. Stephanie considers many of her Hilton Head High classes easier because they cover subjects she studied a year or two ago, she said.

Her class schedule at the Hilton Head school includes the same four subjects a day every week, compared to 10 subjects a week at her native school.


Arizona has a new policy where successful charter school operators form an independent review panel to approve potential charter school applications.

The board's new independent review committee, to be selected from among successful charter owners, will score each application without knowing the person or company that submitted it. The state charter board will get each committee member's judgment, as well as a committee consensus and recommendation. Good or bad, board members still will make the final decision.

Social Studies versus History

The NEA’s September 11 lesson plan is really just one example of what is wrong with the general approach to teaching social studies in the United States. Kimberly Swygert, of Number 2 Pencil, notes that “even if you decide that the NEA’s suggestions are not as unpatriotic as some critics have claimed, you’ll still notice that the lessons are ridiculously touchy-feely, centered on pop psychology, and sorely lacking in any useful cultural information.”

A comprehensive History News Network piece by Chris Patterson, the education director for the Texas Public Policy Institute, makes it obvious that touchy-feely pop psycology is really the norm in social studies instruction:

Over the past 20 years, history has been removed from public schools and replaced with social studies. This new subject crams geography, psychology, sociology, religion, culture, government, and history into the 55 minutes that schools once devoted daily to teaching the past of our state, nation and world.

The National Council for Social Studies says the multi-disciplinary subject helps students "construct" the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required of good citizens. Social studies focus on "contemporary conditions of real life," facilitate "specialized ways of viewing reality," and promote the "common good" of all people.

History is missing from the topics that the Council recommends for classroom learning, passed over for "Individual Development and Identity," "Culture" and "Global Connections."

In other words, the NEA’s September 11th material fits right in with the standard way that social studies is taught in American classrooms.

The relationship between historical illiteracy and social studies seems fundamental. Schools don't teach history--students don't learn it. But this connection eludes educational pundits who call for more social studies and blame schools (inadequate course requirements) and teachers (insufficient credentials) for the amnesia of Americans under the age of 30.

Research recently published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation offers a sobering warning about Social Studies. The next generation of social studies textbooks proposed for use in Texas and the nation are miserly about history. Textbooks not only begrudge history, history is tainted with errors and partial facts that sacrifice objective interpretation for brevity.

Patterson uses a recent Texas textbook adoption process to illustrate how far removed social studies is from teaching history.

Although only 25 % of Texas's Social Studies standards pertain to history, reviewers produced a 972-page list of the historical facts needed to ensure students acquire sufficient knowledge to recognize the importance of key events and people. Some omissions are grievous: no mention of Abraham Lincoln in a description of the Civil War and no use of the term "free enterprise" in a section on the U.S. economy.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Via Reason's Daily brickbats:

Hijacker High (8/30)

Dalal Mughrabi was a Palestinian woman who participated in a 1978 bus hijacking in which 36 Israelis and an American nature photographer, Gail Ruban, were killed. Mughrabi has a Palestinian high school named after her, and it's apparently starting to show signs of wear. Fortunately, the United States Agency for International Development has stepped in with money to help renovate it.

Why Edison Struggles

Daniel Gross at Slate attributes Edison's troubles to the expense of being a publicly held company and other questionable financial strategies.

Then there's executive compensation. Thomas Tocco, the superintendent of the Fort Worth, Texas, Independent School District, which has approximately the same number of students and schools as Edison, is paid $285,000. In 2001, each of Edison's top five executives—Schmidt, Whittle, President Christopher Cerf, Chief Education Officer John Chubb, and Executive Vice President Tonya Hinch—earned at least $295,000 in salaries and bonuses.

Publicly held companies also offer extra kinds of compensation, such as sweetheart loans, that would be unimaginable in a public-school system. In the 1990s, Schmidt borrowed $1.8 million from the company. As of late last year, Schmidt had made no payments on those loans, and his indebtedness had swelled to $3 million. Whittle owes even more. In 1999 and 2000 he borrowed $7.8 million to exercise options and pay income taxes. As of last September he owed Edison $9.2 million.

The real lesson of Edison should be that when you make unsound financial decisions that detract from the core mission of educating children; you risk business failure and bankruptcy. Unfortunately, the public schools are allowed to continue wasting more money than Chris Whittle and Edison's other executives ever dreamed of--with zero consequences or repercussions for those bad financial decisions.

School systems continue to get $6,000 to $11,000 per student. This money is not spent on capital expenses for buildings. Teachers are not making three-figure salaries. It’s not spent on classroom supplies—the books are old and teachers supposedly need special tax breaks for the money they spend on supplies. So, if each class of 20 students represents $200,000 or so. Where’s the money go every year? I just don’t get it.

What Schools Teach Children about Terrorism

In today's New York Times, Richard Rothstein takes on claims that the NEA's 9/11 website offered an anti-American slant on the events of 9/11. He argues that it shows just "how poisoned public discussion about education has become."

Similarly, Reason's own Cathy Young asks in a September 2 Boston Globe column, "Is the NEA Really Guilty of Treason?" She concludes that the anti-American charges are largely a bum rap but that overall, "the NEA's proposals for commemorating Sept. 11 are hardly above criticism. Many lesson plans seem to substitute hand-holding and group therapy for learning about facts and ideas; some have an annoying whiff of political correctness."

In contrast, both the Fordham Foundation and The Bill of Rights Foundation have posted their own 9/11 lessons for teachers who want to focus on civics and history.

I first noted the touchy-feely emphasis of public school teachers' response to children after 9/11 in my September 15, 2001 essay "What Schools Teach Children About Terrorism."

I have a three year old and a five year old and I want them to feel safe. Having said that, the media coverage of the impact of the terrorist attacks on America's children is sickeningly trite and leaves one with the impression that our school children are extremely coddled. I have been following Education Week's coverage of the terrorist attack "Terror Touches Schools," which has collected newspaper stories about terrorism and children from around the nation. Every major newspaper in the country has run a story on how teachers should respond to children. From the NEA's "Crisis Communication Guide and Toolkit" to the cadre of child-development specialist and grief counselors being called to service at elementary and high schools-the consensus seems to be that "eggshell stepping is best." School children should be protected and reassured that they are safe. The best advice is to turn the television off and try to return to a sense of normalcy. However, the realities of early dismissals, television bans, and the strange behavior of their parents and teachers make it perfectly clear to children that the adults do not feel safe. Security above all else is the most important theme perpetuated in our schools.

Perhaps schools have been protecting kids for too long. The obsession with childhood grief counselors may make some long for the days of climbing under their desk for a duck and cover drill.

My mother-in-law called from Baltimore before 7:00 AM [Pacific] to tell us to turn on our television. My five year old saw the live coverage of the second plane crashing into the WTC. He immediately went and found his Spiderman t-shirt and told me that he and Gavin would not be at school when I picked them up because they were going with the Power Rangers to save the world. He urgently wanted to get to school to call a meeting with Gavin and Tanner, his five-year-old compadres, to decide what to do-a typical reaction from a boy who lives and breathes bad guys versus good guys. People are always talking about how bad television is for children and they seldom talk about how bad their schools are for children. Yet, I would rather be on a highjacked airplane with someone inoculated by Power Rangers than someone who believes the message of every school institution: that weapons are bad and that the authorities and the government will solve all problems and protect you.

Public institutions want children to believe that good guys never use weapons to defend themselves. At my son's "private" school five-year old boys are not allowed to play Power Rangers or Spiderman. Even talking about superheroes is grounds for a "Time Out." In other respects, the private school is a good one--but I have yet to find any other public or private school that is nuanced in any way about guns and violence. The message to children is that all weapons are always bad and that public institutions (like schools) have to protect ordinary citizens from violence. The message is that if people are nicer and more tolerant-if kids learn to respect all cultures, then these bad violent things will not happen.

There were also stories in Education Week's coverage about "lessons" schoolchildren could learn from the tragedy. Reported lessons include geography, lessons about letter writing, and lessons about making civic contributions to our nation.

Sadly, I have yet to see any newspaper or school specialist call for lessons about liberty, about constitutional guarantees, about how these terrorist acts will test fundamental values of freedom versus safety. Schools will not ask schoolchildren to think about how it came to be that only the terrorists had weapons while flight crews, pilots, and ordinary citizens did not.

In fact, schools rarely engage students to think about issues of liberty-it is never part of the curriculum. Perhaps that is why so many national leaders and ordinary citizens (with many exceptions) are so quick to concede that we have to give up many of our prior conveniences, in the name of security. That message is really no different than the standard message we have been taught in school.

The fact that public and private schools have no appreciation for liberty and freedom and that these themes never are discussed in the classroom is one of the most important arguments for parental choice and control of a child's education.

20,000 Choices

Although the numbers are not yet official, it looks like more than 20,000 students will be exercising real school choice in Florida.

* 575 students are escaping failing schools to private schools using Opportunity Scholarships worth $3,891.

* 900 students are escaping to better public schools using Opportunity Scholarships

* 9,000 special education students are going to private schools using McKay Scholarships worth between $4,500 and $21,000.

*10,000 students are using private scholarships from the Corporate Tax Credit program, worth $3,500, to attend private schools.

These choices are precarious. If Jeb Bush were to lose the election or if the higher court upholds the Blaine Amendment in the Florida state constitution all might be lost.

New Ageites

Kimberly over at Number 2 Pencil shares a parent's reaction to her son's middle school experience:

While my son is graced with several dedicated teachers, New Ageites abound. His geography teacher pledges to teach him to "think outside the box." Dear woman, the purpose of geography is to teach the box, or at least a flat surface map. Geography once meant learning of cities, rivers and countries blessed with bauxite. Instead, my son will learn Socratic latitude and longitude, environmentalism, and AIDS.

Our socioeconomic location breeds quite a cross-section at the junior high. Students in my son's elective computer course struggle to read aloud, stumbling over words. "Metal" was eventually pronounced "Ma -TALL." Hail, whole languageites!...Evidence of deportment lingers on the campus via thousands of black spots on the walkways where the cherubs have spat their Juicy Fruit. Student attitude is comparable to that of pink-slipped adults: angry and not planning on working any time soon.

The spoon-feeding program includes a mandatory 25-minute class in which, get this, students must read. I quote from one of the many advisors, reading coordinators, counselors, shrinks, or media specialists who spout talking points, "We find that students just don't read or study at home. Reading gets test scores up; so it's required at school." There is also a reading class that was once only for remedial readers. Now everyone suffers through a bureaucratic nightmare of a program that dictates which books they can read. It took me a week to find someone who could approve To Kill a Mockingbird.

So Much for Virtual

California is not making virtual schooling easy for the parents and teachers participating in the California Virtual Academy (a.k.a. K12). The newest rule the state has imposed is that each child and/or parent has to sign an independent study contract with the teacher. One of the stipulations of the contract is that the child and the teacher must meet in person every twenty days. This means that the teacher must come to our house, we must go to her house, or K12 must provide a place for us to meet. What a pain. I'm not saying we would never want to meet with the teacher, but a rigid rule that we have to meet every twenty days, seems to defeat the point of virtual schooling. This also seems like it will be very problematic for any students that live far away from their teachers. No wonder homeschoolers are wary of virtual charter schools. This is a California thing. Other states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Idaho seem to get what virtual means and do not require any physical visits between the teacher and the student.

Our teacher was a first grades teacher in the Corona-Norco Unified School District. She has an 8-month-old baby boy. Working for K12 lets her teach 25 virtual students and stay home with her son.