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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Government bureaucrats are significantly overpaid compared to folks in the productive sector of the economy.

So you would think I’d support cuts, especially the kind that get rid of excess blubber in the government workforce.

But not when it means higher costs for taxpayers, and that’s exactly what’s happening in New York, where Buffalo taxpayers cough up more money every time some bureaucrat goes under the knife for cosmetic procedures such as liposuction.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the UK-based Daily Mail.

Teachers in Buffalo are getting plastic surgery on the tax payer’s buck, it has been revealed. Tummy tucks, liposuction and Botox are all part of the controversial one of a kind health plan. …it is a perk that comes with a price tag. Last year Buffalo schools paid $5.9 million for its teachers to have plastic surgery. In 2010 the figure was up at $9 million. …60 teachers spent $30,000 each on procedures in 2011, an investigation by the school board revealed, and because the schools are self-insured, tax payers foot the bill. …The policy to pay for teachers to have surgery started out innocently enough – it was intended for accident and burns victims in need of reconstructive surgery. But in the age of cosmetic surgery the rider extends to arm lifts, face lifts and breast enhancements, with surgeons advertising their services in the teacher’s union newsletter.

Wow. It’s bad enough that government workers get excessive salaries and gold-plated benefits. But this takes it to a new level.

At least we see an example of economics in action. How likely is it that plastic surgeons would be advertising in the union’s newsletter in the absence of taxpayer financing?

P.S. Here’s David Letterman’s top-10 list of how to tell you’re a unionized government bureaucrat. Liposuction isn’t on the list, but wait ’til next year.

P.P.S. Just in case you think I’m exaggerating about overpaid government employees, take a look at this map showing 10 of the 15 richest counties in America.

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Utterly despicable.

But this is an understatement, an entirely inadequate phrase to capture my feelings about how the NAACP and the teachers’ union have joined forces to undermine educational opportunities for minority children.

There are honest left-wingers, who are misguided but genuinely wish to make America a better place. But that’s definitely not the right way to describe people who put the narrow interests of teacher unions ahead of helping disadvantaged kids.

This new video from Reason TV has the sordid details.

Both Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams have very appropriate comments on this issue.

And this video looks at the broader issue of school choice.

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Other than my affection for the Georgia Bulldogs, I’m not a big fan of higher education.

Colleges and universities are hotbeds of political correctness, but that’s actually a minor issue.

The big problem is that higher education consumes a huge amount of resources and provides inadequate value.

In these two videos, Richard Vedder documents staggering levels of inefficiency.

And here’s another portion of Rich’s remarks, given at the Pope Center in North Carolina.

A big problem in higher education is the existence of third-party payer, which is also what’s screwing up the healthcare system. More on that issue – as it relates to higher education – later this week.

P.S. Rich also is a co-author of an article for the Cato Policy Report documenting how spending cuts helped restore growth after World War II.

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The education people at Cato do remarkable work. They put together one of the best charts I’ve ever seen, and they are leading the fight for school choice and against any federal government role in education.

This new video, showing the failure of Bush’s main education initiative, is one example of their great work.

The right approach, of course, is to get the federal government out of the education business completely, and then disband government-imposed school monopolies at the state and local level – as explained in this video.

School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChile, and the Netherlands shows good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

And there’s growing evidence that it also works in the limited cases where it exists in the United States.

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I’m thankful for the usual things, such as my kids and being an American.

But I’m also thankful I’m not a blithering idiot like the bureaucrats at a Florida school. Here are a few details of this astounding example of utter stupidity.

A sheriff’s deputy was dispatched last week to a Florida elementary school after a girl kissed a boy during a physical education class. School brass actually reported the impromptu buss as a possible sex crime, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. …The kiss apparently occurred after two girls debated over whom the boy liked more. That’s when one of the girls “went over and kissed” the boy. The redacted sheriff’s report notes that Haring “stated there were no new allegations of sexual abuse as far as she knew.”

Above and beyond the jaw-dropping idiocy of the education bureaucrats, I have two additional reactions to this story.

1. Why didn’t any girls try to kiss me in PE class? This isn’t right. There should have been redistribution so I got my fair share.

2. What on earth is wrong with Florida. Yes, they have the shame of being the home of the Florida Gators, but I’m talking about more fundamental weirdness. Many posts about government stupidity originate in the Sunshine State, including jack-booted speed trap policy, horrific stories about welfare abuse, and a kid getting suspended from school for having a toy gun.

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I posted a video making this point earlier in the year, and I also posted a version of this joke back in 2010, but here’s another version that’s worth sharing because of the five lessons to be learned at the conclusion.

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An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan”. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A…. (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.

The second test average was a D! No one was happy.

When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.

As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.
It could not be any simpler than that.

There are five morals to this story:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

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I’ll make one final point. There are five morals to the story, but there are dozens of nations giving us real-world examples every day.

Sort of makes you wonder why some people still believe this nonsense?

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Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

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School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from other nations certainly suggests it means better overall performance. Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

The same is true in the United States. When parents have some ability to select schools, this generates competitive pressure for better results. This is true even in sub-optimal instances where the choice is merely among different government-run schools. as illustrated by the abstract of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

We study the impact of a public school choice lottery in Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) on postsecondary attainment. We match CMS administrative records to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), a nationwide database of college enrollment. Among applicants with low-quality neighborhood schools, lottery winners are more likely than lottery losers to graduate from high school, attend a four-year college, and earn a bachelor’s degree. They are twice as likely to earn a degree from an elite university. The results suggest that school choice can improve students’ longer-term life chances when they gain access to schools that are better on observed dimensions of quality.

But real competition should involve private schools. Here’s the video from last year about why comprehensive school choice is good news for education.

School choice is one of the few issues where I’m optimistic. If we’re beginning to make progress even in places such as California and New Orleans, we’re obviously winning. No wonder the teacher unions are sounding so shrill.

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Walter Williams has pointed out on many occasions that many government programs and initiatives exist primarily for the benefit of the bureaucracy, and he coined the phrase “poverty pimps” to describe the folks who get comfortable government jobs to operate programs that don’t help – and often hurt – disadvantaged populations.

We may need a new term, “diversity pimps,” to describe the people who get plush appointments to oversee the array of government-imposed racial and sexual preferences. Heather McDonald has a story at the City Journal that exposes how this absurd scam is undermining college education in California.

Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine. Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

But what’s really remarkable is how this new office will be just one of many that exist to provide jobs for the diversity pimps.

This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

Not surprisingly, since resources are finite, all this fluff is causing collateral damage.

UC San Diego is adding diversity fat even as it snuffs out substantive academic programs. In March, the Academic Senate decided that the school would no longer offer a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering… At the same time, the body mandated a new campus-wide diversity requirement for graduation. …This week, in light of a possible cut of $650 million in state financing, the University of California’s regents will likely raise tuition rates to $12,192. Though tuition at UC will remain a bargain compared with what you would pay at private colleges, the regents won’t be meeting their responsibility to California’s taxpayers if they pass over in silence the useless diversity infrastructure that sucks money away from the university’s real function: teaching students about the world outside their own limited selves. California’s budget crisis could have had a silver lining if it had resulted in the dismantling of that infrastructure—but the power of the diversity complex makes such an outcome unthinkable.

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I’ve written before about how I get especially upset when rich people use the coercive power of government to screw poor people. There’s an equally offensive corollary to this principle, and that’s when powerful people use big government to impose hardship on helpless people.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in New York City, where the NAACP is siding with the teachers union to deny black children a chance to escape failing government schools. I genuinely wonder how people like that live with themselves. Do they ever feel shame or guilt? Do they have trouble sleeping at night? When they use their comfortable incomes to buy luxuries, do they feel a twinge of unease that they support policies that will make it much harder for others to enjoy a better life?

Here are the key passages from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on the issue.

Thousands of American blacks held a rally in Harlem last week to protest . . . the NAACP. The New York state chapter of the civil rights organization and the United Federation of Teachers, the local teachers union, have filed a lawsuit to stop the city from closing 22 of Gotham’s worst schools. The lawsuit also aims to block the city from giving charter schools space to operate in buildings occupied by traditional public schools. Protesters at the rally, which included parents and charter school operators like Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone, urged the NAACP to withdraw from the suit. …The teachers union wants to keep these abysmal schools open to preserve jobs for their members. This is bad enough. But the union and NAACP also want to limit better educational options for low-income families who can’t afford private schools and can’t afford to move to an affluent neighborhood with decent public schools. The union knows that in a place like New York City, where space is at a premium, blocking charters from operating in public buildings will hamper charter growth. If the lawsuit succeeds, the awful schools will remain open to damage another generation of children. If you want to know why the NAACP has become irrelevant to the lives of African-Americans, this typical display of moral indifference to the plight of minority children is Exhibit A.

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I’ve had dozens of posts about overpaid bureaucrats. Indeed, I’ve largely stopped blogging about the topic because it is so depressing to constantly be reminded about how a privileged class of people is manipulating the system to coercively obtain undeserved compensation from their less-fortunate neighbors.

But every so often I see a story which cries out for attention. Bloomberg has a report about a double-dipping bureaucrat who has managed to snag a position providing more than $200K per year while simultaneously ripping off taxpayers for a pension of more than $300K per year.

In a perverse way, I admire Mr. Hunderfund. I never would have thought a bureaucrat could figure out how to scam taxpayers for more than half a million dollars in one year. And for a job that probably shouldn’t even exist.

James Hunderfund, who earns at least $225,000 a year as a school superintendent on Long Island, is also entitled to a $316,245 annual pension from a previous administrative post, according to a compilation of pension data by the Empire Center for New York State Policy. Hunderfund retired in 2006 as superintendent of the Commack school district, also on Long Island. His current contract with Malverne stipulates that he receive an annual salary of no less than $225,000 through June 30, according to Empire’s report, which used a database from the New York State Teachers Retirement System.

The story also notes that there are more than 1,000 other edu-crats who are getting six-figure retirement packages.

The only other issue to address is whether we should be more upset by Mr. Hunderfund’s bloated salary of his obscene pension.

I think the pension is more outrageous, but I’m open to other opinions. Any thoughts?

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Forget the victory over the union bosses in Wisconsin. Yes, that was important, but school choice is an ever bigger threat to the left.

Breaking the government education monopoly would reveal the inefficiency and incompetence of government, while simultaneously threatening the power of the National Education Association, which is a major source of money and power for the left.

Even more important, school choice would give poor kids a much better education, thus increasing their ability to achieve the American dream.

Helping poor people lead better lives, though, is not a priority for the left. If people are less dependent on government, they probably are less likely to reflexively support those who want to make government even bigger.

This is why it is good news that the promise of school choice in Pennsylvania (which I wrote about last year) is about to become a reality.

The Wall Street Journal’s excellent editorial page has the key details.

The most promising development is occurring in Pennsylvania, where a state-wide voucher bill supported by new Governor Tom Corbett is moving through the Republican-controlled legislature. Children in the Keystone State’s 144 worst schools—where students scored in the lowest 5% on recent state exams—would be eligible for a voucher. …in 1996, but unions blocked the idea by claiming that lack of spending was the real education problem. Time has proven that wrong again. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, a state think tank, “taxpayer spending on public schools has doubled to $26 billion per year” over the past 15 years. Pennsylvania taxpayers spend more than $13,000 per student, or “$2,000 more than the national average and more than 39 other states.” In some of the worst school districts, per pupil spending approaches $20,000. Yet scores on national tests have been flat for years, with only 40% of Pennsylvania 8th graders at or above proficiency in reading and math. Even state tests, which have lower standards, show that only about half of Pennsylvania 11th graders are proficient in reading and math.

What’s especially encouraging about the developments in Pennsylvania is that some traditionally left-wing folks have realized that it’s time to put the best interests of kids above the interests of the teacher unions. I particularly admire the role of a black state senator.

Mr. Williams, who is black, has taken some heat for his pro-voucher stance from local civil rights groups. “The NAACP nationally is opposed to this and locally is opposed to this, and they call me all sorts of funny names,” he tells us. “But the truth is that a lot of the people in the NAACP don’t acknowledge that they send their own kids to private schools. They’ve left. They’ve moved away.” Several local labor groups in Philadelphia have also broken with the teachers union and endorsed vouchers. “We believe that children from all economic backgrounds deserve a chance for a bright future,” said John Dougherty of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. “School choice programs will give them that chance.”

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School choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Rich people already have school choice, both because they have the ability to live in good school districts and they have the resources to send their kids to private schools. The children of poor people, by contrast, are warehoused in failing government schools. Here’s what Kevin Huffman recently said for the Washington Post.

In this country, if you are middle or upper class, you have school choice. You can, and probably do, choose your home based on the quality of local schools. Or you can opt out of the system by scraping together the funds for a parochial school. But if you are poor, you’re out of luck, subject to the generally anti-choice bureaucracy. Hoping to win the lottery into an open enrollment “choice” school in your district? Good luck. How about a high-performing charter school? Sure – if your state doesn’t limit their numbers and funding like most states do. And vouchers? Hiss! You just touched a political third rail. …We may have done away with Jim Crow laws, but we have a Jim Crow public education system. …Consider the recent results from a test of 15-year-olds around the world. Headlines noted the embarrassing American mediocrity (31st out of 65 countries in math, with scores below the international average). Even worse, our results are profoundly segregated by race. White and Asian Americans are still in the upper echelon. But African American and Latino students lag near the bottom quartile of world standards. As we think about our game plan to “win the future,” our black and Latino students won’t be competing with China and Finland – they’re on track to scrap it out with Bulgaria and Mexico.

But school choice is only part of the answer. If parents lack a commitment to education (or are not even present in the home), then even good schools won’t translate into good students. Walter Williams explains.

The public education establishment bears part of the responsibility for this disaster, but a greater portion is borne by black students and their parents, many of whom who are alien and hostile to the education process. …Violence, weapons-carrying, gang activity and student or teacher intimidation should not be tolerated. Students engaging in such activity should be summarily expelled. Some might worry about the plight of expelled students. I think we should have greater concern for those students whose education is made impossible by thugs and the impossible learning environment they create. Another part of the black education disaster has to do with the home environment. More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwedded mothers, who are often themselves born to unwedded mothers. Today’s level of female-headed households is new in black history. Until the 1950s, almost 80 percent of black children lived in two-parent households, as opposed to today’s 35 percent. Often, these unwedded mothers have poor parenting skills and are indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to their children’s education. The resulting poorly behaving students should not be permitted to sabotage the education of students whose parents are supportive of the education process. At the minimum, a mechanism such as tuition tax credit or educational voucher ought to be available to allow parents and children who care to opt out of failing schools. Some people take the position that we should repair not abandon failing schools. That’s a vision that differs little from one that says that no black child’s education should be improved unless we can improve the education of all black children. …Our black ancestors, just two, three, four generations out of slavery, would not have tolerated school behavior that’s all but routine today. The fact that the behavior of many black students has become acceptable and made excuses for is no less than a gross betrayal of sacrifices our ancestors made to create today’s opportunities.

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The invaluable Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner is an expert at exposing the corruption of big government, and his article about for-profit colleges and government-subsidized tuition shows that everybody involved in this fight is sleazy. Unfortunately, no matter who wins, the taxpayers lose. It’s also worth pointing out that the main effect of government-financed tuition payments and loans is to drive up the cost of college – another example of the third-party payer phenomenon.

Here are key passages from Tim’s column.

For a case study in the tawdry and twisted world of Washington policymaking and lobbying, you can’t do much better than the current fight over the subsidies and regulations for for-profit colleges. Behind every argument is an ulterior motive, around every corner is a conflict of interest, and in every pocket there is cash procured through government policy supposed to serve the public good. …don’t confuse “for-profit” with “capitalist.” Without federal subsidies in the form of Pell grants and federal loan guarantees, the for-profits might not exist. At the very least, they would be much smaller. About 87 percent of the revenue at the biggest for-profits comes from federal taxpayers, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. They belong to a class of company that I call Subsidy Sucklers. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, earlier this year declared war on the for-profits, ordering the Government Accountability Office to investigate these schools’ marketing techniques. The GAO produced a scathing condemnation. …But a closer look revealed a murkier picture. The GAO last month corrected the paper, modifying 16 of the report’s 28 findings. At Education Week, Rick Hess wrote, “all 16 of the errors run in the same direction — casting for-profits in the worst possible light.” The credibility of Harkin’s star witness in his August hearing, Steven Eisman, was also called into question. Eisman is a short-seller who reportedly stands to make big money if the stocks of for-profit colleges collapse. He also is a vocal lobbyist for new regulations that would cripple these colleges. The term for Eisman is Regulatory Robber Baron. … Bill Clinton’s former special counsel Lanny Davis first flagged Eisman’s role in a Politico op-ed, and liberal ethics “watchdog” Melanie Sloan followed up, criticizing Harkin for allowing Eisman to testify, sparking the liberal American Prospect to ask in a headline, “Why Are Progressives Fighting Student Loan Reform?” The answer: money. On September 17 — about three months after Davis’s op-ed — Davis registered as a lobbyist for the Coalition for Educational Success, a trade group of for-profit colleges. Then in November, Sloan announced she was joining Davis’s lobbying firm. Also lobbying for the for-profit colleges are six former Democratic congressmen and three former Republican lawmakers. This tale has no good guys, but it does have a moral: When you inject government into an industry, you get some pretty unsavory results.

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You wouldn’t expect any positive developments from California when it comes to schooling, but this video shows that parents now have the ability, for all intents and purposes, to fire the incumbent management of a government school.

I don’t think this is nearly as good as what’s being proposed in Douglas County, Colorado, but it’s a big step for a union-controlled state such as California.

And the parents of one failing school have pulled the trigger and are forcing good reforms.

2011 could be a very good year for school reform and improvement. That’s bad news for politicians and teacher unions, but great news for parents and kids.

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One of the few success stories in American education is the home-schooling movement. About two million kids are being taught by their parents and the evidence is overwhelming that these students get a far better education than children in government schools. And since my youngest kid was home schooled for a couple of years, I can personally testify that it often is the right approach.

But the real reason for this post is to share this very clever and funny video from Tim Hawkins (creator of the tremendously successful song parody, “The Government Can”).

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Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute blogs at Carpe Diem and perhaps is best known as being the go-to guy for things-are-better-than-you-think statistics. But he has bravely waded into the PC battlefield with a new video examining lower test scores for females on the math portion of the SAT.

Using the same technology as the famous QE2 video, Mark pokes big holes in the feminist argument that cultural bias is responsible for differences in test scores. I suspect “The Janet Hyde” will not be happy with the results.

Lest anyone accuse him of misogyny, Mark’s video also points out that girls do much better than boys on the reading and writing portions of the test, and also get far more college degrees. His goal is to puncture the PC notion that males and females have to be exactly equal and that any differences require government intervention.

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I generally focus on fiscal policy and I love low tax rates, so when I say that what happens on school choice in Douglas County, Colorado, may be more important to the future of the nation than what happens with Obama’s plan for higher tax rates next year, that should give you an idea of the critical importance of this education battle.

The union bosses at the National Education Association have been waging a vicious national campaign against competition and choice and have succeeded in limiting school choice to a handful of small systems (largely focused just on the poor) in places such as Milwaukee.

These are great success stories, but the government education monopoly won’t be broken until there is a big, highly visible, school choice success in a large, mostly white, jurisdiction. Douglas County is that example. Here’s an excerpt from a story in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The school board in a wealthy suburban county south of Denver is considering letting parents use public funds to send their children to private schools—or take classes with private teachers—in a bid to rethink public education. The proposals on the table in Douglas County constitute a bold step toward outsourcing a segment of public education…In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case involving a voucher program in Cleveland that public money could be used for private religious schools as long as parents were not steered to any one particular faith-based program and had a “genuine choice” on where to use their vouchers. About 160,000 children in the U.S., mostly low-income or with special needs, use vouchers or scholarships subsidized indirectly by the state to attend private schools, according to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. …Douglas County School District board members are also considering letting students enrolled in public schools opt out of some classes in favor of district-approved alternatives offered at for-profit schools or by private-sector instructors. Students might skip high-school Spanish, for example, to take an advanced seminar in Chinese, or bypass physics to study with a rocket scientist, in person or online. …The school board is dominated by conservatives, including several who won election last fall on vows to expand educational choices. “These days, you can build a custom computer. You can get a custom latte at Starbucks,” said board member Meghann Silverthorn. “Parents expect the same out of their educational system.” …Douglas County, a swath of tidy cul-de-sacs and look-alike subdivisions, already boasts nine charter schools, two magnet schools and an online school as well as 65 traditional schools—all funded by tax dollars. Students receive high scores on standardized tests and a recent community survey found overwhelmingly positive views about the public schools. Fewer than 4,000 students in the district chose private or home schools last year, according to state statistics. “But we will not rest on our laurels,” board president John Carson said at a recent meeting. …The voucher plan…would give participants about $5,000, enough to cover 35% to 100% of tuition at local private schools.

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Some of my Republican friends were disappointed with last week’s election results in Colorado, but something far more important is about to happen in the Centennial State. Douglas County, which is a significant jurisdiction with 240,000 residents south of Denver, appears to be on the verge of implementing a sweeping school choice system.  Here’s a blurb from the Denver Post:

Douglas County School District officials say an unexpected level of interest in a retreat exploring school choice today and Saturday is forcing them to add an overflow room and a video feed to allow the public to watch the discussion. The school board is investigating a voucher program that would allow students to use public money to help with tuition at approved religious schools and other private ones. The two-day retreat will discuss the findings of a school-choice task force that has been mulling several issues, including vouchers. …The board will officially discuss the school-choice recommendations at a meeting Tuesday night, during which the public will be allowed to comment. No Colorado school district has a voucher program.

Here’s a link to the proposal, but if you just want my summary, I’m told that parents will have a voucher for about $4,500 per child that can be used to finance tuition at any qualifying school. This is more than enough money to cover costs at most non-government schools, and the population is sufficiently large to make this program a dramatic test case.

Keep your fingers crossed that Douglas County officials resist special-interest groups that are seeking to thwart this reform. The teacher unions have been vicious in their efforts to stop this kind of development. If Douglas County succeeds in putting kids first, this could break the logjam and lead to better education policy across the nation.

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Imagine having your child suspended for two years because he took a toy gun to school. Sounds absurd, right? Well, it’s real life in Broward County, Florida.

Samuel Burgos has fond memories of his friends at school, but he only gets to see them in pictures now. The 8-year-old boy hasn’t been in school for a year and will likely miss another year if the Broward County School Board has its way. Burgos was suspended from school in November after a teacher found a toy gun in his backpack. But when the boy went to register to go back to Pembroke Pines Charter School, he was told he will be expelled for this school year, too, as part of the county’s zero tolerance weapons policy. …School board officials said the rules are quite clear and that the toy gun constituted a weapon. A school board report on the incident mentions that Samuel showed the toy gun to another student and it was capable of firing projectiles. That’s all it takes for it to be considered a weapon. “This is in his backpack and it’s a toy. It’s not a real gun. It’s a toy,” said Magdiel Burgos, twirling a plastic gun. The school board said they would admit Samuel into a correctional school for problem children who have been expelled located in Hallandale Beach. …”I can’t sit here and allow them to send my kid to a school where students have committed actual crimes,” Burgos said. “He hasn’t committed a crime.”

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I wish GOPers in DC could make persuasive arguments like this. One has to wonder whether Governor Christie will be a player in 2012.

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When Democrat and Republican candidates for governor in a large state both endorse school vouchers, that doesn’t necessarily mean genuine educational reform will take place, but it surely is a positive sign. If a state like Pennsylvania breaks the grip of the teacher unions and ends the state school monopoly, the impact would be powerful – and nationwide. The Wall Street Journal opines about the meaning of this development and also take a much-deserved shot at Obama, who is phasing out a school choice program in Washington, DC, because he cares more about appeasing unions than helping poor kids get a good education.

Last month, and to widespread surprise, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato came out in support of school vouchers for underprivileged kids. Mr. Onorato said that education “grants”—he avoided the term vouchers—”would give low-income families in academically distressed communities direct choices about which schools their children should attend.” Mr. Onorato’s Republican opponent, state Attorney General Tom Corbett, is also a strong backer of education choice, which means that come November Pennsylvania voters will get to choose between two candidates who are on record in support of a statewide school voucher program. Mr. Onorato, the Allegheny County Executive, adopted his new position at the urging of state lawmaker Tony Williams, a voucher proponent whom he defeated in a May primary. The speculation is that Mr. Onorato, who trails Mr. Corbett in the polls, is looking to attract financial support from pro-voucher businessmen who backed Mr. Williams in the primary. Mr. Onorato could also be responding to the public education reality in Pennsylvania. On state tests last year, only 56% of 11th graders scored proficient in math, and 65% in reading. In Philadelphia, only 48% of public school students read at grade level and 52% reach the standard in math. Clearly, the status quo isn’t working. The Obama Administration, which is phasing out a popular and successful school voucher program in Washington, D.C., at the insistence of teachers unions, refuses to acknowledge that vouchers can play a role in reforming K-12 education.

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This little story appeared in my inbox. It’s obviously meant to illustrate the perverse incentive structure created by redistribution, but one wonders why statists in the academic world don’t follow through on their convictions and use this grading system.

A professor said he had never failed a single student before but had, once, failed an entire class. The class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said ok, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism.

All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A.

After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. But, as the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too, so they studied little.

The second test average was a D. No one was happy.

When the third test rolled around, the average was an F.

The scores never increased as bickering, blame, and name calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for anyone else.

To their great surprise, all failed. The professor told them that socialism would ultimately fail because the harder it is to succeed the greater the reward, but when a government takes all the reward away, no one will try so no one will succeed.

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This video from Reason TV about school choice in New Orleans is a perfect example of something good resulting from a bad event. Lemonade out of lemons!

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A very powerful video from the folks at Reason.tv. I hope the spokeswoman from the Nurse’s union suffers from guilty nightmares.

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Michelle Obama has a column in the Washington Post about the supposed wonders of giving schools a bigger role in the feeding of children. My first reaction is to roll my eyes. I understand that every First Lady picks a pet cause. I just wish they found causes that didn’t involve bigger government. My second reaction is that there should be zero federal government involvement in education, much less micro-managing menus in local schools. My third reaction is that parents should be in charge of the feeding of children. And my final reaction is that if the nanny-state nitwits in Washington really want to deal with childhood obesity, they should outlaw video games, computers, and TVs. I suspect those are the main culprits causing chubbier kids. But please don’t share this blog post with any politicians. They might actually propose such a law. As this excerpt indicates, the First Lady already is pushing a bad idea, so we don’t want to give the crowd in Washington any ideas to make the bill even worse.
The Child Nutrition Bill working its way through Congress has support from both Democrats and Republicans. This groundbreaking legislation will bring fundamental change to schools and improve the food options available to our children. …the bill will make it easier for the tens of millions of children who participate in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program — and many others who are eligible but not enrolled — to get the nutritious meals they need to do their best. It will set higher nutritional standards for school meals by requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while reducing fat and salt. It will offer rewards to schools that meet those standards. And it will help eliminate junk food from vending machines and a la carte lines — a major step that is supported by parents, health-experts, and many in the food and beverage industry. …That’s why it is so important that Congress pass this bill as soon as possible. We owe it to the children who aren’t reaching their potential because they’re not getting the nutrition they need during the day. We owe it to the parents who are working to keep their families healthy and looking for a little support along the way. We owe it to the schools that are trying to make progress but don’t have the resources they need. And we owe it to our country — because our prosperity depends on the health and vitality of the next generation.

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This is not a story from The Onion. Instead, the Associated Press has a report of a school in Rhode Island that banned the hat of little eight-year old David Morales because he decorated it with a couple of toy soldiers that…gasp…had tiny little plastic weapons. I’m not even sure what to say about this, other than that the school bureaucrats probably applied for jobs with TSA and were demonstrating that they were qualified. On the other hand, if the school’s history classes teach that we beat the Nazis by prevailing in a game of rock-paper-scissors, then perhaps the school truly does have a “zero tolerance” policy about weapons. Here’s the relevant section of the report:

Christan Morales said her son just wanted to honor American troops when he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and small plastic Army figures. But the school banned the hat because it ran afoul of the district’s zero-tolerance weapons policy. Why? The toy soldiers were carrying tiny guns. “His teacher called and said it wasn’t appropriate,” Morales said. Morales’ 8-year-old son, David, had been assigned to make a hat for the day when his second-grade class would meet their pen pals from another school. She and her son came up with an idea to add patriotic decorations to a camouflage hat. Earlier this week, after the hat was banned, the principal at the Tiogue School in Coventry told the family that the hat would be fine if David replaced the Army men holding weapons with ones that didn’t have any, according to Superintendent Kenneth R. Di Pietro.

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There’s a controversy in Texas because the State Board of Education has mandated the inclusion of certain materials in textbooks. This has elicited howls of protests from the left, which generally has controlled how some issues are portrayed. Since I don’t want leftist propaganda being pushed on kids, I’m mildly sympathetic to the Texas educrats, but the best way to solve the controversy is school choice. As Jeff Jacoby explains for the Boston Globe, education in America should be more like religion. This means getting rid of one-size-fits-all monopoly schools operated by the government:

“Throughout American history,’’ writes Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute, “public schooling has produced political disputes, animosity, and sometimes even bloodshed between diverse people.’’ Political fighting is neither rare nor anomalous: In the course of just one school year, 2005-06, McCluskey tallied almost 150 reported cases of public-school conflicts. There were bitter battles that year over Darwinism-vs.-intelligent-design in Pennsylvania and Kansas, heated fights over books about Cuba in Florida, and an emotional dispute in California over the portrayal of Hindus in history texts. In Lexington, Mass., a teacher’s decision to read a story celebrating gay marriage to her second-grade class without first notifying parents triggered a fight that ultimately wound up in federal court. Again and again, Americans find themselves at war with each other over public schooling. Yet furious conflict over religion in this country is almost unheard-of. Why? Why don’t American Catholics and Protestants angrily attack each other’s views of clerical celibacy or papal infallibility? Why is there no bitter struggle between Orthodox and Reform Jews to control the content of the Sabbath liturgy? Why don’t American atheists clash with American believers over whether children should be taught to pray before going to sleep? …The answer is no mystery. America is a land of religious freedom, in which people decide for themselves what to believe and how to worship. No religion is funded by government. Elected officials have no say in the doctrine of any faith or the content of any religious service. Religion flourishes in America because church and state are separate. And it flourishes so peacefully because no one is forced to support anyone else’s faith, or to attend a church he isn’t happy with, or to bring up children according to the religious views of whichever faction has the most votes. Religion is peaceful because it is government-free. Liberate the schools, and they too would be at peace. Taxpayer-funded, one-curriculum-fits-all schooling makes conflict inevitable. There would be far less animosity if parents were as free to choose how and where their children learn as they are to choose how and where they worship. Separation of church and state has made America an exemplar of religious pluralism and tolerance. Imagine what separation of school and state could do for education.

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There are a handful of issues that expose hypocrites on both sides of the philosophical spectrum. Republicans and conservatives love to talk about free markets, for instance, but you often find them voting for completely sleazy and corrupt forms of corporate welfare such as the ethanol subsidy for big agri-business. For Democrats and leftists, a powerful example is education. They claim to want to help the poor, especially minorities, yet all too often they cast aside those people and instead side with the teacher unions by opposing school choice. So kudos to the Philadelphia branch of the ADL, as well as a local Democratic politician, for doing the right thing and putting kids before special interests. Jeff Jacoby explains in his Boston Globe column:

Three months ago, the executive committee of ADL’s Philadelphia chapter voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution endorsing vouchers. Now it is urging the entire organization to follow suit.”We believe school choice to be an urgent civil rights issue,’’ the committee argued in a brief being circulated among ADL’s 30 regional offices. Despite decades of increased spending on K-12 education, “the evidence that our public education system is failing to educate our children is staggering.’’ ADL should reverse its longtime position “as a moral imperative,’’ the Philadelphia leadership urges, and “issue a resolution in favor of school choice.’’As it happens, the ADL regional board isn’t the only liberal voice in Philadelphia calling for expanded school choice. State Senator Anthony Williams, a black Democrat and a candidate in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial primary this week, is the founder of a charter school, a champion of vouchers, and an ardent believer in the power of competition to improve the quality of education. His position puts him sharply at odds with the state’s largest teachers’ union, which opposes choice and has endorsed his main opponent. But Williams — like the local ADL leadership — sees school choice as the great civil rights battle of the day.”Anybody who was for Brown v. Board of Education — it baffles me that they would be against vouchers,’’ he told me last week.

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Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but I had to paraphrase her famous line after reading this Bill McGurn column in the Wall Street Journal about how Republican political hacks in the Illinois state legislature voted to kill a voucher bill that would have rescued inner-city children trapped in terrible government monopoly schools. If you don’t hate government and despise politicians after reading this excerpt, there is something deeply wrong with your soul:

Illinois has given us a new breed of Republican: Roger Eddy. Mr. Eddy is what they call a downstater, an assemblyman who serves an east-central Illinois district hugging the Indiana border. His day job turns out to be in government as well, as a public schools superintendent. Last week Mr. Eddy became the face of the Republican failure to get a voucher bill through the Illinois assembly. The bill had passed the Senate. Yet despite being pushed by a remarkable coalition involving fellow Republicans, a free-market state think tank, and a prominent African-American leader, only 25 Republicans in the House voted yes. That was 12 votes short. Mr. Eddy was one of 23 Republicans who killed it by voting no. …the GOP failure is striking. Republicans typically complain about not getting black support for reforms that would benefit primarily black families. In this case, however, they had that support, in the form of the Rev. James Meeks, a African-American state senator leader whom Barack Obama has called a spiritual adviser. …According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, since 2002 Mr. Eddy has accepted more than $76,000 in campaign contributions from the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and the Chicago Teachers Union. … Less than a month ago, the same teachers unions that have given so generously to Mr. Eddy made up a large chunk of the 15,000 protestors who converged on the state capital shouting “Raise Our Taxes” as the solution to the state’s $13 billion budget gap. ..The pity is there were 25 Republicans who did come through. The Republican house leader did what he could. One Republican legislator, a former public school teacher, was in tears on the House floor, begging for this bill. All these people went out on a limb with Mr. Meeks—and Republicans like Mr. Eddy sawed that limb off.

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