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Posts Tagged ‘School Choice’

I’ve posted hundreds of charts over the past several years, including on favorite topics such as tax code corruption and counterproductive government spending.

But arguably the most powerful and compelling chart I’ve ever shared is on the topic of education. Prepared by my Cato colleague, Andrew Coulson, it shows that massive increases in spending and bureaucracy (which accompanied increasing federal involvement and intervention) have had zero impact on educational performance.

Keep that chart in the back of your mind as we consider what George Will has to say about President Obama’s scheme – known as Common Core – to expand federal involvement and intervention.

We have several excerpts, beginning with this passage outlining some of his concerns.

Common Core…is the thin end of an enormous wedge. It is designed to advance in primary and secondary education the general progressive agenda of centralization and uniformity. …proponents of the Common Core want its nature and purpose to remain as cloudy as possible for as long as possible. Hence they say it is a “state-led,” “voluntary” initiative to merely guide education with “standards” that are neither written nor approved nor mandated by Washington… Proponents talk warily when describing it because a candid characterization would reveal yet another Obama administration indifference to legality.

Will then notes that we’ve been sliding down the slippery slope of centralization and Washington control.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the original federal intrusion into this state and local responsibility, said “nothing in this act” shall authorize any federal official to “mandate, direct, or control” schools’ curriculums. The 1970 General Education Provisions Act stipulates that “no provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any” federal agency or official “to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instructional materials by any” school system. The 1979 law creating the Education Department forbids it from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum” or “program of instruction” of any school system.

And Common Core is just the latest example.

…what begins with mere national standards must breed ineluctable pressure to standardize educational content. Targets, metrics, guidelines and curriculum models all induce conformity in instructional materials. Washington already is encouraging the alignment of the GED, SAT and ACT tests with the Common Core. By a feedback loop, these tests will beget more curriculum conformity. All of this will take a toll on parental empowerment, and none of this will escape the politicization of learning like that already rampant in higher education.

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re aware of other slippery slope examples, such as the tiny income tax in 1913 that has morphed into the internal revenue code monstrosity of today.

Returning to the topic of education, Will warns that the one-size-fits-all approach will undermine the innovation and experimentation needed to figure out how best teach kids.

Even satisfactory national standards must extinguish federalism’s creativity: At any time, it is more likely there will be half a dozen innovative governors than one creative federal education bureaucracy. And the mistakes made by top-down federal reforms are continental mistakes.

I particularly like his warning about “continental” mistakes. You get the same problem with global regulation, by the way.

The bottom line, as Will explains, is that Common Core is yet another example of a failed approach.

What is ludicrous is Common Core proponents disdaining concerns related to this fact: Fifty years of increasing Washington input into K-12 education has coincided with disappointing cognitive outputs from schools. Is it eccentric that it is imprudent to apply to K-12 education the federal touch that has given us HealthCare.gov? …Opposition to the Common Core is surging because Washington, hoping to mollify opponents, is saying, in effect: “If you like your local control of education, you can keep it. Period.”

You won’t be surprised to learn that Cato Institute experts are among the leading opponents of Common Core. Here’s what Andrew Coulson, in a column warning about the negative impact on private schools, has written.

…the Common Core–aligned tests create a powerful incentive for schools to teach the same concepts in the same order at the same time. This would make it all but impossible for schools to experiment with new ways of tailoring education to meet the needs of individual children — they will instead have to resort to expecting that all children who happened to be born in the same year progress at the same rate across subjects.

And another Cato scholar, Neil McCluskey, points out that other education experts also think Common Core is a dud.

The Common Core is opposed by scholars at leading think tanks on the right and the left, including the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the Brookings Institution and the Cato Institute. My research has shown that there is essentially no meaningful evidence that national standards lead to superior educational outcomes. Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Eric Hanushek, an education economist and supporter of standards-based education reform, has reached a similar conclusion, recently writing: “We currently have very different standards across states, and experience from the states provides little support for the argument that simply declaring more clearly what we want children to learn will have much impact.” Hanushek’s conclusion dovetails nicely with Common Core opposition from Tom Loveless, a scholar at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. In 2012, Loveless demonstrated that moving to national standards would have little, if any, positive effect because the performance of states has very little connection to the rigor or quality of their standards, and there is much greater achievement variation within states than among them. In fact, Loveless has been one of the clearest voices saying the Core is not a panacea for America’s education woes, writing: “Don’t let the ferocity of the oncoming debate fool you. The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students’ achievement. The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools.”

We started this post with a very powerful chart, so let’s end with another chart.

It’s not as visually compelling, but it shows that the United States already spends more on education than another other nation.

But if you look at the data is this post, you’ll see that American students are lagging behind their counterparts in other developed nations.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to put kids first. Perhaps we should discard the Bush-Obama approach of centralization and spending and instead choose a better path.

In other words, let’s learn from Chile, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

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You would think the bureaucrats who run government schools would want to focus on the basics, such as teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic.

After all, no nation spends more per pupil on education than the United States. And based on some Cato Institute research, I suspect the OECD estimate of about $15,000 per student is a low-ball estimate of the burden on American taxpayers.

So what do we get for all this money? To be blunt, the results are miserable, with Americans ranking well below average compared to our overseas competitors.

Here are some comparisons on both literacy and numeracy from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. You’ll have to click the images to get an enlarged view. But maybe you won’t want to do that since it’s depressing to see that Americans are near the bottom for math skills and well below average for verbal skills.

OECD NumeracyOECD Literacy

Geesh, this is embarrassing. I like Slovaks, but I don’t want Americans to be less intelligent. I also like Belgians, but why are they kicking our tail? And I really like Estonians, but they’re putting us to shame.

So how is the education establishment dealing with these dismal results?

Well, they keep asking for more money. But as this remarkable chart from the Cato Institute illustrates, throwing more money at the system is a great way of building bureaucracy. But it sure doesn’t do much for kids. Education spending Cato chart

So you could say this is a form of child abuse. But that would trivialize the plights of kids who are grossly mistreated. So let’s say that the sub-par education provided by government schools is a form of child victimization. Or mistreatment. Or some word that signifies how they are not well served by the government’s education monopoly.

But let’s also remember that sub-par education is not the only bad thing that happens in government schools.

We also have amazing (in a bad way) episodes of intrusive and abusive political correctness.

Here’s a story from Massachusetts about a student being punished for doing the right thing.

It’s tough for Eleanor Cox to talk about how heartbroken her daughter Erin is over the punishment she received for doing what she thought was right. …Two weeks ago, Erin received a call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive. Erin drove to Boxford after work to pick up her friend. Moments after she arrived, the cops arrived too and busted several kids for underage possession of alcohol. A North Andover High School honor student, Erin was cleared by police, who agreed she had not been drinking and was not in possession of alcohol. But Andover High told Erin she was in violation of the district’s zero tolerance policy against alcohol and drug use. In the middle of her senior year, Erin was demoted from captain of the volleyball team and told she would be suspended from playing for five games. …the parents of Erin’s teammates have started a petition to support her.

I’m dismayed, of course, that the school wants to punish someone who didn’t do anything wrong, but what really irks me is that the school wants to regulate and control behavior that takes place off school property and outside of school hours.

To be blunt, it’s none of their you-know-what business. Parents should have primary responsibility for their kids and law enforcement has a role if they’re breaking the law.

Let’s now travel down south and read part of a report about how some mindless school bureaucrats punished an autistic student because he drew a picture of a bomb and brought the drawing to school.

…it all started when her son had made the hand-drawn picture of the bomb during the weekend at home. Parham said Rhett is a fan of the video game Bomber Man and drew the cartoon-ish like explosive. She told FOX Carolina on Monday that her son took the picture to Hillcrest Middle School, and that’s where problems arose. Parham said she was told that her son showed the picture to some older children, who reported him to school administration. …She said her son was suspended indefinitely by the school.

Fortunately, the government backed down after the story generated some unfavorable attention for the bureaucratic drones.

But we should ask ourselves why it even got to that stage. And perhaps get some counseling for the little brats who snitched on him. Sounds like they’re future IRS agents in training.

Sadly, this is just part of a pattern we’ve seen in government schools, with bureaucrats hyperventilating over normal kid behavior. Here are some other examples.

Now ask yourself to key question: Do we want to maintain and perpetuate a failed government school monopoly, or should we implement school choice to get better results and less political correctness?

Heck, we should be able to reform our schools if there’s already choice in countries such as Chile, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

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I’m a big fan of school choice. If we bust up the government education monopoly and create a competitive education market, we’ll get a much better education system at much lower cost.

This isn’t just idle theorizing. The evidence shows that competition produces better results.

That will be especially good news for children from poor and minority neighborhoods, as even the Washington Post has admitted.

There’s even good evidence for school choice from other nations, such as Chile, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

And since we’re looking at international evidence, it’s worth noting that America spends more per student than any other nation, yet gets very mediocre results.

However, there’s also a non-educational argument for busting up the government school monopoly. Simply stated, we have to rescue kids from brainless school bureaucrats who impose crazy forms of anti-gun political correctness.

What am I talking about? Well, check out these excerpts from a Fox News report.

Natural Born Killers

Two seventh-grade students in Virginia Beach, Va., were handed long-term suspensions Tuesday that will last until the end of the school year for playing with an airsoft gun in one of their front yards while waiting for the school bus. WAVY-TV reports that 13-year-old Khalid Caraballo and Aidan Clark will face an additional hearing in January to determine if they will be expelled for “possession, handling and use of a firearm” because the guns were fired at two others playing in Caraballo’s yard. …Khalid claims he never took the toy gun to the designated bus stop or Larkspur Middle School, according to the report. Two other students who fired guns were also suspended.

Your eyes are not deceiving you. The kids were punished for playing with toy guns while on private property.

Yet apparently school bureaucrats don’t think their power is limited by school boundaries.

A neighbor saw Khalid shooting the airsoft gun in his yard and called 911, telling the dispatcher, “He is pointing the gun, and it looks like there’s a target in a tree in his front yard,” the station reported. …The school’s so-called “zero-tolerance” policy on guns extends to private property, according to the report.

At least one of the parents has the right view of things.

If you outlaw Zombie Hunters, only outlaws will have Zombie Hunters

Khalid’s mother, Solangel Caraballo, said it’s ridiculous that her son and his friends were suspended because they were firing the airsoft gun on private property. “My son is my private property. He does not become the school’s property until he goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school,” Caraballo told the station.

Now let’s add some important caveats. Even though the toy guns only shoot little plastic pellets, it seems that the boys may have shot at some kids who weren’t part of their play. That’s something that should be punished.

And it’s also possible that the boys are troublemakers and the school was simply using this episode as an excuse to get rid of them.

So maybe there’s some sort of “rough justice” happening behind the scenes. Simply stated, there’s probably a back-story.

But there’s no question that we’re seeing a bad trend.

It’s almost to the point where sending your kids to a government school could be considered a form a child abuse.

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School choice should be a slam-dunk issue. There’s very powerful evidence that we can provide superior education for lower cost if we shift away from monopoly government schools to a system based on parental choice.

Yet some leftists oppose this reform, even though poor and minority kids would be the biggest beneficiaries. Here’s some of what I wrote last year about how the left deals with this issue.

…the school choice issue exposes the dividing line between honest liberals and power-hungry liberals. Regardless of ideology, any decent person will favor reforms that enable poor kids to escape horrible government schools. Lots of liberals are decent people. The ones who oppose school choice, by contrast, are…well, you can fill in the blank.

The Washington Post, to its credit, belongs in the “decent” category. Here’s some of the paper’s editorial on school choice in Louisiana.

Nine of 10 Louisiana children who receive vouchers to attend private schools are black. All are poor and, if not for the state assistance, would be consigned to low-performing or failing schools with little chance of learning the skills they will need to succeed as adults. So it’s bewildering, if not downright perverse, for the Obama administration to use the banner of civil rights to bring a misguided suit that would block these disadvantaged students from getting the better educational opportunities they are due.

The editorial eviscerates the nonsensical data that the Obama Administration is using as it puts the interests of powerful teacher unions above the needs of disadvantaged children.

The government argues that allowing students to leave their public schools for vouchered private schools threatens to disrupt the desegregation of school systems. …Since most of the students using vouchers are black, it is, as State Education Superintendent John White pointed out to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “a little ridiculous” to argue that the departure of mostly black students to voucher schools would make their home school systems less white. …The government’s argument that “the loss of students through the voucher program reversed much of the progress made toward integration” becomes even more absurd upon examination of the cases it cited in its petition. …a school that lost five white students through vouchers and saw a shift in racial composition from 29.6 percent white to 28.9 percent white. Another school that lost six black students and saw a change in racial composition from 30.1 percent black to 29.2 percent black. “Though the students . . . almost certainly would not have noticed a difference, the racial bean counters at the DOJ see worsening segregation,”… The number that should matter to federal officials is this: Roughly 86 percent of students in the voucher program came from schools that were rated D or F. Mr. White called ironic using rules to fight racism to keep students in failing schools; we think it appalling.

Not only appalling, but also hypocritical. The President is sending his children to an ultra-expensive private school, but doesn’t want poor families to have any choice to get a good education.

Unfortunately, though, it is not a surprise from an administration that…has proven to be hostile — as witnessed by its petty machinations against D.C.’s voucher program — to the school choice afforded by private-school vouchers. …Louisiana parents are clamoring for the choice afforded by this program; the state is insisting on accountability; poor students are benefiting. The federal government should get out of the way.

Kudos to the Washington Post for urging a withdrawal of federal intervention. Now if we can get the Post to apply the same federalism lesson to Medicaid, transportation, and other issues, we’ll be making real progress.

For more information on the overall issue of school choice, I strongly recommend this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation.

By the way, don’t believe propaganda from politicians and union bosses about “underfunded” schools. The United States spends more per capita than any other country.

This isn’t an issue of money. The problem is that monopolies don’t deliver good results. Particularly monopolies controlled by self-serving union bosses that use political muscle to protect undeserved privileges.

P.S. Not surprisingly, Thomas Sowell nails this issue, as does Walter Williams, with both criticizing the President for sacrificing the interests of minority children to protect the monopoly privileges of teacher unions.

P.P.S. Chile has reformed its education system with vouchers, as have Sweden and the Netherlands, and all those nations are getting good results.

P.P.P.S. There are some other honest and sincere liberals on this issue.

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I don’t write or speak about education very much, but, when asked, I explain that America has a very costly and inefficient government school monopoly.

Education spending Cato chartThe strongest piece of evidence is an amazing chart put together by a Cato colleague. It shows that education spending has skyrocketed while educational performance has stagnated.

One of my favorite soundbites, when discussing this issue, is that the U.S. spends more per capita than any nation other than Switzerland, but we get very sub-par results for all that money.

According to new data, though, I can no longer make that assertion. I’d like to say it’s because we now get above-average results, but the real reason is because we’ve now surpassed Switzerland to become the biggest spenders on education.

But we still get a crummy return on all that money that is spent.

Here are the key findings from an OECD study, as reported by the AP.

The United States spends more than other developed nations on its students’ education each year… Despite the spending, U.S. students still trail their rivals on international tests. …brand-new and experienced teachers alike in the United States out-earn most of their counterparts around the globe.

Now let’s look at some of the grim details.

…the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system — more than any other nation covered in the report. That sum inched past some developed countries and far surpassed others. Switzerland’s total spending per student was $14,922… The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person. …The United States routinely trails its rival countries in performances on international exams despite being among the heaviest spenders on education. U.S. fourth-graders are 11th in the world in math in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a separate measure of nations against each other. U.S. eighth-graders ranked ninth in math, according to those 2011 results. The Program for International Student Assessment measurement found the United States ranked 31st in math literacy among 15-year-old students and below the international average. The same 2009 tests found the United States ranked 23rd in science among the same students, but posting an average score. …The average first-year high school teacher in the United States earns about $38,000. OECD nations pay their comparable educators just more than $31,000. …The average high school teacher in the United States earns about $53,000, well above the average of $45,500 among all OECD nations.

Here’s the chart from the OECD study showing per-student spending.

OECD Education Spending Rankings

So we spend more, pay more to our bureaucrats, yet we get worse results. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the education monopoly.

Oh, by the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are even worse than we think. Check out this Cato video, which reveals that politicians and bureaucrats hide the real cost of their inefficient and wasteful monopoly.

One reason the system is so expensive is that we squander so much money on bureaucratic overhead. But I guess we need all those paper pushers so we can stop little kids from engaging in terrorist behavior.

But you have to give the teacher unions credit for chutzpah. One of the union bosses actually had the gall to ignore the actual findings in the study and to assert that taxpayers aren’t doing enough!

“When people talk about other countries out-educating the United States, it needs to be remembered that those other nations are out-investing us in education as well,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union.

Not that I can blame union bosses and other defenders of the status quo. They’ve got a great scam going, so why not blatantly prevaricate in hopes that the gravy train will continue.

What makes this situation so tragic is that we have strong proof that we could get much better outcomes by shifting to a system of school choice.

But that’s a difficult fight. The teacher unions understandably want to preserve their undeserved privileges. What really irks me, though, is that some people side with the unions for political purposes, even though it means they deliberately sacrifice the best interests of children. That’s a harsh accusation, I realize, but I think it describes both President Obama and the NAACP.

All the more reason to get government out of the education business.

Though this is not just an issue of government inefficiency. Other nations have government-run education systems and they spend less and produce better results.

In a few cases, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, It’s quite likely that school choice helps to explain better outcomes. But what about other nations? Is there something about the American system that makes it especially wasteful?

P.S. This is a depressing post, so let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that education spending has been reduced.

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I give up.

I’ve been having some fun over the past couple of years by mocking education bureaucrats for absurd examples of anti-gun political correctness.

I have made fun of teachers and other bureaucrats when they wet their pants about tiny Lego guns. I laugh at them when they go after little kids for half-eaten pop tarts that ostensibly have gun shapes. And I abuse them for getting their panties in a wad about pencils, fingers, and…um…well, air.

I’m even willing to enjoy a laugh when idiot bureaucrats bust a 5-year old girl because her pink bubble blower vaguely resembles a gun. Or when they nail a little boy for toy army men.

But in recent months, the exercise has become a chore because I’ve slowly come to realize that bureaucratic stupidity is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

And now I think it’s time to throw in the towel and give up. Why? Because there’s really no hope for government schools when you come across a news report about some moronic paper pushers in Nebraska who wanted a deaf boy to change his sign-language name because it requires his hand to vaguely resemble a gun.

Deaf Child

A clear and present danger?!?

Hunter Spanjer says his name with a certain special hand gesture, but at just three and a half years old, he may have to change it. “He’s deaf, and his name sign, they say, is a violation of their weapons policy,” explained Hunter’s father, Brian Spanjer. Grand Island’s “Weapons in Schools” Board Policy 8470 forbids “any instrument…that looks like a weapon,” But a three year-old’s hands? “Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way,” said Hunter’s grandmother Janet Logue. …”We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child,” said Jack Sheard, Grand Island Public Schools spokesperson. That’s just about all GIPS officials will say for now.

The good news is that it appears the bureaucrats have backed off following a public outcry.

But it’s nonetheless outrageous that people like Jack Sheard get our tax dollars and then even contemplate making life harder for a deaf kid.

I realize it’s a gross exaggeration to say that all public school teachers are bad and that all government schools are a failure, but we’re getting closer and closer to the point where the presumption should be that good parents send their kids to private schools whenever that’s a feasible option.

And from a policy perspective, we need to bust up the government school monopoly and implement school choice. And not because suburban kids are being victimized by political correctness. That’s a nuisance, not a crisis. It’s far more important to have competition in education to rescue the kids trapped in failed inner city schools.

We now have lots of good data on the benefits of school choice.  There’s also strong evidence for school choice from nations such as SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

So next time we see a news report about bureaucrats running amok and ruining the education system, our energies should be focused on promoting school choice, not attacking political correctness.

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I expressed pessimism a few days ago about the possibility of replacing the corrupt internal revenue code with a flat tax. Either now or in the future.

But that’s an exception to my general feeling that we’re moving in the right direction on public policy. I’ve shared a list of reasons to be optimistic, even on issues such as  Obamacare and the Laffer Curve.

Education is another area where we should be hopeful. Simply stated, it’s increasingly difficult for defenders of the status quo to rationalize pouring more money into the failed government education monopoly. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never has so much been spent so recklessly with such meager results.

That’s true regardless of whether Democrats are throwing good money after bad or whether Republicans are throwing good money after bad.

Fortunately, a growing number of people are realizing that the answer is markets and competition. School Choice CartoonThat’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing progress all over the country. Policy makers have implemented varying degrees of school choice in states such as Indiana, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and even California.

Is this having a positive impact on educational outcomes and other key variables? The answer, not surprisingly, is yes.

Here are some of the details from a new study published by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

This report surveys the empirical research on school choice. …the empirical evidence consistently shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.

The data on academic outcomes surely is the most important bit of information, so let’s specifically review those findings.

Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.

And since I want to reduce the burden of government spending, let’s see whether school choice is good news for taxpayers.

Six empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers. All six find that school choice saves money for taxpayers. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.

Here’s the breakdown of the studies for all the variables.

School Choice Studies

As you can see, it’s a slam dunk, much as a survey of tax research found that nearly 90 percent of academic studies concluded that class-warfare tax policy is destructive.

Some of the tax research was inconclusive, but not a single study supported the notion that higher tax rates are good for growth, much as this new research from the Friedman Foundation didn’t uncover a single study that found negative results from school choice.

So with lots of positive research and no negative research, why would anybody oppose school choice? Unfortunately, politicians like Barack Obama and groups such as the NAACP side with teacher unions, putting political power ahead of progress and opportunity for kids.

P.S. Here’s a video explaining why school choice is better than a government-run monopoly.

P.P.S. There’s also strong evidence for school choice from nations such as Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands.

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