Tag: education

Barack Obama “Fatally Conceited” on Education

The AP reports today that president Obama wants the nation’s school districts to close 5,000 failing schools and re-open them with new principals and teachers. Here is why this won’t work:

  • Typically, public schools only dismiss teachers when they are forced to reduce their workforce for budget reasons, but the president has just infused the system with $100 billion to prevent such dismissals. And when teachers are let go, it is done starting with those with the least seniority, not the lowest performance. So the hundreds of thousands of teachers displaced from failing schools will simply move to other schools rather than being replaced by better teachers. This has been going on for decades. It is called “the parade of the lemons.” Overall, it achieves nothing.
  • The new principals who take over the formerly failing schools have to come from somewhere. So for every school that gets one of the system’s “good” principals, there will be another school that loses one. Public schooling has no incentive structure to ensure that it can identify, hire, and retain competent administrators to strengthen its ranks.

What the president is trying to do in education – as in the auto industry – is to replace the web of market forces that close failing businesses in the private sector with his own personal diktat. This is Hayek’s Fatal Conceit.

The market solves the problem of failing schools by allowing consumers to chose the ones that serve them best, which simultaneously accomplishes two things: it drives failing schools to either improve or go out of business, and it provides incentives for the expansion of successful schools and the hiring of effective teachers and administrators.

As I wrote here, and in expanded and updated form in vol. 3, no. 1, of the Journal of School Choice, the international scientific evidence reveals the overwhelming superiority of market over monopoly schooling. President Obama’s educational dirigism will fail.

A Whale of a Disgraceful ED Budget

Tad DeHaven does a fine job of exposing the mere window dressing that are the cuts in President Obama’s FY 2010 budget proposal. I’ll not add much to that other than to say that while Tad gives Obama’s predecessor a deserved hard time for his own paltry efforts to rein in spending, President Bush’s Education Department  budgets looked downright Draconian compared to what the Obama team just produced.

Bush’s FY 2009 ED budget proposal included nearly $3.3 billion in cuts, generated by eliminating 47 programs. Given the dismal performance of all federal education efforts, this was obviously far too little, but compare it to Obama: His proposed budget would cut just twelve measly programs from ED’s budget, for a puny savings of about $551 million. And if that doesn’t give you a powerful feel for just how unserious this administration seems to be about saving taxpayers even a thin dime or two, look what program is not among those proposed to be cut:

EDUCATIONAL, CULTURAL, APPRENTICESHIP, AND EXCHANGE PROGRAMS FOR ALASKA NATIVES, NATIVE HAWAIIANS, AND THEIR HISTORICAL WHALING AND TRADING PARTNERS IN MASSACHUSETTS

The purpose of this program is to develop culturally based educational activities, internships, apprentice programs, and exchanges to assist Alaska Natives, native Hawaiians, and children and families living in Massachusetts linked by history and tradition to Alaska and Hawaii, and members of any federally recognized Indian tribe in Mississippi.

For this whale of a waste – and so many others in the ED budget – to have survived portends nothing but ill for the nation. Nothing but ill.

Vouchers and Violence

The front page of the tabloid Washington Examiner blares

Violence mars students’ days
Weapons, assaults common at area schools

Now I know that headlines have to be short to fit the space. But a more accurate headline would read

Weapons, assaults common at government-run schools

Fights, sexual assaults, and deadly weapons, described in the article as happening “almost once a day at some area high schools,” are almost nonexistent at private schools. Which is why it’s such a shame that the small number of District of Columbia students who have been granted a voucher to escape the D.C. public schools are going to lose that lifeline if the Democratic majority in Congress gets its way. I once proposed in the Washington Post:

The D.C. school board should declare an educational emergency and offer a voucher good in any private or public school in the District to every student who is assigned to a school that has had a shooting or stabbing or more than one weapon confiscation in the past year, whether on school property or on school buses.

I called it the “voucher trigger provision,” but the Post went with the more sober title “A Right to Safer Schools.”

But the policy shouldn’t be restricted to D.C. students. The Examiner article is in fact not about the D.C. schools; it’s about the suburban schools in Maryland and Virginia. Suburban kids would also benefit from more choice, including the choice to move from dangerous to safe schools.

The Best Defense against National Standards? Hearing about National Standards

I’ll admit it: When I go to an event intended to tout an idea I think is wrong, I get a little nervous. What if I hear an argument that’s so convincing it forces me to totally reevaluate my position? All my work will have been for naught! Well, I had just such worries as I headed toward the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s “International Evidence about National Standards” conference yesterday.

I needn’t have worried. What I heard made me even more certain that imposing national academic standards – whether through state compacts, or worse, “incentivized” with federal dollars – is doomed to failure, just as I have been saying for years.

First, there’s likely political failure. Yes, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other high-profile education folks have recently been talking about the need for common standards – or at least the folly of having 50 different state standards – and many people think national standards would be great. But though people may love the idea of national standards, when it comes to actually creating and implementing them, love quickly turns to anger.

The second panel of the day, featuring Dane Linn of the National Governors Association and Gene Wilhoit of the Council of Chief State School Officers – whose organizations are working together to create national standards – made this abundantly clear. While people at the conference might have agreed that national standards are peachy in theory, they couldn’t agree at all on who should write them. Indeed, they couldn’t even agree on their general shape: While Linn and Wilhoit stressed the need for higher and narrower standards, the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli, who moderated the panel, said that his group, the conference convener, could very well find itself opposing narrow standards that include too little.

If you can’t get people who really believe that we need national standards to agree on even their basic shape, why would anyone think that they could get a majority of Americans to agree on a single standard?

Of course, this was a conference supposedly about the international evidence concerning national standards. Even though the domestic political outlook for national standards appears poor, surely the evidence from abroad would conclusively demonstrate the need for national standards.

Hardly. If anything, the international evidence panel was the least persuasive part of the conference.

The hub of the panel was Michigan State University professor William Schmidt, who argued energetically against the illogical, weak standards of most American states – certainly a valid point. But he offered no compelling reasoning or evidence whatsoever to suggest that national standards would be any better than state standards. Indeed, moderator Ben Wildavsky knocked out Schmidt’s entire argument with just two punches, asking if there is empirical evidence that national standards produce better outcomes, and why Canada – which doesn’t have national standards – does very well on international comparisons. Schmidt’s answers: Almost every country participating in international exams has national standards, so it’s impossible to credit those standards with either good or bad outcomes, and Canadian provinces are kind of like countries.

If that’s the best evidence one can muster for national standards – essentially, no evidence – then there is absolutely zero good reason to support national standards.

Unfortunately, that really does seem to be all the evidence. At least, it’s all that was brought out yesterday. Which is why, though the conference didn’t force me to change my views, it did make me reach some very disheartening conclusions. Primarily, that many people support national standards simply because they are easier to conceptualize than multiple standards, and because they think that they – not people they dislike – will get to write the new, inescapable, standards for all.

Rally to Save DC Vouchers Tomorrow. Why?

Tomorrow afternoon at 1pm, supporters of Washington DC Opportunity Scholarships will be rallying in Freedom Plaza to save the school voucher program. Why? That’s easy: Because a federal Department of Education study shows that parents are overwhelmingly more satisfied with it than they are with DC’s public schools. Because the same study shows that the program is raising student achievement above the level in the public schools. Because the children participating in it feel it is giving them a chance to realize their full potential in life – a chance that will disappear if the program is allowed to die, as they have attested in numerous YouTube videos.

The harder question is why Congress – particularly congressional Democrats led by Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) – want to kill the vouchers. Their stated reason is that it robs money from needy public schools and gives it to private schools that are already flush from lavish tuition fees.

But the voucher program not only does not take money away from DC public schools, the language of the law actually includes an extra $13 million annually for DC public schools, above their normal funding stream. As for lavish vs. needy schools, it’s true that there’s a huge gap between what is spent per pupil on public education in DC and the average tuition charged at the voucher-accepting private schools: a yawning $20,000 gap. The current year budget for the District of Columbia allocates $26,555 per pupil for k-12 education – up from $24,600 last year. Meanwhile, the Department of Education study linked to above puts the average tuition at voucher schools at $6,620. So vouchers are getting better results at one quarter the cost.

Clearly, Democrats have other reasons for opposing the voucher program, and this letter from the NEA might have a little something to do with it.

Checker Finn Is 99.44 Percent Right

Fordham Foundation president Checker Finn notes today that recent upticks on the National Assessment of Educational Progress cannot be reasonably credited to the No Child Left Behind act (hat tip to Bill Evers). The NCLB, President Bush’s signature education initiative, was supposed to improve student achievement through bureaucratic accountability measures.

But after noting that NCLB’s proponents can’t back up their claims that the law is working, Finn suggests that we need an “education-achievement ‘audit agency’ to sort out the claims and counterclaims about student performance.”

Maybe. But Amazon.com didn’t have to be told by a federal product quality audit czar to allow its customers to rate the products it sells. They’ve done it because it’s good business. In fact, no matter what product or service you’re interested in, there are resources on the Web to find out virtually anything you could possibly want to know about it. Reviews by users, professional reviews, criticism from competitors…. As a result, consumers are better informed than ever before.  Except in education, which operates outside the free enterprise system.

Sure, we could add a bureaucratic audit agency and hope that it will make our bureaucratic education accountability law accountable, and that that, in turn, will make our bureaucratic education system efficient and innovative.

Or we could just do what we know already works in every other sector of the economy: let consumers choose, and make it easy for a diversity of public and private schools compete to serve them.