Tag: school

I Have to Admit, I Was Wrong

I’ve just discovered that my calculation of DC education spending per pupil was wrong, and I have to publish a correction.

I wrote back in March that total DC k-12 spending, excluding charter schools, was $1,291,815,886 during the 2008-09 school year. That still appears to be correct. But to get the per-pupil number I divided total spending by the then-official enrollment count: 48,646. It now turns out that that number was rubbish. PRI’s Vicki Murray just pointed me to this recent DCPS press release that identifies a new audited enrollment number for the same school year:  44,681 students.

If that number excludes the 2,400 special education students that the District has placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $27,400.

If the new audited enrollment number does include the students placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $28,900.

Hmm. Let me think. What was that average tuition figure at the private schools serving DC voucher students….? Oh yes:  $6,600, according to the federal Department of Education.

In case you don’t know, that’s the program in which, after three years, voucher-receiving kids are reading two grade levels ahead of their public school peers — also according to the Dep’t. of Education (see the linked study, above).

It is also the program that President Obama has doomed to die, because of the, uh…, because, um…, why did he do that again?!?!

Propagandist Change

The Obama administration is taking down the “No Child Left Behind” schoolhouses in front of the U.S. Department of Education.  According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the name is just too “toxic.”  Besides, he’s got his own plan to manipulate the public’s cuteness zone. As the Washington Post reports, “photos of students, from preschool to college age, are going up on 44 ground-floor windows, forming an exhibit that can be seen from outside. There are images of young people reading, attending science class and playing basketball.”

So the propaganda is changing. The disaster that has been federal involvement in education, however, keeps rumbling along. Indeed, it seems poised to get even worse. The Obama folks have been mum about what, exactly, they have planned for reauthorization of the No Child Left…er…Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but the foreshadowing has been ominous: $100 billion in “stimulus” for already cash-drenched American education; loud endorsement of national standards; dangling $350 million to bankroll national (read: federal) tests; and the smothering of DC school choice.

So meet the new propagandist, same as the old propagandist…only, quite possibly, even worse.

Reality, Reality, Reality…

This weekend I furnished an anti-national standards piece in a point-counterpoint of sorts in South Carolina’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. You can check out what the paper published here, but for my complete argument you’ll have to go here. Unfortunately, the Herald-Journal ‘s  editors  removed a few crucial paragraphs on the powerful evidence that school choice works better than any top-down government standards. This was done largely, I was told, because the paper had had a very energizing exchange on choice just a month or so ago.  C’est la vie…

My reason for writing today is not to complain about the excision of my choice paragraphs, but to take issue with a few things that South Carolina Superintendent of Education Jim Rex – my op-ed “opponent” – wrote in his defense of national standards.

The first bit I have to quibble with could certainly just be the result of imprecise writing, not an intentional effort to deceive readers or anything like that, but it bears a quick clarification:

In addition to setting “proficiency standards” on their tests, individual states also are empowered under the U.S. Constitution to define “curriculum standards,” the skills and knowledge that students should learn at each grade level.

Let’s just be clear: The Constitution does not give states any power over education. It gives the federal government limited, enumerated powers and leaves all others to the states or people with whom they resided to begin with. And contrary to possible appearances, the term “curriculum standards” does not appear in the Constitution.

OK, next:

Already we’re hearing concerns from some that this project will lead to a conspiratorial “power grab” by the federal government and that it will open the door to national standards and national tests. But South Carolina’s previous experience with similar state-led efforts suggests otherwise.

The obscure examples of previous efforts Rex identifies after this quote notwithstanding, there are very good reasons to be afraid that national standards – even initially agreed to by a consortium of states – will lead to federal control. Here’s just one: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan just announced that Washington will furnish up to $350 million to create national tests connected to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the exact national-standards effort Rex and I were debating.

Finally, this can’t go without comment:

A few alarmists have even suggested that the new Common Core State Standards Initiative will ultimately produce “dumbed down” standards just to make schools “look good.” But that ludicrous idea ignores the stark reality of our world.

The U.S. economy has changed dramatically. American companies compete today not only with businesses on the other side of town but also with businesses on the other side of the globe. American schools compete with schools in Taipei, Bangalore and Beijing, and they must prepare students to meet challenges that can’t even be imagined today.

Have I been missing something, or isn’t one of the major drivers of the national standards push precisely that states, both before and under No Child Left Behind, have produced, well, ” ’dumbed down’ standards just to make schools ‘look good’?” And haven’t they been doing this despite drastic changes in the U.S. economy? And if so, what exactly is so “ludicrous” about thinking that state or federal politicians will keep on doing the same politically expedient things they’ve been doing for decades?

Nothing, of course. What’s ludicrous is thinking that political reality will change just because different levels of politicians are in charge.

School Choice, Not Stalemate

A Washington Post editorial today rightly laments the seemingly insurmountable impasse reached by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the Washington Teachers Union. Actually, scratch the WTU – I mean the American Federation of Teachers, the WTU’s parent organization, which has essentially taken over the negotiations because it thinks giving into much higher pay for somewhat less job security would be a disaster of national proportions. But the union’s stifling full court press isn’t what primarily bothers the Post. It’s that lowly John Q. Public isn’t getting even a crumb of information from the power brokers about major decisions that are all supposed benefit his kids.

But since when did the best interests of kids or the public really matter in public schooling decisions? Sure, parents and regular citizens can vote every few years, but what the heck else can they do? They can’t stop paying the taxes that fund both chancellors and teachers. They can’t form their own union and require teachers and chancellors to negotiate with them. All they can do is complain, and it’s pretty hard to hear them when you’re behind closed doors, arguing with some other guy about which one of you should be king.

And to think, someone thought it was a good idea to kill a program that actually gives parents some power…

Good Reporting Requires a Critical Eye

Preschool access and attendance is often presented as an unalloyed good that will bring a huge return on investment. It’s not, and there’s little evidence that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Yet the Washington Post brings us a story about the push for state preschool expansion with nothing but supporters of government finance and controlled preschool and no critical treatment of the supposed evidence offered by those proponents.

I strongly urge the media to talk to some folks who have a critical take of the push for universal preschool when they write an article. What they write might then read like a news story rather than a press release from Pew.

The Quiet War against School Choice

First, the Democrats in Washington for all intents and purposes killed the District of Columbia’s proven voucher program, but did it with Ninja-like stealth. The weapons: Nearly impossible reauthorization requirements, late Friday announcements, and politically expedient promises to keep kids currently attending good schools from being very publicly booted.

Now it’s Milwaukee’s turn. The new Democratic majority in Madison is on its way to cutting the value of individual vouchers while raising public school per-pupil expenditures, and even worse, is larding new regulations on private schools participating in the choice program. Perhaps the most ridiculous proposed reg: Requiring all participating private schools with student bodies that are more than 10 percent limited English proficient to provide  a “bilingual-bicultural education program.” As if one of the major benefits of choice isn’t that parents can choose such programs if they think they are best for their kids, and can select something else if they don’t! But, of course, political decisions aren’t primarily about what parents want and kids need.

Thankfully, there is a resistance forming to the assault in Milwaukee, with choice advocates now refusing to remain quiet after naively doing so when they were told that fighting back would only make things worse. The choice-supporting national media is also speaking up. But one can’t help but fear that it may be too little, too late.

The Price of Ignorance

We here at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom spend a lot of time just trying to help people get their facts straight. You know, providing information that clearly shows that government schools are not the foundation of American democracy, or itemizing programs to show that school choice is not a political failure. That sort of thing.

Well, a new study in the journal Education Next demonstrates why just getting people solid information is so important: When the public has just a few basic facts about such things as public school expenditures or teacher salaries, support for heaping more dough on our sinkhole public schools takes a pretty big dip.

On spending, investigators William G. Howell and Martin R. West found that people provided with actual per-pupil expenditure data for their districts were significantly less likely to support increased spending, or to think that increased spending would improve student learning, than were respondents not given such data. Only 51 percent of respondents informed about actual outlays thought spending should be increased, versus 61 percent of uninformed respondents, and only 55 percent of informed respondents were confident that more spending would improve student learning (versus 60 percent of uninformed). Those levels are still way too high in light of the at-best very weak correlation between spending and achievement, but they do show that when people have good data to go on they tend to approach spending more rationally.

How about teacher salaries? Unfortunately, Howell and West didn’t inform respondents about teacher pay using hourly earnings, which in light of the relatively small number of hours teachers work is the fairest way to judge how well they are paid. The effect of knowing even annual salaries, however, is telling: While 69 percent of uninformed respondents supported increasing educator salaries, only 55 percent of informed people thought teacher salaries should be bolstered.

So when it comes to American education, it seems a little knowledge, far from being a dangerous thing, can be a pretty big step in the right direction.