Tag: school

Can Scott Brown’s Election Stop the Federal Takeover…of Education?

Yesterday, I wrote about President Obama’s proposal to extend the Race to the Top program, this time letting school districts completely bypass state governments and apply directly to the feds for funding. I pointed out that the proposal was one among several troubling signs that Obama intends to put Washington fully – and, of course, unconstitutionally – in charge of American education.  At the time, I didn’t realize how right I was.

When I was writing yesterday I was basing my comments on documents from the White House’s website and hadn’t yet read the details of what went on at the President’s photo-op announcing the proposed extension. I sure wish I had: At the dog-and-pony show, the President just came right out and said that he wants to push aside states – mentioned by name was famous holdout Texas – that dared to invoke the Constitution and not participate in a program that was, Constitution or no Constitution, supposed to be voluntary.  

“Innovative districts like the one in Texas whose reform efforts are being stymied by state decision-makers will soon have the chance to earn funding to help them pursue those reforms,” intoned the President. 

Fortunately, Texas Governor Rick Perry wasn’t about to be cowed: “I will say this very slow so they will understand it in Washington, D.C.: Texas will fight any attempt by the federal government to take over our school system.”

So it’s pretty certain now, more so even than just 24 hours ago: President Obama wants to federalize American education.

Thankfully, a lot can clearly happen in 24 hours. Yesterday’s election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts could very well send shockwaves of fear through the ranks of Democratic (and maybe even Republican) legislators in DC, who might finally get the message that Americans just don’t like federal takovers. Heck, perhaps even the President will get the message. If so, then maybe even something as relatively small as a $1.35-billion scalpel designed to cut through states and get right at districts could be seen as too dangerous to handle.  

That’s speculation, of course, but we should know a lot more  in just, oh, the next 24 hours.

How the Media Are Covering ‘Head Start’s’ Failure

A day after it was released, here’s a roundup of how the mainstream media are covering the HHS study showing that America’s $100 billion plus investment in Head Start is a failure:

[…crickets…]

Nada. Zilch. Rien du tout, mes amis.

That’s based on a Google News search for [“Head Start” study]. The only media organs to touch on this topic so far have been blogs: Jay Greene’s, The Heritage Foundation’s, the Independent Women’s Forum, and the one you’re reading right now.

Okay. There was one exception. According to Google News, one non-blog – with a print version no less – covered this story so far. The NY Times? The Washington Post? Nope: The World, a Christian news magazine. And they actually did their homework, linking to this recent and highly relevant review of the research on pre-K program impacts.

And for those other publications in the MSM still standing at the edge of the pool: the water’s warm folks, c’mon in.

What’s really interesting, though, is that the HHS had the moral fibre to actually issue a press release about this damning study. That showed courage – and a certain panache. I particularly liked this, from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “Research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children.”

Umm, yes Ms. Secretary, but the same research shows those effects vanish by the end of first grade. I guess that information is on a need-to-not-know basis. The public needs to not know about it or the administration hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Kauai of getting American tax payers to throw another $100 billion or so at government pre-K, as President Obama is so very keen to do.

Update:

In my original review of the coverage on this story I missed the blog that first broke the story: Early Ed Watch at the New America Foundation. One thing that distinguishes New America’s supporters of big government pre-k programs from those in the Obama administration is that the former have a good grasp of the implications of this study, writing that: “The next few weeks are probably going to be rocky ones for the Head Start community. Results released today from the Impact Study show that children’s gains from participating in Head Start, documented in a 2005 installment of the study, do not last through the end of 1st grade.”

But if the folks at the NAF recognize this reality, that begs an important question: will they now redirect their efforts to the support of programs whose benefits for disadvantaged children actually grow in magnitude the longer kids stay in school, or will they continue to push for programs like Head Start that have been proven costly failures?

Head Start EPIC FAIL

Andrew’s earlier post is a great overview of the context for the Head Start findings.

I thought we should also highlight the description of the Head Start Impact Study findings in the report itself (p.215/4-31):

Looking at effects on participants does not change the overall patterns found in the main analysis, which show that Head Start improved children’s language and literacy development during the program year but not later and had only one strongly confirmed impact on math ability in a negative direction. (For the 3-year-old cohort, kindergarten teachers reported poorer math skills for children in the Head Start group than children in the control group.)

This is a devastating report for proponents of government-run early childhood initiatives.

It’s past time we turn to the education reform that has proven itself through multiple random-assignment studies; school choice.

Neither Standards Nor Shame Can Do the Job

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews has done it again: lifted my hopes up just to drop them right back down.

In November, you might recall, Mathews called for the elimination of the office of U.S. Secretary of Education. There just isn’t evidence that the Ed Sec has done much good, he wrote.

My reaction to that, of course: “Right on!”

Only sentences later, however, Mathews went on to declare that we should keep the U.S. Department of Education.

Huh?

Today, Mathews is calling for the eradication of something else that has done little demonstrable good – and has likely been a big loss – for American education: the No Child Left Behind Act. Mathews thinks that the law has run its course, and laments that under NCLB state tests – which are crucial to  standards-and-accountability-based reforms – “started soft and have gotten softer.”

The reason for this ever-squishier trend, of course, is that under NCLB states and schools are judged by test results, leading state politicians and educrats to do all they can to make good results as easy to get as possible. And no, that has not meant educating kids better – it’s meant making the tests easier to pass.

Unfortunately, despite again seeing its major failures, Mathews still can’t let go of federal education involvement. After calling for NCLB’s end, he declares that we instead need a national, federal test to judge how all states and schools are doing.

To his credit, Mathews does not propose that the feds write in-depth standards in multiple subjects, and he explicitly states that Washington should not be in the business of punishing or rewarding schools for test performance.

“Let’s let the states decide what do to with struggling schools,” he writes.

What’s especially important about this is that when there’s no money attached to test performance there’s little reason for teachers unions, administrators associations, and myriad other education interests to expend political capital gaming the tests, a major problem under NCLB.

But here’s the thing: While Mathews’ approach would do less harm than NCLB, it wouldn’t do much good. Mathews suggests that just having the feds “shame” states with bad national scores would force improvement, but we’ve seen public schools repeatedly shrug off massive ignominy since at least the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk. As long as they keep getting their money, they couldn’t care much less.

So neither tough standards nor shaming have led to much improvement. Why?

As I’ve laid out before, it’s a simple matter of incentives.

With punitive accountability, the special interests that would be held to high standards have strong motivation – and usually the power – to demand dumbed-down tests, lowered minimum scores, or many other accountability dodges.  The result: Little or no improvement.

What if there are no serious ramifications?

Then the system gets its money no matter what and again there is little or no improvement.

It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

So what are reformers to do? One thing: Take government – which will almost always be dominated by the people it employs – out of the accountability equation completely. Give parents control of education funds and make educators earn their pay by having to attract and satisfy customers.

Unfortunately, that still seems to be too great a leap for Jay Mathews. But one of these days, I’m certain, he’ll go all the way!

Has HHS Buried Reports on ‘Head Start’?

According to sources within HHS cited by Heritages’ Dan Lips, a congressionally mandated report on the persistence of academic effects from the federal Head Start program was completed in draft form in 2008, but, nearly two years later, has not seen the light of day. A further follow-up report, to have been released in 2009 and covering persistence of effects through the 3rd grade, has also failed to materialized. Lips’ sources say the draft they saw in ‘08 showed no lasting effects.

This timeline meshes with what I was told in a July, 2008 e-mail exchange with a researcher familiar with the studies. The 1st grade report was indeed expected to be completed that summer – one and a half years ago. So where is it?

Could it be, as Lips’ sources seem to imply, that its results were not flattering to the very expensive federal preschool program and that this is not something HHS officials want the public to know? There’s one way to find out:  HHS, release the studies.

This is all rather important, what with the Obama administration seeking to lavish many additional billions on large-scale government pre-K, despite the paucity of results we’ve seen from such programs to date.

Thursday Links

  • Doug Bandow:  “Congress has spent the country blind, inflated a disastrous housing bubble, subsidized every special interest with a letterhead and lobbyist, and created a wasteful, incompetent bureaucracy that fills Washington. But now, legislators want to take a break from all their good work and save college football.”

How to Fix County Budget Problems

I’m wrapping up a paper on the real cost of public education, the total price tag per student, not just the stripped down version they typically trot out to show voters. One of the districts is Arlington, VA, which is the one I  happen to live in.

Though the district is an unusually big spender, their most recent budget, for fiscal year 2010, contains hand-wringing typical for school districts across the country. “FY 2010 will present unique challenges and hardships for staff, however as stated earlier, these reductions are taken so that there is minimal impact on classroom instruction.”

Arlington is planning to spend over $23,000 per student this year according to the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE). That’s a 33 percent increase in constant dollars since 2000.*

200912_blog_schaeffer3

And yet the county is still talking about tax increases to cover the expected $80-$100 million shortfall the county expects next year.

Here’s a great alternative; fund the schools at 2000 levels and we’re left with an extra $108 million. Voila, no tax increases!

* The WABE listed per-pupil figure leaves out some k-12 spending and provides a number that is significantly less than that in more comprehensive, but older, state records or that can be compiled from district budgets, so I’ve divided the total expenditures listed on p.23 by the enrollment to get real total per-pupil spending.