Topic: Education and Child Policy

It Starts with a Hug and Ends with Chaos

Just when you thought solutions to what should be minor problems couldn’t get any more absurd, Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, Virginia, has decided to institute an absolute ban on physical contact.

Why, one might ask? Well, because of overcrowding and behavior problems, of course!

Deborah Hernandez, Kilmer’s principal, said the rule makes sense in a school that was built for 850 students but houses 1,100. She said that students should have their personal space protected and that many lack the maturity to understand what is acceptable or welcome.

“You get into shades of gray,” Hernandez said. “The kids say, ‘If he can high-five, then I can do this.’ “

Right. And it’s the job of adults to use discretion and good sense to stop the “this” that’s disruptive and allow the “high-five” that’s not instead of instituting absurd absolutes to make it easier on incompetent teachers and administrators who want to cover their derrieres.

A hug may be a handshake from the heart, but neither form of platonic affection is allowed at Kilmer. Seventh-grader Hal Beaulieu found that out after getting busted for briefly hugging his girlfriend during lunch. Big no-no.

A review of the policy might be on the way, but here’s an idea: how about parents get to choose the school that works for their child? That way we could have schools without physical contact for the Puritanical or law-and-order types, and hug-fest schools for the “visualize world peace” folks.

Education tax credits are a great way to expand that choice for parents in Virginia. And they would also solve the overcrowding problem that Principal Hernandez mentions … I’m sure at least 250 students would happily transfer to a hugging-allowed school if they had a tax credit program to help them make that choice.

Good News for School Choice in AZ

The Arizona Superior Court handed the anti-school-choice crowd yet another in a long string of legal defeats by upholding the recently passed voucher program for foster children.  They still have cases pending, but if they couldn’t get the courts to overturn a voucher, they have no chance with the tax credit. 

I can’t say it any better than the Institute for Justice, the public-interest law firm that’s defending this and many other school choice programs:

Relying on U.S. Supreme Court and Arizona Supreme Court precedent, including 1999’s Kotterman v. Killian case upholding Arizona’s first tax credit scholarships program, Judge Hicks rejected opponents’ claims that the new scholarship programs violate the state Constitution’s Blaine Amendments and its education guarantee.

“This is the fifth lawsuit that school choice opponents have filed against educational aid programs designed to help Arizona schoolchildren most in need, and it is the fifth time that courts have sided with kids,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter.  “It is time for opponents of genuine education reform to get the message and stop these frivolous legal battles.  All our clients want is a good education that meets their children’s unique needs.”

I suppose we all should be happy that they’re continuing to waste so many resources fighting a lost cause in AZ.  Hopefully Big Ed remains clueless and doesn’t move on.

Teachers Win (a little) at the Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled, in Davenport v. Washington Education Association (WEA), that states can require public school employee unions to obtain non-member teachers’ explicit consent before using their compulsory dues for political activities.

Hurray! Sort of.

This ruling is great as far as it goes, and Washington State’s Evergreen Freedom Foundation should be commended for all the hard (and smart) work it put in fighting this case on behalf of the state’s teachers.

This, however, is just a baby step in the right direction. It is still legal for unions to forcibly collect dues from non-members in states all across the country. This is a patent violation of the 13th Amendment’s injunction against involuntary servitude. To work in a public school, teachers MUST pay union dues in “agency shop” states, whether they want to or not. They must work for the financial benefit of others against their will. That is involuntary servitude.

The rationale for this practice is that anyone who benefits from the union’s actions should be compelled to pay for them. By the same argument, anyone who invests money and time landscaping their front yard, and thus raising their own and their neighbors’ property values, would be entitled to accost those neighbors, reach into their wallets, and pull out their “fair” share. Such a practice would be unthinkable, and yet the analogous practice of levying compulsory union dues is the law of the land in many states.

Which presidential candidates, I wonder, will be most likely to appoint justices who can see that simple fact?

“No, man. Danger is my MIDDLE name”

The thing about Austin “Danger” Powers is that he lived up to his middle name. The same can’t always be said for the American Enterprise Institute.

According to its website, “AEI’s purposes are to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism–limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility…”

But this idea of developing free enterprise solutions to public policy problems is entirely missing from AEI’s latest “Education Outlook” publication. The piece deals with the putatitvely competing goals of the No Child Left Behind act (raise achievement on the low end and reduce achievement gaps) and the American Competitiveness Initiative (pursue excellence in math and science achievement).

AEI’s Frederick Hess teamed up with Ed Sector’s Andrew Rotherham to write the piece, and they jointly concluded that:

Schools are meant to serve a staggeringly diverse population of students and a raft of competing needs. Buckling down somewhere will almost inevitably mean easing up elsewhere. The best we can hope for is an incremental, awkward stagger toward meeting a stew of public and private objectives.

The truth is that we cannot do everything. This means accepting disagreement and abandoning the tempting dream that we might reach consensus on what needs to be done if only good-hearted souls would examine the right data. It also means acknowledging that every policy decision will yield both winners and losers. What we need… is… honest and informed debate about whose needs take precedence at a given moment, what to do about it today, and what to leave for tomorrow.

The truth is that there is a system that does not require us to reach consensus on a single “right” way to improve achievement, and that can simultaneously improve achievement on the low end and stimulate excellence. It’s the free enterprise system, baby, and it’s your middle name.

Here’s a look at how market forces in education reduce achievement gaps, improve social outcomes, and improve overall achievement, replete with links to the full text of various studies.

And here’s a more technical look  [pdf] at the evidence on market versus non-market provision of education.

Education markets. They’re groovy baby. Yeah!

India’s CCS on School Choice

The Centre for Civil Society’s Raj Cherubal has an insightful post on the difference between bureaucratic “accountability” and real market accountability in education. He caps it off by pointing out the merits of education tax credits as a tool for providing universal access to the education marketplace.

If the poor have access to the money that the tax payers set aside to help the poor, they can use that money to access far better services that the private sector is able to provide. Instead of funding government services with taxes, empower the poor with it.

(What if the tax payer could give the money directly to the poor person and get a tax credit? No need to send it to the government and then redirect it to the poor with all the leaks in the system. Pay government for the services like defence that government is supposed to do.)

Today, I have choice. You, if you are poor, have none. Soon, thanks to the growing school choice movement in India, this will not be the case.

If the Centre’s national campaign for school choice really gains traction, the 21st century will belong to India. (Hat tip to Kuffir at Blogbharti.)

NCLB: What a Mess

Only two days after a fatally flawed but positive report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) inspired No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fans to declare NCLB a success, two new analyses have come out showing that far from being a triumph, the law has mainly produced just two things: confusion and deception.

The first report comes from the Gannett News Service (GNS), which compared results on state tests to scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math and reading exams. What GNS found is that in many states far more students reach “proficiency” on state reading and math tests – the only ones that “count” for NCLB – than on NAEP. This strongly suggests that states are setting low proficiency bars, probably in order to stay out of trouble under the law.

The second analysis comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). IES’s report makes similar comparisons to GNS, but with more statistical rigor. Essentially, it equates scores on state tests in schools that administered NAEP with those schools’ NAEP results. (NAEP is based on representative sampling of schools and students rather than giving tests to every student in every school). What the analysis reveals is that most states’ “proficient” levels are equivalent to NAEP’s “basic” designation. That is, except in 4th-grade reading, where most state proficiency levels are actually below NAEP’s basic level.

The results of these studies, taken in conjunction with the cavernous data holes and inconsistencies in CEP’s report, make clear that no reasonable conclusions about NCLB’s effectiveness can be drawn using state test scores. Unfortunately, no proof of the law’s effectiveness can be drawn from NAEP, either. As the CEP folks noted in their report, so many reforms have been implemented simultaneously with NCLB that no one could ever tease out which initiative is responsible for which changes in achievement. NAEP is, though, a much more consistent measure than state tests. Unfortunately for NCLB fans, its results have not been too encouraging.

Perhaps one slightly heartening outcome from today’s news is that U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who ordinarily seems to declare almost any education news proof that NCLB is working, tempered her rhetoric a bit.

This report offers sobering news that serious work remains to ensure that our schools are teaching students to the highest possible standards. States have made significant strides under No Child Left Behind to close our nation’s achievement gap, as evidenced by the Center on Education Policy study released earlier this week. But today’s report finds that many states’ assessment standards do not measure up to the rigorous standards of The Nation’s Report Card.

Unfortunately, the slight uptick in NCLB sanity coming from Spellings was cancelled out by at least one federal standards advocate, who took advantage of the results to plug his favorite reform. According to the New York Times, after Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation acknowledged that “parents and communities in too many states are being told not to worry, all is well, when their students are far behind,” he went on to conclude that “we don’t need a national curriculum, but we certainly should have national standards for reading and math.”

Of course! We know that state and local politicians are self-serving jerks who will set low standards to keep themselves out of hot water even if it hurts kids, but federal politicians are as pure as the driven snow, and were they able to set standards they’d set them as high as possible, let the political chips fall where they may.

Right.

It’s just this kind of baseless assumption about Washington goodness that got us into this filthy NCLB mess to begin with.

Is NCLB Working? This Sure Doesn’t Tell Us

Yesterday the Center on Education Policy (CEP), a DC-based think tank, released a report that U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings declared “confirms that No Child Left Behind has struck a chord of success with our nation’s schools and students….We know that the law is working.”

Not to rain on the secretary’s parade, but the CEP study doesn’t even come close to confirming that NCLB is working. In fact, once the authors took into account data limitations and the myriad changes that states had made to their standards and testing programs since passage of NCLB, they had usable pre- and post-NCLB achievement data – which is essential for getting any idea if NCLB is working – for only 13 states, and were able to make complete analyses for only seven. In addition, the authors noted that:

We cannot say to what extent test scores have gone up because of NCLB. It is always difficult to tease out a cause-and-effect relationship between test score trends and any specific education policy or program. With all the federal, state, and local reforms that have been implemented simultaneously since 2002, it becomes nearly impossible to sort out which policy or combination of policies is responsible for test score gains, and to what degree.

So Spellings declared a report in which the authors were only able to get complete data for seven states, and made quite clear that their findings are absolutely not proof that NCLB is working, as confirmation that the law is working.

Feel like you’ve heard this before?

Of course you do, because this has been the standard Bush administration response to almost any news in education since NCLB was passed. Either new studies or achievement results have been proof that the law is working, or proof that we need to expand the law. But as I and others have pointed out numerous times, the best, most straightforward evidence that we have about NCLB suggests that the law is not working. The National Assessment of Educational Progress – which evaluates American students on consistent tests, not the constantly changing and gamed state assessments driven by NCLB – has shown stagnant or dropping reading scores in the period covered by NCLB, and slowing growth in math scores.

Now, just as the CEP findings are far from proof that NCLB is working, the NAEP scores aren’t proof that NCLB is a failure. They are, however, clear evidence that no one who is even remotely objective could say that NCLB is a proven success. Yet the U.S. Secretary of Education has repeatedly been doing exactly that.

And people wonder why, when given the opportunity, so many parents jump at the chance to leave government schools behind.