I wrote about this private school in South Carolina last year. The Voice for School Choice has a new video highlighting the great work of the Eagle Military Academy, which works with many kids the public schools cannot or will not educate.
There’s a lot of talk lately about the transformative power of some charter schools, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that many secular and religious private schools have been saving kids all along with no public funds and little or no recognition from the elite opinion class.
We need to open up choice to these schools as well, not just public charter schools that cannot provide the breadth and depth of experiences offered by private schools.
Public charter schools are no substitute for full school choice through education tax credits.
Yesterday, the president proposed yet another big increase in federal education spending. The Washington Post quoted “senior White House officials” as saying that the spending would boost “the nation’s long‐term economic health.”
I sent the story’s authors a blog post laying out the evidence that higher government spending hasn’t raised student achievement, and that if you don’t boost achievement, you don’t accelerate economic growth.
Today, there is an updated version of the original WaPo story. It no longer mentions the stated goal of the spending increase. It doesn’t mention that boosting gov’t spending has failed to raise achievement, and so will fail to help the economy.
But it does cite a single non‐government source for comment on the president’s plan: the Committee for Education Funding. The Committee is described by the Post as “prominent education advocates,” and as an organization that “represents dozens of education groups.”
Here’s how the CEF itself measures its accomplishments: “The… Committee [has] been very successful in championing the cause of increasing federal educational investment. Through strong advocacy… [it has] won bipartisan support for over $100 billion in increased federal education investment over the last five years.” Its members, if you haven’t guessed already, include virtually every public school employee organization you can name, including, of course, the national teachers unions.
That’s the source, the one source, the Washington Post asked to weigh in on a new federal education spending gambit.
I asked the author of the revised version of the story to comment for this blog post. At the time of this writing, I’ve received no response.
HHS has finally released the second installment of its series of studies on the persistence of Head Start effects. Its finding (see page xiv): virtually all academic effects disappear by the end of 1st grade. There is only one positive statistically significant finding out of eleven academic outcomes measured, the size of that effect is minuscule by recognized standards (it’s half way between zero and what most social scientists consider “small”), and the confidence in the finding is low by recognized standards. (Many authors would categorize it as “insignificant” rather than “significant” — it’s only significant at a 90% confidence interval, not the more common 95% confidence interval).
We have spent more than $100 billion on the program to date (ballpark estimate from Table 375 here) and HHS’s own research shows that its results diminish to essentially nothing by the end of the first grade.
There are other government education programs whose effects actually grow substantially over time, and that are comparatively economical. Consider the federal DC voucher program. Just a year or two after switching from public to private schools, the effect of the private schooling was not big enough to rise to the level of statistical significance. But by their third year in private schools, the evidence was clear that voucher‐receiving students were reading more than two grade levels above a randomized control group that stayed in public schools. This program, as I’ve previously documented, costs 1/4 as much per pupil as DC spends on public education: about $6,600 vs. $28,000.
But Congress, and particularly Democrats, have defunded the DC voucher program while raising spending on Head Start. President Obama is at the forefront of this travesty. If you weren’t already jaded and disgusted by education politics and its domination by employee unions opposed to educational choice, start now.
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.
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.
Colbert King argues that DC should continue the opportunity scholarships private school choice program on its own dime, instead of complaining that Congress is killing it off. He starts off with a refreshing dose of realpolitik: “It should come as no surprise that Democratic congressional leaders are effectively killing the program. They, and their union allies, didn’t like it in the first place.” Too true. This is what disgusts many Americans about politics, but hey, that’s the reality.
But then he seems to descend into uncharacteristic naivete with this:
If the city likes vouchers so much, why shouldn’t the District bear the cost? The answer is as clear as it may be embarrassing to voucher proponents: D.C. lawmakers don’t want to ask their constituents to shoulder the program’s expense.
That is NOT the answer. DC lawmakers are familiar with DC’s budget. DC’s FY 2009 budget, as I show in this Excel spreadsheet file, allocated $28,170 per pupil for k‑12 schooling. And the average voucher amount is not $7,500, as King claims. That’s the maximum. The average is $6,620 – one quarter of what the district is spending on k‑12 schooling. So operating the voucher program entirely out of the District of Columbia’s own budget would not cost a dime. And if expanded, it would save DC tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars.
So DC lawmakers are most certainly NOT afraid of asking constituents to pay for it — it would more than pay for itself. What DC lawmakers must be afraid of is that DC schools have become a massive jobs program instead of an educational program. They must fear that if the voucher program were expanded it would put many non‐teaching staff out of work — including perhaps some of their own supporters.
Well how about a realpolitik solution to that problem: offer displaced workers 18 months of severance pay at something like 75% of their current salary. That would give them plenty of time to find other work, and it could be paid for from the savings of students migrating from public schools to the voucher program. This would mean that taxpayers would not see savings in the first couple of years, but after that the District would be able to offer taxpayers generous tax cuts while also offering kids significantly better learning opportunities.
Surely the details of such a deal could be hammered out by experienced politicians and negotiators. Because, really, the status quo is insane. Why keep paying $28,000 for a worse education than the voucher program is providing for $6,600? That is sheer madness.
The Ethan Allen Institute has just published a report suggesting that Vermont could save $80 million a year by voucherizing its education system. What’s most interesting is how generous the prospective vouchers would be: $10,000 for K‑6, and $14,900 for grades 7 – 12. How could such a system save money? The main reason is that Vermont was already spending $14,000/pupil on public schools across all grades four years ago. Taking into account the inevitable increase since then and the effects of inflation to 2009 dollars, the state is no doubt spending well over $15,000 per pupil today, so EAI’s ample voucher funding would still cost far less than the status quo.
The only problem is that, as the EAI report notes (see p. 10), Vermont’s state supreme court has ruled against state funding of sectarian schools. So tax credits would be a better option for that reason, among others.
A report released today by the federal government’s non‐partisan General Accounting Office finds deficits in the Department of Education’s financial and program oversight. According to the GAO, “These shortcomings can lead to weaknesses in program implementation that ultimately result in failure to effectively serve the students, parents, teachers, and administrators those programs were designed to help.”
The GAO’s findings are consistent with the longstanding pattern: for forty years, Americans have steadily increased spending on public schools without any resulting improvement in student performance by the end of high school (see the figures here and here).
The Obama administration has touted its $100 billion in education stimulus spending as a key to long term economic growth. What the data show, however, is that higher spending on public schools over the past two generations has not improved academic outcomes. And economists such as Stanford’s Eric Hanushek have shown that it is improved academic achievement, not higher public school spending, that accelerates economic growth.
So if the administration is serious in wanting education to boost the American economy, it must support reforms that are proven to significantly raise achievement, such as those that bring to bear real market freedoms and incentives — programs like the DC private school choice program that the administration has decided to kill despite its proven effectiveness.