Topic: Education and Child Policy

On Second Thought, Let’s Not Go Dutch

Heritage Foundation education analyst Dan Lips has a piece out today arguing for a federal school voucher program.

It does a great job documenting the dire educational situation facing millions of disadvantaged American kids, and wisely recommends giving them and their families unfettered choice of government and independent schools.

That said, it’s both dangerous and unconstitutional to have the federal government handing out school vouchers. I explain the problems (and the “going Dutch” reference) here, along with suggesting a safer, state-level alternative.

Minn. Taxpayers Make Gophers Golden

If you’re a fan, like I am, of a small college that tries to play big time sports, you know how tough it is for your school to compete against gargantuan state universities that have tens of thousands of students, hundreds of thousands of alums, and a seemingly endless supply of professional quality facilities.

 Well, things just got a bit tougher: On Wednesday, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty signed legislation authorizing the construction of a new, $248 million, on-campus football stadium for the University of Minnesota. Of course, one more academically essential football stadium at a state mega-versity only marginally hurts most smaller institutions (except for Northwestern). The people it’s really throwing for a loss are Minnesota taxpayers, who are being forced to pick up 55 percent of the tab—or more than $136 million—for the Golden Gophers’ new gridiron.

Not only do big state schools have an unfair advantage over small private colleges, it seems they have one over state taxpayers as well.

It Doesn’t Take a Rocket Scientist to See the Problem Here

Yesterday, the latest science scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) came out, and the same sad pattern we’ve seen for years repeated itself. Between 1996 and 2005 scores rose in 4th grade, remained stagnant in 8th grade, and dropped for high school seniors. In other words, it’s still the case that the longer children stay in American schools, the worse they do.

Unfortunately, something else also remained the same: the shameless compulsion among people in Washington, despite decades of failure, to claim credit for good news and to have the solutions for bad. Case in point, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’s reaction to the NAEP report, in which she not only dubbed the federal No Child Left Behind Act a cure for failure in subjects the law directly addresses, but even those it doesn’t:

The Science 2005 Report….provides further evidence that accountability and assessments are working to raise achievement levels, even in subjects not directly tested under the No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB]. Fourth-graders made significant improvements in science over 1996 and 2000 levels, with the lowest-performing students making the largest gains and achievement gaps narrowing. However, eighth-graders showed no significant gains. And among 12th-graders, scores declined….The results illustrate the need to introduce NCLB’s accountability principles to our nation’s high schools.

So when the same sorry pattern repeats itself, the adults in charge of American education proclaim that they must be doing something right. In light of this, is it any wonder that our children do worse and worse the longer they stay in school?  

I was KIDDING! Seriously. Come on, guys.

This morning’s LA Daily News is abuzz over a debate “gaffe” perpetrated by California Assembly candidate Frank Quintero. After a rough day campaigning for California’s 43rd Assembly District seat, Quintero was asked during a debate with his opponent if he supported school vouchers. His answer: “Yes.”

Oops.

Honestly, what would possess someone to support giving low income families the same educational choice that wealthier families already enjoy? The nerve of this Quintero guy intimating that parents, not bureaucrats, should be deciding what and where their children learn. It’s an outrage. It’s…

Wait a minute, that sounds kinda’ good, doesn’t it? Parental choice in education. More options for kids. Schools no longer being able to take their students for granted and having to compete for the privilege of serving each and every child. So what’s the problem?

Well, Quintero is a Democrat – the party unduly influenced by the nation’s teachers’ unions. Makes a bit more sense, now, doesn’t it?

Naturally, California’s biggest teachers’ union quickly mobilized to crush this brazen heretic, staging a rally outside his offices the weekend after the debate. Quintero quickly recanted, explaining that when he said “yes” to vouchers, he meant it in the sense that, um, he was opposed to them.

Good thing the teachers’ unions are out there to protect us from freedom vouchers.

Bold and Bad

At its meeting yesterday, the U.S. secretary of education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which is tasked with creating a renovation strategy for the nation’s ivory tower, illustrated well why government rarely produces rational policies.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings kicked off yesterday’s confab by urging the commission to make its final report, which is due in September, “as bold and as concrete” as possible. Setting aside that “bold” almost certainly translates into more big government—the last thing needed by American higher education, which is bloated with taxpayer dollars—it was immediately clear that the commission won’t be able to settle on any meaningful policy proposals, bold or otherwise. Indeed, the commission members couldn’t even agree on the definition of “unaffordable” or proper use of terms like “higher education” and “college.” If they can’t nail those things down, how the heck are they going to agree on any truly “bold and concrete” reforms?

In the end, the only things the commission’s final report will probably “boldly” declare are that (1) there’s a “crisis” in higher education, and (2) government must fix it. The report’s remedies, in contrast, will likely be restricted to nebulous proposals like “improving access” to higher education and imposing greater “accountability” on schools—the kind of lowest-common-denominator stuff that is the best one can hope for from a group that can’t even agree on a definition of “unaffordable.”

Of course, that’s probably what most policymakers want. It will give them a perfect excuse to waste even more money on student and institutional aid, pile new rules and regulations on colleges, and congratulate themselves for attacking the higher education “crisis” head-on.

Repeat After Me: “We Are All Individuals”

Back when Steve Martin was doing stand-up comedy (yes, I’m OLD), he had a wonderful bit in which he would get the audience to repeat a series of statements in unison, the last of which was “we are all individuals.” 

I’m sure that this bit of irony would have been lost on the editors of the Washington Post. In a May 9 feature, they asked three authors to discuss the battle between traditionalist and progressive pedagogical methods. The fatal conceit of this feature, to which all the contributors succumbed, was to ignore the most sensible approach of all: let families decide for themselves. 

If parents were free to choose the schools best suited to each of their children, and schools were forced to compete for the privilege of serving them, the most effective methods would flourish and the rest would be marginalized. We’d also likely find that certain methods work well with some children but not others. 

The sooner we overcome the Stalinesque notion that educational excellence can be pursued through more or better central planning, the better off our kids will be.

Why Can’t Suri Laugh?

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (AKA TomKat) had a baby last month, Suri Holmes.  Apropos, this week the Medicare program’s public trustees reported that even though only 7 percent of TomKat’s federal income taxes now go toward Medicare, when Suri turns 15 years old, 25 percent of the federal income taxes levied on her modeling earnings will go straight to Medicare.  By the time Suri turns 25 years old, 40 percent of the federal income taxes levied on her book deal will help finance Medicare benefits for her dear old dad, who will then be 68 years old.