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School Competition Rescues Kids: The government’s virtual monopoly over K-12 education has failed

Global news, School Vouchers

For years, American education from kindergarten through high school has been a virtual government monopoly.

Conventional wisdom is that government must run the schools. But government monopolies don’t do anything well. They fail because they have no real competition. Yet competition is what gives us better phones, movies, cars—everything that’s good.

If governments produced cars, we’d have terrible cars. Actually, governments once did produce cars. The Soviet bloc puts its best engineers to work and came up with the Yugo, the Volga, and the Trabant. The Trabant was the best—the pride of the Eastern Bloc. It was produced by actual German engineers—known for their brilliance. Yet even the Trabant was a terrible car. Drivers had to put the oil and gas in separately and then shake the car to mix them. Trabants broke down and spewed pollution. When government runs things, consumers suffer.

Our school system is like the Trabant. Economist Milton Friedman understood this before the rest of us did. In 1955, he proposed school vouchers. His plan didn’t call for separating school and state—unfortunately—but instead sought a second-best fix: Give a voucher to the family, and let it choose which school—government-run or private—their child will attend. Schools would compete for that voucher money. Today, it would be worth $13,000 per child. (That’s what America spends per student today.) Competition would then improve all schools.

Friedman’s idea was ignored for decades, but now there are voucher experiments in many states.

Do vouchers work? You bet they do. Just ask the low-income kids in Washington, D.C., who have participated in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The U.S. Department of Education found that the voucher kids read better than their government-school counterparts.

So what did the politicians do? Expand the program? No. Two years ago, President Obama killed it. Why?

“The president has concerns about … talking large amounts of funding out of the system,” then-press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Voucher families protested. One voucher student, Ronald Holassie, said, “President Barack Obama, you say that getting an education is a key to success, but why do you sit there and let my education and others be taken away?”

The program was reauthorized only after John Boehner became speaker of the House and insisted on it.

Holassie was a guest on my Fox Business show last week. He says the difference between a government school and his private school was dramatic.

“In the public school system when I was in there, (there were) lots of fights. There were shootings, stabbings, and it was really unsafe—drugs.”

The Opportunity Scholarship didn’t offer the full $20,000 that the district squanders on its public schools. It was worth just $7,000, but that was enough to get Ronald into a Catholic school.

“I was actually challenged academically,” he said. “I remember when I was in the public school system, my teacher left in the middle of the year. I remember doing crossword puzzles and stuff like that. We weren’t actually learning.”

He says most of his government-school teachers acted like they didn’t care. His mother, who’s from Trinidad, was going to send him there because the schools are better than American schools.

“She wasn’t going to continue to just let this system fail me.”

But he got the voucher and a good education, and now he’s in college.

Despite the data showing that voucher kids are ahead in reading, the biggest teachers union, the NEA claims: “The D.C. voucher program has been a failure. It’s yielded no evidence of positive impact on student achievement.”

Holassie asks: “How is it a failure when the public school system is failing students? I don’t understand that.”

I don’t understand it either. Vouchers aren’t a perfect solution, but they are better that leaving every student a prisoner of a government monopoly. District government schools have only a 49 percent graduation rate. Ninety-one percent of the voucher students graduate.

Why would the union call that a failure? Because vouchers allow parents to make choices, and many parents would chose non-union, non-government-run schools. The school establishment can’t abide this. Too much money and power are at stake.

Hawaii Reporter, 30 October 2011

Comment

India education: The chain school

School Choice, School Vouchers

NEW DELHI, India — In a typical Delhi slum, sewage overflows from the drain alongside the street and scraps of colored paper and empty bottles tumble in the foul wind. Here and there, a spindly boy in threadbare briefs fetches water from the hand-pump and a baby, her eyes blacked with kohl, plays happily in the grime.

It’s not an easy place to live. But even here, Ramesh Singh, a bicycle rickshaw driver, opted to send his son, Dhiraj, to a bare-bones private school when a pilot program for school vouchers gave him the chance several years ago.

“You saw when the teacher tested him,” Ramesh said. “He finished class three in government school, and he can’t read anything!”

Rich or poor, Indians are abandoning the country’s disastrously managed government-run schools in droves. Only about two-thirds of India’s school-age children attend classes at all, and the fierce competition for places at private institutes means that waiting lists are enormous and it’s difficult to win admission to any without pulling strings.

More discouraging still, because of its demographics India will need to build another 250,000 schools to meet its goal of universal enrollment by 2015. But that means there’s a big opportunity, as well, some investors believe: India could well be the first country in the modern world where the business of educating kids from kindergarten through high school is, well, a business. Meet the would-be chain store of education: the Indus World School (IWS).

The school that Ramesh chose for Dhiraj, called R.S. Public School in homage to the legacy of Eton and Harrow, was not part of IWS or any other big corporation. When I visited the place, the paint was crumbling off the concrete walls. Its barred windows give it an aspect more penal than pedantic, and the children in the courtyard were forced to squint and shield their eyes against a fine grit whipped across the compound by the wind.

Still, at $6 a month, it cost less than the voucher that Ramesh received as part of a pilot program run by the Center for Civil Society, and the teachers actually showed up for work. Corporation-run chain schools would institute higher standards — perhaps even pioneering the franchise model in education.

“India needs entrepreneurs and organizations who are willing to build a scalable execution model of schools,” said Satya Narayanan, chairman of Career Launcher. “In terms of numbers, these could translate into a chain of hundreds of schools over a five to seven year period.”

With 14 schools in operation, mostly in second-tier cities but also including five rural schools, Indus World School has made a good start.

Earlier this year, the company secured second round financing from Gaja Capital Partners and sold an additional, undisclosed stake to Housing Development Finance Corp. for around $10 million — suggesting that the snowball is beginning to roll downhill. According to Narayanan, IWS hopes to operate 75 schools with over 40,000 students in five years time, which could pave the way for a wave of followers.

According to the entrepreneur, at least a dozen of India’s large corporations are discussing similar ventures or investments. But the blue ocean market — 250,000 schools! — means he won’t need to worry much about competition for bodies.

Nevertheless, Narayanan aims to make sure innovation isn’t limited to the business model.

The company is steadily developing its own intellectual property for the curriculum, with a focus on age-appropriate linkages to career aspirations and higher education goals — music to the ears of middle-class Indian parents.

And the connection with Career Launcher — a test prep and college admissions advisory company that serves 100,000 from 225 outlets — ensures that IWS understands its target customers and their goals.

Can for-profit chain schools really step in where the state has failed — especially for students like Dhiraj Singh, whose parents can’t afford to pay more than a pittance?

Studies of tiny, grassroots private schools and school vouchers suggest that the answer may be yes. So far IWS, like most elite Indian schools, offers scholarships for only a few hundred students. But the gathering momentum of the country’s recently passed Right to Education law (RTE) could free up funds for private players.

“The RTE needs to be given an operating framework from the current ‘intent’ state,” said Narayanan. “We can contribute immensely to [uplifting the poor] in just a generation if we can implement RTE smartly!”

Global Post, 24 October 2011

Comment

On school choice we must look to the US

School Choice, School Vouchers

One of the most powerful ideas in education reform is the “voucher”. At present, the Government spends more than £5,000 per year on average for a child in a state school (more for secondary schools, less for primary schools). With a “voucher”, parents could choose to take that money and spend it on a place in a private school. Parents would gain a much greater range of choice overnight, and research suggests that greater choice leads to better results. This is the evidence from Sweden, which has served as the inspiration for Michael Gove’s free schools.

These arguments have been winning the debate in America for several years. Last Thursday, the State Senate of Indiana approved the largest voucher programme to be seen in the US so far. The programme is geared towards families on lower incomes. It will eventually allow 62 per cent of all families in Indiana to take their public funds to a private school if they so choose. The Government will pick up the tab on a sliding scale depending on each family’s income, with the poorest eligible for 90 per cent of their school’s fees.

Indiana’s Governor, Mitch Daniels, explained the reforms: “If you’re a moderate or low-income family and you’ve tried the public schools for at least a year and you can’t find one that works for your child, you can direct the dollars we were going to spend on your child to the non-government school of your choice. That’s a social justice issue to me.”

The Indiana reforms follow hot on the heels of the renewal of a school voucher programme in the District of Columbia, which has helped thousands of disadvantaged children get a decent education that they would not otherwise have received.

England has the same need for radical reform. Last year, only 30.9 per cent of children from poorer backgrounds (measured by eligibility for free school meals) achieved five good GCSEs, compared to 58.5 per cent of children not in receipt of free school meals. That makes it all the more surprising that the Government has set its face against something similar in England. In February, Nick Clegg was the latest Minister to declare that “while we are opening up diversity of provision, there will be no for-profit providers in our publicly funded schools system”. But school choice is a social justice issue here too. England would do well to follow Indiana’s lead.

The Telegraph, April 26, 2011

Comment

Cash transfer for school attendance is in works

School Vouchers

NEW DELHI: Poor families sending their children to school could get a cash incentive based on the attendance of their child.

The Planning Commission has taken note of a report that has suggested the measure to magnify the impact of the Right To Education law.

The Chronic Poverty Report report, prepared by six experts and published by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, suggests merging conditional cash transfers with the existing schemes such as the mid day meal as an effective way of incentivising education for the poor.

“Demand for education from poorest households need stimulating as much as supply and quality of education need investment,” says the report. It adds that conditional cash transfers can supplement the mid-day meal scheme, and scholarships for disadvantaged groups in stimulating demand for schooling in poverty stricken households.

Cash transfers conditional to school attendance has been successful in improving school enrollment and reducing dropout numbers in Latin America. “It would be gainful for India to gain a perspective on what has worked there (in Latin America),” noted the report.

Conditional cash transfer (CCT) schemes involve money transfer directly to poor households in response to the beneficiary fulfilling specific conditions. In the case of education, these could be minimum attendance of children in schools, attendance in health clinics, participation in immunisation programs and others.

Variations of the scheme have been tried out successfully in India, notably in Bihar where the state provided cash to girl students to buy bicycles so that they could go to school everyday. “Other states and even the centre should think about such schemes as they do work,” an official at the Bihar Education Project Department told ET.

The Bihar government spent 174.36 crore on the scheme over three years and benefited 8.71 lakh girls and helped bring down the dropout rate in the state from 25 lakh to 10 lakh in a span of four years.

The central government has implemented around six CCT schemes, including the National Programme for Education of Girls at the elementary level under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2003. The scheme provided 150 to every school going girl child a year but it had somewhat lesser impact. “The scheme is a moderate success as the cash element was not much, but more people in rural areas responded to the scheme and enrollment of girl children,” said a Planning Commission official. The enrollment rate of girl child under the scheme in rural areas increased from 28% to 47% in three years after the implementation of the scheme.

Hyun H Son, Manila-based economist with the Asian Development Bank, says CCT programmes in Latin America and other developing countries has been perceived as “magic bullet” for poverty reduction. However, he says for the schemes to work, countries need to have very strong administrative delivery and monitoring mechanisms.

There are some dissenting voices though. A UNDP 2009 report has criticised CCTs for “short term motives” that might prove inadequate to meet the challenge and need to be supplemented by other broad based programmes.

Experts in India also say that in India CCTs to stimulate demand can only act as a supplementary act as the greater priority is to ensure the quality and infrastructure of education system. “Money cannot substitute for quality of the education provided. I feel there is enough demand but less capacity for schools to absorb the demand,” says Himanshu, an assistant professor in JNU and a visiting fellow at Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi. He adds that to make the Bihar ‘bicycle’ scheme a success, the government invested extensively in education infrastructure before launching the scheme.

Economic Times, April 14, 2011

Comment

Budget Deal Fuels Revival of School Vouchers

School Vouchers

In the 11th-hour compromise to avoid a government shutdown last week, one concession that President Obama made to Republicans drew scant attention: he agreed to finance vouchers for Washington students to attend private schools.

The voucher program, whose main beneficiaries are church-affiliated schools, is close to the heart of the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a product of parochial schools, who had repeatedly choked up defending it on the House floor last month.

The White House at first opposed the Opportunity Scholarship Program, saying it did not raise student achievement. But in the end it was an easy place to compromise, administration aides said, in order to save bigger, more prominent education initiatives favored by Democrats from the $38 billion in cuts.

Mr. Boehner’s beloved program is the latest example of how conservative Republicans across the country are advancing school vouchers — including offering them for the first time to middle-class families — and reviving a cause that until recently seemed moribund.

“Life has been breathed into the voucher movement,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, director of education policy at the Brookings Institution. “I think they are part of what will be a more powerful and focused drive toward choice.”

Voucher advocates have long argued that if a student can use public money to attend any school, even a private one, schools will compete and improve. Some black leaders see vouchers as a way for poor students to escape failing urban schools.

“When I walk into a Safeway and talk to a mother who had a child who was already part of the voucher program and had another one she wanted to sign up, how could I deny her the opportunity?” said Kwame R. Brown, the Democratic chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia, who supports the city’s voucher program.

But vouchers were never widely adopted. Voters in four states defeated voucher referendums through 2007, and state courts narrowed or ended some programs.

Much of the enthusiasm for school choice has been absorbed by charter schools, which are secular and accountable under state standards like other public schools. Today, when 1.6 million students attend charter schools, the pro-voucher Foundation for Educational Choice says that only about 185,000 are in voucher or voucherlike programs.

The same gale-force winds battering teacher tenure and collective-bargaining rights, however, have led to a voucher revival.

“Where Republicans have taken over both the governor’s office and state legislatures, they’re pushing very hard on ideas that are grounded much more in ideology than on evidence they’ll have positive outcomes,” said Greg Anrig, vice president for policy at the liberal Century Foundation.

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio wants to quadruple a state voucher program capped at 14,000 students in failing schools. In Indiana, a bill that is likely to pass the legislature soon would offer vouchers to families with incomes up to $61,000. “I think it’s going to strengthen public schools through competition,” said Dennis Kruse, the Republican chairman of the State Senate education panel. “The schools will have to shape up if they want to keep the kids they have.”

Vi Simpson, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate in Indiana, said the vouchers would divert $92 million from public schools when they are already facing steep declines in state and federal aid. “Either this hasn’t been very well thought out,” she said, “or it’s been very well thought out and it is intended to help public schools fail.”

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who overcame a siege of the State Capitol to enact a law narrowing collective bargaining for public employees, mainly teachers, wants to expand Milwaukee’s voucher program, the nation’s oldest with 20,000 students. His plan would let any student, not just the poor, receive a voucher. Supporters say universal vouchers will make the city more attractive to the middle class.

But critics say that even after 21 years of vouchers, students receiving them perform no better than those in public schools on state tests of math and reading. Mr. Walker’s proposal “takes a program that’s supposed to be for low-income and working-class people and turns it into a subsidy for rich people,” said Howard L. Fuller, who was superintendent in the program’s early years.

“I will become an opponent of a program that I’ve fought 20 years of my life for,” he added. “I’ve been called every name under the sun for being a black person who would support, quote, the right-wing agenda.”

Dr. Fuller recalled debating an Illinois state senator opposed to vouchers in 1998, Barack Obama.

Democrats in Congress in 2009 closed Washington’s voucher program to new students, and as recently as last month the White House opposed reopening it on the ground that it did not lift student achievement. That was the finding of the United States Department of Education last year. But the report showed that Washington voucher students had a 12 percent higher graduation rate.

Mr. Boehner introduced legislation last month to reopen the program, providing $8,000 to $12,000 per year for low-income students, a total of $20 million annually for five years. After impassioned debate, the House bill passed March 29 on nearly a party-line vote. Its prospects in the Senate were considered poor.

Then came the budget negotiations between the White House and Congressional Republicans. For the administration, accepting Mr. Boehner’s voucher program was a small compromise compared with education priorities like maintaining financing for Head Start and Race to the Top.

One person excited by that decision was Lydell Mann, a single father with two children in the voucher program. He chose the Nannie Helen Burroughs School, owned by a Baptist denomination, for his children because the classes are smaller and the students more respectful, compared with what he observed when his daughter attended public school.

“Taking Ariona to school every day, noticing the language being used by the youth, noticing the trouble that would be started before and after school, I felt that environment wasn’t the greatest,” Mr. Mann said.

He was “ecstatic” that more families would have a chance to receive vouchers.

New York Times, April 14, 2011

Comment

Vouchers revived

School Choice, School Vouchers

WASHINGTON—A couple thousand low-income children in District of Columbia will be happy about the budget bill for the current fiscal year that President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Speaker of the House John Boehner agreed to Friday night: It includes the reopening of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to low-income families to send their children to a school of their choice. Congress will likely pass the budget bill midweek.

Democrats closed the program to new students in 2009, phasing it out, but when Republicans took the majority in the House of Representatives this year, Boehner pressed hard to reopen the program. He introduced the SOAR (Scholarships for Opportunity and Results) Act that reopened the program for another five years, allowing new students in and upping the scholarships from $7,000 per child to up to $8,000 to $12,000 per child, depending on grade level. The act includes provisions for the 216 students who had been accepted into the program in 2009 but were barred after Democrats closed the program. The voucher bill is the only measure Boehner has introduced as speaker.

Boehner also invited current students in the program and their families to be his guests at the State of the Union address earlier this year. When the House passed the bill reopening the program March 30, he choked up while speaking about it from the House floor: “Let’s give these kids in our capital city a real chance at success and a real shot at the American dream that they don’t have.” The measure faced stiffer opposition in the Senate, though it had two Democratic supporters, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Since the president agreed to include the SOAR Act in the final budget bill deal that averted a government shutdown last week, the Senate is likely to swallow the program now, even though Obama previously issued a statement saying he “strongly opposes” it. But the program’s opponents haven’t conceded yet, so voucher advocates voiced cautious optimism until the vote is final.

“D.C. parents are excited that Speaker Boehner has been such a champion on this issue,” said Andrew Campanella of the Alliance for School Choice. “We look forward to enrolling new students in the program if this goes through.”

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown and the majority of the council members support the voucher program, but Mayor Vincent Gray and the district’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, do not. Gray called the D.C. deal, which included a ban on local funding for abortion, “ludicrous.”

“While one rider purports to provide educational aid to children in need, the other takes away desperately needed aid from poor women,” Gray said in a statement. “Hypocrisy is alive and well in the United States Congress.” The act includes $40 million in additional funding for D.C. public and charter schools, designed to diffuse criticism that the $20 million voucher program is draining money from public schools.

Holmes Norton went further. She called the D.C. elements of the budget bill “the functional equivalent of bombing innocent civilians.” She added, in an interview with WTTG-TV, “It’s time that the District of Columbia told the Congress to go straight to hell.” Holmes Norton and Gray will attend a rally against the D.C. riders—the voucher program and the ban on abortion funding—on Monday evening outside one of the Senate office buildings. D.C. Vote, the group organizing the protest, said that Obama had “sacrificed the right of D.C. residents to get a deal on the federal budget bill.”

Congress approves all of the District of Columbia’s appropriations, and Gray brings up his opposition to federal oversight of the District of Columbia almost every time he speaks, though the district relies on federal funding for about 35 percent of its revenue. He sees the voucher program as an ideological experiment of lawmakers and has repeated what President Obama has said about the program showing no record of success. But Department of Education-commissioned studies show that the scholarship program has improved voucher recipients’ reading scores and raised high school graduation rates by 21 percent. Parents, too, are highly satisfied, especially when it comes to their children’s safety. Four separate polls found that a large majority of D.C. residents support the program.

World Magazine, April 11, 2011

Comment

GOP seeks to expand school voucher program

School Vouchers

A Republican Assembly leader plans to add to the state budget bill an expansion of Milwaukee’s voucher program to other school districts, potentially giving more families in cities such as Madison access to private and religious schools.

Voucher advocates say the time is ripe to expand the program to other cities, especially with Republicans in control of state government and a recent study suggesting students in the 20-year-old Milwaukee program are testing as well or better than their public school counterparts, with a lower cost per pupil.

They also argue that vouchers would level the playing field for private schools, which have seen enrollment decline as public charter schools have gained popularity.

But voucher opponents say expansion would further cripple public schools, which already face an $834 million cut in state funding over the next two years.

And state test scores to be released Tuesday, which for the first time include 10,600 Milwaukee voucher students, could suggest they are testing no better than poor students in the Milwaukee Public Schools.

“Given the proposed unprecedented cuts to public education as well as results from our statewide assessments, I question plans in the 2011-13 state budget for expanding the choice program in Milwaukee or anywhere else in Wisconsin,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said.

Currently only low-income students in Milwaukee Public Schools are eligible to receive up to about $6,500 in public money to attend private schools. Gov. Scott Walker’s budget calls for lifting income eligibility limits and enrollment caps, and allowing Milwaukee students to attend private schools anywhere in Milwaukee County.

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said he wants to expand vouchers to cities such as Racine, Green Bay and Madison because “too many kids are being left behind and are literally being cast off the island.”

“The parents who are inside (Racine’s) school system are realizing that the hope they have that their own system will improve is usually misplaced,” Vos said.

Vos proposed expanding the voucher program to Racine as part of the 2007 state budget, but gave up on the proposal as part of a compromise between the then-Republican-controlled Assembly and Democratic-controlled Senate.

This time Vos said he expects to introduce a more comprehensive proposal that would allow voucher programs in multiple cities. Specific details aren’t finalized, but Vos said it could allow parents in school districts with the right environment for a voucher program — such as enough private schools — to petition the state for a program.

“There has to be community input,” Vos said. “I don’t want to impose something where there’s no hope for success. But I don’t want the status quo to be the driver of reform.”

‘Hasn’t hit the radar in Madison’

It remains to be seen which communities would welcome vouchers, which in many parts of the state are viewed as unique to Milwaukee. Grassroots support from parents has developed in Racine and Green Bay, which may be the first places where the program expands, Vos said.

Vos also said Madison would be an ideal candidate for a voucher program. Dane County has 32 private schools, compared with 23 in Racine County and 31 in Brown County.

The Madison School District’s low-income population has grown considerably in the last decade, surpassing 50 percent for the first time this year. An increasing number of families are enrolling their students in neighboring districts. And though the district’s schools are considered high-performing, concerns about the success rate of minorities have prompted the Urban League to press for a charter school geared toward closing the achievement gap.

But unlike Milwaukee, political support for vouchers is nonexistent here.

Urban League President Kaleem Caire said he told Walker’s education policy advisers last fall that his organization would not support vouchers in Madison.

“Our position has not changed,” Caire said. “We believe public charter schools are the best avenue to provide quality school options for children and families in greater Madison.”

Even Michael Lancaster, superintendent of the Madison Catholic Diocese Schools, said the voucher issue “really hasn’t hit the radar in Madison.”

“I’m not sure that anybody was seriously talking about voucher program expansion until recently and the last elections,” Lancaster said. “Madison doesn’t have the same issues as Milwaukee.”

Charter, public, private

The proposal to expand vouchers in Wisconsin comes at a time when the national debate on reforming public schools has shifted away from vouchers toward charter schools, said Marisa Cannata, associate director of the National Center on School Choice at Vanderbilt University. Charter schools tend to have more flexibility to employ alternative methods than traditional public schools but with more accountability than private schools.

The political calculus also has made charter schools more appealing, as Democrats and teacher unions have softened their opposition to charter schools. Their opposition to vouchers remains fierce.

Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, said expanding vouchers and avenues for independent charter schools while cutting public education is all part of a Republican attempt “to privatize what has been a very successful and very stable public education system in Wisconsin.”

“We know we have issues where we need to do better,” Bell said. “But in most schools in Wisconsin, the investment we have made as a state benefits communities and the economy.”

Still, private school advocates see vouchers as a remedy to years of declining enrollment in the face of increased interest in public charter schools.

“A charter school is a public school that markets itself as a private school,” said Matt Kussow, executive director of the Wisconsin Council for Religious and Independent Schools. “That’s really changed the debate about vouchers.”

Since 2000, private school enrollment in Wisconsin has declined 16 percent, while public charter school enrollment has multiplied sixfold.

“There is good reason to think that those are connected,” said Patrick Wolf, a researcher at the University of Arkansas, which the state commissioned to conduct a five-year study on the results of the Milwaukee voucher program.

“There are people in the Catholic schools area who are very concerned about the ability of Catholic schools to survive in the new environment, absent the voucher schools. Because they’re competing against free goods.”

The Arkansas study, which is following a sampling of comparable voucher students and Milwaukee Public Schools students over time, has found a neutral to positive effect on the test scores of voucher students, Wolf said. The research also suggests the competition has improved the performance of traditional Milwaukee Public Schools.

The state’s Legislative Audit Bureau has questioned the study because 60 percent of voucher students returned to public schools, private schools administered different tests than public schools and individual school data was unavailable.

In response, the state required voucher students to take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination for the first time last fall. Walker’s proposal would repeal that requirement.

Wisconsin State Journal, March 26, 2011

Comment

Why Race to the Top and School Choice makes teachers and kids successful

School Choice, School Vouchers

“Let me tell you, what’s not working for black kids and Hispanic kids and Native American kids across this country is the status quo. That’s what’s not working. What’s not working is what we’ve been doing for decades now.”

These words were echoed by President Barack Obama as he gave his speech about his education reform policy, “Race to the Top,” at the Urban League’s 100th Anniversary Convention. While I disagree with Obama at least 99 percent of the time on a lot of things, this is definitely that 1 percent of the time when I think he got it right. Public education is failing here at home, and we are neglecting our duties as Americans by sitting on our hands and not reaching out to help our most vulnerable citizens; our children.

Discussions of education reform and school choice initiatives have been happening all over the country. The grassroots efforts of parents, students, administrators and advocates alike have taken their hopes and concerns to some State legislative bodies like right here in Indiana. Unfortunately though, the temper tantrums being thrown by Democrats in the House have impeded any progress, and have actually overtaken the positives of initiatives like School Choice and Race to the Top; misplacing focus, and muddying the waters of a clear and concise debate about what absolutely needs to be done to fix our broken education system.

The main objection to these reforms come from the people that you would least expect, our teachers, administrators, and some elected officials. Their view is that these radical reforms will completely dismantle the public education system, all while firing our best and brightest in the field of education. This is simply not true. As Obama later stated in his address, “I am 110 percent behind our teachers. But all I’m asking in return — as a President, as a parent, and as a citizen — is some measure of accountability.

“So even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we’ve got to make sure we’re seeing results in the classroom. If we’re not seeing results in the classroom, then let’s work with teachers to help them become more effective. If that doesn’t work, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom.” Teachers are professionals, and they ought to be treated as such. If you have been in the place for 20 minutes or 20 years, it should not matter, if you are a good teacher (and there are many), DON’T WORRY YOU WILL SUCCEED, and if you are a bad teacher (and we have all had at least one) then you will be let go and someone more capable will take your place. Competition, merit-based pay, and accountability, these are the things that will make our teachers better equipped to teach our students.

Yet, while their concerns may be legitimate, they are also quite weak. They seem to be losing focus of what is truly at stake; the future of our children and our country. The premise of these “radical” reforms is to help out our children by giving them the best possible education; therefore giving them the best possible teachers … regardless of where they start.

Here’s the deal. School Choice refers to various programs that allow parents to choose the public or private school where their child will attend. Parents receive either a tax credit or scholarship representing part or all of the per-student expenditure made in local government schools. Parents could use these funds to select a public or private school of their choice instead of the government-assigned school. What does that mean? Basically, if you live in an underprivileged area of the state, and you decide that your assigned school cannot fulfill the needs of your child (graduation rates, afterschool programs, etc.) you can take the money that would have been used to attend that school and go to a better one. If that school continues to lose pupils, it will cease to exist while the other surrounding schools will flourish. This is not rocket science folks, it is competition. Why is Purdue a prestigious institution? Because, we compete with the rest of the Big Ten to bring the best and brightest teachers and students, and thus we succeed! Why should our public schools be any different? Why should our most talented students, some of them coming from underprivileged areas, be limited in their choice of education?

If you feel passionate about this issue, please feel free to come out to the Education Reform Forum at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in Physics 112. The Purdue University College Republicans will be hosting award winning director and Purdue alumnus Bob Bowdon. He will be screening his film, “The Cartel,” a film about education reform and school choice, and doing a Q&A panel after.

Mike Cunningham is the president of Purdue College Republicans and a senior in the College of Liberal Arts.

The Exponent, March 22, 2011

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Research Paper

For-profit education, School Vouchers

Markets vs. Monopolies in Education: A Global Review of the Evidence

Andrew J. Coulson

Abstract: Would large-scale, free-market reforms improve educational outcomes for American children? That question cannot be answered by looking at domestic evidence alone. Though innumerable “school choice” programs have been implemented around the United States, none has created a truly free and competitive education marketplace. Existing programs are too small, too restriction laden, or both. To understand how genuine market forces affect school performance, we must cast a wider net, surveying education systems from all over the globe. The present paper undertakes such a review, assessing the results of 25 years of international research comparing market and government provision of education, and explaining why these international experiences are relevant to the United States.

In more than one hundred statistical comparisons covering eight different educational outcomes, the private sector outperforms the public sector in the overwhelming majority of cases. Moreover, that margin of superiority is greatest when the freest and most market-like private schools are compared to the least open and least competitive government systems (i.e., those resembling a typical U.S. public school system). Given the breadth, consistency, relevance, and decisiveness of this body of evidence, the implications for U.S. education policy are profound.

For more, read this

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Why we need school vouchers

School Vouchers

In Akron, Ohio, a black woman has gone to jail, branded by society as a felon, for a crime which, in its defiant nature, has some people invoking the memory of Rosa Parks.

While Parks refused to accept second-class status in the back of the bus, Kelley Williams-Bolar refused to accept the fact that her daughters were condemned to attend a dismal, crime-ridden, inner-city public school. So that her daughters could attend a much better school, she falsified documents to indicate that they lived in the suburbs with her father.

In the long run, her case has the potential to be of enormous importance. It should be a catalyst for enacting laws that give parents vouchers to send their children to schools of their choice, for it demonstrates exactly who is harmed the most by the collusion between Democrats and teachers unions to protect the status quo.

Despite the indignity she suffered, Rosa Parks was still guaranteed to arrive at the same destination as the white people sitting in the front of the bus. A young black child with a desire to learn who is forced to attend a second-class, inner-city school will have enormous obstacles to overcome in order to achieve his educational goals. Many will not succeed.

Most people cannot imagine the conditions in urban public schools that Kelley Williams-Bolar wanted her children to escape. As cynical as I am, even I was shocked the first time that I taught a middle school class. I wasn’t counting on seeing a sea of smiling faces eager to learn, but then again I wasn’t expecting a Lilliputian version of a Jerry Springer audience.

It would be fair to say that a majority of the students were not receptive to the idea that they were there to learn; some could be described as outright hostile to the suggestion. The hostility manifests itself in many ways, all of which require teachers to divert time from teaching activities.

It is, therefore, no surprise that so little learning takes place. In schools where so much energy must be expended to enforce discipline, learning is necessarily compromised. By high school, the students will have calmed down, becoming more sullen than outrageous, but no more cooperative.

As an act of survival, teachers make informal deals with students, in effect telling them, if you make my life easier, I’ll make yours easier. The tradeoff: lowered academic expectations for classroom order.

When I had a chance to substitute at the high school, I met a teacher who remembered me from my days at York High back in the 1960s. I discussed my teaching style, which involved a lot of lecturing and Socratic dialogue.

He said that they had stopped lecturing a long time ago; the students simply refused to listen. Now we hand out worksheets. The students get to talk to their friends while they fill them out. The quizzes and tests that are given are similar to the worksheets, so the learning process is reduced to the following: learn a few answers for a short time, forget them, then repeat the process with some new facts.

This is what is passing for education in the city schools. Kelley Williams-Bolar wanted something better for her daughters.

When I think about this case, the memory of one young black man still haunts me. I had half a period of time to kill and the students were studying the American Revolution. Since most of the students were black, I thought that they might be curious as to how people like Jefferson reconciled flowery language about equality with slaveholding.

I ignored the old teacher’s warning and launched into an extemporaneous lecture.

Dealing with the numerous interruptions from students as best I could, I soldiered on, enjoying every minute of it. I couldn’t help but notice one student in the very back, ramrod straight in his desk, neatly dressed and hanging on every word that I was saying.

When class ended, the students filed past my desk. The last one out was the young man from the back. As he went by, he looked me in the eye, and then uttered something that I will always remember, “I hate my classmates.”

This is the real crime, not providing a student who wants to learn with the best educational opportunity available. He is the reason why a voucher program needs to be put in place.

York Daily Record, March 4,2011

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