Posts tagged ‘School Choice’

January 22, 2013

School Choice for Kids? Ravitch and NEA Say No

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Widely discredited ex-reformer and teachers union try to deny families a fundamental right.

Diane Ravitch has yet again exposed herself as an unserious spokesperson for the sclerotic anti-education reform movement. This crowd is made up of people – typically special interests – bureaucrats, teachers unions, etc. – who desperately cling to the ridiculous notion that children are best served if they are forced to go to the school nearest their home, no matter how lousy it may be. And Part 2 of this bad scenario is that the same folks insist that we throw endless piles of cash at that school even though tripling funds for education in the last 40 years has had no effect on improving it.

In a recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ravitch did her darndest to make the case for maintaining the top-down, one-size-fits-all, centrally planned, expensive, bureaucratically bloated, failing school system that so many families in Milwaukee seek to escape. She claims that,

Milwaukee has had voucher schools since 1990, longer than any school district in the nation. Students in the voucher schools perform no better than those in the public schools.

Milwaukee has had charter schools for about 20 years. Students in the charter schools do no better than those in the public schools.

Ravitch, of course, is famous for never letting facts get in the way of her agenda. In a rebuttal in the same newspaper, researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte say,

…students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

While the charter school data isn’t quite as dramatic as the voucher figures, studies show that charters also do a better job of educating kids in Milwaukee. Very importantly, Wolf and Witte point out,

Average per-pupil taxpayer costs of students in MPS were $15,969 in fiscal year 2011 compared to just $9,718 for independent charter schools and less than $6,442 per voucher student. Economist Robert Costrell determined that the operation of the voucher program alone saved the public over $52 million in fiscal year 2011.

So even if Ravitch is right, that school choice in Milwaukee makes no difference academically, isn’t it preferable to get the same results while spending a whole lot less? Maybe one day Ravitch will take a stab at answering that question, but I’m not holding my breath.

The National Education Association also needs to be taken to the woodshed. Those oh-so-clever folks at union-central have a page on their website which they call “Five Talking Points on Vouchers.” It begins,

What have you got against private school vouchers?” your brother-in-law demands over Sunday dinner. Ah, if he only knew the facts. Next time someone puts you on the spot, use these talking points to debunk the most popular voucher claims.

The “facts” according to the NEA are:

NEA: There’s no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement.

Truth: Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation examined all available empirical studies and found that,

Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.

NEA: Claiming that private schools have autonomy, they say that, “Vouchers undermine accountability for public funds.”

Truth: What NEA doesn’t tell you is that in many places public schools have no accountability at all. If a public school fails, what happens? Typically the school doesn’t “go out of business” the way private schools do. Instead, reacting to heavy pressure from the teachers unions, state legislatures will keep the failing schools afloat and demand that taxpayers pony up more money because “we owe it to the children.

NEA: Vouchers do not reduce public education costs.

Truth: This is an outrageous lie. As shown above, charters in Milwaukee do the job for 60 cents on the dollar and vouchers for about 40 cents on the dollar. Granted these numbers are specific to Milwaukee, but there is little difference on the national level.

NEA: Vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.

Truth:  They give everyone involved a choice. The claim here is that private schools “discriminate.” Okay, so what? If a certain school won’t accept little Johnny because he has an asthmatic condition that the school doesn’t have the medical wherewithal to deal with, a parent will have to go find a private school that is more suitable. Yes, in a free system of school choice, schools and parents can pick and choose each other without coercion.

NEA: The public disapproves of vouchers.

Truth: Because of intense propaganda by teachers unions and other special interests, the public has been skeptical of vouchers, but that is changing. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are now 21 states that have voucher programs. And very importantly, once a state institutes school choice, it doesn’t change back to a non-choice policy. (Choice does well elsewhere. France and Canada have partial choice set-ups, while 90 percent of Chilean students utilize such a system. And Sweden has free choice for every child in the country.) Additionally, researcher Herbert Walberg recently wrote,

In big cities, as many as 80 percent of public school parents say they would send their children to parochial or independent schools if they could afford tuition. Scholarships for poor families are heavily oversubscribed, as are charter schools, which are government-funded but run by private boards.

As we head into National School Choice Week, it is important to listen to the voices of those families who are desperately trying to get a better education for their children. And for Ravitch and her union buddies – history will relegate them to the dustbins they so richly deserve. It can’t happen too soon.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

National School Choice Week will be celebrated Jan. 27-Feb.2 this year.

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February 28, 2012

School Choice: Time to Move Forward

As evidence mounts that the government/union education monopoly is failing our children, 2012 should see ramped up efforts to advance school choice.

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Last week, Education Week published “What Research Says About School Choice,” in which nine scholars analyze the results of various studies concerning “school choice” – the quaint notion that parents should be able to choose where to send their kids to school. The report boasts no ecstatic claims, nothing about lions and lambs, no Hallelujah moments – just a sober look at the 20 year-old movement to end mandatory zip code school assignments. Some of the findings:

Among voucher programs, random-assignment studies generally find modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both. Achievement gains are typically small in each year, but cumulative over time. Graduation rates have been studied less often, but the available evidence indicates a substantial positive impact.

Among voucher programs, these studies consistently find that vouchers are associated with improved test scores in the affected public schools. The size of the effect in these studies varies from modest to large. No study has found a negative impact.

A third area of study has been the fiscal impact of school choice. Even under conservative assumptions about such questions as state and local budget sensitivity to enrollment changes, the net impact of school choice on public finances is usually positive and has never been found to be negative.

Also last week, the California Charter School Association released its second annual “Portrait of the Movement: How Charters are Transforming California Education.” Not a sales pitch or compilation of cherry-picked data data, the CCSA report is an honest look at California’s 900 plus charter schools which educate about 400,000 students. A few of its many findings:

Charters that serve low-income students exceeded their prediction at high rates relative to the traditional system; students at charters serving low-income populations are five times more likely than their non-charter counterparts to be served by a school in the top 5th percentile.

Charter schools are more likely than non-charters to have both above average academic performance and above average growth. They are less likely than non-charters to perform below both state averages of status and growth.

A small number of low-performing charters were closed after the 2010-11 school year.

Earlier this month, the results of a study about school choice and its effects on crime in North Carolina, conducted by David J. Deming, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, were released. This study examined neither vouchers nor charter schools, but rather a district-wide open enrollment policy whereby any student could apply to any school within the district. If a popular school had more enrollees than seats, a lottery was held. The rather stunning findings:

In general, high-risk students commit about 50 percent less crime as a result of winning a school choice lottery.  Among male high school students at high risk of criminal activity, winning admission to a first-choice school reduced felony arrests from 77 to 43 per 100 students over the study period (2002-2009).  The attendant social cost of crimes committed decreased by more than 35 percent.  Among high-risk middle school students, admittance by lottery to a preferred school reduced the average social cost of crimes committed by 63 percent (due chiefly to a reduction in violent crime), and reduced the total expected sentence of crimes committed by 31 months (64 percent).

The study finds that the overall reductions in criminal activity are concentrated among the top 20 percent of high-risk students, who are disproportionately African American, eligible for free lunch, with more days of absence and suspensions than the average student.

Hence, the ability to choose the school that a child attends not only increases chances of a better education, but also greatly decreases the likelihood that the youth will become a criminal. And not only doesn’t it cost anything, lower crime rates have been shown to be a boon to local economies.

Another kind of school choice was recently attempted by parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern California. Tired of low test scores, some parents organized and got more than 50 percent of the parents at the school to sign a “Parent Trigger” petition, which would give them the right to choose a different type of school governance. Their choices included firing the principal, removing some of the faculty, shutting the school down or turning it in to a charter school. Linda Serrato, Deputy Communication Director of Parent Revolution, explains that this particular petition laid out two options: “…negotiate with the parents to give them the autonomy they need to turn around their school, or they will use the Parent Trigger to take their school away from the district and convert it into a community charter school, run by local parents and educators.”

However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the California Teachers Association, a union that will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and thus its political power, sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (“Union speak” alert: “Representatives” and “information” really mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes and feeding them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

The unionistas’ door-to-door rescission campaign managed to scare enough signers into revoking their signatures, thus nullifying the proposed action. CTA pulled the same stunt in Compton, the first time parents rose up and “pulled the Trigger.”  But after a legal challenge, in which the parents were successfully represented pro bono by the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, the Trigger went forward, and produced the opening of a new charter school. Apparently, Kirkland and Ellis are ready for a second go-round and will represent the parents in Adelanto.

School choice is an idea whose time is long overdue. Scholars know it. Charter school attendees know it. Crime free youths in North Carolina know it. Parent activists in the Mojave Desert know it.

The nearsighted, the naysayers, and the beneficiaries of the current failing status quo — moribund educrats, reactionary school boards and power-mad teacher unions – realize they could be in trouble and will desperately fight to extinguish the fires of reform whenever and wherever they can. But as parents and taxpayers become enlightened about the advantages of choice and empowered  to take action, their opponents — with their lame assertions, name calling, sophistry and bullying — will see their hegemony wilt and ultimately will be rendered powerless.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

February 14, 2012

The Brazen Hypocrisy of the Teachers Unions

When teachers unions wear their duplicity like a bright red bandana, it shows the whole world what they really are about.

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Last week, New Jersey Education Association Executive Director Vincent Giordano, who makes over $500,000 a year in salary and assorted perks, shoved his foot in his mouth big time. Appearing on “New Jersey Capitol Report,” he and the host were discussing Governor Chris Christie’s plan to install a voucher system in New Jersey. Such a plan would enable students in the state’s worst performing schools to escape them with a voucher that they could use to attend a private school.


Host: The issue of fairness, I mean this is the argument that a lot of voucher supporters make. People who are well off have options. Somebody who is not well off and whose child is in a failing school, why shouldn’t those parents have the same options to get the kid out of the failing school and into one that works with the help of the state?

Giordano: Those parents should have exactly the same options and they do. We don’t say you can’t take your kid out of the public school. We would argue not and we would say ‘let’s work more closely and more harmoniously’ …

Host: They can’t afford to pay, you know that. Some of these parents can’t afford to take their child out of these schools.

Giordano: Life’s not always fair and I’m sorry about that.

Unions hate vouchers because if such a system was instituted, it would mean that more kids would be attending private schools which are not unionized. This would result in less money and power for the teachers unions. Hence, when it comes to a chance for a poor kid to go to a better school via the voucher route, the NJ union boss is essentially saying, “Sorry, but we are going to keep you in your place.” (I can imagine Giordano telling Rosa Parks after complaining that she shouldn’t have to sit in the back of the bus, “Tough cookies Rosa, life’s not always fair.”)

Not surprisingly, he was taken to task by many for his candid and callous remark.

Kevin P. Chavous, senior advisor to the American Federation for Children, called for an immediate apology from Giordano.

Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (Hispanic CREO) suggested that Mr. Giordano was having a ”bad day” and that his remarks “reflect a stunning insensitivity toward children who grow up in poverty.”

Governor Christie went even further, demanding Giordano’s resignation.

While I agree with Chris Christie on many things, I strongly disagree here. I don’t want fake warm and fuzzy union leaders like Randi Weingarten, who occasionally does a good acting job pretending that she really cares about “the children.” No, I want my union leaders to be like Mr. Giordano. They obviously don’t give a rat’s behind about children, so it’s refreshing when they don’t fake it. And as such, Mr. Giordano should be commended for his forthrightness.

Another example of proudly selfish union behavior that is out in the open was recently reported by Kyle Olson.

“Imagine your organization is facing attacks from all sides.  Imagine it’s losing members and revenue.  Imagine governors and mayors – of both political parties – publicly denouncing your industry as “broken” and move swiftly to stifle your power and influence, while you flail away helplessly.

“What to do?  What else to do but go down drinking?

“That’s what members of the National Education Association’s National Staff Organization have apparently decided.  The NSO is an association of sorts for teachers’ union staff – political and communications types.

“Following an ‘Advocacy Retreat’ with the theme ‘Building Our Unionism,’ members set sail on a 7-day cruise from Miami on February 5th “with stops at Cozumel, Grand Cayman Island and Isla Roatan.”  Sounds fun!  [In case the Facebook link disappears, never fear: here’s a PDF of the NSO newsletter.]”

There is nothing like tough economic times for a group that subsists on union dues (taken forcibly from teachers in 27 states) to take a seven-day luxury cruise. And they don’t even bother to hide it. In fact, NSO has a post on its Facebook page brazenly touting the cruise. And they have now added another post decrying Mr. Olson’s attack on them. One respondent sniffed, “They (people like Olson and me) just don’t understand….”  No, we do understand…all too well. But thanks for keeping the subject alive. Better than trying to keep it from teachers who are forced to pay millions of dollars in dues to your bosses.

Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy is that the teachers unions, and their $500,000 a year presidents, embrace the Occupy Wall Street movement. These elite union 1 percenters see the OWS crowd – the so called 99 percenters — as useful idiots who will blindly follow their diktats. The California Teachers Association and many other teachers unions have been proudly and openly supportive of this group of ne’er-do-wells, losers, rapists, communists, thieves, litterbugs and people who just don’t want to work.

In fact, on March 5th, CTA is calling for the 99 percenters to gather in Sacramento to “Occupy the Capitol.” Not only is CTA inviting the OWS rabble, they are calling for teachers to attend, even though it is a school day, thus costing taxpayers all over the state untold thousands in costs for subs and robbing children of a productive school day.

CTA is proudly promoting the event on its website. As CTA President Dean Vogel says:

“We have seen class sizes grow, college tuitions increase, and job opportunities vanish at the same time that banks have received bailouts and large corporations and millionaires have received tax cuts. We are the 99%. It’s time to put Main Street before Wall Street, and for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.”

We are the 99%”?! We? Some union leaders like Mr. Giordano are pulling in $500K a year. Your $200K+ isn’t too shabby either. We?!

 “…for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.”?! Fair share? The US corporate tax rate of 35 percent is second highest of all industrialized countries. In fact, President Obama, hardly a fiscal conservative, is calling for a lower corporate tax rate.

You might wonder what CTA’s tax burden is. As Mike Antonucci points out, CTA is a tax exempt organization. Hence, the corporation that “earned” $186 million in 2009 by forcibly removing money from teachers’ paychecks didn’t pay a penny in taxes. You need a power saw to cut through CTA’s contradictions. But its deceitfulness is out in the open for all to see. Good for them! Let everyone know what hypocrites you are instead of sneaking around and doing your dirty work in private.

The bottom line is that you — Giordano, the NSO and CTA leaders — are blatantly self-serving, very highly paid and running a mini-plutocracy. No, this is not a good thing. But your ongoing public arrogance is important. Please keep it up. People are finally beginning to see through you, and your brazen hypocrisy will continue to enlighten even more people about your real agenda.

And when enough people get the message that your raison-d’être is the accumulation of wealth and power and that you are the number one impediment to education reform, you will go the way of the Edsel. And justly, when you are gone, the first beneficiaries will be the poor people that Vincent Giordano, so readily dismisses.

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NJ Teachers Union Chief – $500K Salary on Voucher Debate Life’s Not Always Fair

The author of this article, Larry Sand, is a former classroom teacher, and the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

December 20, 2011

Tenure for Teachers: Enough is Enough

Every year untold thousands of school kids are harmed by teachers who shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom. Parents must be given an opportunity to send their children elsewhere.

President California Teachers Empowerment Network

A teacher arrives at work high on drugs…daily.

A teacher regularly flies into rages, terrifying kids and coworkers.

A teacher talks in explicit terms about sex to the students.

A teacher makes constant sexual advances to other teachers.

A teacher doesn’t teach her students anything.

These are a few of the teachers that new Perth Amboy schools superintendent Janine Caffrey has to deal with on a daily basis. She is quick to point out that most teachers are committed and talented, but there are a few….

The evil here is tenure or permanence, which in New Jersey bestows a position for life on teachers after just three years on the job. (It’s even worse in other states – in California, for example, a teacher can get into the untouchables club after only two years.) Tenure for teachers would be nothing more than a bad joke if it didn’t destroy the education experience for tens of thousands of children who are subjected to incompetent/cruel/perverted people on a daily basis.

The cases that Caffrey is dealing with are not all that uncommon. In my 28 year teaching career, I saw all the above and then some – like a teacher at my middle school who on a warm day at lunch decided to go topless on the athletic field. Admittedly guilty, the consequence of her action was to be transferred to a nearby elementary school. Another teacher regularly went to his car between his P.E. classes and got plastered. No consequence for him.

The proponents of tenure are typically bad teachers and their protectors — the teachers unions. They claim that tenure is nothing more than due process, and incompetent administrators are the ones to blame if a bad teacher is allowed to stay on the job.

Wrong. As Caffrey says,

“Proponents of tenure will tell you that any school or district can remove a teacher by the due-process system that the tenure law affords. That may be the intent of our tenure law, but it certainly doesn’t work that way.

The truth is that the system is rigged, plain and simple. A chart supplied by the Education Action Group shows the Byzantine two-to-five-year roadmap that must be followed to get rid of an incompetent teacher. What the chart doesn’t tell you is the procedure’s astronomical cost to the taxpayer. In Los Angeles recently, the school district tried to get rid of seven stinkers — after five years and a cost of $3.5 million, they managed to get rid of four, while two accepted buyouts and one reportedly was reinstated.

Then there is the case of Gabrielle Leko, a teacher in the La Caňada school district in California who, according to many reports, regularly hurls insults at her students dating back to at least 1997. Calling her students such terms of endearment as Jew Boy earned her a brief stint in a sensitivity class. And while the school board and superintendent are figuring out what to do with her, Leko, unchastened, goes to work every day and does what she has always done. And whatever is decided – the next event is a school board meeting on December 21 – Ms. Leko’s fate will be kept under wraps. So even if she does lose her job in La Caňada, she will probably be free to continue foisting her insults on unwitting students in another school district, should she decide to stay in the field.

While tenure laws have been in effect just about everywhere in the country for far too long, there is some good news. There are states – Illinois, Indiana and Florida, to name a few — that have succeeded in moderating or eliminating this abomination. This is all well and good, but until tenure is completely eradicated, children will be continue to be damaged (and in some cases, abused) by teachers who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near them.

Also, Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek claims that if we just got rid of the bottom performing 5 to 7 percent of teachers – a common practice in the private sector — our education system could rival that of Finland’s world class system.

Ultimately, the most realistic way for parents to successfully protect their children is to give them an option to remove their kids from harm’s way via a voucher. Parents should be allowed to take the money that as taxpayers they are paying to educate their child in a public school and apply it to enroll their children elsewhere – in a traditional public, charter or private school. Any school of their choosing.

And to the whiners amongst us who say, “But that could drain money away from public schools,” I say YES, it will! But the good news is that wherever students have been given a choice where to go to school, public schools have actually improved, even with less money. Yes, competition even works in the wacky world of public education.

One final note – if tenure is a disease that we absolutely must eradicate, perhaps political correctness is a close second. You may have read the story about a 9 year old boy in North Carolina who got suspended from school by the principal for two days because he told his teacher she was cute. Yes, he was accused of “sexually harassing” her. A nine year old! Fortunately, his mother decided to fight back – the story went viral, became national news and the boy was reinstated by district officials with an apology. Jerry Bostic, the principal who ordered the suspension, didn’t get off so easy. Downgraded to Assistant Principal, he refused the demotion and retired instead. He thought that after 43 years of service to his school district he deserved better. And maybe he did, but his judgment in this situation was appalling.

In any event, it’s time to give parents a choice where to send their children to school. The traditional forced-zip-code method hasn’t worked well for children, their families and taxpayers for decades.

All need to mark their calendars for January 22, 2012 – the start of National School Choice Week – which will provide a concentrated focus on the need for effective education options for every child. To learn more and get involved, please visit the NSCW website.

 

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network ˆ a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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