Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama's New Education Secretary

President Elect Obama's new choice for Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan,  will hopefully be a breath of fresh air to the education debate in this country.  One person who sent this link to me likened it to Nixon going to China.  I don't know if I would go that far, but Mr. Duncan has been successful with some education reforms in Chicago and seems to be open minded to reforms that include charter school expansion and school choice.  

President Elect Obama has voiced his approval of charter schools and hopefully his Secretary of Education will work at a federal level to see that they can expand and be funded at the same level as their traditional district model counterparts.     

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dropout Rates Alarming

An article in today's St. Louis Post Dispatch sounds a loud alarm about the state of public education in St. Louis and Kansas City.  Data released by the state shows that 22% of St. Louis Public Schools students dropped out last year.  Kansas City reports 28% of their students dropped out.  

This shows the abject failure of these districts to show to the students that the education they are providing is worth staying in school for.  Unfortunately, unlike in a business situation, these students have few other options to move elsewhere so they just drop out altogether.  

Increasing choices for students and their families in both cities is one way to improve dropout rates.    


Monday, December 1, 2008

Michelle Rhee Profile

Add Time Magazine to the long list of national media taking notice of Washington, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.  Chancellor Rhee has been featured in several publications and television stories in the past few months as she tries to drastically reform public schools in our nation's capital.  The video that accompanies this article is very interesting as well.  It is refreshing to see an administrator get a ground level view of the school system and meet with students for feedback.  Also important is the fact that Rhee has the backing of Washington DC's Mayor.  

More people with the will and determination of Michelle Rhee are what is needed to reform America's public education system.  She is giving others like her the encouragement they need to come forward and lead our country's education system back to world prominence.  

Monday, November 24, 2008

Why Is School Choice Not Good for All?

Recently Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, stated that President- elect Barack Obama has "every right to make a decision that works for their family" when asked if he and wife Michelle should send their children to public schools.   

Why is this typically not the message we hear from the teachers unions when referring to the average American family?  Doesn't the average family deserve school choice as much as the Obamas?  Shouldn't they have the right to make decisions that work best for their family?    

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Alternative Teacher Certification

A recent Education Next study by Paul Peterson  confirms what many education reformers have suspected for awhile: genuine alternative teacher certification processes improves education. The study shows that more minority teachers are hired and student learning is more rapid in states that have genuine alternative teacher certification processes.

From a common sense perspective this seems obvious to me.  Why make it difficult for someone who has worked in a field for a number of years to teach that subject?  I would rather my child learn from someone who has practical experience in a field of study or work rather than someone who has only studied the theories on the subject in a classroom.  I am sure that lessons in classroom management and lesson planning are needed for professionals wishing to become teachers.  But in many cases these people have managed and trained employees in the same field so teaching students should not be much of  a stretch for them.  



Thursday, November 13, 2008

More Choice and Competition is the Answer

Janese Heavin at Classnotes posted recently about school board members in Columbia, MO acknowledging something many of us who follow education have known for a long time - Missouri's public schools are failing minorities.  This is not just a Kansas City or St. Louis problem as the link in the previous sentence shows.  

It is refreshing to see members of the Columbia Public School Board acknowledge the district's shortcomings.  Hopefully they will take appropriate actions.  One action they should take to to press state officials for more choices in their community.  The addition of charter schools to Columbia would be a great first step in that direction.  Currently, charter schools are only allowed in St. Louis and Kansas City.  While the charter schools would not be under the Board's control, the new competition will press the traditional public schools to improve. The innovations being used in charters can also be good examples for teachers in the public school system.    

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Walking the Walk

This press release from the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation is just one more example of moving a child from a bad school to a good school working.  TTEF gives scholarships to children in St. Louis Public Schools to go to private schools.  According to this release 1,100 children benefit annually from TTEF scholarships.

I would hope the anti school choice advocates take note of the Sinquefield's contribution to helping these children get into schools where they are receiving a good education.  A Harvard study, also noted in the release, has demonstrated students progressing more than a grade level past their peers in reading and math after transitioning schools.  Mr. and Mrs. Sinquefiled are clearly walking the walk and backing up their advocacy by donating to TTEF.  Real examples of the lives of real children being positively changed.  I invite the anti education reform movement to show where they are helping children in SLPS in such a monumental way by maintaining the status quo.       

Friday, November 7, 2008

Preach What You Practice!

I thought this OpEd was an appropriate follow up to the election results.  It is ironic that many elected officials, both nationally and locally, oppose school choice but yet send their kids to private schools.  Why shouldn't poor families have choice also?  It is frustrating to hear school choice opponents say that these programs only help the rich and high performing students.  Many choice programs are specifically aimed at children with special needs or in low income families.  

When a business is not providing a quality service at a good price you take your business, and dollars, elsewhere.  Why should it not be the same option with schooling?  I look forward to the day when more elected officials will practice what they preach (or in this case preach what they practice) and support more school choice for children.   

Monday, November 3, 2008

Presidential Election 2008

Tomorrow Americans will go to the polls to elect the next President of the United States, as well as vote on many state and local candidates and issues.  Voting is the great equalizer in our country. Our votes count the same as Warren Buffett's, Bill Gates' or President Bush's.  Voting is blind to color, gender and ethnicity.  The ballot does not know if you are young or old or rich or poor.  

Both of the presidential candidates in this election, John McCain and Barack Obama have outlined their plans for education on the web and in speeches across the country.  Unfortunately, education has been far overshadowed in this election as an issue by the ecomomy and the wars and should have received much more coverage and investigation.  I watched all three debates and the only question on education was at the end of the last debate.  

No matter what your background is, I hope you will strongly consider education reform as a top issue when you go to cast your ballot.  America is lagging behind many other developed countries in K-12 education. This trend has to stop!

Tomorrow I will vote for the candidates, Presidential and statewide, that I think will do the most for education reform in our country and the state where I live.  This includes candidates who support expanding education choice and greater accountability for teachers, administrators and policy makers.  I hope everyone else does the same.     

Thursday, October 30, 2008

17th District Race

This article in the Kansas City Star highlights a close State Senate race in the Northland area of Kansas City.  State Senator Luanne Ridgeway is under fire from her opponent, Sandra Aust for being a supporter of scholarship tax credits.    Aust incorrectly labels scholarship tax credits as vouchers and takes the status quo approach that more money dumped into the same system will fix the problem.  Aust then goes on to say tax credits are perfectly good ideas for corporations looking to locate in Missouri. 

I would really like to see Mrs. Aust look into the eyes of a parent with a special needs child or a parent who's child is trapped in an unaccredited school and tell them that a big corporation is worth a tax credit but someone trying to help their child is not.   It would be unbelievable, but it is the same worn out approach that opponents of scholarship tax credits have always taken.  I would also like Mrs. Aust to refer to our previous blog dated October 14th that links to an article about a girl who is thriving under Rhode Island's scholarship tax credit program.  After looking at REAL stories about REAL people, instead of the education establishment's talking points, the evidence is clear that scholarship tax credits do help students!  

Monday, October 20, 2008

Thinking Outside of the Board

Something that is necessary for 21st century education reform is to think outside of the box when looking at options to help educate children.  Many skills employed in chess, like strategic thinking, are necessary to be successful in society.  For this reason the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis  can be a great avenue for educating children.  This center opened in July of 2008 and has already garnered great media attention in the community both in print, television and radio media.  

Chess would be a great game to promote in our schools as an educational tool.  Ideas like this is what is needed to transform schools in a 21st century environment.    

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Scholarship Tax Credits Work!

Today I came across an article from the Providence Journal.  The article told the story of a girl who, along with her parents, are refugees in the US from the civil war in Liberia.  After doing poorly in the local school she received a tax credit scholarship to go to a Catholic High School where she thrived.  She is one of 278 students to receive one of the scholarships in the program's first year.  

This scholarship tax credit program in Delaware has many of the same features that previous legislation in Missouri sought to enact.  It is very frustrating that this option is not out there for low income Missouri students who are often trapped in failing and unaccredited schools.  I dare any of the opponents of scholarship tax credits in Missouri, including Jay Nixon, to look this girl and her family in the eyes and tell them that her daughter should not have had this opportunity. 

This is just one example of how scholarship tax credits really work.  They are not always intended to help wealthy kids pay for private school.  They are, in fact, targeted at low income students who can thrive if given the opportunity to move out of the local schools.  Missouri legislators should make this option available to low income and special needs children in Missouri in the 2009 legislative session.   


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Missouri's Education...Worse than I Thought

As a mother of young children, it is impossible for me to stay away from the depressing news of the failures of many of Missouri schools. Being that my children are not yet in school, I may be a little naive on all the facts. I am sure, like many other parents, reading about the lack of education in some of the bigger cities brings a sense of sadness for all those parents. Yet, not living there, I have felt a little secure in my bubble outside the cities. Even though I have always known things could be better here, I never knew how bad they really were. Reading the Missouri Policitical News Service, I came across an op-ed written by Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield, titled "Who Needs Help; K-12 Education in Missouri". Some new facts that may surprise you are: Fact: Most minority students do not go to school in the metro areas. Only 30% of black students go to school in St. Louis or Kansas City. Fact: Most poor performing minority students do not live in Metro areas. 67% of black students testing basic or below go to school outside Kansas City and St. Louis City. Fact: A small percentage of poor performers live in metro areas. Only 10% of all students testing basic or below go to school in Kansas City and St. Louis. Fact: Most poor performing students don’t live in metro areas and are white. Almost 70% of children testing basic or below and living outside St. Louis and Kansas City are white. What does this data mean? That solving the minority, metro problem will only affect less than 6% of students in Missouri. Solving the education problem will require an expanded focus on all schools from the bad to the great. Many minority children do poorly outside the metro areas. Almost half of white students need help. So much emphasis has been placed on the metro areas and not enough on areas outside the cities. While I know it is important for those cities to improve, I also agree with Dr. Sinquefield that the entire state needs improvement. This news definitely gives me the feeling my little bubble has popped and I hope, for the sake of my children and the rest of the children, things are done to improve education for all.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

You Read my Mind!

I was on Missouri Political News Service (MOPNS) today and saw this article defending charter schools and Kenny Hulshof's education plan for Kansas City and St. Louis schools.  It is indeed great to see someone like the Children's Education Council of Missouri promote charter school expansion as a means of education reform in Missouri.  Charter schools provide much needed choice and alternatives to the failing schools in St. Louis and Kansas City.

I am glad that Mr. Simms took the time to fully and accurately explain charters.  Many in the public who rail against charters do not realize that charter schools ARE public schools and often do as well, or better, than traditional district counterparts with much less funding.  They should be expanded into other areas besides St. Louis and Kansas City.  

Hopefully Jay Nixon will get a clue and realize that what parents across the state, especially in KC and St. Louis, need are more education options for their children.  Thanks to Kenny Hulshof for being an advocate for expanding charter schools.           

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

When going down the cereal isle at any grocery store there are hundreds
of different brands to choose from. Why are these companies always
coming out with new flavors, improved ingredients and tempting aesthetic
gimmicks? The answer: COMPETITION. This same marketplace philosophy of
improvement though choice MUST be applied to St. Louis schools. With
parental choice options public schools will be forced to finally begin
must-needed system-wide revamping to maintain students. Private schools
will also be motivated for high-quality achievement in order to entice
local families. With a school choice model, children win. They would
no longer be stuck in failing schools. Some try to argue that school
choice will hurt public schools-which is simply not true! Great schools
will not be affected. (Aren't there still Cheerios and Wheaties?) It
is only the schools that are currently unacceptable that will be forced
to improve. Though the future of our children is obviously an extremely
more important and sensitive subject than breakfast food, today's
economy forces even the most passionate institutions to face this
market-driven society. The bottom-line is: our children deserve a
first-rate education and this is possible using school choice!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Ethical Choice

Increased choice is desperately need for parents whose children are trapped in schools which have failed to educate their children. Why should a single mother be unable to make the same educational choices for her children that so many Members of Congress make for their own? Legislators must put their political agendas aside and make the ethical decision to promote fairness and quality in the extremely important and sensitive area of education.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Kudos to Confluence Charter Schools

Anyone who claims that charter schools are the root of the problem for failing St. Louis public schools should think again. More often than not, when the state begins to strongly support charter schools, this becomes the foundation for a better school groundwork to get settled in.
The Confluence charter schools seem to be urging their counterpart St. Louis public schools to begin a reconstruction process of their own, as Confluence is just about to open up a charter high school (Confluence Preparatory Academy) with excellent standards and goals. Confluence is focused on a steady yearly improvement of their students, regardless of ethnicity or poverty level, and has the resources to do this. Charter schools seem to have accomplished something St. Louis public schools fall short of: providing a pristine educational environment with the necessary resources to aid children from different backgrounds.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Education Reform is a Non- Partisan Issue reported recently that multiple groups including Democrats for Education Reform and the Reverend Al Sharpton gathered in Denver to push for education reforms on the eve of the Democrat National Convention. Many of the reforms that this organization calls for are centered on school choice and other creative ideas that have too often been labeled right wing attempts to end public schooling.

This once again shows that education reform is not a partisan issue, but an issue of concern for all Americans as we continue to see our childhood education system fall behind many of the other developed countries in the world. The reforms advocated by this group, including expanded access to charter schools and increased accountability measures, will greatly help those currently in hopeless education environments achieve their potential.

No matter who is elected to be our next President in November education should be a prominent part of their domestic agenda. Implementing reforms centered on school choice will bring our K-12 education system in line with our country’s world renowned university system.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Inequality and Test Scores

Edudiva is a great site to visit for analysis on standardized test scores. The following is from her post after the recent announcement of Missouri’s MAP scores:

Fareed Zakaria, in The Post-American World, explains the U.S. math score mediocrity.

But even if the U.S. scores in math and science fall well below leaders like Singapore and Hong Kong, the aggregate scores hide deep regional, racial, and socioeconomic variation. [...] The difference between average science scores in poor and wealthy school districts within the United States, for instance, is four to five times greater than the difference between the U.S. and Singaporean national averages. In other words, America is a large and diverse country with a real inequality problem.

This inquality is highlighted in the St. Louis County MAP scores. The 10th grade math scores ranged from 81.4 percent of a school scoring proficient or advanced at Clayton to 0 at Wellston. OK, that is pretty extreme. The top five scoring districts averaged 71.6 prof/adv.; while the bottom five districts (excluding Wellston) averaged 15.6. I excluded Wellston because it has had its accreditation stripped and students may go elsewhere. In fact several go to Clayton. The elementary math numbers aren’t any better. I chose 5th grade because I felt that gave students several years to get used to testing. The top five districts averaged 75.02 prof/adv; whereas, the bottom five averaged 18.76.

How can we fix this problem? Let’s start by analyzing our test scores like Edudiva to find out what they really indicate. Then let’s stop isolating kids in schools where they are drastically underserved and expand the choices they have.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


‘Adequate’ is not nearly a strong or positive enough word to describe something as important as our children’s education. Yet, the St. Louis schools, along with districts in the St. Louis and St. Charles counties, all failed to make federally defined “adequate yearly progress!” This is simply unacceptable! Our children not only deserve, but desperately need educational reforms and improvements. Progress must be continually achieved.

Many other states and even surrounding counties—such as Dunklin, Jefferson, St. Clair, New Haven and Franklin school districts—have been able to obtain AYP. Proving that AYP—which includes standards to help ensure students are on grade-level in both reading and math—is definitely obtainable.

These children and the future of the St. Louis area depend on achieving educational progress. Parents and non-parents alike must look into proposed school reforms and not settle for the current inadequate status quo.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The definition of insanity

The Kansas City Star, while reporting on a local State Representative race, noted that campaign material attacked Curt Dougherty of Independence for “voting for vouchers.” Vouchers, as Dougherty notes, are prohibited by the state’s Blaine Amendment, so he couldn’t have voted for a voucher.

This is not just an attack on a particular candidate’s position: it’s just one front in the war against improvement in education. The state of education from urban to rural communities is so dire that not taking reform measures is an attack. It is, in my opinion, ethically equal to doing nothing while a child drowns. We have children who every year are damned to poverty, unable to secure jobs or a college path, and often turn to crime. Many statistics document higher incarceration rates for non-high school graduates. The scope of this problem defines us when we refuse to take measures to give less fortunate children the basic means to pursue their own American Dream, and it damns us in turn when we let the bureaucracy of education dictate what we can and can’t do to help all children get—at the very least—an accredited education.

“That has nothing to do with education money,” Dougherty said, adding that the state has approved tax credits for a wide variety of initiatives, such as automobile assembly and historic preservation.

“These people try to villainize someone with a word, such as ‘vouchers.’”

We can do it for cars, but not kids? When are we going to get over the irrational fears we’ve been fed about education reform and start trying alternatives like scholarship tax credits to see if they can work here like they work in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona and many other states? They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results. By that measure, we’re insane NOT to try a tax credit program for education.

Choices are Made Everywhere...I would Like Some Too!

With many political issues to face during campaigning, I am most of all focused on one's education plans. If someone feels our public education system is going great, they will never get my vote. Then, if someone admits there is a problem, I am listening. Next, if someone will fight for vouchers or education choice for children, they will usually get a check next to their name on the ballot. This is not to say this is my only concern, but one of my main ones. Schools are failing all over the country and the ones that are most affected by it are those children in lower income families or ones with special needs. These children already have disadvantages, why should the lack of educational choices make it that much worse? I am yet to see schools improving with the status quo, isn't it about time to try something new? The idea of choice has been around for many years and is being used in few cities. I understand it takes time for change, takes time for people to warm up to the idea, but that time should be now. Those cities that have forms of choice are seeing substantial improvements in education achievements from their students. Why are so many people fighting it? Some worry about the what-ifs, but what about worrying about the problems now. Doing something the same way over and over again and expecting the same results is not a smart move. Meanwhile, millions of children are losing their chances day by day to become educated and successful citizens.

In this article in the Columbia Tribune/AP, McCain makes his opinions very clear.

Jul 16, 9:45 PM EDT

McCain at NAACP pledges more education options

Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) -- John McCain told the NAACP and some skeptical black voters Wednesday that he will expand education opportunities, partly through vouchers for low-income children to attend private school.

The likely Republican presidential nominee addressed the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

In greeting the group, McCain praised Democrat Barack Obama's historic campaign, but said the Illinois senator is wrong to oppose school vouchers for students in failing public schools. It is time, McCain said, to use vouchers and other tools like merit pay for teachers to break from conventional thinking on educational policy.

Obama, he said, has dismissed support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans.

"All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?" the Arizona senator asked. "No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

If: more failure = more money; then: less money = less failure?

Things that don’t make sense for 200:

“Because the state-funding formula is based on attendance, the district loses money whenever a child enrolls in a charter school. Charters are also publicly supported.”
Now, I’ll admit that the state’s school finding formula is one of the more oblique pieces of legislation in Missouri’s history, but this particular statement from the Post-Dispatch makes me want to pat all the board members on the head and give them lollipops. This is the argument against opening more charter schools—that they cost the St. Louis Public Schools money. I find that farfetched, and hope someone really looks into the fiscal impact of charters on city schools, but regardless: the SLPS has had ample resources from the state and city to make improvements without any lasting, systemic success. So what in heaven’s name would cause board members to believe that money diverted into another school would have any affect whatsoever on the quality of education in our public schools? Given the recent trend, it would be much more reasonable to assume that the less money the district receives, the better academics we’ll see. Why? Because of competition. Competition would force the district to tighten its belt and become more efficient in getting results. I think SLPS would achieve substantially if dollars-per-student was not a given, and they had to earn each student just like the charter schools have to do.
Meanwhile, the board is doing what it always does, no matter who is in charge: behaving as if students are dollars, not individuals with rights. If we, as a city, can offer a better education through the proliferation of charter schools and other alternatives, then by ALL means we should. The board has essentially said: “we don’t want your ***** solutions. Even if you are better able to educate a child, we’re not going to support it if it takes money away from our enterprise. We’re more concerned about our benefit than the benefit that child might get. We’d rather see a child fail in our schools than lose money sop that he can succeed somewhere else.” The effect that charter schools have is no different than the effect of families moving outside city limits and going to Clayton or Brentwood in reaction to SLPS’ loss of accreditation. It is not the fault of charter schools, but up until now SLPS was ensured the money from every family who couldn’t afford to move to a more expensive neighborhood.
I’m sick of it, and I’m sick of money rhetoric. How much more are we going to spend while SLPS asks us to just wait a few more years, a few thousand more children, till they get it right? There are schools already getting it right and getting results.

Study Shows Special Needs Children Benefiting From Scholarship Programs

School choice opponents have several arguments against choice, none of which hold any ground. School choice comes in many sizes and colors, all with their own perks. Opponents of choice try to use the same arguments against each option, with nothing to back it up. Some cities or states have passed a broad sense of choice, others have narrowed down the scope. One area that takes my interest in special needs scholarships. These scholarships can be used by children with special needs to attend either public schools or approved private schools, varying program by program. According to a recent study, The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence from Florida's McKay Scholarship Program" by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the New York based Manhattan Institute, Florida's McKay Scholarship Program for special needs children is showing a strong positive impact on the relationship between school choice competition and the academic achievement of these students. The McKay Scholarship for Special Needs Program is the oldest and largest program of its kind in the country. Their study finds that children with special needs who were granted choices to other options, their math and reading scores were higher than those without choice. Children with "Specific learning Disabilities" were the most positively affected by the program, which categorizes the highest percentage of children with disabilities around the country. SLD children are scoring higher now than before McKay came along and children who have easier access to McKay scholarship schools are scoring higher than those who do not.
Greene and Winters took it a step further and analyzed the competitive forces behind programs such as these to see if there would be a scientifically valid correlation between school choice and student achievement. While they make it perfectly clear their study does not give the exact reasoning behind the increase in student achievement, they can say that is it helping. They feel the cause itself is not important to the policy debate. In a nutshell, choice, vouchers, tax credits, whatever you find, instead of harming public schools, they are improving the education the children are receiving.
Since McKay was started, four other states have enacted laws for children with special needs; Ohio, Utah, Arizona, and Georgia have all created some type of special needs scholarship program. I envision many more to be created in the future. Thousands of children are being served by these programs...finally.

Special Needs Children Should Get Better Options

Looks like Virgina is in the same boat as Missouri. We need and want legislation passed that would give children with special needs the opportunity to chose their schools...private or public. The 2008 legislative session, a bill was debated that would do just that. Unfortunately, it did not pass. The blame for this should be on the teacher unions and their fear of school choice. When someone thinks of teacher unions, they may think, well they are teachers, they must be looking for the best solution for the children...Wrong! They are out to serve themselves and the heads of these unions are making huge salaries while the children are still suffering. The unions are strong and powerful, have millions of dollars in lobbying efforts, and make people think they know what is best. Teachers are not fact, I love and appreciate them, however, the unions make it difficult for them by negatively influencing their a little brainwashing powerful machine. Its quite unfortunate.
This article, taken from The Daily Press, discusses the benefits to a choice program for special needs children:

Grants boost special ed

July 2, 2008

Thomas Jefferson, a strong proponent of public education in Virginia, believed that every child should "be in reach of a central school." More than 200 years later, Jefferson's vision has been realized, but the nearest public school is not always the best for every child. This is especially true for children with physical or mental disabilities. Virginia parents tell sad stories of inadequate services at public schools, where students can fail despite having their own individualized educational programs. Dissatisfied parents' current only recourse, besides paying for private tuition on top of their property and other taxes, is a due-process hearing or lawsuit, which is time-consuming, stressful and costly for all involved.

Several states have begun to address these challenges by offering scholarships to special-education students. One of the most successful of these programs is Florida's McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. Recipients receive scholarships to attend the public or private schools of their choice; scholarship amounts are equivalent to what the taxpayers would have spent on their education in their local public schools. During the 2006-07 school year, it provided scholarships to 18,273 special-needs students becoming the largest educational-choice program in the United States.

For three consecutive years, state Sen. Walter Stosch has sponsored legislation to create a similar program in Virginia, which would provide a grant of up to $10,000 annually for any special-education student to use at a nonsectarian Virginia school of his family's choice.

A program like Stosch's could give Virginia's disabled students and their families more choice to seek out the best education for their individual situations, for example by selecting a school with a small staff that specializes in certain disabilities, such as autism or emotional disturbance. At the same time, such a scholarship program could actually help school districts save tax dollars. According to a study by Susan Aud, if Virginia provides tuition assistance grants of $5,000 apiece to parents of students with special needs, "the average school division would gain a net fiscal benefit of $5,214 from revenue sources that do not vary with enrollment (leaving these funds in school divisions even after students depart), and an additional net fiscal benefit of $6,729 because their reduction in special-ed costs would greatly exceed their reduction in per-student funding." That adds up to $11,943 in financial gain to the school district for each student in the first year of participation.

Special-education spending varies widely across Virginia school districts. Applying Aud's statewide average of $11,943, and assuming a 4 percent participation rate (based on Florida's experience with McKay scholarships), we can paint an impression of how much tuition assistance grants, TAGs, might save individual districts.

Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News each had approximately 5,000 special education students in 2005. If 200 of these students, or 4 percent, left their districts, the district would gain more than $2 million in the year the students departed, based on Aud's figure of $11,943 each. A district the size of Roanoke County, with more than 2,000 disabled students, could gain more than $1 million. A smaller district like Fredericksburg, with around 400 special-ed students, could gain nearly $200,000.

As with any needed service, freedom of choice is vital to quality education. This is especially true for students whose needs require customized instruction. Unlike public schools, which have limited funding to provide special services, private schools have incentives to satisfy families.

Allowing Virginia families to enjoy the same opportunities as their Florida counterparts to use at least part of the funds that would be spent on their children in public schools on education in the setting of their choice would better meet the needs of these students, save taxpayers' money and further the spirit of Jefferson's vision.

Carbone is an adjunct scholar at The Lexington Institute in Fairfax.

Friday, June 20, 2008

St. Louis' Today and Tomorrow Foundation helps students move to parochial schools in the city

The St. Louis diocese currently has the seventh largest enrollment numbers in the nation. There were 48,820 area students registered in the 2007-08 school year. This is in the face of a nationwide steady enrollment decline and 212 Catholic school closings.

The resistance to Catholic schools is disappointing in the face of growing research on the benefits of private education. Overall, private schools proved to outperform their public counterparts using significantly less money per-pupil on average ($4,689 vs. $8,032 in 1999-2000). For example, Catholic private schools specifically have 97% of students go onto college. Public schools only have 34% of students who leave high school even statistically-determined qualified with the skills necessary to attend college in 2002.

Organizations such as the Today and Tomorrow Education Foundation understand the importance of helping students in failing public schools. TTEF has specifically teamed up with the archdioceses of St. Louis to grant scholarships to needy families.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

St. Louis Post Editorial Right on the Mark

Its not everyday I get to read something I agree with, especially something controversial. Drinking my morning coffee, preparing myself for the day, and reading the paper I found my day getting brighter by an editorial piece that said all the things I was thinking. Yes, the Bombardier deal. First, they were asking for $800 million in tax credits. Good to know they lowered this amount. However, they still want millions of dollars. This money would decrease the amount Missouri takes in through revenues, which will lower the amount we can give out or we would have to pay higher taxes to offset it. We should not have to offer such large incentives to bring a business here, especially one from Canada. We should focus on our own businesses and citizens.
Anyways, without further ado, here is part of theeditorial I think everyone should read.
Last week, the state Senate chopped the offer down to a more reasonable size; the Senate deal would allow Bombardier to use only $155 million in state credits at any one time. If Bombardier really does hire 2,100 people, that would amount to about $74,000 per job. That's not an unheard-of investment to acquire the kind of good, blue-collar manufacturing jobs that once formed the backbone of the middle class.

The state would pay Bombardier through tax credits, which offset state income taxes. Every dollar in tax credits is a dollar that doesn't go into the general revenue fund. That means less money for Missouri schools, police, health care and other state services.

World Trade Organization rules say such government help must be repaid, and the Senate is demanding 5 percent in annual interest. Bombardier would pay the state a commission on each plane it sells.

If the deal works as advertised, it would produce a net gain for the state in economic activity. But there's a lot of "ifs" in this deal.

The state Department of Economic Development is being vague with details such as what sort of guarantees and timetables Bombardier would be required to meet. Also, Standard & Poors rates Bombardier's debt a weak BB-plus, which is on the border of junk bond territory. The Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, says Bombardier has taken in $745 million (Canadian) in subsidies since 1982, and paid back only $188 million. Missouri might well kiss its money goodbye.

And then there's the fact that the airline industry faces an era of uncertainty, with high fuel prices leading to bankruptcies and mergers. The C-series jetliners will be short-haul aircraft that compete with Boeing's 737 and 717 jetliners. Should the state help a foreign firm undercut a U.S. firm that has a big presence across the state?

Video: Today and Tomorrow Foundation scholarships offered in St. Louis

Monday, April 7, 2008

U.S. School Choice growing leaps and bounds

The Alliance for School Choice reports that in the last 5 years, enrollment in private school choice programs such as vouchers or scholarship tax credit programs have increased by 84%.

This increase comes from 16 different choice programs in 9 states and the District of Columbia, while 40 states introduced legislation providing for school choice. It looks like momentum is gathering to introduce education options across the country—it’s not a fanatic minority but a groundswell of multi-faceted support.

All told, 150,000 children are being educated under these programs and guess what! The public schools have not come crashing down around our ankles. Ohio’s program doubled in just one school year, and I’ve visited Ohio recently—public schools are not one fire and brimstone is NOT raining from the heavens.

The most shocking part of the Alliance for School Choice’s report for Missourians will be the fact that ¾ of programs passed by state legislatures over the past 2 years have happened because of Democratic support. Yes, I said Democratic support, but which I mean many legislators across the country with a “D” after their name voted for school choice programs in their state. We really can’t say this is a “right-wing” effort by people who want to destroy public schools: it’s clearly bipartisan across the country with a substantial number of democrats, the stalwarts of the public schools, realizing that for kids to succeed, some changes have to be made.

I’m a left-leaning Dem, but I like to think of myself as being logical more than party-affiliated, and more loyal to my values than I am to any institution or party line. I see the potential right now for “change” if you’ll pardon the buzzword, and it’s inexcusable to repeat the epithet that schools will change if we just ______, or kids will succeed if we can just ______. We don’t have time, however, to wait or a trickle-down effect, because we’re losing an entire generation of children as we speak. We need better options for students now, and we have them all over the country. All we have to do is say “You’re allowed to move out of your neighborhood to find a school. If you don’t have enough money, we’ve got some that we’re supposed to use on your education anyhow.” It is really that simple.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal:

"If we do not dramatically transform the way we train our high school graduates, the gap between the skills of our work force and the work will widen and cripple our economy. And more Louisiana families will continue to leave our state in search of opportunities to pursue their dreams," Jindal said.

This quote speaks volumes about the need for drastic reforms in education. I might call it a drastic case of the Peter Principle (which happens when a worker is promoted to the level of his own incompetence) but I may get into rhetorical trouble. Our business economy, in all its resplendence and diversity and vitality, has left behind the component that makes that possible: a diverse, vital and well-trained work force. They call it a “force” for a reason—because nothing happens without it. Nothing is pushed or pulled in any direction and no entities have cause to interact. There is no trade, no commerce, no invention and no production.

Because education is how we prepare a generation to, put simply, work—or participate in society and economy, it makes sense that education should mirror some of the characteristics that make a strong workforce. Choice, competition and reward come to mind as areas where education has not taken its cues from the marketplace, and it has resulted in a weakness and a lack of preparedness that is affecting many generations of children.

Henry Clay once said, “Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than competition.” Yes, he’s the dueling one. And he facilitated the Missouri Compromise.

Harnessing that power to improve and sharpen public education seems a worthwhile endeavor. Many critics claim that people will abuse their choice, but quite frankly that’s not a good enough argument against a “right”. Most rights can be abused, and we can curb and punish abuse, but the fear of abuse has never held up in this country as a reason not to extend a right.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bryce's Law WILL make a difference

Dwight Scharnhorst talks about one of the best reasons to support Bryce’s Law—mainstreaming special needs and autistic children back into public schools through the great and strident benefits of early detection.

When it comes to autism, the window of opportunity to change their prognosis happens very early on in their development and without early intervention the possibilities of overcoming obstacles decreases year by year: it is very much a race against time.

The results of early intervention are obvious to parents and those who work closely with autism in a school or medical setting.

Laurie Stephens, Ph.D., has some points in EARLY INTERVENTION IN AUTISM: Forging the Architecture for Change that deal with best practices for early intervention. She says that between 25 and 50% of recipients of early intervention will move into mainstream education and many more will need significantly fewer services in the future.

She notes that the most notable factor of the effectiveness of a program is the intensity, in areas such as duration, individualization of the plan, and parental involvement. A teacher-student ratio of 3:1 is preferable, and she stresses that the child not be made to fit the program, but instead the program must be made to fit the child.

The results of this format were:

-Over 80% of students met annual IEP goals
-In 2005; 50% of graduates entered a district based Kindergarten program
-20% entered special ed. programs for children of average to borderline intelligence
-7of 10 non-verbal students acquired at least 3 functional words within 9 months

Missouri families need the ability to seek out this kind of help—and they are able to with the choices available to them before Kindergarten for early intervention. But once they enter mainstream public education, that choice goes away. Someone obviously thought giving parents the leverage to find a program that offers that low teacher-students ratio and is catered specifically to their child, and if it helps children at 6 years it can help at seven, eight, and on up.

A study of Texas estimates that the state could save over 2 billion dollars in autism education by shifting their budget towards some highly intensive, highly successful early intervention programs. So we have testimony from doctors, parents and teachers that early intervention makes a world of difference. We have very encouraging results and the fiscal benefit of a net decrease in services needed. We have individual children who have been able to move beyond their disorder. Let’s make Bryce’s law a priority, because we will see a difference.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Building on school choice

Some excerpts from Ohio show how school choice is benefiting all students:

In the past three years, more than 1,000 families throughout Youngstown, Ohio have taken advantage of the state's open-enrollment law, charter schools, and new statewide voucher program for students in chronically failing schools. Experts say students' increasing academic success there demonstrates the benefits of choice.

Chad Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio (SCO), said that's what happens when parents get involved.

"Being able to choose school placement creates parent involvement," Aldis said. "That is one of the leading indicators of the success of students."

The EdChoice Scholarship, now in its third year, allowed approximately 7,000 students to choose a better educational environment during the 2007-08 school year, up from 3,000 students in 2006-07.

"I agree with Gov. [Ted] Strickland's statement in the 2007 State of the State address," Aldis said. "[He said] 'Where you grow up in Ohio should not determine where you end up in life.' The EdChoice Scholarship is an important tool in preventing this inequality by giving children in failing schools a path to a better education."

Across the country there is an obvious groundswell of support and appreciation for school choice and the range of benefits it offers. Parents are no longer happy to just wait for their schools to offer what they need, and policy-shapers have recognized that this is an important way to improve education across the board without the waiting game that happens when implementing large scale public school initiatives.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tax Credit of the week

Governor Matt Blunt touts the Missouri ETV program.

The Missouri Education and Training Voucher Program offers funds to foster youth and former foster youth to enable them to attend colleges, universities and vocational training institutions. Students may receive up to $5000 a year as they pursue higher education. The funds may be used for tuition, books or qualified living expenses. These funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis to students out of the Missouri foster care system.

With other programs across the state like this, it is a wonder that more Missourians don’t understand why we need assistance for special needs families offered by HB 1886. We recognize that there are children who need more than they can afford. Missouri is turning a blind eye to the fact that families with special needs children need help and need choices as well if they are going to reach their true potential (something no amount of pragmatic norms should deny them).

I ran across KOMU’s “Combating Autism from Within” blog by Ashley Reynolds. Many of the parents commenting had more than one autistic child.

The American Institute of Research estimates the annual cost to educate an autistic child in public school is between $15,900 and $21,700. That is in line with a National Education Association estimate of $16,900 for special education. That amount doesn’t even touch healthcare costs, diagnosis or intensive treatment and therapy that often involves some of the most expensive and state of the art equipment and/or one-on-one therapies and exercises.

The monetary cost, in turn, doesn’t begin to touch the cost to the physical and emotional resources of parents, and the daily struggle they face meeting their child’s needs: from getting them to eat, to keeping them safe to finding the appropriate education and therapy and getting the right diagnosis, IEP, teacher, tutor, playgroup, medication. The need is there. Ideas about ways to help exist and have been tested, both in other states and for other high-need groups in Missouri. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ~Anne Frank

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why make it harder for special needs children?

It is hard to believe that some journalists would publish things that were not true. It is hard to understand why they would print something that could hurt our children. It seems to me that the authors of such articles against the special needs legislation are being swayed by superintendents or teachers' unions. Then I try to understand why they are trying to prevent this legislation from passing. Their arguments have nothing to stand on. They say it will take money away from the public schools, NO it will not! The problem is that when people hear that, they start to believe it. The money used for the scholarships will come from private donors, not money allocated for the schools. Some may say it is unconstitutional, but it is not. Testimony during the hearings in February proved it is not.

They say the private schools are not regulated like the public schools, but no one is forcing any child to enter into the schools or use the scholarships. The parents can make that decision, not the government.

I am a parent of a special needs child. I know parents like myself would really benefit from a program like this. It is extremely expensive to attend the private schools and even more expensive to attend the special schools. I am aware that some public schools do a great job of educating their special needs students, but not every public school does it well. We need to be looking out for those students...ones who are not getting what they need.

This scholarship tax credit program for special needs will allow the children to attend a public school in another district or use the money for an approved private school. Repeat: approved private school...not just any school will be allowed, meaning unstable, unreliable or unhealthy schools will not make the cut. This is another one of those false accusations floating around. Opponents say that the scholarships could be used at any private school, which could be a horrible school. Some people are even saying that if this passes, then it will allow the state to control the private schools...again, NOT TRUE!

Here is my point, all of the arguments I have heard are not accurate. The opponents are spreading false accusations which will only hurt the children of Missouri. We need to get the truth out there and encourage support for this legislation! The children need this support; their parents need this support.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Post-Dispatch letters dismiss concerns of parents

It was sad to see the letters in today’s Post-Dispatch criticizing parents of special needs children for not doing enough, and misconstruing the effects of a bill that would benefit Missouri’s special needs students. I don’t know if they were sent out of fear or ignorance, but I hope the Post-Dispatch gives parents a chance to respond.

One letter was from Kenneth Eigenberg, the Secretary of the Special School District Board of Education, which advocates against choices for special needs parents. The Post-Dispatch already aired their complaints last week, and this looks like much of the same political rhetoric.

I’ll touch on some points:

First, Eigenberg says “Legislation creating tuition tax credits or vouchers — in particular Senate Bill 993 and House Bill 1886 — potentially harms special education students, removes public oversight and protections and detracts from other programs that could better serve student needs. The proposed legislation lacks accountability needed to protect vulnerable children and to ensure public-supported funds are well spent. Investigating a similar model program in Florida, the Palm Beach Post reported that ‘77 percent of participating schools have no special programs for disabled children.’”

Once again, the Post-Dispatch allows a tuition tax credit to be called a voucher, when in reality they are quite different. Secondly, the funds are not publicly supported, because they are not vouchers: the fund would be from donations, and those donors would receive a tax credit for 80% of their donation. Schools would be accountable to parents through regular reporting and would be subject to non-discrimination and various other financial and achievement benchmarks which, if not met, would keep a school from being eligible to receive scholarships from this program. Furthermore, it allows the amount spent on a special needs child to be used at the best school for their disability, which can make a huge difference in a child’s life, as Patrice Cahalan would tell you.

Florida’s Program tells a much different story than presented here. The McKay scholarship tax credit has grown leaps and bound in both funding and enrollment. This type of program even helps children who want to attend a public school outside of their residential district by assists families by not forcing them to move in order to get a certain program. There is an overwhelming level of satisfaction from parents with new schools as compared with the previous assigned public school, which suggests that parents were by far happier with their child’s success at the school they chose even if it wasn’t created for disabled students—an interesting thought to consider.

To sweep up the few remaining points, we use tax credits all the time—they are not new. We use them for almost every public good BUT K-12 education. Eigenberg is wrong to say that tax credits cost revenue—they are revenue neutral, and Florida has actually seen a budget savings of $113 million from their McKay scholarships.

I believe that the Special School District offers parents in the area a much-needed choice, and serves them well. But offering more choices for parents can only ensure that every child is getting the best education available, and that should be at the core of the SSD’s values and advocacy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Missouri: No more lost potential

Alexa Cahalan did not fit in to any of the schools publicly available to her. This video illustrates why Bryce’s Law and SB 993 are so needed in Missouri. To require families with special needs children to move in order to get the right environment they need to succeed is absurd and antiquated. Then, consider situations like Alexa’s where moving actually hurts their condition (this is especially true with Autism Spectrum Disorder)—what could be simpler than allowing them to go to the best school, regardless of where they live? What could be simpler than offering a scholarship to a family who has the added responsibility of achieving an appropriate education for their child?

For all of the detractors out there that say offering a tax credit for this public good will cost too much or isn’t worth it, consider that there are 130,000 other IEP students in Missouri just like Alexa who can thrive if they are matched with the right school. Senator Crowell is right about the potential that in so many cases gets locked away during critical years of development—we need that. We can talk about the potential burden (other states have actually saved money through scholarship programs like this) or we can talk about the potential good. I think when talking about a child’s future, all other concerns need to fall by the wayside: I’m sure that’s how Missouri’s parents of special needs children feel.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Learning from Parents

Jason Grill has done some notable work in the Missouri House this year on the education front. He’s working on “Missouri Books from Birth” in which DESE would work with a non-profit provider to make sure all children are receiving books before they enter Kindergarten. He’s attached a proposal for tax credits for stay-at-home parents, which I think is a great idea. There are very few benefits in the workplace for parents who stay at home with a young child, and more and more it seems that families need a dual income to make ends meet.

Here is a link about a Family University day Grill participated in to talk about some issues common to many parents in the Parkville area, like bullying, substance abuse, diversity and autism and behavioral disorders. He’s visited students at local libraries and the Developmental Disabilities Council, and hosted Parkville students at the state Capitol.

I find this kind of information very useful as a voter—I am delighted to see Representatives doing more in their communities than just talking about what they want to see happen. When a legislator can not only shape policy but engage students and communities in learning and being involved with the process, we are very lucky. I hope that Rep. Grill has gotten a chance to talk to the community about the current special needs legislation, HB 1886. This is very important for special needs parents to be able to get the best education for their child, and I think that Rep. Grill’s record shows that children with special needs are more important than special interests.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Carry on the tradition

I have been impressed with the support that Representative Jason Browne has given many important bills in our state: bills providing tax credits for cervical cancer prevention, higher education standards for early childhood schools, and countless others. I hope he continues this tradition by supporting House Bill 1886.
HB 1886 provides help for families with special needs children. Kids that are diagnosed with conditions such as Asperger’s, or Autism, learn differently than the average number of children. There are many centers and schools that offer services more tailored to their needs, only sometimes the expense is too great for the child’s family. HB 1886 creates scholarship money for these kids and families. Citizens would be able to donate and receive a tax credit, like that for cervical cancer.
Carry on your tradition of good service, Rep. Browne, and vote YES for HB 1886.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Shifting the burden—Will Charlie Shields help families this year?

I was reading an article about tuition assistance for Veterans. Rep. Charlie Shields was talking adamantly about the burden falling back to the students or the University, and that the state should take a more active role in shouldering that burden.

It’s contentious, of course—everyone wants to assist veterans in college, because we owe them honor for their service, but a good-intentioned program could have unintended consequences if the burden was shifted back to students some other way.

It struck me that I haven’t seen him come out vocally for the education of special needs children in the same way. Rep. Shields has an opportunity to support HB 1886 which would help families of special needs students (another group of students Missourians feel an especially intense responsibility for) pay for the cost of private tuition when they are unable to succeed in a tradition public school setting. This bill provides a tax credit for charitable donations up to 80% to a scholarship fund for special needs students. In many cases, students with learning disabilities simply need a period of education specific to their difficulty which they may not find in their district’s public school, and are eventually able to catch up to classmates and join mainstream public education.

Not offering another option for these families means that children will be left behind their classmates and kept at arms length from the chance to move past a disability and succeed.

Rep. Shields from St. Joseph has a record of speaking out for children and students, from early childhood education to college, and helping to widen options for anyone who can’t afford it. What about out special needs students? This is one step the state can take for learning disabled, developmentally disabled and Autistic children across the state that helps them get the services they need without leaving a family stranded and strapped financially.

Donnelly: will she break rank for special needs children?

Gone Mild has an unusually tough attack on Margaret Donnelly. Most of the reports I’ve seen have given her a downy dusting of approval, but it could just be the residual effect of constantly standing so close to Jeff Harris.

“When asked how she intends to appeal to outstate voters, Donnelly had no real answer. She claimed that her legislative record regarding Medicaid would somehow help her win voters, but was unable to articulate why she thought that would be a major issue for the Attorney General's race, against a candidate who will undoubtedly be smart enough to voice support for health care.

Margaret Donnelly seems like a fantastically dedicated and fine Democrat. She is not, however, a particularly good candidate for Attorney General. She has no relevant experience, and she does not project the toughness and solidity Missourians want to see in their chief law enforcement officer. She seems to think that Clayton is mid-Missouri.”

In my playbook, she hasn’t made a distinctive play at all. She seems quite nice, but unwilling to rock the boat in any way. She hides in Jeff Harris’ shadow without making any distinctive statement, and it looks like her motto is “what would the democrats do?” That kind of single-mindedness is not a good quality for an attorney general, and I’d like to see her break out of that shell.

She’s been echoing Harris’ attack on Chris Koster and towing the line on school choice, but in this cycle, that position would have her voting against a tuition tax credit bill in the House, 1886, that would provide much-needed assistance to families with developmentally disabled children. While this mirrors Harris to a T, it seem like something she could have made a statement by voting for it and distinguishing herself as the candidate who puts kids first.

She may be historically the first woman to run for Attorney General, but she’s not bringing anything new to the table that appeals to me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Keeping students engaged with choice

Mary Institute County Day School is a private school in Ladue, broadly considered to be the cream of the proverbial crop of St. Louis private schools has this compelling new program which gives students a new way of learning non-traditional course subjects in a hands-on way. It seems that being able to see oneself as part of a larger community is a vital catalyst for success in education. The mini-term allowed students to study in depth subjects like sewing, furniture making and construction and give something back to the community at the same time: quilts went to benefit the American Cancer Society and benches were made for the campus. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers felt the mini-term provided a variety and a renewed energy for regular classes. Teachers were able to use other skills they have, such as the biology teacher who instructed the furniture-making class, and many students got a better, practical sense of what they might like to do after graduating.

This sounds like a great opportunity, and I liked that MICDS has a respect not just for academics but for physical labor that can be rewarding and necessary but that few students get a chance to experience. I love seeing innovation like this, yet we don’t see enough of this kind of curriculum innovation in a public school setting where it could be just as helpful and rewarding for students. I don’t even know that it’s possible with the restrictions endemic to public schools—but I’d love to see something like it that has been shown to keep students engaged.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Charters not a silver bullet, but one good option of "education wishlist"

Though she acknowledges they are not a 'silver bullet', Harvard economics professor Caroline Hoxby weighs in again in support of charter schools.

"Charter schools accelerate students ’ academic performance while creating a competitive environment that strengthens the traditional schools around them, a researcher said Friday.

"The schools are gaining momentum across the United States, Hoxby said. There were no charter schools in 1992. Today, there are more than 4, 000 charter schools in the United States."
Though supporters of the status quo (read 'board of education' and 'teachers' unions') will oppose charter schools, Ms. Hoxby claims, in this and previous writings, that the competition presented by charter schools not only does NOT destroy the public school system in which they exist (as opponents love to cry), but their presence actually causes the public schools to improve:
"As a result of the increased competition, the traditional schools nearly doubled their yearly gains in math and reading comprehension after the charter schools open, the study found.
Administrators at traditional schools see charter schools as a motivating factor to eliminate ineffective teachers from their staffs and to implement instructional techniques that may not have been favored without the concern of decreasing enrollment, Hoxby said."

Release My Child!

Blogger Dana Goldstein (in San Fran) argues that if parents from the 'burbs are given great options to place their children in diversified public academic environments in, even in economically challenged urban neighborhoods, that they would place their children there (The Progressive Case for Public School Choice). While Cal Linear, also of San Fran, argues she missing the point. He claims no parent from the 'burbs would do so~that's why they paid more money to live in the suburbs where schools tend to have decent resources and schools.

I would argue they are BOTH missing the point. We have examples of exceptional urban schools that accelerate minority children from low-income homes, inspite of all the disadvantages that these children bring to school with them on a daily basis~take Chicago, for example. Many parents, given choice, would prefer to keep their kids in their own zip code. What they would prefer is a voice and a choice in those shcools. The situation now is that the main voice in schools is that of school boards, superintendants who answer to them, unions, etc. The missing voice is that of the parents and the teachers~the teachers, BTW are kept busy filling out forms and 'teaching to the test', thanks to the legacy of 'No Child Left Behind'.

But even a school in the suburbs, that may be considered a great, school cannot be expected to serve each and every single child that happens to live a certain zip code~some children simply have very specific needs. For this reason, the MOST IMPORTANT reason, children should be allowed to attend a school sought out by that child's parents~regardless of the zip code. These families should NOT being moving from one community to another just to educate ONE child under their roof. Broad reform is called for~I'm talking tuition tax credits, like what is being debated right now in Missouri legilature, virtual schooling, open enrollment, charter schools, home~schooling~options that Missourians are seeking to support what they consider to be in the best interest of their individual child.

The people leading the public education system in Missouri seem to think they know what is best for the children that they see listed on their spreadsheets or in their files. They argue that parents don't know what options are out there and there are plenty. Yet we hear, if we listen, parents crying out that their child would be best served elsewhere or are not being best served in their shcool and they dismiss that parent and say, 'Oh, but we CAN serve them.' Or they say 'If that child leaves our school, we will lose money!"

The way I see it, is if a child is not served and the school cannot step up, they should release the child. As that child that leaves, they also take with them the burden and expense that the school couldn't manage to begin with. And if a school fails to produce, let it close and let another step up to replace it or allow the parents to choose another school that CAN serve their child.

At the end of the day, the argument that public education reform is necessary is painfully obvious to me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Margaret Spellings speaks to Missouri BOE

Some food for thought on education in Missouri and the US:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Accountable to whom?

This excerpt was taken from an opinion section in the Los Angeles Times: The first sentence is so crucial to the fight for education in our country.
In all the controversy over how to improve education in America's failing public schools, one thing seems to be missing: the idea that schools and teachers should be accountable to parents, not to the government.

If politicians are concerned with raising achievement among children currently enrolled in government schools, one important thing they can do is to give parents the option to enroll their children in a private school of their choice. This can be done, for example, by giving parents tax credits to be spent on their children's education. The tax credits could be equivalent to what the government spends per student in its schools.

With tax credits in hand, parents would be able to shop around for the best private schools. They would be able to get their kids out of failing government schools and into schools they believe would give their children a much better education.

If parents later find that their choice of school was mistaken, they would still be able to try other schools. This freedom of choice would not guarantee a good education for their children (even private schools can do a poor job) but at least it would give parents control and put pressure on government schools to improve the quality of the education they provide.

Government schools that failed to improve would likely lose their students — and justly so.

If any politician really wants to improve the education of students currently attending government schools, he can start by doing a simple thing: Set their parents free.

The endless debate...vouchers

Vouchers, school choice, whatever you want to call it, is not only about giving those children choice, removing them from bad public schools and putting them into good private schools. It is also about creating incentives to improve the public schools. This is a major piece opponents are missing. In various studies such as this one in Florida, it shows that "...we find that schools receiving an “F” grade are more likely to focus on low-performing students, lengthen the amount of time devoted to instruction, adopt different ways to organize the day and learning environment of the students and teachers, increase resources available to teachers...". Incentives do matter, competition will matter, and schools can improve. We only need to create the atmosphere for change. While this program in Florida focuses only on the schools that received a F grade, it shows there is the possibility of change. Now imagine, if we could manipulate this program and create a national program, or at the very least implement similar programs on the state level. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a great education system in the U.S.?
We have been shown over and over again through our markets that competition does work. Why can't people welcome change? What are they afraid of? The only thing to fear is fear itself, right?

Cooperating School Districts: not very cooperative

Recently I read a few talking points that the CSD posted online regarding the special needs bills that are pending in the Missouri legislature this year. I found their arguments interesting, but filled with lots of holes.

1. They don't seem to be able to distinguish between the words "voucher" and "tuition tax credit." These words have very different meanings and to dismissively use "voucher" to describe all of the special needs bills is negligible. As defined by the Alliance for School Choice: "School vouchers allow parents to direct all or part of the funds set aside for education by the government to send their children to a school of choice. Education tax credits allow families to recover some of the expenses incurred in choosing a non-government-run school for their child’s education."

2. The CSD raises concerns about raising the quality of education and insists that the pending legislation makes no effort to ensure that. Yet, what I find interesting is that St. Louis County is currently home to the Special School District which openly contracts out with private schools now. When the school and IEP team feel it necessary, the SSD will send a child to a private school which can serve the child better. My question is: how does SSD ensure quality? How does SSD ensure accountability? If it's good enough for SSD to do, then why not parents too?

3. Missouri has modeled its legislation after other states that have successfully created special needs scholarship programs. The CSD has the "chicken little syndrome" insisting that the sky is falling - by implementing a scholarship program, the CSD is assuming that every eligible child will leave his/her current school. While research shows us from the other states that it's more likely that between 3 and 5 percent of eligible children participate. That is significantly less than what CSD would have us believe - it's not going to be a mass exodus out of public schools.

4. CSD says that these programs would give schools the power to choose instead of parents. They are saying that private and parochial schools have the right not to accept all students while public schools are mandated to do so. In effect, SSD is already using school choice - every time they decide whether a special needs child should remain in SSD or if the child could be better served elsewhere. CSD is assuming that parents are not intelligent enough to select a school that would be best suited to educate their children. These bills are not about trying to put a square peg into a round hole - it's not about enrolling in a private school because of its reputation, it's about finding schools that can provide an educational setting conducive to the needs of special needs children.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kitchen Talk

If politics were for dinner, I’m not sure I would want to eat it. That isn’t to say that all politicians are bad chefs. I have more than oft eaten a mighty meal prepared by some of them, so I can’t place them all in the category of bad. It’s just that when it comes to the makings of politics, too often the politicians show up with only the ingredients of their party and refuse to cooperate in the kitchen. So nothing really gets made. Well, if anything does, it is by chance that it has any flavor or substance.

Now this may be seem an exaggeration to you, but I can’t help but laugh sometimes when I see politicians acting not unlike the Swedish Chef trying to make meatballs, only to end up in a match with the Muppet Show’s resident critics, Statler and Waldorf.

But again, sometimes there are the exceptions.

In Philadelphia last Wednesday, John O. Norquist, a democrat and “self-professed liberal,” addressed the conservative audience of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. The former three-term mayor of Milwaukee has been noted for cutting taxes 6 years in a row, streamlining city government, and promoting economic growth. He is also known for the successful institution of school vouchers in Milwaukee, and it is about this subject that he spoke. According to Jack Markowitz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Norquist told his audience, "You can lose your country if people fall behind in global competition."

"It's weird," said Norquist, who now heads a Chicago think tank. "The United States is practically the only advanced country with an education-financial monopoly."

Far more socialistic west European economies have offered school choice for years, and their students, as well as Asian countries, out-perform U.S. kids in testing.

So what does this have to do with the kitchen?
Well, even though legislation wasn’t being enacted, people from both parties were found talking sensibly and supporting the key ingredient needed in preparing a better educational system for our nation: school choice.

And it is with that that dinner may be served.

Choice for Springfield

There seems to be hope for some schools in Southern Missouri. A program, called "SPS Choice" and should enroll 25% of students by 2019. According to the Ozark News Leader:
District officials said when students select a program, they're more likely to get engaged in learning — which can improve academic achievement.
The district has offered "open enrollment" at schools for a long time, but it is only recently that the district started actively promoting unique programs in part to encourage students to transfer out of their assigned school.
Some suggest the unique programs may be a way to attract families to the district, improving the lagging enrollment numbers.
The school board, however, has yet to have a full discussion about which existing programs are designed as "choice" programs, and if there are objectives for adding the choices that go beyond engaging students. In some communities, choice schools seek to attract student populations that have specific economic-class or racial balances.
Existing programs that many consider "choice" programs have different origins.

There is a lot of room for improvement in the schools in Missouri. Maybe this step will encourage other school districts across Missouri to follow suit. Springfield students can really succeed if they are offered choice, real choice!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Head count on Missouri's adequacy trial: who's in and who's out?

Support of the Adequacy Trial is throwing good money after bad. Reformation of our public education system, though not an EASY solution, is truly the only REAL solution.

According to the Childrens Educational Alliance of Missouri, "The Missouri school funding adequacy trial has already cost taxpayers millions of dollars that should have been used for their children’s education. Judge Callahan of the Cole County circuit court recently upheld the State’s funding formula, but the plaintiff school districts have said they will continue to sue the state for an additional billion dollars, despite the judge’s opinion that the constitution doesn’t allow the courts to usurp lawmakers on this issue."

In the unlike event that the appeal is successful, Missourians will be handed a billion dollar tax hike. When we've already doubled our spending on education over the last 30 years, it is highly unlikely that MORE taxpayers' hard earned money will fix a broken system.

Congratulations to the following school districts for finally withdrawing from the Adequacy Trial Appeal~It's unfortunate that they wasted our education dollars prior to doing so, but at least they've finally come to their senses. The districts and the lost monies are as follows:

Greene County, Ash Grove R-IV: $ 878.00
Polk County, Bolivar R-I: $2,502.00
Carroll County, Carrollton R-VII $1,039.00
Boone County, Columbia 93 $16,402.69
Audrain County, Community R-VI $325.00
Jefferson County, Fox C-6 $11,459.00
Stone County, Hurley R-I $264.00
Clay County, Liberty 53 $9,018.00
McDonald County, McDonald County R-I $3,728.00
Montgomery County, Montgomery Co. R-II $1,316.00
Ripley County, Naylor R-II $390.00
Howell County, Richards R-V $385.00
Buchanan County, St. Joseph $11,447.52
Bollinger County, Zalma R-V $241.00

When all the above schools chose to drop out, I have to ask why the following schools elected to join?!

LaFayette County, Odessa R-VII $2,200.00
Reynolds County, So. Reynolds Co. R-II $555.00

The Childrens Educational Alliance of Missouri says:

"We believe that it is our moral imperative to allow parents to remove their children from failing schools and place them in schools that provide better educational opportunities. "
In out state Missouri, where the choices are limited, edcuational alternatives should be offered. One little school can help many, but not all. For those that cannot be helped through traditional methods, successful alternatives should be supported. Instead of boxing children into an inept environment, virtual schooling, homeschooling, tutoring, mentoring programs or even allowing a child to access another neighboring public school district can bring tremendous opportunities to children and alleviate burdens that a small school cannot address because of their limited tax dollars. Everyone benefits~even the schools~when we think outside the box.