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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Status Quo--a recipe for disaster

Clearly our public education system is not delivering what has been promised and what every Missouri child has a right to~a quality education. That is not to say that ALL parts of our system are broken...just some of it. Or maybe we are missing something. As a concerned citizen and taxpayer, I believe in investing in our children. Though I don't live in the city (I live in a suburb), I believe that children are entitled to, and deserving of, educational alternatives.

If you cannot care on an emotional level, you certainly could begin to care on a financial level. In an article, entitled Bridging the Gap in the Columbia Daily Tribune, it's obvious that we're not reaching all of the kids, early enough, and that our system is not set up to do it.

If we know this, then why can't we move towards solving this problem? I think that the words 'education reform' scare people.. But they shouldn't~'Education status quo' are the words that should scare people.

Making the best school board

An Education reform group is quizzing potential school board members on their views of school choice. They feel many people are only elected based on name recognition, but they want them to be elected based on the issues only. They strongly support school choice and feel the school board should also support such an idea. The reform group then made recommendations as to which candidate best fits into a school choice supporter. This type of group would be a great asset to any school district.
A clip of the article, or to read the entire article:
One issue means the world to a group of Frederick County parents this election season.
Members of Frederick Education Reform, a collective of parents who organized last winter, want new Frederick County Board of Education members to believe in school choice.
The crux of the group's philosophy is that many educational challenges, including curriculum content and teaching technique, can be addressed with more choices in public education, such as charter schools.
Frederick County is home to Maryland's first charter school -- Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School.
In Maryland, charter schools are created as part of public school systems and provided funding through their annual budgets.
Tom Neumark, the group's spokesman, said members are looking for Board of Education candidates who support school choice in Frederick County -- namely charter schools.
"I'm really hoping that this year's Board of Education campaign will really be about issues, important issues" Neumark said. "Too often these elections are decided by name recognition."
Twelve school board candidates are competing in today's primary election, which will reduce the field to six who will compete for three open seats in the Nov. 4 general election.
In preparation for the primary, Neumark and other parents sent a questionnaire to the candidates in the school board race.
They subsequently interviewed 10 of the candidates who responded to the questionnaire. The group made election recommendations based on those interviews.
Candidates were identified as supporting public school reform, against reform or not clearly in support of or against reform.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Legal and Logical

I came across this site who was commenting on the wonderfully written story in the NY Sun, Vouchers, Legal and Logical. The author clearly portrays vouchers as something that is not only beneficial to the students and the parents and why it is needed, but also shows that it is in fact legal. In our country, we pride ourselves on the fact that we have freedoms, choices, and rights. "We readily recognize that parents in a pluralistic society like ours have a right to raise their children as they see fit, within the bounds of law, instilling in them the values they hold dear. In Judaism ― and surely other belief systems and philosophies ― that is not only a right but a responsibility. Choosing the right school for a child should be seen as an essential expression of that right and responsibility." We are the ones responsible for our children, why can't we use that responsibility to decide such an important thing for our children. Is it fair one child gets to attend a great school and another attend a failing school? Then the parents get blamed, not to mention that it decreases the chances of future success for that child. "Education, after all, is much more than the transfer of information, much more, even, than training minds to think. It is the imparting of attitudes, ideals, and values as well..." Education is the forefront of growth, emotionally and otherwise for a child. It is one of the most important steps in a person's life.
"There is straightforward justice in empowering parents to choose how their children are educated, to exercise what is perhaps, the most important civil right of all." This final concluding sentence sums it up well. Hopefully, the ones who feel vouchers are so wrong, will someday let go of that fight, and try to see what can really help the kids.

Rick Sullivan: cutting ties to bad practices in St. Louis Public Schools

SLPS’ Sullivan seeks a fresh start was the headline of a Dec 31st story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Rick Sullivan’s bid for chief executive of SLPS’ Special Administrative Board (the one with the power to actually make decisions for SLPS). The point of the state takeover was to break with everything administratively and policy-wise that simply wasn’t working for the district. Rick Sullivan seems to want to be the director of that change: the man who can lead this difficult time of transition and massive legislative and procedural overhauls, and then carry that change back to a locally controlled board. This is certainly what needs to happen—and Sullivan could breach the gap between the needs that St. Louisans have within the community and the changes that the state wants to implement, but only if—and this is a big if—he can truly make a fresh start. Sullivan is ostensibly still in favor of a four-year-old battle suing taxpayers for billions in education funds, and defended it during his confirmation hearing. It’s the opinion of the state that the former school board (who voted to be part of this suit) has a track record of poor decision-making that has not helped the district recover accreditation—and if Sullivan does want to make a fresh start, a re-examination of involvement in this lawsuit is in order. The Special Administrative Board should have an opportunity to decide if continuing with a costly lawsuit (over half a million so far) is the best course of action for a school district in crisis. What’s even more important, though, is letting the community have a real voice in this decision as the Special Administrative Board has promised will happen as it moves forward. If they are serious about that claim, this would be the appropriate place to start.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Choice will help...let's give it a shot!

The Heritage Foundation has been observing school choice practices and has come to the conclusion that giving choice to parents and the children dramatically helps them get a decent education. According to the Heritage Foundation:

A growing number of American students are bene­fiting from school choice policies. Twenty years ago, few states and communities offered parents the opportunity to choose their children's school. Today, millions of American students are benefiting from policies that enable parental choice in education.

This year, 13 states and the District of Columbia are supporting private school choice. Approximately 150,000 children are using publicly funded scholar­ships to attend private school.[1]Millions more are benefiting from other choice options ranging from charter schools and public school choice to home­schooling and virtual education.
Still, an estimated 74 percent of students remain in government-assigned public schools.[2]

If given the opportunity, many more children could benefit from school choice options. To improve education in America, Congress and state policy­makers should reform public education laws to allow greater parental choice.

The rest of the article discusses more in depth about choice and the many areas that are allowing parents to have a choice. Reading this article, strengthens my belief that implementing some sort of choice program will help the children and help the entire education program. What I keep thinking is...nothing else seems to be working, lets give this a chance.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Believe in human rights? Let parents choose.

I’ve been looking at school choice for a while—on statistical, philosophical and common sense levels—and inevitably someone hits me once a week with a new angle I hadn’t considered.

This week I looked up (okay. North) and, like Newton and the apple, I got schooled.

Nova Scotia’s Chronicle Herald has an op-ed chronicling the pivotal differences between Atlantic area schools and the rest of Canada that have caused their unusually poor student performance. The main difference seems to be their funding policies, and the Nova Scotian writer pokes fun of Atlanic for not getting the school choice memo:

“When compared to most provinces, Atlantic Canadian education is trapped in a unique monopoly funding model, a model closely associated with administrative inefficiency and poor student outcomes.

Many Atlantic area school board members are still unaware of how unusual monopoly funding policies are, and often less aware that publicly funded school choice is the norm in all provinces west of the Maritimes. Choice-based funding is available to over 92 per cent of Canadian students, in school systems that have secured some of the best educational outcomes in the world.

Internationally, Canadian-style choice-based funding is being increasingly cited for the remarkable success of most Canadian students, when compared to the dismal outcomes of the American melting-pot monopoly model. Unfortunately, Atlantic Canada has adopted the American-style funding model – and for our students, tragically similar outcomes.”

Well, okay, my patriotism surges for a bit and I think, okay, so what if we’re not #1 in education—we’re really good at other stuff. Except that without a strong education, in 50 years we’ll look like the twilight of the Roman Empire. Plus that’s my line when I let someone down: “But I’m a good friend in other ways…” But we are doing a lot to work on our public schools, I thought. And then another scolding:

“Funded school choice is the democratic norm not only in most of Canada, but worldwide. With the exception of the U.S., virtually all healthy democratic societies fund school choice – even the former Soviet Union does so. The result of such funding for most Canadians is both real choice for all students and, very importantly, a public school management culture that effectively responds to the competitive pressures of choice-driven school systems.

The pattern that competition brings out the best in public education is not only a Canadian observation. According to OIDEL, an international research organization in Geneva, all top performing countries in the PISA international literacy tests – Finland, Canada (93 per cent), New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and South Korea – fund school choice.”

That’s a compelling argument. IS the reason we’re so far behind on many of the basic educational imperatives because we don’t have universal school choice? I don’t think it’s that simple. We’ve tried a lot of alternatives—tax methods, desegregation, No Child Left Behind, Head Start, not to mention massive spending increases from state and federal budgets—but we’ve never changed the system in which we’re operating, and Canada seems to think that’s the crux of whether students are able to succeed or not.

But, if that wasn’t enough of a gut-punch from our neighbors to the North, this is the real kernel of reckoning:

”Funded school choice is a well-recognized human right. The International Declaration of Human Rights states in article 26.3: "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children." Article 2 assures choice is a right for all, not just a privilege of those who can afford tuition fees. Funded choice is further reinforced in articles 7, 18, 26, 28 and 30. The human rights law on funding choice is so well-defined that individuals "inciting discrimination" against funded school choice are violating that law (see article 7, DHR) in the same manner as if they were opposed to women voting or advocating the return of slavery.

A host of international human rights laws further protect funded school choice, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and, most importantly, the Convention against Discrimination in Education.”

On a macro level, this is pretty significant. I’ve thought about being able to choose one’s education as a political right, or a civil right—but it is even more basic than that. This article notes that most developed societies fund school choice, and ignoring the human rights law is a choice to preserve bureaucratic control of funding: a choice against student success when it would mean a loss of that control.

And, for you scorekeepers out there, human rights trump all the other types of rights—as in, no one has the right to take them away from any person.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Virtual Star Wars

Among the many possibilities that school choice can offer children, one that is still being debated is that of virtual schools, or online learning. I must admit that I was, at first, skeptical of this idea. Having been raised in a small town in the Ozarks in a time when computers were rarely used, I did not have much of a reference point by which to gauge this sort of thing. That is until my nephew Ethan started learning his alphabet at a very rapid pace and by first grade was reading at a third grade level.

I know that this was partially a result of his mother reading to him every night at bedtime, and I can’t discount his insatiable desire for knowledge. But much of his learning happened at the helm of a computer he started using at an early age. With educational software, he not only began to quickly read and spell words in English, he also took an interest in the Spanish language, became rather adept at basic math, and well, the rest is history.

With online programs, he became interested in the history of dinosaurs, planes, trains, and Star Wars; the movie, that is. Okay, so all of this might not fit into the realm of traditional education, but I couldn’t deny that it wasn’t extremely beneficial. So now when I listen to, or read about, school choice and the possibilities of virtual education, I’m not as skeptical. Now I have that reference point. The great thing is that he is still a very active child. He is on a soccer team, loves to go camping and climbing, and he even likes to play with “old school” Star Wars figures as if it was 1977 all over again.

A February 1st New York Times article entitled Online Schooling Grows, Setting Off a Debate, by Sam Dillon says “Rural Americans have been attracted to online schooling because it allows students even on remote ranches to enroll in arcane courses like Chinese.”

I definitely know that Ethan would not be in the advantageous position he is now had it not been for his virtual education. My skepticism has waned. I believe that virtual education, when applied appropriately, can have positive applications for many different children. Think of the realm of possibilities! They are our children; shouldn’t it be our choice?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Independent Women's Forum

As a single mother, I was very delighted to see the Independent Women's Forum was in support of education reform, mainly school choice. Being a parent is a stressful yet rewarding job. I am constantly worried about my children and always wanting the best for them. I make choices for them on a daily basis that I think will positively impact the rest of their lives. I am very concerned with health and nutrition, and make the time to encourage exercise and healthy eating habits. We cook together and I educate them on the need for a well rounded diet that is full of whole grains, veggies, fruit, and lean meats. I like to encourage respect for all life and compassion for others. We are involved in several charities in our community and volunteer on a regular basis. In my home, we have regular homework time and my children know the value of learning..they truly enjoy it. One thing I cannot choose for them is where they will go to school. As a single parent, I do not have the resources to send them to the private school (which offers a much better education). I find it frustrating they are stuck in one school that cannot educate them properly. I plan to move in order to switch school districts, but this can be expensive and hard to do without help. I should be able to decide where they attend school and not be controlled by my street address. Some parents love our school, and others do not. Point being, every school is not a one size fits all place.

I applaud the Women's Forum for their support in school choice! They have given me hope there is still a chance that someday I can make those choices for my children.

Fight or Flight

I graduated from high school second in my class. I received a full academic scholarship to a small, regional state university in Missouri and graduated from there with honors. In high school, I had a science teacher who told me I may be at the top of my small, rural class - but when I got to college I would find that I was just average. Some pep talk. Actually, it made me want to fight hard to prove that I deserved my high GPA and other accolades.

Now my two step-sisters are another story. They went to a different school (still small and rural) but they were both in the gifted program at their school. Both scored a 30 or higher on their ACT and received the Missouri Bright Flight program. They attended a highly selective Missouri university and have both since earned Master's Degrees in Education. I doubt any of their teachers told them they were average.

I know that they worked hard in college and studied, etc. But it wasn't a fight. See, they were on a flight - the Bright Flight. (Notice my play on words there fight and flight, I digress...). I only bring this up because of an announcement in President Bush's 2008 State of the Union Address. He talked about a program for elementary and secondary kids that would operate like a Federal Pell Grant (a need-based program used now for entering college students) and it just reminded me a lot of Missouri's Bright Flight program.

Here's the rundown:

· Graduating seniors who take the ACT by June of their senior year and score a composite score of 30 or above receive a renewable $2000 scholarship from the state that they may apply to any school of their choice. (I know a few kids who used Bright Flight to make a truck payment). The ACT score will be raised to 31 for the 2008-09 school year.

· Here's the cool part - these high achieving students can use Bright Flight at any participating Missouri college or university. What a concept!

It seems to me that President Bush is making a pretty good argument. The Federal Pell Grant program is great and helps a lot of college students nationally. Why not use it as a model for K-12? But even better, would be for Missouri to bring it closer to home. Why not model a program for the elementary and secondary kids in Missouri after the Bright Flight program? It doesn't have to be limited to high achieving kids - but instead opened up for low income kids or used in school districts that are failing. I've never heard anybody complain about Bright Flight - it's a great incentive to keep Missouri's brightest students in our state. Couldn't we use the same incentive to strengthen our public schools by introducing choice? If a kid can choose which school to attend - it could introduce a little friendly competition between schools and in the end we'd all be better off. If this makes sense to me - an average mind - then why wouldn't it make sense to some of the greatest minds in our state? I should ask my step-sisters what they think.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A liberal education

A quick thought on scholarships:

As I was looking at colleges, my thought—and my parents’ thought—was quite simply “what college is right for me?” My criteria were challenging academics, strong foreign language and music programs. Some of my friends cared about class size or certain specialty majors or sports. I chose an expensive school—much more expensive than what my family could ever afford, but I had academic, service and need-based scholarships and financial aid that made the price reasonable.

Some of my money came from the federal government—grants I could have used for any school I chose, even a religious school. I even wrote an admissions essay for a religious college about faith-based initiatives and the origins of the establishment clause—a subject I studied extensively in high school. Right now, Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill and Hope Scholarships are federal monies, paid by taxpayers, that college students use to pursue the best higher education for them, and our legislators work diligently to expand that to give enough aid to offset the rising cost of college.

It seems—and is—that we have no problem with tuition aid for private colleges but when it comes to extending that to public schools we balk, even though the ideology and mechanics are identical. What’s the hold up? It’s the epitome of a double standard to say that students pursuing higher education can choose where they attend college while extending the same option for the same reason to public school students is seen as a ‘dismantling’ of public education. It hasn’t dismantled higher ed. It’s even worse, in a way, because a child’s k-12 education determines what kind of future is available to them after graduation.

"Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism."

"Education is coming to be, not a long-term investment in young minds and in the life of the community, but a short-term investment in the economy."

Wendell Barry