Posts

School Choice: Time to Move Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Brazen Hypocrisy of the Teachers Unions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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