Category: Educational Choice

Following Michael Miller’s recent Acton Commentary, “Why Johnny Can’t Compete with Sanjay”, and the resulting comments, two of America’s best political commentators have also weighed in on the subject.

First there’s Charles Krauthammer’s Time article, arguing that America is doing fine, partly as a result of less dependence on government-funded research.

Then Michael Barone comments on Krauthammer’s argument, along with a request for more information on the role of the private sector in research.

Any takers?

The math and science skills of American high schoolers and college students continue to erode. Michael Miller looks at the implications for U.S. economic competitiveness and offers some suggestions for fixing what ails the schools.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, January 9, 2006

Monopoly #1: I was somewhat shocked the other day when I heard a strong critique of the much-vaunted Canadian national health care system on NPR. I wasn’t dreaming – here’s the link to prove it. The report notes that “after 50 years, the Medicare dream has turned nightmare for many” – something that many advocates for socialized health care in the US would do well to take note of. It also takes note of the recent precedent-setting court decision in Quebec which gives residents who are on waiting lists that jeopardize their health the right to opt out of the public system. (You can listen to the report in Real Audio format by clicking here; previous posts on the topic here, here, and here.) Government health care in Canada seems to be teetering on the brink.

One facing a judicial red light; the other, green.

Monopoly #2: The same can not be said for the governmental education monopoly in Florida. Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court struck down Florida’s statewide voucher system.

In a 5-2 ruling, the high court said the program undermines the public schools and violates the Florida Constitution’s requirement of a uniform system of free public education.

This is unfortunate, for the simple reason that the introduction of vouchers has been an effective education reform measure in Florida. The Wall Street Journal noted the positive effects of the program back in June:

The saga began in 1999, when Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law the first money-back guarantee in the history of public education: the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Under the program, whenever a public school receives two failing grades on Florida’s academic performance standards, state educational officials come into the school with a remedial program, and the students are allowed to transfer to better performing public schools or to use a share of their public funds as full payment of private-school tuition.

Six years later, only 750 children are attending private schools using opportunity scholarships. But their footsteps have reverberated across the state, prompting failing public schools to reform. Steps taken by failing schools have included spending more money in the classroom and less on administration, hiring tutors for poor performing teachers, and providing year-round instruction to pupils.

Defenders of the status quo insist that such reforms were already under way. But a freedom of information request by the Institute for Justice from school districts that lifted schools off the failing list revealed ubiquitous reference to the dreaded V-word: Without such measures, school officials warned, we wind up with vouchers. The rules of economics, it seems, do not stop at the schoolhouse doors.

The results have been stunning. Even with tougher state standards, nearly half of Florida’s public schools now earn “A” grades, while a similar percentage scored “C’s” when the program started. A 2003 study by Jay Greene found that gains were most concentrated among schools under threat of vouchers.

Most remarkable has been minority student progress. While the percentage of white third-graders reading at or above grade level has increased to 78% from 70% in 2001, the percentage among Hispanic third-graders has climbed from 46% to 61%, and among blacks from 36% to 52%. Graduation rates for Hispanic students have increased from 52.8% before the program started to 64% today; and for black students from 48.7% to 57.3%. Minority schoolchildren are not making such academic strides anywhere else.

And so we revert to the status quo. Sadly, the ones most harmed by the status quo are the ones most in need of the reforms that school choice would bring – the poor.

My predictions: As Canada introduces more market oriented solutions to its health care problems, the quality of care that Canadians recieve will rise and fewer Canadians will have to head south of the border to obtain it; and until American public schools face genuine competition, the quality of the education they provide (especially in inner city and poor areas) will increase negligibly if at all. (more…)

Public schools are now embroiled in the controversy over the teaching of intelligent design. Eric Schansberg points out that we wouldn’t have this problem if there were more choice in education. But neither education elitists nor theocrats are big on educational freedom. “They wage battle within the monopoly, hoping to capture the process and force their view of truth down the throats of others,” he writes.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, December 16, 2005

Eugene Hickok and Gary Andres give us an optimistic piece on education reform on NRO today. They see even public educational professionals opening up to the positive potential of reforms that shift the educational enterprise into non-governmental hands. No doubt the continued advance of public education threats such as homeschooling and vouchers have prodded some educators into reform-mindedness. Progress on this issue is painstakingly slow and therefore hard to gauge, but one hopes Hickok and Andres have correctly identified the direction of momentum.

I haven’t had a chance to talk about this yet, but early last month, school district officials in Kalamazoo, Michigan announced “The Kalamazoo Promise.” The Promise consists of a group of anonymous donors that have come together to commit to fund the post-secondary education of every student of the Kalamazoo Public School system. To receive full-funding for four years, you must have to attend KPS schools from grades K-12 (funding is gradually decreased depending on the number of years in the system). The scholarships are available for use at “any public university or community college in the State of Michigan.”

The Promise represents a genuine act of charity on the part of the donors, and ought to be praised as such. The challenge now comes for educators in the Kalamazoo public school system to provide their students with an education that will prepare them for the rigors of post-secondary study. It’s one thing to have college paid for, it’s another to be accepted to school. And it’s still another to actually complete a program once you start.

The purveyors of the ACT, the standardized test of choice in Michigan and much of the Midwest, found that almost 60 percent of students who took the exam were woefully unprepared for college level courses in algebra, and nearly 75 percent were not ready for college biology. Even more troubling? “Only 21 percent of the students were prepared for college-level work in the four tested areas of English composition, algebra, social sciences, and biology.”

And even if students do get in and are prepared for the workload, as U.S. News & World Report education reporter Alex Kingsbury puts it, “For years, universities have known that one freshman does not a graduate make.” Some proof of this truism: “Only 63 percent of all students entering four-year colleges have their degrees within six years, according to government statistics. Rates for black and Hispanic students are less than 50 percent, and the gap between minority and white students is growing.”

So a program like the Kalamazoo Promise is an important one, but is only part of a complex of issues that relate to the success of students in and beyond high school. Students have to start with the hope of things to come, of course. The Promise has given that hope for kids in the Kalamazoo Public School system when they might not have had it before.

It’s also likely that there will be some kind of regional positive effect on public schooling, as the public schools in Kalamazoo will be more attractive to parents, forcing neighboring districts to become more competitive and find their own valuable assets to offer. The Promise may have already sparked enrollment increases in the Kalamazoo schools.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 30, 2005

This made me think of this. If the British phone company were really smart, they’d just negotiate a price to use the Book-A-Minute Classics. The versions are a bit different, though. Here’s Dante’s Inferno: “Some woman puts Dante through Hell. THE END.”

These are really quite good. I especially like the War and Piece classic.

HT: Betsy’s Page (It made her think of the connection, too)

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The system that administers special education in the United States is one that “parents find unresponsive, and schools find expensive,” writes Jennifer Morse, Acton Senior Fellow in Economics. She takes a look at the implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling and comes up with a solution that involves the dreaded V-word: Vouchers.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, November 17, 2005
Dante seems upset about being reduced to a text message.

A British mobile phone company has hired a professor of literature to write up short quotations from various masterpieces. The goal is to help make “great literature more accessible” by offering short, truncated, text messages to students via cell phones. A Reuters story quoted the company:

“We are confident that our version of ‘text’ books will genuinely help thousands of students remember key plots and quotes, and raise up educational standards rather than decrease levels of literacy,” the company, Dot Mobile, said in a press release.

Call me old-fashioned, but last time I checked, the point of studying literature was not to memorize certain key quotations, or even plot lines. That is coincidental. The point of studying literature, and especially the classics, is to learn the mastery of language, to understand linguistic intent, and to appreciate poetry and prose. To tout a product that truncates and reduces literature to a few short lines cut up and abbreviated, and to call this a method of raising “educational standards” and increasing “literacy” is quite disappointing.

Imagine studying Dante’s Inferno, and having it summarized by a few text messages. “Dante lost N wOd” => “Dante+Virgil go N heL” => “D+V paS thrU heL.” There you go students – there’s the Inferno! Basic plot (minus every line of allegory, poetry, and metaphor).

While I do see the value of short and succinct mnemonic devices to help a student remember a plot or quotation for a test, literature really does exist so that we may read it, especially the masterpieces.

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

Sir Francis Bacon
English author, courtier, & philosopher (1561 – 1626)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 14, 2005

By now most everyone has heard about Pat Robertson’s warning to a Pennsylvania town that voted out their school board. The move seemed to be in response to the board’s attempt to introduce curriculum including “intelligent design” theory. In an announcement to the people of Dover, PA, Robertson said: “if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God — you just rejected Him from your city.”

Robertson advised the city’s residents to seek assistance from someone other than God if trouble were to overtake them: “God is tolerant and loving, but we can’t keep sticking our finger in his eye forever. If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them.”

No one ever accused Robertson of a lack of rhetorical flourish. But beyond where his point may be legitimate, that intelligent design should not be banned from public schools, Robertson makes the mistake of confusing belief in a generic “intelligent designer” with belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

It’s one thing to argue for the possible supernatural origins of the universe. It’s quite another to identify those origins with the God of the Bible. This is a point that seems to largely be lost on the evangelical world, even among those who are somewhat more circumpsect and thoughtful that Pat Robertson. I wonder, in fact, whether it would be much more palatable for Robertson if the people of Dover prayed to the “unknown god” of intelligent design rather than Charles Darwin.

Supernatural theism in general is closer to Christian belief than naturalistic atheism. But supernatural theism isn’t identical with Christian belief; it’s merely compatible with it. It’s also compatible with a host of other religious views. For more on this, read Hugh Ross on why Christians should be concerned about “More Than Intelligent Design.”