Category: Educational Choice

The video below of a second grade teacher in Providence, RI reading his letter of resignation has recently gone semi-viral with over 200,000 views on YouTube.

What I would like to offer here is an Orthodox Christian critique of the anthropological assumptions that separate this teacher from the “edu-crats,” as he terms them, who in his district so strongly championed standardized testing-oriented education at the exclusion of all other methods and aims. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Monday, December 3, 2012

Pin not actual size.

I commented last week on the “textbook bubble” (here) and have commented in the past on the “higher-ed bubble” and the character of American education more generally (see here, here, and here). To briefly summarize, over the last few decades the quality of higher education has diminished while the cost and the number of people receiving college degrees has increased. The cost is being paid for, in large part, through government subsidized loans. But with the drop in quality and increase in quantity, a college degree is not as impressive as it used to be; in many cases it no longer signals to employers what it used to. When a critical mass of those loans goes into default, we will have another housing-bubble-esque crisis on our hands. At the same time, government loans, which are largely indiscriminate with regard to the risk of the applicant and guaranteed on the backs of taxpayers, have incentivized colleges and universities to raise the costs to students for the sake of increased expenditures, inflating the bubble even more. Now, Alex Williams of The New Times reports last Friday,

The idea that a college diploma is an all-but-mandatory ticket to a successful career is showing fissures. Feeling squeezed by a sagging job market and mounting student debt, a groundswell of university-age heretics are pledging allegiance to new groups like UnCollege, dedicated to “hacking” higher education. Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

An increasing number of students are realizing that they, to quote Good Will Hunting, do not want to be $150,000 in debt for an education that they could have gotten “for a $1.50 in late charges at the public library.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Thursday, November 29, 2012

According to AEI author Mark Perry, there is another education-related “bubble” to worry about: the textbook bubble. He writes that this textbook bubble “continues to inflate at rates that make the U.S. housing bubble seem relatively inconsequential by comparison.” He continues, “The cost of college textbooks has been rising at almost twice the rate of general CPI inflation for at least the last thirty years.” Given that many students use loan money to purchase books as well as pay for classes, we might think of this as one of the many sources pumping air into the student debt bubble. But what choice do students (or professors, for that matter) have than to surrender to the textbook “cartel,” as Perry characterizes it? This bubble popping, while a bad thing for the textbook bubble-boys committed to the old, cartel-style model, could be a small relief and contribute to slowing the growth rate of the student debt bubble. (more…)

A schoolhouse in New England from the 1830s.

According to a recent Pew Center report, “Record levels of bachelor’s degree attainment in 2012 are apparent for most basic demographic groups.” 33% of 25- to 29- year-olds are completing both high school and college. According to the report, this number is up from five years ago and at record levels for the United States in general. But what does it mean? Statistics like these are constantly being produced, but they are no good to us if we do not know how to interpret them. After attending the joint Acton/Liberty Fund conference this past weekend on Acton and Tocqueville, I have Tocqueville on the brain and wonder if, perhaps, he might have some insights that are still relevant today. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, November 19, 2012

Timothy Dalrymple wonders whether education reform should be one of the great objectives for American Christians in the twenty-first century. Taking up that cause will require overcoming the intransigence of the teachers’ unions:

Try firing an ineffective teacher.  Roughly 1 in 50 doctors lose their medical license.  Only 1 in 2500 teachers ever lose their teaching credentials.  Process that for a moment.  It’s much easier to become a teacher than a doctor, yet teachers are fifty times less likely than doctors to be removed from the profession.  One of the statistics cited in Waiting for Superman, an extraordinary documentary on the crisis of American public education, is that only 61 out of Illinois’ 876 school districts have attempted to fire even one teacher, and only 38 of those districts were successful.  The tenure system — designed to give the most accomplished university professors the freedom to advance new ideas in their teaching and writing without fear of reprisal from their employers, and gained only after many years and rigorous examination — has become an iron shield protecting ineffective teachers who earned their tenure after two years.  Good teachers are a national treasure.  Bad teachers who refuse to change their ways are leeches on the system who cannot be removed and who miseducate our children into truancy and joblessness.

Read more . . .

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In a recent New York Times article (here), Ted C. Fishman offers and in-depth feature on the Kalamazoo Promise:

Back in November 2005, when this year’s graduates were in sixth grade, the superintendent of Kalamazoo’s public schools, Janice M. Brown, shocked the community by announcing that unnamed donors were pledging to pay the tuition at Michigan’s public colleges, universities and community colleges for every student who graduated from the district’s high schools. All of a sudden, students who had little hope of higher education saw college in their future. Called the Kalamazoo Promise, the program — blind to family income levels, to pupils’ grades and even to disciplinary and criminal records — would be the most inclusive, most generous scholarship program in America.

Since 2005, all graduates from Kalamazoo public schools who have attended since they were freshmen have been eligible for a scholarship program that sends them to college while they (and our government, for that matter) incur little to no debt at all. Given our country’s looming higher ed bubble, this fact alone makes the Promise a significant achievement. However, Fishman’s article highlights many social gains and lessons worth highlighting here as well. (more…)

For decades teachers’s unions have been giving teachers—and unions—a bad name. A prime example is the intimidation tactics used by Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE):

A Louisiana teachers union is threatening private schools with legal action if they accept money from a new voucher program – and the threat has already forced at least one school to put its participation in the program on hold.

The demand was sent a few weeks ago by law firm representing the Louisiana Association of Educators and several other interests, and it argues the state-approved program is illegal because participating schools would be receiving an unconstitutional payment of public funds.

The two-page letter further states if schools don’t agree, then the law firm has “no alternative” than to take legal action.
“Our clients have directed us to take whatever means necessary to prevent the unconstitutional transfer of public money,” wrote Brian Blackwell, of the firm Blackwell & Associates.

After the LAE was called out on their thuggish behavior, they claimed the threatening letter was not meant as intimidation but rather a helpful gesture. “We hope to prevent schools from having to pay back the money when the courts rule that Act 2 and SCR 99 are unconstitutional,” said LAE Attorney Brian Blackwell.

Perhaps these educators need some remedial reading comprehension because the actual letter says, “The purpose of this letter is to try to avoid litigation with [Name of school].”

If we do not receive a signed copy of the attached letter from you by 4:00 P.M. on Fnday, July 27, 2012, we will have no alternative other than to institute litigation against [Name of school] and will request that a temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction be issued restraining, or joining and prohibiting – its officers, agents, employees, and counsel, and those persons in active concert or participation with – from accepting any funds from the State of Louisiana, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and/or the Louisiana Department of Education pursuant to the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program during the pendency of our client’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Act 2 and 5CR 99.

In other words, the LAE wants to “help” by suing any private schools that take the voucher money. The LAE cares so much about children that they are willing to helpfully sue any private schools that might try to give them a decent education. That’s how much they care about our kids.

In yesterday’s Grand Rapids Press (and appearing at mlive.com on Monday), Monica Scott reports on the tenure reform bill signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder last year and set to take effect in the 2013-2014 school year:

Last year, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a tenure reform bill that completely overhauled teacher performance evaluations, tying teachers’ grades to student achievement. But teachers and union leaders locally and across the state have said they think it’s unfair to be held accountable for the performance of students who don’t show up to class.

In response, the Grand Rapids school board policy committee discussed enacting an attendance policy comparable to other districts in the county. Scott notes that, according to Ron Gorman, executive director of high schools for Grand Rapids schools, “school districts around Kent County include a set number of absences students cannot exceed, but Grand Rapids does not include a specific number, rather the district has procedures for addressing absences.” Instead, the “committee discussed a policy that states students can only have a total of 12 absences per semester and if students are 15 or more minutes tardy for class, it would be viewed as an absence.”

As a graduate of a Kent county district that had a comparable attendance policy, I was a little surprised to learn that GR Public did not. This is certainly an improvement. Indeed, with their new policy, it sounds like it will be a large step in a good direction: (more…)

July 31st marks the 100th birthday of the economist Milton Friedman. Celebrations planned by proponents of free-markets will take place across the country to recognize and pay tribute to his legacy and the power of his ideas. I am speaking at an Americans for Prosperity event in town on the topic of school choice on his birthday.

My commentary this week is on school choice. Nobody has influenced and shaped the school choice movement more than Friedman. In my piece, I stressed the moral power of pivoting away from bureaucratic centralized schooling and encourage greater parental involvement in education. Simply put, school choice allows for parents to better shape the spiritual formation of their children. Nobody can make better decisions about the education of their children than the parents.

Finally, schools that have to compete for students and tax dollars will be forced to improve and be innovative for today’s complex and global marketplace.

Blog author: John MacDhubhain
posted by on Thursday, June 21, 2012

One of the most worrisome economic troubles coming down-the-pipe is the “student debt bubble” which many argue is caused by too many students seeking degrees in higher education as the costs of tuition increase. Because we understand that poverty and economic misfortune are serious barriers to human flourishing, it is very important to try and understand the economics involved in the education market. Dylan Pahman gave a good explanation earlier today about how administrative costs are rising to promote a myriad of diversity-advocacy programs, a process which is clearly affecting  the supply-side of the issue. What about the demand side where students are making the decision to go to college?

How is it that so many students are making a seemingly irrational choice? In a post at strategyprofs, Steve Postrel explains here that while it may be true that college degrees may be becoming more common and watered down in the quality of education they represent, that it is also true that high school quality is dropping. This means that college degrees represent a greater increase in knowledge than they used to, signaling a greater value relative to non-college educated persons.

Typical graduate business school education has indeed become less rigorous over time, as has typical college education. But typical high school education has declined in quality just as much. As a result, the human capital difference between a college and high-school graduate has increased, because the first increments of education are more valuable on the job market than the later ones. It used to be that everybody could read and understand something like Orwell’s Animal Farm, but the typical college graduates could also understand Milton or Spencer. Now, nobody grasps Milton but only the college grads can process Animal Farm, and for employers the See Spot Run–>Animal Farm jump is more valuable than the Animal Farm–>Milton jump.

So the value of a college education has increased even as its rigor has declined, because willingness to pay for quality is really willingness to pay for incremental quality. This principle holds true in many markets.

Interestingly, one of the best ways to help lower the cost of college education might to be to improve the quality of education that a high school diploma represents. Understanding why high school education is declining requires us to think beyond a knee jerk “just spend more” reaction and understand that our current public education system is insulated against the processes that wipe out nearly all other inefficient and inferior services: the market.

To effectively help others become productive agents in the market and realize their vocations, we need to advocate for steps that will cause education at all levels to reflect a true added value. School choice seems to be an obvious candidate for improving educational outcomes.

H/T Marginal Revolution