Category: Educational Choice

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.

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

As I noted yesterday, I’m in Montreal for the next couple of weeks, and today I had the chance to see some of the student protests firsthand. These protests have been going on now for over three months, and have to do with the raising of tuition for college in Quebec.

I’m teaching at Farel Reformed Theological Seminary, which is located in the heart of downtown Montreal, and is adjacent to Concordia University. As I walked around earlier this week, I noticed the following on one of Concordia’s buildings:

The Right to Education
The text is article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads in part, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”

I think that the kinds of protests we are seeing in Quebec might be the inevitable end of the logic of the welfare state. The logic goes something like this:

Education is a right, and should be free, or the next best thing to it. In order for it to be “free,” it must be administered, or at least underwritten, by the state, because we know that the only way to make something appear to be free is to requisition the necessary funds via taxation. This is, in fact, precisely the rationale for the existence of the modern welfare state, in which in the context of the Netherlands, for instance, it is understood to be “the task of the state to promote the general welfare and to secure the basic needs of people in society.”

Education is a right (per the UN Declaration), is constitutive of the general welfare, and a basic need. Thus it must be “fully guaranteed by the government” (to quote Noordegraaf from the Dutch context regarding social security, mutatis mutandis).

The upheavals we are seeing, then, are what happen when we can no longer sustain such guarantees. They are what happen when “free” becomes unaffordable and unsustainable.

This means that the flawed logic of the welfare state will have to be critically reexamined, no small task for a developed world that has steadily built infrastructure according to logic for much of the past seventy years.

For Quebec this does not bode well, as Cardus’ Peter Stockland puts it, “This is a province in the grip of reactionary progressives afflicted with severe intellectual and institutional sclerosis. Their malaise prevents any proposals for change from being given fair hearing, much less a chance of being put into play. Real change, not merely revolutionary play-acting, is anathema in this province.”

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, April 30, 2012

“Each generation needs to re-own the rationale for Christian education,” says philosopher James K.A. Smith, “to ask ourselves ‘Why did we do this?’ and ‘Should we keep doing this?’” In answering such questions, Smith notes, “it might be helpful to point out what Christian education is not”:

First, Christian education is not meant to be merely “safe” education. The impetus for Christian schooling is not a protectionist concern, driven by fear, to sequester children from the big, bad world. Christian schools are not meant to be moral bubbles or holy huddles where children are encouraged to stick their heads in the sand.

Rather, Christian schools are called to be like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia: not safe, but good. Instead of antiseptic moral bubbles, Christian schools are moral incubators that help students not only to see the glories of God’s creation but also to discern and understand the brokenness of this fallen world.

While the Christian classroom makes room for appreciating the stunning complexity of cell biology and the rich diversity of world cultures, it’s also a place to understand the systemic injustices behind racism and the macroeconomics of poverty. Christian schools are not places for preserving a naive innocence; they are laboratories to form children who see that our broken world is full of widows, orphans, and strangers we are called to love and welcome.

In short, Christian schools are not a withdrawal from the world; they are a lens and microscope through which to see the world in all its broken beauty.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, April 27, 2012

During last year’s Acton University—have you signed up for this year yet?—Nelson Kloosterman gave a lecture on the subject of school choice and private education. In the latest issue of Comment magazine, Kloosterman expands on his claim that parental choice is “the next civil rights movement“:

Let me begin with some contextualizing comments designed to set up the discussion that follows.

First, and most importantly, I believe that the fundamental issue in this matter involves parental choice, even though the far more popular phrase is school choice. Parental choice underlies and undergirds school choice, and forms (or should form) the heart of the debate on accessibility to and support of education today. I am assuming the right of parents to raise and educate their children in ways consistent with their parental convictions.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Schools are controlled by the government, but they serve specific communities with niche needs, says Paul T. Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Is there a way that education be publicly funded but privately managed?
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As Michelle Kaffenberger points out, parents in the poorest parts of India share a concern of many Americans: Their children don’t actually learn much in the public schools.
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