Mas Arne Duncan!

March 5, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arne Duncan came out against destroying the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program yesterday. “I don’t think it makes sense to take kids out of a school where they’re happy and safe and satisfied and learning,” Duncan told the AP. “I think those kids need to stay in their school.”

Bravo, although some are interpreting this statement as simply supporting a kinder gentler bleed down of the program. Duncan’s position will however be less disruptive to the lives of students, and will allow the evaluation of the program to continue. Many Democrats, including President Obama at times, have expressed a willingness to support vouchers depending upon the results of research.

So far it appears to me from my distant perch in the hinterlands that Obama is making the same mistake as Dubya in allowing the Congressional wing of his own party run things once they had a majority. Nancy Pelosi = Tom Delay ergo Barack Obama = George W. Bush.

Yes, well, I hope not too. Let’s see what happens next.

Mas Joe Biden!

March 4, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’ve seen past this whole act of being just another paternalistic, self-absorbed north-eastern liberal, and grown to appreciate Vice President Joe Biden.  Whatever his other faults, the dude will shoot straight with you, something we Texans appreciate. Just check out this quote from a recent trip to Delaware, where he pleads with the teachers union not to blow the stimulus money:

“I genuinely need your help to make this work because, folks, look at it this way. We’ve been given all the ammunition. If we shoot and miss, if we squander the opportunity, tell me how long you think it’s going to take for another American president to go and ask for more dollars to correct the education system,” Biden said to the Delaware State Education Association members at the Atlantic Sands Hotel & Conference Center in Rehoboth Beach.


The sound you just heard was me turning over a giant hourglass. I’ll try to resist using this quote for a few years, but it isn’t going to be easy. Keep them coming Joe!

Post-Apocalyptic 21st Century Skills

March 4, 2009

I can’t figure out how to embed this, but it is well worth clicking on the link.  The Onion does a news analysis of the real skills our children will need for the post-apocalyptic 21st century.  One analyst emphasizes the need for basic skills, like how to collect water from the morning dew in human skulls.

UPDATE:  Here it is embedded:

Beltway Confusion

March 3, 2009

(Beltway edu-analysts discuss the world over brandy and cigars.  Note where they are headed.)

I feel sorry for my education colleagues within the DC Beltway.  I don’t know if it’s all those wine and cheese receptions or box lunch lectures that addle their brains, but they are clearly confused.  They confuse political analysis for research.  And they confuse their political preferences for political analysis. 

Look, for example, at the recent post by my friend Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk on vouchers, which states:

“Now, paradoxically, the school choice experience since the early 1990s has lessened the allure of vouchers as a scalable education reform but at the same time made these smaller “pilot” type initiatives like the one in D.C. seem less toxic and more harmless among an increasing number of players.   Opponents don’t even really have a slippery slope to point to in any of the early adopter sites for vouchers.  There’s not one in D.C.  There it’s the public charters not the vouchers that are taking over and not in the other cities/states, even Milwaukee, where vouchers have been tried and the effects have been modest.  In other words, vouchers are not destroying the public schools.  Rather, systemically, they’re not really doing much of anything at all.”

Andy concludes that “systemically” vouchers aren’t “much of anything at all” because they aren’t expanding very rapidly.  This is a political analysis on the appeal of larger voucher programs, not a summary of research on the effects of vouchers on public school achievement.  If Andy had wanted to talk about the research on the systemic effects of vouchers he would have referenced this literature, which clearly shows that expanding choice and competition through vouchers improves public school performance.  So, Andy substitutes political analysis for research.

But he also substitutes his political preferences for political analysis because he ignores the steady growth in vouchers over the last two decades.  There are now 24 voucher or tax-credit programs in 15 states serving over 100,000 students.  Just last year two new programs were adopted, in Georgia and Louisiana, and the tax credit program in Florida was significantly expanded.  Andy may wish the voucher movement to be stalled, but a clear political analysis would reveal that vouchers continue to move forward.

Now, it’s true that there have been setbacks in the voucher movement.  And it’s true that each new program encounters a blizzard of opposition, making each step forward seem inordinately difficult.  But vouchers are just the spearhead of a broader choice movement that includes the more rapidly expanding charter movement.  If not for the viability of voucher programs, charters would have been the target of this onslaught of opposition. 

Vouchers have made the world safe for charters.  And the moment that vouchers really do stall, the enemies of school choice will redirect their fire at charters, strangling them with regulation and repealing charter gains.  To say that vouchers haven’t really done much of anything politically because charters are really where the action is ignores how much charters owe their political strength to the credible threat of new and expanded voucher programs.

It may be fashionable at Beltway receptions to dismiss vouchers as everyone is eager to be seen as championing the latest DC fad proposal.  But real analysis of research and politics show that the expansion of school choice, led by vouchers, will have a greater impact on education reform than building new school buildings, expanding pre-school, adopting a 21st century curriculum or whatever folks there are now talking about.

(edited for typos)


March 3, 2009

Yesterday the JPGB surpassed 100,000 total page views less than a year after starting.

Jay Mathews: Better Teachers, Not Tinier Classes, Should Be Goal

March 2, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Today may be the greatest day ever for education editorials and columns by the Washington Post, and yes there is plenty of competition, Mr. Snarky comments section guy. In addition to the editorial below, Jay Mathews weighs in on the tension between class size and teacher quality.

Mathews is not all the way to Indiana Jones and the Teacher Quality Crusade yet, but I think the evidence will lead in that direction.

WaPo Blasts Dems over DC Vouchers

March 2, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Really well done piece. Money quote:

But the debate unfolding on Capitol Hill isn’t about facts. It’s about politics and the stranglehold the teachers unions have on the Democratic Party. Why else has so much time and effort gone into trying to kill off what, in the grand scheme of government spending, is a tiny program? Why wouldn’t Congress want to get the results of a carefully calibrated scientific study before pulling the plug on a program that has proved to be enormously popular? Could the real fear be that school vouchers might actually be shown to be effective in leveling the academic playing field?

Greetings from the Welfare State

March 2, 2009

Help me understand the logic of Obama’s proposed budget.  He wants to increase federal government spending next year to “$3.94 trillion, up 32 percent from a year ago.”  And to help pay for this 32% increase in federal spending, especially increases in social welfare, Obama proposes to reduce the deductability for donations to charity for the top income brackets to 28% of the donation.  Effectively, Obama wants to pay for more government welfare by increasing the taxation of the private provision of those services.

And Obama’s proposed budget would also cap the deductability of mortgage interest for the top income brackets at 28%.  That tax increase would help pay for a huge expansion in government expenditures to prop up the housing market. 

The only thing that could account for these proposals is a belief in the inherent superiority of government-provided services over the provision of those same services in the private sector.  We would have to believe that the government is better at identifying and serving charitable needs than are private charities.  We would have to believe that government can better identify under-priced housing than private buyers can.

Mind you, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of charitable and mortgage deductions in exchange for lower marginal rates since I think these targeted deductions distort behavior.  But Obama is proposing to raise marginal rates while reducing these deductions.  Welcome to the welfare state.

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