School Choice in a Divided America

January 4, 2022

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my latest, on how school choice is a way forward for a divided America – at each others’ throats over everything from mask mandates to CRT – that reflects our national commitment to diversity and equality under the law:

These intense emotions surrounding education have always presented an unsolvable problem for the government school monopoly. We shove all kids into a single monopoly school system based on the notion that dispassionate educational experts will discover and implement the One Best Way to run schools, but it has never actually worked out that way. Government schools have always served the powerful, delivering at least decent service to comfortable suburban whites, while relegating the poor and the marginalized into schools that are little better than warehouses.

Today that unsolvable problem has become a crisis. Increasing polarization has raised the stakes of cultural conflict so high that even the government school monopoly is no longer able to cope. As Jonathan Haidt explained in his landmark book The Righteous Mind, even questions that seem like they ought to be resolvable through dispassionate discourse, like medical policy, are in practice subject to powerful group-membership associations that transform them into questions of fundamental decency and righteousness.

I have some specific things to say to those on the right who think they can beat the blob at its own game by “banning CRT” in schools:

Leave aside for a moment the fact that CRT has no stable and generally accepted definition, and that the government school monopoly, to the extent that it wants to rely on CRT, will have no difficulty working around or subverting whatever laws you pass. Is America about using political power to force people to conform to the in-group, leading to an endless cycle of conflict over who gets to speak for the in-group? Or is America about protecting everyone’s right to live in the way that seems best to them, as long as they respect everyone else’s right to do the same?…

Beyond prohibiting the most extreme abuses, the way to get education that really raises kids to believe in equality of rights under the rule of law is school choice. Most parents of color agree with that vision of America—equality of rights is what they spent centuries fighting for, after all. What they want from schools is not indoctrination in extreme ideologies, but the Three Rs and sound character virtues. Put them in charge, and that’s what they’ll choose.

Of course, like all other parents, they’ll also expect schools to affirm their human dignity and the contributions of their cultural identity—which white parents, to be blunt, have always taken for granted. “Kiss Me I’m Irish” doesn’t mean “Punch Greg in the Face, He’s Italian.”

A strong, confident America would want to keep the promise of freedom under the rule of law, even for those few families who really do want radical education. It wouldn’t hold those families’ children hostage and try to use the power of the state to turn them against their parents. That doesn’t strengthen the American experiment, it undermines it.

Let me know what you think!


The DEI Trilogy

December 12, 2021

James Paul and I have released a series of three studies from the Heritage Foundation documenting how extensive and dangerous Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts in education are. As I’ve written on this blog before, DEI sounds like it should be a good thing given that we truly value diversity and inclusion (equity is a different story), “but like many bad enterprises, DEI takes a bunch of good words and in Orwellian fashion uses them to advance the very opposite of what those words mean.”

The first report in our trilogy, “Diversity University: DEI Bloat in the Academy,” shows how large diversity staffs are at the 65 universities in the “Power 5” athletic conferences. The average institution has about 45 people devoted to promoting the social and political agenda associated with DEI. Keep in mind that our study did not count any of the staff devoted to ensuring compliance with non-discrimination laws nor did it count any of the faculty or staff in ethnic or gender studies departments. The compliance staff may be necessary to avoid legal problems and the ethnic/gender studies departmental staff are presumably engaged in the traditional academic enterprise of teaching and conducting research. The DEI staff we counted are neither legally necessary nor engaged in core academic activities. They are activists employed by universities to promote a particular, and as we demonstrate, noxious political agenda.

That report also showed that students report campus climates that are no better and often worse at universities with larger DEI staff relative to those with few DEI personnel. James and I had a piece in the Detroit News highlighting the situation at the University Michigan, which has 163 DEI staff — the biggest among the 65 universities we examined. I had a piece in the Daily Signal discussing how the growth in DEI staff was contributing to administrative bloat and rising costs in higher education. And James and I published another op-ed featuring how large DEI staff are at the University of Virginia (94 DEI staff) and Virginia Tech (83 DEI staff). People interested in looking up any of the 65 universities to see how many DEI personnel there are and how that staff level compares to the number of history professors or staff devoted to providing services to disabled students can use this really cool data visualization that the folks at Heritage designed.

The second report in our trilogy, “Equity Elementary: ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ Staff in Public Schools,” measured how far the DEI staffing and political strategy had made its way into K-12 education. We found that among larger districts with more than 100,000 students, 79% had a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). This is not quite as universal as in higher education, but it is getting close. Among all public school districts with at least 15,000 students, 39% had a CDO. We also looked at the relationship between having a CDO and gaps in standardized test results between black and white, Hispanic and white, and poor and non-poor students. Districts hire CDOs claiming that it is necessary to help close achievement gaps, but we find that those gaps are larger and growing larger over time in districts that have a CDO relative to districts that don’t. This holds true even after we control statistically for the size and demographic characteristics of the districts. It appears that CDOs are likely counter-productive in accomplishing their stated purpose of closing achievement gaps. Instead, we suspect they are focused on their real purpose of advancing a noxious social and political agenda.

I was invited onto Fox News to discuss the Equity Elementary study. We mostly talked about Critical Race Theory and how I thought it could lead to a parent backlash, resulting in a Youngkin upset in the VA gubernatorial election. Turns out I was right about that. But I was also able to mention how CDOs are educationally counter-prodctive in K-12 public schools and instead are working to advance CRT and other radical political efforts. Kyle Smith also had an excellent column in the NY Post describing our Equity Elementary study in some detail. And Heritage made another really cool data visualizion that allows people to look up any of the 554 school districts we examined to see if they have a CDO and how large their achievement gaps are.

The third and most recent installment in our DEI trilogy is “Inclusion Delusion: The Antisemitism of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Staff at Universities,” which was released last week. It reports on the contents of university DEI staff’s Twitter feeds with regard to Israel and, for comparison purposes, China. We examined the tweets, retweets, and likes of 741 DEI staff at the same 65 universities studied in the Diversity University report. We found that university DEI staff pay almost three times as much attention to Israel as to China, and are almost always critical of Israel while mostly favorable toward China. Even more shocking than the fact that 96% of their Twitter communications regarding Israel were critical while 62% about China were favorable, is the intemperate language and tone of those tweets. We provide numerous examples in the report and they clearly demonstrate that these DEI staff cross the line from reasonable criticism of Israel into outright antisemitism. Keep in mind that the same university DEI staff hired to prevent hate and bias and to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students are doing the opposite of that, at least with respect to Jews.

So, we have published Diversity University, Equity Elementary, and Inclusion Delusion — DEI — in that order over the last several months. I love the Heritage Foundation for giving me the opportunity to produce this kind of work and contribute factual information to the debate over how our educational system should approach Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

You might think that since this is a trilogy and since we have managed to use Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the titles that we are now finished with this effort. But like Star Wars, Foundation, Riverworld, and other famous efforts that began as trilogies I strongly suspect that our work is not done here. I hope we don’t have to create the DEI-verse or pursue multiple timelines, but we will continue to examine DEI in education as long as is necessary to prevent a radical agenda from being foisted onto kids.


Parents’ Children, Parents’ Choice

December 2, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my latest, in which I reply to a school district superintendent who is flogging the slogan “Public Money, Public Rules for Vouchers”:

His list of mandatory conformity for private schools includes taking exactly the same tests, which means the curriculum and pedagogy must also be the same as government schools. He demands they hire teachers on the same basis—worthless teaching certificates that are long proven to have no relationship to educational outcomes—and follow exactly the same “accountability” rules. He even demands they provide exactly the same student services and extracurricular activities.

What’s left for schools to offer parents a choice about? The school mascot?

This is like saying you support letting families decide what to eat for dinner, as long as they decide to eat hamburgers every single night. Hey, you’re free to put your choice of ketchup or mustard on them. It’s a free country! We’ll even let you put cheese on them, sometimes, provided you do it through our government-controlled cheese accountability system.

It’s time to rethink what really serves the public:

What is the public’s interest in education? Is it to ensure all children are pressed into molds, like machine parts on a factory assembly line? Or is it in the public’s interest to recognize that both human nature and the American experiment in a free and equal citizenry demand that education be answerable to parents?

One thing that’s definitely not in the public interest is “accountability” that is under the control of politicians and never holds schools accountable to anything but serving special interests….

I’ve got an “accountability” question for Deighan: According to brand-new data from the same state accountability system you’re so in love with, only 27% of students in the system you run are “proficient” or better in academic performance. Only 10% of African-American students in your system are proficient, and none—zero percent!—are above that level. When are you planning to resign?

I propose the counter-slogan “Parents’ Children, Parents’ Choice.” That’s the “public rule” that really serves the public.

Let me know what you think!


How do the States Stack Up? Measuring What Matters in Charter School Ecosystems

December 1, 2021

(Guest Post by Matt Nielsen)

In June of 2021, Educational Freedom Institute released a report (EFI Charter Ecosystem Rankings, aka “ECER”) that took a unique approach to rating the charter school ecosystems in each state. While the approach was unique, it was nothing if not obvious: measure what matters.

Dr. Benjamin Scafidi and Dr. Eric Wearne of Kennesaw State University produced that initial report and have now followed it up with a more robust ranking system that includes an expanded set of measures and more recent data. Surprisingly, no other rating system devised to that point measured the outcomes that one might consider important—outcomes like student performance and accessibility.

ECER 2022 asks those two questions: “Do students have reasonable access to a charter school?”, and “Are the charter schools doing right by the students that attend?” 

Those two questions are asked in a couple of different ways to ensure we’re truly ‘measuring what matters’ in as comprehensive a manner as possible. The ranking system includes measures, as follows.

The answers to these questions produced a rank-ordering of each state that turned out much different from efforts by other organizations like NAPCS and NACSA. For readers who are familiar with the input-based ranking systems, the ECER 2022 results may be surprising:

Why was the report necessary when other ranking schemes exist? As Scafidi and Wearne note,

“On NACSA’s 2015 ranking for example, Alabama placed fourth in the country, while having 0 charter schools and 0 charter school students. NACSA noted that in 2015 Alabama “passed a new charter law in 2015 that is based on best practices in charter school policy” for context. Mississippi ranked 6th, with a then five-year-old charter school law, a single authorizer, and 0 open charter schools. Arizona placed 18th in the same analysis, with 15% of their public school students enrolled in charter schools, the highest percentage in the country, except for the District of Columbia, which finished two places ahead of Arizona and enrolled 44% of their students in charter schools.”

Policymakers need reliable reports that accurately portray the effects of their policies. Prior to June 2021, no such report existed for the charter school ecosystems in the United States.

Download the report here to read more about the methodology of the ranking system, and to compare ECER 2022’s rankings to NACSA and NAPCS’s efforts.

Questions or feedback on ECER 2022? Contact Matt Nielsen: matthew@efinstitute.org


Segregated Public Schools

November 2, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my latest, on how the government school monopoly maintains segregated schools:

Assigning students to schools based on where they live guarantees segregated schools, because Americans live in segregated neighborhoods. And even as the lines that separate school districts and individual school attendance zones have fluctuated over generations since the civil rights revolution, the lines continue to be drawn so as to ensure racially segregated schools.

Should we be surprised at that? As long as government monopolizes schooling, who goes to school where is under political control. And one of the most enduring forms of political mobilization is racial identity pandering. Whether openly or by subterfuge, politicians make gravy by appealing to voters’ race-based anxieties and perceived interests. That reality doesn’t magically disappear when it’s time to draw district and attendance-zone lines.

I draw on the Urban Institute’s mapping tool, Dividing Lines, to look at district lines and attendance zones that segregate students in Oklahoma City. Click the link to find schools in your state!

Convincing politicians not to pander by race strikes me as a rather Sisyphean task; I propose another approach:

Unsurprisingly, the progressives at the Urban Institute and I differ on the question of how these lines should be drawn if we lived in a perfect world where they weren’t drawn to satisfy political constituencies driven by identity politics. But we don’t live in that world, so who cares? To my mind, the only question that counts is how we can realistically, in this world, break the chain that binds skin color and school attendance.

School choice, which allows parents to use the public funds for their child’s education to attend the public or private school of their choice, has a great track record of integrating schools. That’s because it ends the segregationist practice of assigning students to schools based on where they live. Seven empirical studies have examined the impact of school choice programs on segregation; six found it reduced segregation while one found no visible effect. No empirical studies have found that school choice increases segregation. (Of course, given how aggressively segregationist the government school monopoly is, creating a more segregated system would be a tall order.)

Let me know what you think!


And the Winner of the 2021 “Al” is… Ken “Heinie the Tank Buster” Adam

November 1, 2021

We had an excellent set of nominees for this year’s Al. Greg and Matt each nominated two people. Greg nominated Nazar Mohammad Khasha and Ken “Heinie the Tank Buster” Adam. Matt nominated Christopher Lee and Ryan Peterson. I nominated Joseph Friedman. And Ron Spalter nominated John and Justine Glaser.

A compelling case could be made for selecting any of these very worth nominees. Nazar Mohammad Khasha stood up to tyrants with courage and humor, in the fine tradition of past Al nominees and winners. Fasi ZakaWim Nottroth, and  Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds. Christopher Lee may really have been The Most Interesting Man in the World. Ryan Peterson is an excellent reminder that in the olde tymes there were these people called journbalists who actually went into the world to collect information and report it to you so that you might be better informed to take positive action rather than just folks who scan Twitter to bolster their partisan talking points. Joseph Friedman follows in the excellent tradition of Debrilla M. RatchfordGeorge P. Mitchell, and Al himself to demonstrate that people who invent things and build businesses may help themselves and profit, but they also can do much to improve the human condition. And John and Justine Glaser prove much of the same point.

But Ken “Heinie the Tank Buster” Adam is the most deserving among these very fine nominees because he gave us one of the most powerful ways of improving the human condition when faced with its awfulness — escape. Rather than thinking about how awful the container logjam at the port is or how evil the Taliban are, Ken “Heinie the Tank Buster” Adam allowed us to imagine a completely new world that is way cooler than the one we lived in. Secret rocket launchers inside of volcanos and a comic war room full of buffoons are not only cooler than the world, they are cooler than bendy straws, cookies, and the actors who work without those fantasy worlds.

I don’t get to ride a monorail that runs to the rocket launcher inside a volcano, but I can dream for days on end about being able to do so. The construction of compelling fantasy worlds, which Ken “Heinie the Tank Buster” Adam literally did, makes this world much more bearable and therefore significantly improves the human condition. Oh, and he also killed a bunch of Nazis. For these reasons, Ken “Heinie the Tank Buster” Adam is this year’s recipient of the Al.


For the Al: John and Justine Glaser

October 31, 2021
5 of NYC's Oldest Bakeries: Ferrara, Veniero, Glaser's, Parisi, and  Caputo's - Page 3 of 5 - Untapped New York

(Guest Post by Ron Spalter)

I respectfully submit, as nominees for the 2021 Al, John and Justine Glaser.  John and Justine are the originators and creators of the greatest pastry in the history of the world, the black and white cookie.

Overcoming disease, extreme poverty, and jealous other bakers in their day, John and Justine came up with this amazing treat in 1902.

They shouldn’t win just because they created the one edible item that immediately brings joy to all who eat or stand in its presence.  They should win because they were “woke” 118 years before the most woke rubbed the sleep out of their eyes. 

They, despite the incessant whining of their competitors, refused to make a cookie with only one glaze.  Fun fact:  John and Justine were Michael Jackson’s inspiration for the song, “Black or White.”  The unreleased, extended version of the song features the line,

“You know that you’re delicious, it doesn’t matter if it’s black or white.”

Like I said directly to the award committee, if John and Justine Glaser don’t win, the committee is obviously comprised of joyless people with no taste buds.  I submit this nomination even though I’m a type-1 diabetic.  Nuff said


Ryan Petersen for the “Al”

October 31, 2021

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The twitter thread that just over a week ago may have saved Americans from shortages and hyper-inflation. From Don’t Worry About the Vase, followed by the Al-worthy thread:

They went to five shortly thereafter.


Christopher Lee for The Al

October 30, 2021

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Descended from Charlemagne. Spoke five languages. Served in the British Secret Service in World War II. Related by marriage to Ian Fleming, said to be the inspiration for James Bond, later played a Bond villain. Required to seek the permission of the King of Sweden to get engaged – and received it. Innumerable film credits. Turned down the role of Grand Moff Tarkin but later played a fallen Jedi/Sith Lord. Re-read The Lord of the Rings annually, settled for Saruman after losing out for the role of Gandalf. Cut a heavy metal album at age 90.

Christopher Lee really was the most interesting man in the world. Anyone who can kill so many villains that the files are still sealed and then portray them on the silver screen for decades is Al-worthy in my book!


For the Al: Joseph Friedman

October 29, 2021
Friedmanpic.jpg

For your consideration… According to a British member of Parliament, Joseph Friedman invented “arguably the most significant technological achievement of the twentieth century.” Granted that MP was Friedman’s great-nephew, but still… Friedman’s invention has been an enormous contribution to improving the human condition and is worthy of his receiving The Al. What did he invent? The bendy straw.

Friedman who was a serial inventor, seller of real estate and insurance, and general wheeler-dealer came upon the idea of the bendy straw while dining with his young daughter. He saw her struggling to get a straight straw into her mouth given that its end was higher than her mouth. He used a screw on the straw to create ridges that allowed the straw to bend and meet his daughter’s mouth at the right height.

How, you might ask, is the bendy straw arguably the most significant technological achievement of the 20th century? Well, as it turns out, many of us have physical difficulties that make navigating the world challenging. We might be born with permanent physical challenges that make drinking from a glass impossible and reaching a straight straw with our mouth impractical. Even if we aren’t born with such challenges, almost all of us have had or will have physical difficulties at some point in our lives. When we are young we may be too small or lack dexterity. When we are old, we may lose strength or dexterity. The same is true when we are injured. As the disability activist, Judy Heumann, notes, in some sense there is not a clear distinction between what we think of as people with disabilities and everyone else since everyone can reasonably expect that at some point physical limitations may make it challenging to navigate the world and thrive.

This is why technology that helps people succeed despite their physical challenges is so important. There are many such technologies, but one of the most important is the bendy straw. We all need to drink and the bendy straw is incredibly helpful in getting that liquid into our mouths despite our limitations. In fact, when Joseph Friedman founded the Flexible Straw Corporation (later Flex-Straw Co.), many of his original large customers were hospitals.

Advertisement for flexible drinking straws

Of course, flexible straws are also just fun. If that encourages children (or some of us grown-ups) to drink their milk, that’s also a plus. Bendy straws also work pretty well with a strawberry daiquiri — another point in their favor.

Throwback Thursday: A brief history of the drinking straw |  plasticstoday.com

But some Higgy-wanna-be’s decided that plastic straws were one of the world’s greatest dangers and must be banned in the US and Europe, regardless of the consequences for those with physical challenges or who want to have fun with milk or daiquiris. Never mind that “more than half of the world’s marine plastic pollution entered the ocean from just five countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.” And never mind that, “globally, straws only make up around 0.00002 per cent of all marine plastic pollution (in terms of weight).” The Earth (or something) demands we put an end to Big Straw.

Unlike these Higgy-wanna-be’s, I give a higher priority to improving the human condition and love bendy straws. They are so great that their inventor, Joseph Friedman should be recognized with The Al.


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