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:

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 2020 “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

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 |

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.

For the Al: Ken “Heinie the Tank Buster” Adam, Father of the Bond-Villain Volcano Lair

October 29, 2021
L-R: Set designer Ken Adam, legendary Bond producer Albert Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert on the set of Moonraker; all photos from the British Film Institute.

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Ken Adam, who died earlier this year, was a German Jew whose family fled the Nazi regime to England. He became one of only three German-born pilots in the RAF, where as a bomber pilot who specialized in taking out German armor he earned the nickname “Heinie the Tank Buster.”

Now, folks, if it were me, escaping Nazi Germany and becoming Heinie the Tank Buster would be Al-worthy enough for a lifetime. But it wasn’t for Ken Adam.

He went on to become one of the most important set designers in film history, inventing a series of iconic sets that shaped the imagination of the whole world.

Including, ahem, the original Bond-villain volcano lair.

Yes, that one!

Well, not that one.

This one:

(Which reminds me, I’ve been meaning to blog on No Time to Die. I’ll try to get to it soon, I promise! If you’ve already seen the other Daniel Craig films, I highly recommend NTTD. It’s even good enough that I now no longer feel like my time was totally wasted by the execrable Spectre, because the story ended so well. But you do have to have seen the other movies first. And you should, it goes without saying, see it in the theater.)

Now, folks, if it were me, escaping Nazi Germany and becoming Heinie the Tank Buster, and then inventing the Bond villain volcano lair would be Al-worthy enough for about ten lifetimes.

But that’s not all Ken Adam did. Rather than waste words, let me take you on a tour:

War Room, Dr. Strangelove
War Room, Dr. Strangelove
Dr. No’s Lair, Dr. No
Ft. Knox, Goldfinger
Drax’s Conference Room, Moonraker

And of course:

Production Design Sketch, You Only Live Twice
Ernst Starvo Blofeld’s Volcano Lair, You Only Live Twice

Gentlemen, you can’t fight Ken Adam’s claim to The Al in here! This is the War Room!

I proudly nominate Ken Adam for Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year.

DEI is Educationally Counter-Productive and Politically Radical

October 28, 2021

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) sounds like it should be a good thing. It is made up of mostly good words. We rightly value diversity, both intellectual and cultural. And who could be against inclusion? Equity is actually not such a good thing as it emphasizes having the same outcomes, but it sounds like equality, which is another very fine word.

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. DEI undermines true diversity by reducing and dividing us into ethnic and sexual identity categories while crushing actual intellectual and cultural diversity. And rather than including people from those diverse intellectual and cultural strands, DEI classifies us as either oppressor or oppressed, with the former deserving whatever harsh consequences they might get while the later is entitled to whatever benefits they can grab. Rather than creating equality, this Manichean split into oppressor and oppressed justifies different rules and differential treatment depending on which category you find yourself in. This produces a mad scramble to have one’s own group somehow included in the blessed oppressed category while trying to throw one’s enemies into the damned oppressor category.

As Rick Hess recently pointed out. this DEI world view is very unpopular among large segments of the population, cutting across partisan and racial lines. So why is DEI spreading so rapidly if its ideas are deeply unpopular? Some of the answer can be found in the Orwellian appropriation of positive words for negative purposes. But people can only be fooled for so long, so why is it continuing to grow even as more people can see it for what it really is? A big part of the explanation can be found in the fact that DEI has some organizational advantages within mainstream institutions. The existence of DEI staff led by Chief Diversity Officers (CDO) acts as a political commissariat, articulating and enforcing ideological orthodoxy. It mobilizes the relatively small group of activists who support its woke agenda and amplifies their voice within institutions.

In a series of studies that James Paul and I have released through the Heritage Foundation, we have documented the extent of DEI staff and CDOs. In our first study, Diversity University, we found that the average university among the 65 institutions belonging to one of the Power 5 athletic conferences has 45 DEI staff. That is more than 4 times the number of staff they have devoted to providing services to students with disabilities, which, unlike DEI, they are required to do by law. These universities have 40% more DEI staff than they have History professors. Despite this outsized effort, surveys of students suggest that the campus climate is no better and may actually be worse at universities with larger DEI staff.

While DEI staff are nearly ubiquitous in higher education, they are only beginning to make their way into K-12 public school districts. In our second study, Equity Elementary, we look at every school district with at least 15,000 students — all 554 of them — to see if they have Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) listed on their web sites. We found that 39% of them do. Among the largest districts, with more than 100,000 students, 79% have a CDO. But even among the smaller ones with closer to 15,000 students, 32% still have a CDO. We then look at whether having a CDO is associated with closing achievement gaps on standardized tests. Contrary to their ostensible purpose, districts with CDOs actually have larger gaps in achievement between black and white students, Hispanic and white students, and non-poor and poor students than districts without CDOs. And those gaps are growing wider over time, This pattern holds true even after controlling for a host of other observable characteristics of those districts.

CDOs in K-12 public school districts may be educationally counter-productive because, like their higher education DEI brethren, they are more focused on promoting a political agenda than they are on finding effective educational interventions. That political agenda includes advancing policies that likely exacerbate achievement gaps, such as eliminating Gifted program and advanced math offerings while selecting English and Social Studies content for its political orthodoxy rather than educational quality.

People are beginning to notice how DEI efforts are educationally counter-productive and politically radical, and they are starting to organize against this. Parents are achieving enough success at pressuring their schools to abandon this woke agenda that they prompted the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to condemn them as domestic terrorists and seek intervention from federal agencies, which the Biden Administration and Attorney General Garland promptly supplied. This appears to have backfired horribly, causing dozens of state affiliates of NSBA to defect, which resulted in NSBA retracting its letter and apologizing (to its affiliates but oddly not to parents).

The Biden Administration and Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia, however, can’t as quickly back away from their declarations condemning protesting parents. McAuliffe, who was way ahead in the polls, has seen his lead evaporate and may be upset in next week’s elections. This turmoil is also not helping Biden’s chances of pulling together the votes for his multi-trillion dollar reconciliation proposal.

Our own research on this issue is attracting a lot of attention. Kyle Smith has an excellent column in the New York Post summarizing our Equity Elementary findings. And Fox News had me on last weekend to discuss that study and its implications for the Virginia gubernatorial contest.

The increasingly woke education reform movement has had little substantive response to this research or the parent backlash that is underway other than to call people racists. This name-calling approach is losing its sting as it continues to be mis-used. And the fact that the ed reform establishment continues to embrace a failed strategy for advancing school choice focused on progressive priorities suggests that many existing ed reform organizations are rapidly becoming irrelevant.

Soon they will become like the Children’s Defense Fund and the advocacy organizations built around the War on Poverty in the 1970s. Those organizations still exist and still receive millions in foundation grants. They still write white papers, issue press releases, organize conferences, and make speeches to each other about how right and good they are. But it has been almost half a century since those organizations had any real political influence. This will soon be the fate of many education reform organizations if they do not change their approach.

McAuliffe may survive and Biden may get his trillions, but the future of any politically successful education reform movement has to be focused on helping parents control the education of their own children and capitalizing upon their concern that a woke agenda is fundamentally undermining their control and their values.

%d bloggers like this: