Greg Wins Forster-Mathews Bet Yet Again

July 10, 2019
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Greg Forster after his 9th consecutive win.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

As regular Jayblog readers know, back in 2011, Brother Greg challenged WaPo’s Jay Mathews to a bet in response to the latter’s prediction that the school choice movement was petering out. Mathews accepted the challenge. Forster would win “if at least ten legislative chambers pass bills in 2011 that either create or expand a private school choice program.” Forster not only won in 2011, he has won in every year since. (For a few examples, see 2015 Part 1 / 2015 Part 2, 2016, and 2017. Note: I’m only including states that added a new program or increased appropriations or available tax credits for an existing program, not those, like Virginia, that only expanded eligibility.)

Here’s a brief list of the new and expanded programs signed into law this year:

  • Arkansas: Tripled the appropriation for the Arkansas Succeeds voucher program for students with special needs or in foster care.
  • Florida: New school voucher program for 18,000 low- and middle-income students that automatically grows by about 7,000 vouchers each year. $23 million additional funding for Gardiner education savings account program for students with special needs.
  • Indiana: Increased the tax-credit scholarship program by $16.5 million over the biennium.
  • Iowa: Increased the tax-credit scholarship program by $2 million over the biennium.
  • Mississippi: Increased funding for the education savings account program by $2 million.
  • Ohio: Increased funding for three voucher programs (the EdChoice Scholarships, the Income-Based Scholarships, and the Cleveland Scholarships) and expanded eligibility for two of them (EdChoice and Income-Based).
  • Pennsylvania: $30 million increase in tax credits available for tax-credit scholarship programs.
  • Tennessee: New school voucher program for low-income students in Davidson and Shelby counties.

Additionally, by my count, here are the states in which at least one legislative chamber passed a new or expanded school choice program:

  • Arkansas (SB 539)
  • North Carolina (HB 966)
  • Oklahoma (SB 407)
  • Utah (SB 177)
  • West Virginia (SB 1040)

Let me know in the comment section if I missed any!

[Note: Updated on July 19 to include the recently signed Ohio expansion and updated July 25 to include the Arkansas expansion.]


Edifice Complex Strikes the Gift of the Colorado

July 8, 2019

 

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Herodotus called Egypt “the gift of the Nile” and Arizona is the gift of the Colorado (and a canal). Both Egypt and Arizona have alas been afflicted by an edifice complex- giant mountain sized stone tombs in the case of Egypt, very pricey new construction for districts in the case of Arizona, as I detail in a Chamber Business News column. Any chance $330 per square foot schools will attract tourists thousands of years from now? Warning: reading this piece will expose you to earworm Egyptian themed songs.

 


Nightmare in Providence

July 3, 2019

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

By now, everyone in the ed policy world is aware of the damning report by Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy on Providence’s district schools.  Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education, Angélica Infante-Green, called it “heart-wrenching” and admitted that she would not send her children there. When asked by Erika Sanzi what Providence families are supposed to do, Infante-Green responded, “We are going to fight and work hard to change decades of neglect.”

Decades. Of. Neglect.

Matt Ladner summarizes the report’s highlowlights:

  • The great majority of students are not learning on, or even near, grade level.
  • With rare exception, teachers are demoralized and feel unsupported.
  • Most parents feel shut out of their children’s education.
  • Principals find it very difficult to demonstrate leadership.
  • Many school buildings are deteriorating across the city, and some are even dangerous to students’ and teachers’ wellbeing.

I guess that’s what $18,000 per pupil gets you in Providence.

Some people roll their eyes when conservatives and libertarians rant about bureaucracy and teachers’ union contracts, but these things really can get in the way of delivering a high-quality education. The report finds that the collective bargaining agreement makes it “next to impossible to remove bad teachers from schools or find funding for more than the one day of contractual professional development per year.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Take procurement, for example. As Stephen Sawchuk noted at EdWeek, “Nothing is less sexy than procurement, and yet nothing matters more in terms of getting basic supplies, repairs, and textbooks into classrooms.” Yet the procurement process in Providence is practically strangled with red tape and bureaucratic inefficiency:

The “unwieldy” process is compounded by the fact that any request that is more than $5,000, must be voted upon by the City Council and the School Board. Every element of the process came under fire from district leaders and partners:
  • The RFP [request for proposal] process “is onerous; even the form is too long.”
    • Because of this, “it is hard to attract high-quality vendors.”
    • “There is no transparency around RFPs.”
    • “The RFPs don’t even include scoring rubrics.”
  • Small vendors are handicapped, because they don’t have the staff to attend multiple committee and full board meetings.
    • One partner noted, “It took us two years to get a contract under $20,000 approved.”
    • Another noted the outdated requirements, such as presenting proposals in triplicate binders with tabs in a specified order.
  • “[Providence Public School District] can enter into only short-term, reactive partnerships. There isn’t the long-term arc of partnership that a three-year contract would allow.”
  • The volume of paperwork that results is “stunning.”
    • “There are hundreds of contracts, hundreds of purchase orders. Even philanthropic dollars have to go through the process.”
    • “The whole process is cumbersome.”
    • “There are constant meetings.”[emphasis added]

The report even included an image of “a chart of all of the players and steps that any contract must go through before approval” that one of the district leaders had pinned up:

Screen Shot 2019-07-03 at 10.44.02 AM

It’s amazing that anything gets done at all.

One of the central problems is that there are so many cooks in the kitchen. As Sawchuk observes:

Perhaps the headline finding of this report is that there are at least five different, competing entities that are asserting power over the school system, making it difficult to proceed on any set of changes or reforms. (They consist of the mayor, the Providence city council, the school board, the superintendent, and the state department of education). It’s hard to overstate how bizarre this is, but there’s an entire appendix detailing which of these entities view the others as obstacles or competitors.

Not only do the entities get in each others’ way and slow down the process of getting stuff done, but there’s also no sense of accountability. Each entity has enough authority to obstruct the others, but none has the requisite authority to actually run the schools well. When something goes wrong, it’s not clear where the proverbial buck is supposed to stop. Each entity can plausibly point fingers at all the other entities “in charge.”

Chaos in governance is reflected in chaos in the classroom. The report details a complete breakdown of order that is severely undermining learning:

Discipline. Many teachers do not feel safe in school, and most partners and district staff concur. There is a general feeling that actions do not have consequences, and that teachers are at physical and emotional risk. One interviewee feels like “the tired, drained teachers of Providence are dragging kids across the finish line.” A few representative comments:

  • “My best teacher’s desk was urinated on, and nothing happened.”
  • “One of our teachers was choked by a student in front of the whole class. Everybody was traumatized, but nothing happened.”
  • “When we refer a student, we get zero response. Kindergartners punch each other in the face –with no consequences.”
  • “Principals are not allowed to suspend.” [emphasis added]

How could this happen? (Paging Max Eden!) The authors of the report point to misguided policies intended to make the schools look better on paper but actually make them far worse in reality:

Some of these issues likely result from pressure to reduce suspensions. Teachers and district leaders feel that children with behavioral problems are allowed to continue, passed from one classroom and school to another. Several noted that the number of social workers in schools is too modest.
  • Said one district leader, “the data masks what’s happening. We can SAY we’re reducing suspensions, but we’re just churning middle schoolers.”
  • Several teachers note that the plan to implement restorative practices foundered because of lack of PD [professional development], but “we’re still supposed to use them. Restorative practices cannot be done unless everybody in the building is trained.”
The Student Affairs Office (SAO) came up frequently in this issue. Teachers are seldom informed when a child in their classroom has been violent, but “if an SAO student skips my class, I’m in trouble.”
  • Students are passed from one school to another; “some schools have become dumping grounds for kids.”
  • One district leader noted that principals often “bargain” about problem children, doing whatever they can to avoid taking a troublemaker.
  • One district leader said simply, “the students run the buildings.”

It must be noted that support staff, including bus drivers, share these concerns. One interviewee noted that “many bus drivers are getting injured,” but when they bring safety concerns to the district, “it falls on deaf ears.” [emphasis added]

Again: it’s amazing that any learning gets done at all.

Throw good money and good people at a bad process and the process will win every time. Providence’s district school system appears broken beyond repair. The only way to fix it is to fundamentally restructure it, but the only way to do that is to provide families with alternatives. As people flee the system, those running the system will have a huge incentive to make the necessary changes.

In the meantime, kids need alternatives to the nightmare in Providence.


Technocratic and Anti-Patriotic — The NYT Brand

July 3, 2019

 

My favorite part of this is the invocation of “data” to prove the click-bait opinion that the US is just OK. Technocratic and anti-patriotic is precisely the NYT brand.

Of course, the most relevant data might be net migration (or attempted net-migration).  After all, unlike the Soviet Empire, no one is proposing a wall to keep people in.  But the beauty of technocracy is that the technocrats get to pick the metrics.

Similarly, when it comes to school choice one might think that economists would be persuaded simply by the fact that people choose schools to believe that those are likely better for them — revealed preference. But no. They demand test scores, integration measures, social-emotional learning scales, etc.. to judge chosen school quality. Keep measuring (more likely mis-measuring) until the technocrat can find the metric to show how your own better judgement is mistaken.


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

July 1, 2019

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Image HT ABC7 News

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

1936: New Deal commissions mural in San Francisco public school, painted by a member of the Communist Party, with the purpose of delegitimizing liberal democracy and freedom by reminding America of the terrible crimes it has committed against the principles of liberal democracy and freedom, on the assumption (not yet disproved) that people are foolish enough to think the horror of these crimes undermines rather than reinforces the case for liberal democracy and freedom.

2019: San Francisco will spend $600,000 to paint over the mural in deference to activists whose purpose is to delegitimize liberal democracy and freedom, not because the activists misunderstand the purpose of the mural, but because confronting people with uncomfortable realities is now considered a form of violence.

Kicker: Of the $600,000 it will cost to destroy the mural, $500,000 comes from a mandatory environmental impact statement.

I can’t believe the American Right is actually losing to this idiocy.

Oh, wait, never mind.


A Florida Family’s Multi-generational struggle for K-12 Opportunity

May 30, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Amazing story by Ron Matus about one of the original 57 Opportunity Scholarship students and her mother over on RedefinED. I could relate the story but it is better for you to watch it:


The Price of Bigotry

May 19, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Three cheers for George Will’s column today calling upon the Supreme Court to strike down Blaine Amendments:

Blaine came within 1,047 votes of becoming president when, in 1884, hoping his anti-Catholicism would propel him to victory, he lost New York by that margin to Grover Cleveland. A large multiple of that number of New York’s Irish and other Catholic immigrants had become incensed when a prominent Protestant minister, speaking at a rally in New York City with Blaine present, said the Democratic party’s antecedents were “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”

Blaine paid a steep price for his bigotry. More than 13 decades later, schoolchildren in Montana and elsewhere should not have to pay for it.

I reach the conclusion by different legal reasoning (I think the key point is that Blaine Amendments inevitably create unconstitutional government discrimination against religious organizations, not that they would have been understood to do so in the 19th century). But it rounds up to three cheers!