Domers for DC Opportunity Scholarships!

April 2, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Dan Lips on Notre Dame’s efforts to save opportunity scholarships.  A student group has established a blog to help coordinate the effort.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet a few of the Fighting Irish involved in this effort.  I can confidently report that the bad guys are in for some trouble, as indicated by this quote from Father Timothy Scully:

Today I’d like to ask you to join me in this fight, both to keep the DC parental choice program alive and to expand our capacity to provide educational opportunities to poor families. The social justice and education teachings of the Church have always courageously asserted that parents are the primary educators of their children, and that parents must have the right to choose the school their children attend. This is the central value proposition of parental choice. This is why I am so committed to this battle.

Why President Obama is an Outlier

March 5, 2009
(Guest Post by Dan Lips)

In his new book, Outliers, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell examines why some people become extraordinarily successful and others do not.

Challenging the conventional notion of the self-made man, Gladwell argues that most great success stories spring from unique advantages and opportunities that enable remarkable achievement.

Consider Bill Gates. Most people know how, as a young computer whiz, he dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft and revolutionize the software industry and the American economy in the process. But often overlooked in this simple tale are the events in Gates’ life that put him on the path to greatness.

Gladwell explains that, as a teenager, Gates attended a private school that offered a computer club. At a time when few colleges were offering students hands-on computer experience, Gates was practicing real-time computer programming in the eighth grade. This early experience led Gates to capitalize on other unique opportunities, including working part-time testing code for a local tech company and sneaking into the University of Washington at night to steal time computer programming.

These unique opportunities made Bill Gates an outlier, as he admits: “I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.”

Or consider perhaps the greatest outlier of our time: President Barack Obama. Part of what captures the public’s imagination about our new president is that his is the quintessential tale of the self-made man.

You know the story. The son of an absent African father, the young Obama was raised by his mother and grandparents in middle-class America. He went on to earn degrees from Columbia and Harvard University, where he became the first black president of the law review. This historic achievement earned the young lawyer a book deal from a top publisher and a grip on a career ladder that he climbed to the top of Illinois politics and, finally, to the White House.

Perhaps the most important door to open in young Obama’s life came in 1971, when, at age 10, he received a scholarship to enroll in the private Punahoa school in Hawaii.

He spent the next eight years learning aside the children of the elite in the state’s most prestigious school, where he came to thrive in academics, athletics and extracurricular activities.

After being elected to the Senate in 2004, Obama returned to the school and spoke about its importance in his life: “There was something about this school that embraced me, gave me support and encouragement, and allowed me to grow and prosper. I am extraordinarily grateful.”

In the cases of both Gates and Obama, it takes a special person to take advantage of their opportunities. But it’s fair to conclude that Gates likely wouldn’t have founded Microsoft had he not joined a computer club in 1967, and that Obama wouldn’t have become president had he not attended the Punahoa school.

In the latter case, one wonders what might have become of Obama had he not received his scholarship. Would he have even graduated from college (let alone Columbia and Harvard) if he attended one of Hawaii’s generally mediocre public schools instead of Punahoa? The America’s Promise Alliance reports that the high-school graduation rate in Honolulu’s public schools is just 64 percent. In 2007, only 20 percent of Hawaii’s eighth-grade students scored “proficient” in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The point of Gladwell’s book isn’t to explain away our greatest successes, but to challenge us to create a society where one doesn’t have to be an outlier to be a success. “To build a better world,” he writes, “we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that determine success with a society that provides opportunities to all.”

One way to level the playing field would be to give all children access to educational opportunities similar to those enjoyed by Gates and Obama. The new president could help make that a reality in the US by supporting the principle that all families — regardless of background — should have the power to choose the best school for their children and by challenging lawmakers across the country to make that promise a reality.

President Obama knows the benefit of that opportunity — he’s passing it along to his daughters by enrolling them in an elite private school in Washington. As president, he could fight to give more children in the District and beyond the same opportunity.

Every child deserves a chance to become the next Bill Gates or Barack Obama, not just the outliers.

Dan Lips is a Senior Policy Analyst for education at the Heritage Foundation.

Assassination for D.C. Vouchers?

February 25, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In case you haven’t heard, it’s been discovered that the Democrats snuck a provision into the “stimulus” “omnibus”* bill that assassinates the D.C. voucher program.

Dan Lips and Robert Enlow have the story on NRO today; the link on the front page is broken as of this writing, but you can get the story here.

I’m not sure what’s most disgusting – that the Dems are putting union politics ahead of children’s lives, that they’re doing it in this cowardly way, or that the president broke his promise to make the text of the bill available to legislators and the public with plenty of time to review the contents and justified his decision by saying that we had to pass the bill immediately to avert a catastrophe.

What did the president know, and when did he know it? Seems like there’s no answer to that question that makes him look good.

*UPDATE: Thanks to the commenters for correcting my mistake. How could I possibly mix up the “stimulus” bill with the “omnibus” bill? I mean, other than the fact that they’re both nothing but special interest porkapaloozas, they’re so completely different! Even so, I’m leaving in my comment about the president having broken his word on making the text of the stimulus bill available, because he did break his word and it was wrong. And the question of what the president knew about the voucher assassination attempt and when he knew it still seems 1) relevant and 2) not to admit of answers that make him look good.

Dubya’s Failure vs. Jeb’s Success

January 8, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Heritage Foundation released a study by Dan Lips and yours truly today making the case that real education reform needs to come up from the states, rather than down from the federal government.  We focus on the success of Florida’s reforms, the disappointment of NCLB, and note that in fact NCLB threatens Florida’s continued success. Now the Bushies are exiting the Washington scene, can we at long last admit that the 2014 requirement is encouraging states to lower their standards?

Dan explains this better than I can, so I’ll just sit back an marvel at the cool graphics that the Heritage folks came up with, like the one above.

States Need Flexibility, Not a Bailout

October 31, 2008

(Guest Post by Dan Lips)

Following Wall Street and Detroit, the nation’s governors have joined the growing line on Capitol Hill—begging Congress to save their states from looming fiscal shortfalls. The National Governors Association sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking states to be included in the next economic stimulus package.

New York Governor David Patterson made the plea in person before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday: “As part of a comprehensive second economic stimulus package, states need direct and immediate fiscal relief.”

But not all governors are looking for a federal handout. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford offered Chairman Rangel’s committee a different view—begging Congress not to give states more federal dollars. Instead, he called for greater freedom and flexibility from federal mandates.

In his testimony, Governor Sanford warned that a federal bailout would only fuel further out-of-control state government spending:

Essentially, you’d be transferring taxpayer dollars out of the frying pan – the federal government – and into the fire – the states themselves. I think this stimulus would exacerbate the clearly unsustainable spending trends of states, which has gone up 124 percent over the past 10 years versus federal government spending growth of 83 percent…

…State debt across the country has also increased by 95 percent over the past decade. In fact, on average every American citizen is on the hook for $1,200 more in state debt than we were 10 years ago. There seems to be no consequence, and indeed a reward, for unsustainable spending growth by states. In effect, sending $150 billion more to states would produce another layer of moral hazard – already laid bare at the corporate, individual and federal levels in recent years.

Rather than a bailout, Governor Sanford urged Congress to give state greater freedom and flexibility from government mandates and regulation:

Give us more flexibility. Give us more in the way of control over the dollars we already have and less in the way of costs. Give us more options, not more money with federal strings attached.

Among the costly mandates Governor Sanford referenced was No Child Left Behind. Designed to help improve learning opportunities for students, NCLB comes with a heavy compliance burden. According to the Office of Management and Budget, NCLB increased the annual paperwork required of state and local governments by 6,680,334 hours (or $141 million). That means it would take one person a miserable 762 years to complete just one-year worth of NCLB compliance!

The result of this red tape is that more dollars are consumed by the bureaucracy and less is actually available for use in the classroom.

There is a better approach. Governor Sanford and leaders in other states should call on Congress to adopt policies like the A-PLUS Acts, which would let states opt-out of No Child Left Behind and receive their share of funding in a block grant with less regulation. Doing this would give state and local leaders the freedom and flexibility to use scarce tax dollars on local initiatives to improve opportunities for disadvantaged children.

Giving states more flexibility in how federal funds are used makes more sense than another federal bailout.

Cross posted at The Foundry.

(Edited for typos)

Dan Lips Interviews the Chef

July 22, 2008

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Dan Lips interviews Jeb Bush about education reform on National Review Online today.

Leaving No Interest Group Behind

June 6, 2008

(Guest post by Dan Lips)

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed its first major K-12 education initiative for the 110th Congress: “21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act,” (H.R. 3021) —  legislation authorizing a new $6.4 billion federal program for school construction and modernization. 

This is a great proposal…if you think that the biggest problem in American education is that public schools aren’t environmentally friendly enough. For anyone who thinks that federal power in education should be limited, or that states and localities are better positioned to decide how to allocate resources to improve school facilities, it earns an F. 

I have an op-ed on National Review Online today discussing the bill’s problems. In short, the bill is a regulatory gift bag to environmental groups and labor unions. 

The bill is unlikely to move in the Senate.  And if it passed, President Bush would probably veto it.  So Americans shouldn’t expect to see federally-mandated “green” public schools anytime soon.  But the House vote serves as a preview of where federal education policy could be headed.