Pass the Popcorn: If You Need to Blink

August 25, 2016

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

If you need to blink, do it now. If you miss a single word of the blog post below, our hero will perish.

Do yourself the biggest favor you’ve done yourself in a long time and go see Kubo and the Two Strings while it’s still in theaters. This masterpiece demands to be seen on the big screen, so you can appreciate not only its oustanding story but its gorgeous visuals.

If you know Coraline, you know what greatness the offbeat animation studio LAIKA is capable of. LAIKA’s last few offerings haven’t been as well recieved, but let me assure you Kubo not only matches but actually surpasses the storytelling and artistic accomplishments of Coraline.

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It would be criminal to reveal the plot of Kubo. Indeed, one of the many ways in which this movie shines is the perfect craftsmanship of its progressive plot revelations. These people know how to tell a truly epic story.

I will say this much, though, to motivate you to see it. Kubo is the son of a great samurai warrior who fought a duel with the moon. The plot is driven by this question:

Is it better to be a man, to live a life marred by suffering and then die, leaving behind deeds well done and the memories held by those who loved you?

Or is it better to be the moon, floating high above the world and immune to death and suffering, and have no story?

Don’t miss this gem. I’ll be going back as soon as I can to see it again.

 


The Next Accountability – Teachers and Schools

August 25, 2016

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EdChoice has posted Part 2 of my new series on The Next Accountability. In Part 1 I outlined what we most want from a good education; now I outline the most important qualities teachers and schools should have to deliver these results:

All this can be summed up by saying that teachers need to be wise and professional. Wisdom means teachers possess themselves the capacities of head, hands and heart that we want students to develop. Professionalism means that teachers’ primary motivation is not to check boxes on a curricular chart or maximize formal outcomes such as test scores, or even to please parents, but to help students develop those capacities of head, hands and heart that the teachers possess and the students need.

The great challenge we face is that in our society, where we are free to disagree about what is good, true and beautiful, we lack consensus about what constitutes a good education. Good schools are therefore those that manage to overcome legal and bureaucratic obstacles to operate as free communities, with a shared commitment both to freedom of disagreement about the highest things and also to bonds of interdependence and reciprocity:

Freedom and community tend to lose their meaning when separated from one another. Real community means people freely choose to be in community. And real freedom can only be protected by a community that loves freedom and institutionalizes it as a shared, public moral commitment.

Next, in Part 3: how the two great camps in the debate over accountability – advocates of technocracy and choice – are, in different ways, trying unsuccessfully to sidestep the core problem of building consensus in a pluralistic society.

Stay tuned! Your thoughts are very welcome as always.


The Next Accountability: What Do We Want from Schools?

August 3, 2016

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today the newly renamed EdChoice launches Part 1 of my series of articles on The Next Accoutability, previewed with an introduction a few weeks ago.

I argue that the education reform coalition is coming apart because we don’t agree about what we want from schools:

The movement was well served in many ways by its various edifying impulses: to “close the achievement gap,” to “put parents in charge,” etc. But it has been haunted for decades by a growing awareness that these moral impulses do not always cohere easily.

The question, “What do we do if putting parents in charge doesn’t, by itself, close the achievement gap?” has been debated at every education reform conference I’ve attended. Such debates were lively and interesting intellectual exercises, so long as not much hung on them.

We lack consensus on what we want from schools because in a pluralistic society with religious freedom, we want to respect diverse opinions about the highest questions in life. But this leaves us with an incoherent education policy:

Our freedom to disagree about transcendent things does not mean that public policy can escape the responsibility to ask what is good, true and beautiful. In fact, the very assertion that it is good to have the freedom to disagree about transcendent things is itself an assertion about what is good, i.e. about transcendent things.

The challenge of pluralism is also an opportunity for us to discover a fresh vision of human potential that embraces the freedom to disagree about the highest things:

School accountability should be grounded in an understanding of human potential aimed at building up free communities, open to pluralism under the rule of law and respect for human rights, where people achieve and appreciate the good, the true and the beautiful in the midst of their differences over those very things.

I outline how we can understand educational goals for the head, the hands and the heart in ways that point toward the possibility of coherence in a pluralistic society.

Coming in two weeks: Part 2, looking at how teachers and schools actually carry out the task of educating students in the midst of our uncertainty about the highest goals of education. It is here, I will contend, that we will find clues to how we can hold schools accountable more effectively. Stay tuned!

As always, your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.

 


Going bold in Missouri with Education Savings Accounts

July 19, 2016

(Guest Post by Martin F. Lueken)

Last year, Missouri was one of 18 states that introduced legislation to create an education savings account (ESA) program for families. While it didn’t ultimately become law, it’s stoked the conversation about educational choice in the state and how we can empower families to find schooling options that work for their kids.

Under an ESA program, state officials deposit money into an account for education expenses for children who sign up for the plan. Parents can spend the money on a host of education expenses ranging from books to special needs services, online education, tutoring, SAT and ACT preparation or private school tuition. Parents can also roll over unused funds and use them in the future to pay for college tuition.

Currently, there are five K-12 ESA programs operating in five states – Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee.

ESAs are a new and promising innovation with lots of potential because they move beyond just giving parents a say in what school their children attend. ESAs empower parents to tailor an educational experience that they want for their own children.

In essence, it expands on what Nobel Laureate and economist Milton Friedman’s vision of providing parents with freedom to choose the school that best suits their children’s needs. Going a step further, ESAs allow parents to unbundle educational goods and services and choose the ones that best meet their needs. School choice is getting an upgrade.

Critics of ESAs and other school choice efforts like to allege that the programs will “siphon” resources from public schools or harm students in some way. Fortunately, school choice has been around long enough to have produced a large body of research to learn from.

Researcher Greg Forster, for instance, systematically reviewed 100 empirical studies. His findings: school choice affects all of these areas mentioned above in a positive way. Students who choose score higher in reading and math, are more likely to graduate and are more likely to succeed in college. They also are more likely to learn civic values. Moreover, increased competition from school choice makes students remaining in public schools better off. When students choose, schools also tend to become more integrated. And not a single study found that school choice cost taxpayers any money.

Although greater educational freedom for Missouri families would be reason enough for many to adopt a program, some, including taxpayers and legislators, want to know how an ESA program would affect the state’s bottom line – a legitimate concern. A paper I recently co-authored with Mike McShane, Director of Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute, estimated the fiscal impact of a broad-eligibility ESA program on Missouri taxpayers and public school districts. This program would be funded by tax credits for private donations, in which nearly all Missouri K-12 age children (88 percent) would be eligible. We considered a program that is capped at $50 million in its first year, which is a drop in Missouri’s $5.7 billion K-12 education budget’s bucket.

Using a variety of circumstances to make our estimates, we found that state government and local school districts combined would save between $8 million and $58 million per year under an ESA program. The school districts alone would save $21 million to $40 million per year. The state – which is footing the bill by issuing tax credits – could save up to $18 million annually.

What does this mean? For starters, public school districts would have more resources for each student who remains in public school (as well as other tangential benefits such as smaller class sizes and better matches between Missouri students and schools).

Overall, however, Missourians and their children would have little to worry about and a whole lot to gain. The Show-Me State has tried many things to improve their schools, especially in the areas that struggle the most, with little success. It’s time to go bold, and try something that’s already a demonstrated success. It’s time for Missouri to create an education system fit for the future.

Update: rephrased for clarity

Martin F. Lueken is the Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.


Might Greg Rope-a-Dope His Way to Another Win over Jay Mathews?

March 29, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I have not been keeping track this year, and election years are not usually the best for big reforms. The over under is 7 new or expanded programs. It wasn’t looking good in the early rounds, but slowly but surely Greg just might float like a butterfly and sting like a bee his way to (yet another) win.

Florida expanded their ESA, Mississippi seems poised to do the same. South Dakota’s governor signed a small tax credit program, and today comes word of a small voucher program that may pass in Maryland as the result of a budget deal. Am I missing anything so far?


The For-Profit Boogieman

November 4, 2015

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Check it out, he’s even GREEN! What more proof do you need?

(Guest Post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective carries my column on the blob’s hypocritical allergy to profit in education:

A typical post from the blog of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) provides a window into this mindset. Posted near Christmas, it darkly warns that instead of Santa, a “sinister sleigh” was approaching Oklahoma, “being pulled by those whose intent is to devalue public education and then turn education into for-profit businesses…Alas, their motives are far from good. The bottom line for them is profit. Profit made at the expense of our children’s education.”

The great irony is that this educational blob is itself dependent upon profit in numerous ways. It’s a story as old as history: “It’s different when we do it.” In fact, the problem is not the existence of profit, but how the profit is made and who – government or parents – has the authority to decide when it’s being made at the expense of education.

I go over the various ways in which the teacher and staff unions are dependent on profit, culminating with this:

My favorite example comes from education labor reporter Mike Antonucci. He pointed out that teacher-union conventions – where rhetoric about the evils of profit is always abundant – are in fact a big business. Any large gathering of people is an advertising opportunity, and the unions have never been in the least shy about monetizing that opportunity. Try to reserve an exhibit booth at the next big union convention by paying only what it costs to provide the booth; if they turn you down, ask them how they justify such profiteering!

As always, your comments are welcome!


For the Al: John Lasseter

November 1, 2015

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Deserve the Al Copeland Award? John Lasseter practically is the Al Copeland Award.

Improve the human condition? This man has not only reinvented movie animation technology, not to mention Hollywood’s business model. He has proven the superior power of the transcendent – the good, the true and the beautiful – in the marketplace of culture. He beat the purveyors of schlock, and he did it in the only way that really counts – by putting more asses in seats than they could. He didn’t defeat the schlockmeisters by shaming them, but by selling so many tickets that he ran them out of the marketplace. He proved that edifying culture can sell, which is another way of saying it can survive and sustain itself. He and the circle of people clustered around him are almost the only people left in Hollywood who know how to tell an edifying story, and they are literally the only people left who can tell an edifying story that appeals to everyone across all our cultural boundaries.

As I recently argued at some length, they are in the process of saving American civilization.

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Courtesy of the Onion

There are basically two kinds of Al winners – inventor/entrepreneurs and champions of unpopular causes. They’re either David going up against Goliath, or they’re Elijah calling down fire on the lonely altar. Lasseter is both.

Inventor/entrepreneur? Lasseter dreamed for all his boyhood of working for Disney, and by some miracle he got himself chained to a drafting table deep in the bowels of the Disney dungeon, slaving away as the tenth assistant drawer of left pinkies . . . and then promptly got himself fired from his dream job for taking an interest in computer animation just at a moment when (unbeknownst to him) one of his superiors had decided the future lay elsewhere.

Perhaps because computers would eliminate people like him and elevate people like Lasseter? Can’t have that! Just like any good Al winner, John Lasseter saw the future, and he didn’t care whose cushy job was threatened by it.

So, cast out of the only company he ever wanted to work for, Lasseter chased down the future and seized it by the throat, and made it sing so loud and so beautifully that twenty years later, Disney came crawling back to him and begged him not just to come back, but to take over all their animated movie making, oversee design of all their theme park rides, and direct a good chunk of their other stuff to boot.

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Mr. Incredible, second from the right, poses with some less impressive heroes

Now, all that would be Al-worthy if Lasseter’s innovations were merely technical. And it is hard, now, to remember that back in 1995 the thing that everyone thought was revolutionary about Toy Story was the technology.

But Lasseter’s innovation is as much the way his movie studio runs. He has figured out how to run a team of creative people in such a way that it not only produces material that is simultaneously artisitcally and commercially successful, but does so with sufficient regularity and reliability that you can pitch it to investors. He has taken the Muses to the bank.

And they really are the Muses. Lasseter and his people are not just “artistically and commercially successful.” They are bringing the transcendent things – the good, the true and the beautiful – back into the center of American culture.

Lasseter is as much a deserving Al winner as the champion of unpopular causes as he is so as an inventor/entrepreneur.

And what causes they are! If some have won the Al by standing up for this or that cause which is unpopular, but is nonetheless one of the keys to maintaining our justice, virtue and freedom as a people, Lasseter has stood up for just about all of the causes that are unpopular, but necessary for our justice, virtue and freedom:

  • Do not make your own happiness the aim of your life (Inside Out)
  • Love means putting other people’s needs ahead of yours (Frozen)
  • Accept your mortality (Toy Story 2)
  • Honor the superiority of exceptional talent (The Incredibles)
  • Manhood involves fatherhood (UP)
  • Womanhood involves motherhood (Brave)
  • Let your children take risks and grow up (Finding Nemo)
  • Don’t envy your brother (Toy Story)
  • Legitimate government rests on justice and popular consent (Toy Story 3)
  • Those who live for nothing but pleasure are fit for nothing but slavery (WALL-E)
  • Work your ass off, and be content with a family and your daily bread (Princess and the Frog)
  • Beauty transcends both nature and custom (Ratatouille)
  • Technology is for solving problems, not imposing your will on others (Big Hero 6)

No one else teaches these things and is listened to receptively by all sectors of society. Without this man, what hope would there be for these values in the long term? No, seriously, tell me. I’ll wait.

Two more Al-worthy accomplishments:

Lasseter is almost single-handedly responsible for the English language translation of the beautiful works of Hayao Miyazaki, who was practically unknown over here until Lasseter introduced us to him.

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And Lasseter would be, if he won, the first Al winner to outdo the award’s illustrious namesake in tasteful shirts.

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Lasseter owns over 1,000 Hawaiian shirts and wears one every day.

You can’t ask for a clearer avatar of the Spirit of Al Copeland!


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