Good reads

February 3, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The WSJ detects the Stockholm Syndrome of the six-inch Dark Lord of Nightmares MA Charter School Association and Eli Broad.

Derrell Bradford earns a BOOOOOOM! by explaining to the charter school bear that the hunter has plenty of bullets left for them.

So does Max Eden by exposing the NYT phony “analysis” of Detroit charter data.

Mike McShane joins the fun by explaining how our notions of accountability need an update.

Rick Hess cautions choiceniks to be careful what we wish for from the feds.

WSJ on ESA and Jordan Visser

April 17, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Wall Street Journal has a news story on the Arizona Empowerment Accounts program today. Notice especially the intellectual incoherence of the Scottsdale official trying to explain how it hurts the finances of the district to lose special needs students:

School districts say that even though state funding doesn’t cover the costs of special-needs students, they don’t necessarily save that money if a student leaves the district. The Scottsdale district says it pays about $10 million to $12 million more than it gets from the state and federal government to educate its special-needs students.

“If every student with special needs left, then maybe we would save that $12 million, but at the same time, it’s pretty implausible,” said Daniel O’Brien, chief financial officer of the Scottsdale district. He added that the schools would still have students with all kinds of other needs who may not qualify for ESAs, and they would still need to educate those students.

Did you follow that?  Scottsdale says that they use $10m to $12m in general education funds above and beyond what it receives in state and federal funding for special needs children.  I certainly agree that it is utterly implausible that all special needs students will choose to leave the Scottsdale district, but that whole line of thought misses the most important point: if a child leaves with their “inadequate funding” then you have no cause to cry about it.  You still have the $10m to $12m in the bank- now you just have more options with what to do with some of it- you might want to spend more on your remaining special needs kids, you may want to do a slightly smaller transfer from general ed to special ed, but either way the district wins.

Notice also that 90% of what the Scottsdale Unified would have received for Jordan Visser seems to be serving his needs quite well.

For the past three years, Ms. Visser has educated her son, Jordan, who has cerebral palsy, at their Scottsdale, Ariz., home. He has a packed schedule of one-on-one instructional sessions with a specialist, physical-education classes, music lessons, horse-riding therapy and other programs—all of which she pays for through a state-funded program informally known as the “education debit card.”


The Common Core Culture War Intensifies

May 14, 2013


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In today’s Journal, Sol Stern and Joel Klein attempt to sell conservatives on national standards by 1) misleading them about the federal government’s role, both in ramming the standards through and in continuing to shape them going forward, and 2) portraying the national standards as a patriotic way to patriotically patriotize our vulnerable young patriots, who are now at the mercy of the eeeeeeeeeeeevil progressives and their social justice agenda.

Now, what do you think the major Democratic party effort to support national standards thinks of that?

Paul the psychic octopus looks more right every month – national standards are built on an anti-school-choice, one-size-fits-all worldview and are therefore a one-way ticket to the worst kind of culture war.

Update: I wonder what Stern and Klein would say about Heather Mac Donald’s warning that the national “science” standards endorse an unscientific and anti-human environmental agenda?

Technology and School Choice: The False Dichotomy

July 18, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Terry Moe has a great article in today’s Journal about how entrepreneurial innovation taking advantage of new technology is putting the teacher’s unions on the road to oblivion. It’s a great article, except that it draws one false dichotomy.

Fans of JPGB know that we do love us some high-tech transformation of schooling around here. Matt has been on this beat for a long time, and hardly a week goes by that he doesn’t update us on the latest victory of “the cool kids” over “edu-reactionaries” in the reinvention of the school. But he doesn’t own that turf entirely; I made this the theme of my contribution to Freedom and School Choice (as did Matt, of course).

The problem is that Moe insists high-tech transformation of schooling, and the destruction of union control it entails, is absolutely, positively a separate phenomenon from the wave of school reform victories this year:

This has been a horrible year for teachers unions…But the unions’ hegemony is not going to end soon. All of their big political losses have come at the hands of oversized Republican majorities. Eventually Democrats will regain control, and many of the recent reforms may be undone. The financial crisis will pass, too, taking pressure off states and giving Republicans less political cover…

Over the long haul, however, the unions are in grave trouble—for reasons that have little to do with the tribulations of this year…The first is that they are losing their grip on the Democratic base…Then there’s a crucial dynamic outside of politics: the revolution in information technology.

Really? The victories of 2011 – “the year of school choice” – aren’t in the same category with the long-term path to oblivion the unions are on? On the contrary, 2011 is the year of school choice precisely because it has become obvious that the unions are on track for oblivion, for the reasons Moe identifies.

Moe’s argument relies on the assumption that when Republicans are in power, they always make dramatic and innovative school reform policies their #1 priority.

Sorry  . . . lost my train of thought I was laughing so hard . . . let me pick myself up off the floor . . . there, now where was I? Oh, yes.

The GOP hasn’t touched real school reforms with a hundred-foot pole in years. Why did it all of a sudden embrace real reform this year?

Could it be because…

  1. …the unions are losing their grip on the Democratic base, meaning squishy Republicans don’t have to worry about being demonized as right-wing loonies simply for embracing real reform, and…
  2. …the revolution in information technology has made it obvious to MSM and other key cultural gatekeepers that the unions are the reactionaries, once again reassuring squishy Republicans they won’t be demonized for embracing real reform?

Obviously the financial crisis was also a factor here, as Moe rightly points out. But is that really an immediate-term phenomenon, bound to disappear next week? What really counts is whether the nation feels so rich it can afford to ignore ballooning school costs. Technically the recession ended two years ago and we’ve been in “recovery” for two years. How’s that feeling? Do we feel rich and luxurious again? Are we on track to restore a widespread national sense of inevitable prosperity by 2012? By 2014? By 2020?

Bottom line, the unions losing Democratic support and taking their stand in opposition to entrepreneurial change was the crucial, indispensable precondition for this year’s wave of school reform success.

Oh, and guess what? Sustaining those policies, especially school choice, will be the only way this wave of advancing technology will produce the results Moe is expecting. Only school choice can prevent the blob from neutralizing any reform you throw at it. If the techno-innovators turn their back on choice and competition, they’ll be dead meat. (For more on that topic, see the aforementioned chapter by your humble servant in Freedom and School Choice.)

Verdict in the WSJ: “School Vouchers Work”

May 3, 2011

Wall Street Journal columnist, Jason Riley has a must-read piece in the WSJ today.  The piece features the work of my University of Arkansas colleague, Patrick Wolf, JPGB’s very own Greg Forster, as well as a reference to the competitive effects study that Ryan Marsh and I conducted in Milwaukee.  There are too many highlights, but here is a (big) taste:

‘Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement,” said the White House in a statement on March 29. “The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.” But less than three weeks later, President Obama signed a budget deal with Republicans that includes a renewal and expansion of the popular D.C. program, which finances tuition vouchers for low-income kids to attend private schools.

School reformers cheered the administration’s about-face though fully aware that it was motivated by political expediency rather than any acknowledgment that vouchers work.

When Mr. Obama first moved to phase out the D.C. voucher program in 2009, his Education Department was in possession of a federal study showing that voucher recipients, who number more than 3,300, made gains in reading scores and didn’t decline in math. The administration claims that the reading gains were not large enough to be significant. Yet even smaller positive effects were championed by the administration as justification for expanding Head Start….

The positive effects of the D.C. voucher program are not unique. A recent study of Milwaukee’s older and larger voucher program found that 94% of students who stayed in the program throughout high school graduated, versus just 75% of students in Milwaukee’s traditional public schools. And contrary to the claim that vouchers hurt public schools, the report found that students at Milwaukee public schools “are performing at somewhat higher levels as a result of competitive pressure from the school voucher program.” Thus can vouchers benefit even the children that don’t receive them.

Research gathered by Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice also calls into question the White House assertion that vouchers are ineffective. In a paper released in March, he says that “every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.” Mr. Forster surveyed 10 empirical studies that use “random assignment, the gold standard of social science,” to assure that the groups being compared are as similar as possible. “Nine [of the 10] studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected,” he writes. “One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.”

Such results might influence the thinking of an objective observer primarily interested in doing right by the nation’s poor children. But they are unlikely to sway a politician focused on getting re-elected with the help of teachers unions.

“I think Obama and Duncan really care about school reform,” says Terry Moe, who teaches at Stanford and is the author of a timely new book, “Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools.” “On the other hand they have to be sensitive to their Democratic coalition, which includes teachers unions. And one way they do that is by opposing school vouchers.”

The reality is that Mr. Obama’s opposition to school vouchers has to do with Democratic politics, not the available evidence on whether they improve outcomes for disadvantaged kids. They do—and he knows it.

A Teacher’s Comment

March 3, 2011

I’ve pasted below, in full, the comment that a teacher wrote in response to Bob Costrell’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the expense of teacher health and retirement benefits in Milwaukee.

Before you read it, I just want to make a few points.  First, this type of comment is not nearly as rare as you might hope.  I’ve written on teacher pay myself and let me tell you that a non-trivial number of teachers react like this.  Second, when I read comments like this I wonder why their authors are still teaching.  They seem to hate their job, hate the kids, and are filled with rage.  If things are that awful perhaps they should look for other lines of work.  Third, comments like this make me worried about how bright these teachers are.  This guy clearly has difficulty with written English.  He also has a hard time rationally processing the argument raised by Bob Costrell’s piece.  The op-ed was about how Milwaukee teachers are paid 74.2 cents in benefits for every 1 dollar in salary.  That rate is unsustainable and lacks transparency because fringe rates are less visible than salary.  The comment does not rationally respond to any part of that argument.  How can this person teach anything if he can’t read and understand an argument?

Let me be clear, I do not think all or even most teachers are like this guy.  But a non-trivial number of them are.  All of us, especially the good teachers, should be focused on how we can get people like this out of the classroom as quickly as possible.

Here’s the comment:

Mr. Costrell (and anybody who agrees with Bob),

You obviously have never experienced “teaching” to its fullest.

Teachers are not typical workers.

You obviously haven’t made a life-long career of “teaching” which cannot be expressed/explained in one word “teaching” let alone a discussion blog: You stand in a room for 7 hours a day 25-35 kids, unmotivated, sometimes you[‘re the best they’ve got, many with broken homes and social issues, baggage. A teacher enters the profession to make a positive difference in the world, then a kid in the class tells you “F U, I’m not doing this…”

Why don’t you take a Special Ed Teacher’s place for one day, and get SPIT on, kicked, smacked, get your hair pulled, get called names, and I dare you to come back the next day, and do it all over again.

Why don’t you stand in a teacher’s place, and put in your 7-3 with barely a lunch, cramming it down your throat in 10 minutes, because you spend your “LUNCH” calling parents, helping kids, tutoring, and planning awesome lessons.

Why don’t you, after your 7-4 shift, continue to coach until 6pm, and then continue to coach at the game, so the bus can return to the school at 10pm, and you can get home by 11pm, just to wake up at 5am and do it again the next day…I dare you. (and you wonder where our extra pay comes from).

I dare you to try to eat your lunch after a kid tells you sick stories, stories that would make you sick for weeks, where DCFS gets involved, that I can’t even share due to confidentiality and legality.

Why don’t you give it 150% everyday, all of the above, in addition to accepting constructive criticism from administrative and government demands for higher test scores, while balancing trying to teach your kids “critical thinking” skills, in addition to solely passing a standardized test, just to meet NCLB.

I dare you to step in a teacher’s footsteps for a day, and then standing up for what you believe in, and trying to keep your basic bargaining rights, and then losing your rights, and go back and give it 75% or more….do you seriously think a teacher would give it their all from that point on.

Why don’t you call all your teachers and thank them for everything they taught you: the ability to write what you believe, even though what you believe is a bunch of B S.

I dare you to send your kids to a school now, after posting your opinion.

Actually, good luck to anybody sending their kids to Wisconsin public schools after insulting the Wisconsin teachers like that. Teachers are more than just “teachers”. Don’t you forget it.

Mr Costrell, why don’t you walk in a teacher’s footsteps, and make a lifelong career out of it, before you open your stupid mouth.

FYI-you’re not a teacher, you’re a Harvard professor. Get off your high horse.


February 25, 2011

My colleague, Bob Costrell, has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that tells you the one number you need to know to understand the dispute over collective bargaining and public employee compensation in Wisconsin.  It is 74.2.  That is how many cents the public pays Milwaukee Public School (MPS) employees for retirement and health benefits  for each dollar of salary.  The comparable figure for private sector employees is 24.3.

Bob explains exactly how benefits in Milwaukee could cost nearly as much as salary.  In short, it has to do with the fact that the public pays the employee as well as the employer contributions to the pension.  Teachers actually were given a second, additional pension by MPS.  And the public pays for the entire cost of a gold-plated health plan for current and retired employees.  All of this was obtained in collective bargaining negotiations.

Government Subsidies Subvert Colleges

October 28, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

One of those little one-sentence news items on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal reads:

College tuition and fees climbed again this year, but the burden was tempered by an increase in financial aid.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t that read:

The real price of a college education remained constant, but concealed government subsidies to colleges kept growing.

If you add up the revenue colleges derive directly from government through grants and contracts, the indirect revenue from government cartelization of labor pools such as teachers, nurses and social workers, and concealed subsidies through student loan programs, I wonder how big the total financial dependence of our higher education institutions on socialism in its various forms really is.

Over 50%, do you think?

It doesn’t actually matter; the tipping point beyond which an institution becomes de facto subservient to socialism is well below the halfway mark. The ideological reasons colleges indoctrinate students with collectivism and use their social prestige to promote it in the nation at large have been widely analyzed. The institutional reasons seem to me to require further publicization.

UFT: If You Close Your Eyes, the Schools Look Fine!

October 22, 2010

HHGTTG on the many uses of towels: “wrap it round your head to … avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous)”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Journal reports that the New York City DOE, at the bidding of the UFT, is withholding teacher data that would allow the public to evaluate 12,000 teachers the same way the LA Times did in Los Angeles earlier this year. The data were to be released in response to public record requests by the Journal and other organizations, but the UFT sued. Now a court will have to pry the data loose.

Can you say “the new tobacco lobby,” boys and girls? Can you say “FINISH HIM?” I knew you could!

HT Whitney Tilson

Hanushek in WSJ: “FINISH HIM!”

October 19, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In today’s Journal, Eric Hanushek seems to agree with our conclusion that the war of ideas is over:

No longer is education reform an issue of liberals vs. conservatives.

Translated from Academese into ordinary Geek English, that reads: FINISH HIM!

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