Bad Deal in Baltimore

May 20, 2015 by

Wall Street Journal
Progressives and unions gut a charter-school reform.

May 18, 2015 6:37 p.m. ET

The Baltimore riots produced national lamentations about urban poverty, but don’t expect much to be done about it. Witness how the Maryland legislature gutted a charter-school reform that could have offered an escape for poor children.
Baltimore schools are some of the worst in the country. According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a mere 14% of Baltimore fourth graders and 16% of eighth graders were proficient in reading. One in four students fails to graduate from high school. This is a disgrace.

Many states have used charter schools as an alternative to let educators operate without the rules that favor teacher tenure and other protections over student learning in failing schools. But Maryland’s chartering law is one of the stingiest. It makes local school boards the sole chartering authority, and they see charters as competition. The state also limits the freedom of charter schools to innovate and demand high performance.
Baltimore has successes such as KIPP schools among its 31 charter schools teaching some 11,000 students, though those are remarkably small numbers for a city its size. In 2013 New York City had 70,000 students in 183 charter schools, rising to 210 for 2015-2016. More than 11,000 Maryland students are on charter waiting lists. That’s because, even with the state’s restrictions, charter students outperform those in traditional public schools in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math.
The tragedy is that last week Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that leaves the city’s relatively few charter schools under the sway of the teachers unions. The new Governor’s original plan would have allowed charters to operate outside union collective-bargaining agreements, given charter operators greater autonomy over staffing and improved the state’s funding formula.
Those goals died at the hands of Democrats who dominate the state legislature, in particular state senator and former teachers union member Paul Pinsky. One of the first reforms killed was a measure to give charters the choice of participating in a collective-bargaining agreement. So charters must continue to answer to unions for work rules, tenure, even pay.
The reform victories that survived are modest. If a charter school has a good track record for five years, it can request exemptions from “textbook, instructional program, professional development and scheduling requirements.” How generous—a mere five-year wait to design a better curriculum. The law also requires the school district to let teachers transfer to charters if they want to go, and gives charters more control over the assignment of school principals.
Meanwhile, the Center for Education Reform notes that the law takes away much of the State Board of Education’s power to review local school-district actions on charters and makes it harder for the Governor to shape policy through appointments to the board. Under the new law, no plan for a charter school “may be construed to take precedence over an agreement of a local bargaining unit in a local school system.”
All of this reflects the power that government unions have over Democrats in Maryland, one of the country’s most left-leaning states. It also reveals the disconnect between the left’s rhetoric on poverty and its refusal to change the policies and practices that destroy economic opportunity. Look for another generation of education failure in Baltimore, and more riots down the road.

President Obama, Are You Listening?

May 2, 2015 by

The president wants to zero out a program that is saving poor kids from bad schools—the kind of reform that could work in Baltimore too.

Stephen Moore
May 1, 2015 7:19 p.m. ET
Washington, D.C.
Wall Street Journal

The scenes of Baltimore set ablaze this week have many Americans thinking: What can be done to rescue families trapped in an inner-city culture of violence, despair and joblessness?

There are no easy answers, but down the road from Baltimore in Washington, D.C., an education program is giving children in poor neighborhoods a big lift up. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which George W. Bush signed into law in 2004, has so far funded private-school tuition for nearly 5,000 students, 95% of whom are African-American. They attend religious schools, music and arts schools, even elite college-prep schools. Last month at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, I met with about 20 parents and children who participate in the program. I also visited several of these families in their homes—which are located in some of the most beaten-down neighborhoods in the city, places that in many ways resemble the trouble spots in Baltimore.

These families have now pulled together to brace for a David vs. Goliath fight to save the program. For the seventh straight year, President Obama has proposed eliminating this relatively tiny scholarship fund, which at $20 million accounts for a microscopic 0.0005% of the $4 trillion federal budget.

The parents and students point out that the scholarship program has extraordinary benefits—they use phrases like “a godsend for our children,” “a life saver” and “our salvation.” One father, Joseph Kelley, a tireless champion of the program, says simply, “I truly shudder to think where my son would be today without it.” (He and his son, Rashawn Williams, are pictured at home nearby on this page.)

Virginia Ford, whose son escaped the public schools through a private-scholarship to Archbishop Carroll, now runs a group called D.C. Parents for School Choice. She tells me that “kids in the scholarship program have consistently improved their test scores, have higher graduation rates, and are more likely to attend college than those stuck in the D.C. public schools.”

The numbers back her up. An Education Department-funded study at the University of Arkansas recently found that graduation rates rose 21 percentage points—to 91%, from 70%—for students awarded the scholarship vouchers through a lottery, compared with a control group of those who applied for but didn’t get the scholarships. For all D.C. public schools, the high-school graduation rate is closer to an abysmal 56%.

“If you’ve got a program that’s clearly working and helping these kids, why end it?” asks Pamela Battle, whose son Carlos received a voucher and was able to attend the elite Georgetown Day School. He’s now at Northeastern University in Boston. She says Carlos “almost surely wouldn’t have gone to college” without the voucher. “We send all this money overseas for foreign aid,” she adds, “why not save the kids here at home first?”

Amazingly, these energized parents are opposed by almost every liberal group, even the NAACP, and nearly every Democrat in Congress—including Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in Congress but opposes a program that benefits her own constituents.

There is little question what stirs this opposition. The teachers union sees the program as taking away union jobs, and it is so powerful that the Democratic establishment falls in line. “It is so sad that our public schools aren’t doing what’s best for the kids,” laments Ms. Ford, but instead are looking out for “the adults.”

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program turns conventional politics upside down. President George W. Bush created the program and invited several of the parents, including Ms. Battle, to the White House. “I got to meet President Bush and his wife, who was so lovely,” she recalls about the meeting.

Mr. Obama won’t even meet with these parents. A few years ago the voucher supporters held a rally with 3,000 minority and disadvantaged families in front of the Capitol to protest President Obama’s proposed elimination of the program for all new students. Republicans in Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner, one of the program’s strongest supporters, stood in solidarity with the families, while Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues were nowhere to be seen.

Democrats should listen to these families’ compelling stories of how this educational program is turning their lives around. Mr. Kelley is an outgoing, burly and bearded man of 67 who has reared 11 children—all but one of whom he adopted. Four of his children have won Opportunity Scholarships.

When I ask Mr. Kelly why he chose the private-school option, he replies: “You don’t understand,‎the public schools in my neighborhood aren’t just poor in quality. They are unsafe. The public schools have gotten so much worse through the years.”

He describes a grim scene on his first visit with Rashawn to a middle school in his neighborhood several years ago. “When I walked in the door, outside were two police cars and that was everyday routine for that school. There was violence. Fighting. Disrespect and drugs. No discipline whatsoever, just chaos.” It was, he says, “an awful learning environment.” Then he recalls: “When I complained to the principal about the chaos, she shook her finger at me and lectured, ‘Mr. Kelley, don’t tell me how to run my school.’ ”

Mr. Kelley says he was thinking, “No way can Rashawn go to this school. I’ll eventually wind up in jail because I’ll have to go down there and hurt one of those bully kids that hurts my son.” With parents in poor neighborhoods having no other options, school administrators can afford a take-it-or-leave it attitude. Except there was another option: applying for an Opportunity Scholarship. Rashawn wound up at Academia De La Recta Porta International Christian Day School.

Maritza White, whose son Michael also was awarded a scholarship, has a similar tale: “I decided to pull my son out [of public school] one day when he came home from school beaten up with a bloody nose and no one in the school showed any concern.” While most affluent and middle-class parents worry if their children will make the travel soccer team, or whether the local school is good enough to get their child into a top university, these poor parents worry every day whether their children will come home safely. A 2009 school-safety report from the Heritage Foundation noted that in that year the Education Department “found that 11.3% of the District’s high-school children reported being ‘threatened or injured’ with a weapon while on school property during the pervious year.”

Ms. White’s son Michael, who is 17, has attended the Cornerstone School, a Christian academy, since the third grade. The teachers soon discovered that he is a math prodigy and put him in special programs so he could excel.

Ms. White believes that beyond the improved academic standards, a big plus with Cornerstone was a curriculum the public schools won’t touch: “character development.” These religious schools try to instill basic values like integrity, honesty, hard work and smart behavior like not getting pregnant before marriage. The students are required to wear uniforms, a rule that she believes is “tremendously important to develop self respect.”

Oh, and by the way: Michael scored so high on his college-board tests that he was just contacted by Harvard and MIT, encouraging him to apply.

The most common objection to vouchers is that they drain public schools of resources. But Ms. Ford notes that when the Opportunity Scholarship program was created, the feds gave $20 million for the vouchers and an extra $20 million for the public schools. This meant more money for the public schools—and unionized teachers still opposed the program. “They aren’t afraid that the voucher program won’t work,” she says, “but that it will.”

The left’s rote response to rotten schools is to call for more money, but the D.C. scholarship program shows that a quality education can be had for less money. The Census Bureau reported in 2012 that Washington spent $18,667 per pupil in 2010. The scholarship amounts are $8,500 for elementary-school children and $12,000 for high school. So the voucher program gives kids a better education at about half the cost to the taxpayer.

Several parents point out that President Obama and his wife Michelle shopped around and chose the prep school Sidwell Friends for their daughters. Several of the Opportunity Scholarship children also go there. Now the president wants to end the program for children who sit next to his own daughters in the classroom. “He lives in public housing too,” says Mr. Kelley, half joking. “Why should he get school choice just because he’s rich and we’re not? If it’s good for your children, it’s good for our children.”

Public education has traditionally been the great equalizer in America. The tragedy today is that the decline of public schools is one of the leading contributors to generational cycles of poverty. Democrats say they want to make the 2016 election about income inequality, but they stand united in opposition to one of the most effective ways of reducing the gap between rich and poor: better education.

The good news is that school-choice programs like the one in Washington have spread to more than 20 states and about 300,000 children. While the programs are expanding, they are still too few to have much overall impact on American education.

Republicans should seize this issue. And when unions mobilize to kill school choice, the GOP should fight side by side with these inspiring students and parents to expand it across the country. The Education Department’s spending for K-12 education will soon reach $50 billion. For what? How about a GOP plan that would take that money from the bureaucracy and distribute five million vouchers of $10,000 each to the lowest-income Americans—like those who live in Baltimore?

For now at least, the Opportunity Scholarship in Washington should be saved and expanded. “I wish President Obama would sit down with us and hear our stories,” says Virginia Ford. “I think it would change his mind.”

Mr. Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Taxpayers Savings Grants SB276

February 28, 2015 by

The link below displays a bill that is a very simple and straightforward voucher bill.  It focuses on savings to the State by awarding 60% of the State’s cost per child and leaving the residual 40% with the State. There are no low income or failing school requirements.  In order to assure a savings to the State, students currently in private school are excluded. However, kindergarten and first grade students are allowed to enter and stay in the program. Therefore, after 12 years all students in both public and private school will have access to a voucher. Click the link below to see a copy of the bill.


How was AT&T like the public school system?

February 28, 2015 by

School choice advocates believe in the power of free market competition to improve the quality and efficiency of any industry, including elementary and secondary education.

We like to use the example of an industry that used to be a government monopoly, but is now governed by market competition. That is the telecommunications industry. We old-timers remember when AT&T was a telephone monopoly. We all had black phones. We didn’t own our phones; we leased them from AT&T. It was illegal to install an answering machine to your phone line because it was a “foreign device”. Long distance rates were in the range of $.60 per minute. In current dollars it would be well over $1.00 per minute.

Then “poof”! Competitors are allowed to enter the industry. Now we have answering machines, fax machines, and cell phones. Cell phones are so cheap that kids start getting them in elementary school. Cheap telephone lines allowed us to logon to something called the “world wide web”. You get the idea.

Why would you not expect the elementary and secondary school industry to receive similar benefits if market competition were injected into the system?

The Vital Link of Education and Prosperity

February 28, 2015 by
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • September 11, 2013, 7:20 p.m. ET

Data from 50 countries over half a century reveal how even a small education gain can mean a big economic payoff.


Americans are aware of public education’s many failures—the elevated high-school dropout rates, the need for remedial work among entering college students. One metric in particular stands out: Only 32% of U.S. high-school students are proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When the NAEP results are put on the scale of the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA), the world’s best source of information on student achievement, the comparable proficiency rates in math are 45% in Germany, 49% in Canada, and 63% in Singapore, the highest performing independent nation.

The subpar performance of U.S. students has wide ramifications—and not just for individuals. On an individual level, of course, the connection between education and income is obvious. Those with a college degree can expect to earn over 60% more in the course of their lifetime than those with a high-school diploma, according to U.S. Census data. But there is a nexus between educational achievement and national prosperity as well.

According to our calculations, raising student test scores in this country up to the level in Canada would dramatically increase economic growth. We estimate that the additional growth dividend has a present value of $77 trillion over the next 80 years. This is equivalent to adding an average 20% to the paycheck of every worker for every year of work over this time period.

Where do such astronomical numbers come from? Students of human capital have long known that a country’s growth rate is connected to the skills of the workers. And it has recently become apparent from our analysis of differences in growth rates among countries between 1960 and 2009 that the skills that count are reliably measured by standardized tests of math and science such as PISA and NAEP.

We have analyzed all the well-vetted international tests given to students since the 1960s in 50 countries for which test-score information is available. Adjusting for a country’s initial GDP (since it is easier to grow fast when you start at a low level), the differences in long-run growth rates are mainly accounted for by differences in cognitive skills as measured by these international tests.

Between 1960 and 2009, the extra-rapid growth of some countries at the top of the achievement distribution—such as Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong—can be readily explained by their students’ very high test scores. Their growth was almost 2% per year higher than would be expected if they had only average achievement. Countries at the bottom of the achievement distribution—such as South Africa, Argentina, the Philippines and Peru—have suffered from the weak growth that their failing education systems predict. Their growth was almost 2% less per year than would be expected had their student test scores put them at the world average.

The U.S. economy grew two-thirds of a percent faster per year for this period than would be predicted by its students’ mediocre test scores. This performance reflects a number of historic advantages. The U.S. economy is built on open markets, secure property rights and generally favorable tax rates; a higher-education system at the top of the world; and favorable immigration policies that permitted highly skilled people to enter. But these relative advantages are declining as other countries emulate our institutions and practices.

In the future, U.S. growth will depend on the skills of its citizens, and currently those skills are not competitive with other countries. This nation can no longer expect to grow by retaining talent attracted to colleges and universities from abroad, as other nations are offering foreign students much broader opportunities and U.S. immigration policies are becoming more uncertain.

Assuming that historic trends in all 50 countries in our analysis apply equally to the United States, its GDP growth rate would be boosted by about three-fourths of 1% a year if student test scores in math rose by 40 points higher on international tests, to the level attained by Canadian students. Three-quarters of a percent a year seems small, but it generates an amount five times our current GDP of $16 trillion.

To get a sense of the magnitude of these numbers, consider that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that $4 trillion of potential GDP was lost between 2008 and 2012 as a result of the recent recession. That’s a big-time number but only a hint of the long-term price of nearly $80 trillion the country pays for a low-performing educational system.

How can U.S. student achievement be boosted? Notably, the average number of years students are in school has little impact on economic growth, once student test-score performance is taken into account. If you aren’t learning anything at your desk, it doesn’t matter how long you sit there.

Nor is more money the answer. The U.S. spends on average $12,000 per pupil in grades K-12, one of the highest amounts in the world. Among U. S. states, increments in spending per pupil between 1990 and 2010 show no correlation with changes in student performance.

In Wyoming and New York, spending levels per pupil climbed at one of the fastest rates without getting any extra gains in student achievement over this time period. Florida was among the most rapidly improving states, even though inflation-adjusted state expenditures per pupil hardly changed. It matters more how the money is spent than how much is spent. Expensive but ineffective policies such as class size reduction, while valued by current school personnel, have not raised achievement. Better accountability, more school choice, market-based teacher compensation and retention policies can on the other hand boost achievement without adding materially to school costs.

Nationwide, the biggest economic gains will come many years after school improvement takes place, a fact that probably helps to explain the reluctance of the political class to commit itself to genuine school reform. Confronting the power of teacher unions and other vested interests is politically costly. But the failure to improve the education system is more costly still.

Mr. Peterson is a professor of government at Harvard and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, where Mr. Hanushek is a senior fellow. They are the authors, with Ludger Woessmann, of “Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School” (Brookings, 2013).

A version of this article appeared September 11, 2013, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Vital Link of Education and Prosperity.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Answer #2 The fixed cost argument

February 28, 2015 by

The fixed cost argument: School choice would lower the revenue to public schools. Since public schools have large fixed costs, school boards will have to raise taxes to cover these costs.

Every business has fixed costs. Managing and controlling fixed costs is part of making a business efficient. There is an easy place for public schools to “cut fat” and reduce their fixed costs: non-teaching overhead.

In 2007 Texas public schools spent only 41% of their operating expenses on teacher salaries. (TEA Snapshot 2012 Summary) I would expect that the non-teaching 59% of the budget could be trimmed somewhere.

That is one of the big benefits of school choice, it will force public schools to economize rather than raising taxes for more administrators and administrative buildings.

Answers to School Choice Objections

February 28, 2015 by

In the next series of posts, I will answer various “problems” with school choice that opponents raise.

1. The “creaming” argument: School choice will allow private schools to cream off the best students, “leaving behind” the poor students in the public schools. Vouchers don’t create ‘choice’ for parents and kids; they create ‘choice’ for private schools at taxpayers’ expense.

2. The fixed cost argument: School choice would lower the revenue to public schools. Since public schools have large fixed costs, school boards will have to raise taxes to cover these costs.

3. No schools will accept the vouchers: Elite private schools are very selective and a voucher would not cover tuition. Many private schools would refuse vouchers if state accountability tests or standards were required.

4. The fly-by-night schools argument: Due to the huge sums of tax money that would be newly available under school choice, fly-by-night schools would open, looking only to make a profit.

5. The First Amendment argument: Spending public tax dollars for religious schools violates Texas state and US federal constitutional separation of church and state.

6. The “No Research Shows Vouchers Work” argument: No credible research shows that school choice raises student achievement.

Taxpayers Savings Grants SB276

February 25, 2015 by

The link below displays a bill that is a very simple and straightforward voucher bill.  It focuses on savings to the State by awarding 60% of the State’s cost per child and leaving the residual 40% with the State. There are no low income or failing school requirements.  In order to assure a savings to the State, students currently in private school are excluded. However, kindergarten and first grade students are allowed to enter and stay in the program. Therefore, after 12 years all students in both public and private school will have access to a voucher. Click the link below to see a copy of the bill.


Daniel Henninger Observes Leftist Opposition To Education Reform

February 17, 2014 by

Late last week Daniel Henninger had a really good column in the Wall Street Journal. He was discussing President Obama’s latest faux-concern, the issue of “income inequality.” In a column which was subtitled “The left will never support the solution to income inequality,” Mr. Henninger was looking at the new mayor of New York City, progessive Leftist Bill de Blasio, and he closed his WSJ column this way:

Let’s cut to the chase: The real issue in the American version of this subject is the low incomes of the inner-city poor. And let’s put on the table one thing nearly all agree on: A successful education improves lifetime earnings. This assumes one is living in an economy with better than moribund growth, an assumption no one in the U.S. or Western Europe can make anymore.

If there is one political goal all Democratic progressives agree on it’s this: They will resist, squash and kill any attempt anywhere in the U.S. to educate those low-income or no-income inner-city kids in alternatives to the public schools run by the party’s industrial-age unions.

Reforming that public-school monopoly is the litmus test of seriousness on income inequality. That monopoly is the primary cause of America’s post-1970s social-policy failure. And that monopoly will emerge from the Obama presidency and de Blasio mayoralty intact. So will income inequality.

Congressman Paul Ryan Talks Education In WSJ

January 26, 2014 by

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin wrote a feature column in the Wall Street Journal this weekend to discuss the “war on poverty” as it turns 50 years old. Congressman Ryan, who worked extensively with the late Jack Kemp in the early 1990’s before becoming a Congressman, is advocating many of the ideals that Kemp spent a career fighting for, such as parental choice in education, and local leadership taking control and solving problems, rather than bureaucrats in Washington far removed from the situation.

The two excerpts below really highlight some smart, innovative thinking when it comes to education. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I think Congressman Ryan shining a light on these ideas in the WSJ is really important. I’m curious to know your thoughts.

One day at Pulaski High School in Milwaukee, a fight broke out between two students. The staff separated them, but one of the students, a young woman named Marianna, refused to relent. She continued to fight—now with the staff—and to cause a stir. Then a call went out over the school radio for “Lulu” to respond. Soon, Marianna began to calm down. Once she arrived, Lulu quickly defused the situation. Of all the people at Pulaski High—all the teachers and administrators—only one person got through to Marianna that day, and it was Lulu.

“Lulu” is Mrs. Louisa, one of five youth advisers in Pulaski High’s Violence-Free Zone program. Along with program head Andre Robinson and site supervisor Naomi Perez, they work as a band of roving mentors. On a typical day, you’ll find them walking the halls in black polo shirts. They chat with students, break up fights and help with homework. Most of them are recent alumni who grew up in the inner city, and they have the scars to prove it. They’ve been part of gangs. They’ve seen violence firsthand.

But they don’t have education degrees or state certification. They have something more important: credibility. The youth advisers understand what the students are going through because they’ve had the same struggles. That credibility creates trust, and so the students listen to them. In the two years since the program started, suspensions at Pulaski High are down by 60%, and daily attendance is up by nearly 10%. Fourteen gangs used to roam the school grounds; today, they’ve all but disappeared. The school tried all sorts of things to keep students safe—more police presence, more cameras. But only this program worked.

Mrs. Louisa, Mrs. Perez and Mr. Robinson aren’t just keeping kids in school; they’re fighting poverty on the front lines. If you graduate from high school, you’re much less likely to end up poor. According to the Census Bureau, a high-school graduate makes $10,000 a year more, on average, than a high-school dropout, and a college graduate makes $36,000 more. Ever since that day at Pulaski High, Marianna has improved her grades and now she is looking at colleges. Yet for all its professed concern about families in need, Washington is more concerned with protecting the status quo than with pursuing what actually works.


• In education, give teachers more control, and give parents a choice. Some of the most exciting work in education has occurred in Indiana. Three years ago, then-governor Mitch Daniels shepherded through the legislature several bold reforms.

Before the reforms, union-negotiated contracts required teachers to earn compensation based on seniority, not performance, and the contracts dictated all aspects of the classroom experience, from the humidity level in the school to the number of hours a teacher must spend with students. Under the new laws, teachers’ pay is based on performance. In exchange, they have more control over the classroom. Collective bargaining covers only wages and benefits, so teachers can tailor the curriculum to the needs of their students.

Low-income families are also now eligible for tuition vouchers on a sliding scale, and the reforms allow parents unhappy with a low-performing public school to turn it into a charter school with the approval of their local school board.


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