Centrally Planned Schooling at its Best

In the Education Week article, “Beyond Chartering” Paul Hill and Ashley Jochim describe the highlights of their new book, A Democratic Constitution for Public Education, which basically asserts the correct central plan for primary and secondary education. Hill-Jochim argue that if the central planners have the clearly defined roles they describe, including clearly delimited powers, the implied result is that K-12 schooling will be the first, ever, high-performing priceless or price controlled industry. They assume the central planners will spell out the ideal per pupil payments that taxpayers will finance, and then make lots of wise decisions, even though such effectiveness from the public’s perspective, including efficiency, has been rare in any circumstances driven by the political process; circumstances that include all current school systems, but not just schooling. All centrally planned industries have been at least disappointments, and mostly evolving disasters.

Revolutionizing Assessment in a One-Dimensional, One-Size Fits-All World

Victoria Sears “Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment” describes an 88-page essay by Peter Hill and Michael Barber, education leadership professors that have held a variety of high level administrative and policymaking positions. Here are the critical, unstated underlying assumptions:

Fareed Zakaria Wants to Take the Steam Out of STEM

A similar version of this blog post appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

If Fareed Zakaria has his way, the United States education system will continue to fail our children. In 2012, on the standard international education test:

  • American students ranked 36th among developed countries in mathematics, with a score of 481 out of a possible 1,000 and below the average (mean) score of 494.
  • In science, U.S. students scored 497 out of a possible 1,000 and below the average (mean) score of 501.
  • By contrast, students in Singapore scored 573 in mathematics and 551 in science; Japan, Korea and parts of China scored at the top with Singapore.

Language Policy for Education Reform Discussions, Especially Charter Schools

Loose use of key terms is the reason why many school system reform discussions are at least quite frustrating, and often potentially devastatingly counter-productive. For example, I’ve often heard scholars, and others more likely to deserve forgiveness for not knowing better, assume meaningful “competition” from a policy granting some opportunities to opt for a different traditional public school, if it isn’t full. We can hope that some room to opt for an alternative to the assigned school will generate some productive rivalrous behavior, but we dare not hope that it will be comparable to the truly competitive behavior that must arise from true, direct accountability to footloose customers. And operators of traditional public schools have much less at stake, and much less control of their services, than business owners.

Presidential Candidates Tout Education Initiatives at Campaign Stops

Kicking off their campaigns for president, Republican and Democrat candidates have turned their attention to the education sector. From Common Core to college readiness, each candidate has already taken steps to maneuver their education goals into the limelight.

Here’s a brief recap of the candidates and their stances on education issues:

At his speech at Liberty University, Senator Ted Cruz expressed his commitment to school choice, reaffirming its importance as the civil rights issue of the 21st century. In the past, Cruz has also expressed his desire to repeal the Common Core State Standards, his support of homeschooling and a firm belief in charter schools.

You Don’t Have to Be an Active Chooser to Benefit from Parental Choice Expansion

Another huge fallacy is that expanding choice beyond the alleged few (poor, special needs, etc.) most in need an immediate alternative to the assigned public school is either unnecessary or counter-productive because it jeopardizes a system that serves the vast majority reasonably well. Actually, that huge fallacy is a bundle of fallacies. First of all, everyone but the super-rich would benefit from the major systemic improvements that would result from the introduction of universal choice with few restrictions, including price decontrol. That vast majority that would keep their children in the assigned public school, at least at first and perhaps long-term, would benefit from the reduction in the learning-style-diversity of public school classrooms that would result from the departure of the poor fits for the public school mainstream pedagogies. Public school teachers would face fewer, smaller differentiated instruction and ability grouping by subject challenges; also a huge boost for parental involvement and the teaching profession.

Career Ready Curriculum

While much of the curriculum topic focus has been on Common Core standards, little attention has been on other standards or curricula in competition to prepare students for higher learning or a career. Career Ready curriculum is an alternative to traditional methods to prepare students.

The SB 276 Wars are Dredging up all of the Usual Fallacies

The apologists for the school system status quo are willing to repeat nonsense if they think some people will believe it. It is fair enough to call Texas’ SB 276 a voucher bill. The savings grants accrue to families that opt out for private alternatives to traditional public schools. But to claim that no savings will be generated is ludicrous, especially in growing Texas. More on that shortly. A San Antonio Express-News Op-Ed by Northside Independent School District (NISD) Superintendent Brian Woods also imagines that a law allowing the departure of children for whom the one-size-fits-all “business plan” of the public school system is not working is a plan to benefit the few at the expense of the many!? What? Let’s look at academic achievement facts absent from Mr. Woods’ Op-Ed.

Dangerous Spending Cuts

Cutting unnecessary spending is a good thing. Drastic reductions in funds that leave schools unable to operate is taking the idea of “responsible spending” too far.

Two school districts in Kansas, Concordia Unified School District and Twin Valley Unified School District, will close early after Kansas schools lost $51 million meant to help them finish out the school year. Concordia students will lose six days of learning, while Twin Valley students will lose twelve.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback called his radical economic plan a “real-live experiment.” While experimentation is key to growth, experimenting with our children’s future is dangerous business.

Attempts to eliminate wasteful spending are not new. Many agree that government spending — particularly federal government spending — in education amounts to more harm than good. Experimentation is also not new.

Any school is preferable to no school. Kansas should do what it can to reverse the budget pitfalls and keep Concordia and Twin Valley Unified School Districts open until the full end of their term.

Integration May Require School Choice-Facilitated Stratification for a Transition Period

At the Annual School Choice and Reform International Academic Conference, I was reminded of the increasingly common challenge of educating the children of refugees relocated to the U.S. I learned that, in some places, school choice has been an especially successful part of an effective strategy for easing those disoriented children into the melting pot. Sadly, I also learned that many knee-jerk school choice opponents characterize the temporary concentration of refugee children into a school of choice as “segregation”.

Children everywhere learn differently and respond to different subject themes. But upon arrival in the U.S., what refugee children have in common is much more important to their immediate academic progress than the learning style and thematic differences that will eventually integrate them by providing schooling options that address those differences.

Refugee children that do not have the good fortune of a private school or chartered public school specializing in their arrival/orientation issues (language, customs, etc.) will arrive at a traditional public school (TPS) where the appearance of fairness political imperative might lead them to be mainstreamed. That would lead to widespread paralysis and chaos as each classroom teacher attempts to meet their special needs, or quietly declines the differentiated instruction challenge and tries to minimize the distraction entailed by the addition of an outlier. That would be the case even if the language barrier was not still overwhelming. Or the children could be semi-segregated (= not by choice) within each assigned TPS; enough to give the educators a chance to make an attempt at specialized services (somehow quickly discover the issues the charter was set up to address), while stigmatizing the children as outliers. Sadly, there are people willing to mis-characterize temporary stratification that results, by choice, from attempts to provide appropriate transition services to families forced into new lives in a new country. They do it, I suppose, because to some the importance of the traditional public school system monopoly on public funding is too important to risk by making any exceptions, even for chartered public schools.