The High Cost of Seeing “Pricelessness” as an Efficiency/Equity Trade-off Issue

A very active Texas school choice advocate and I recently had an often heated discussion of the supposed pros and cons of more equal opportunity vs. price decontrol. We’d had the nearly identical, critical discussion many years prior. Mostly because I believe in a non-personal, vigorous discussion of ideas and principles, I will not name this person (X) that I mostly agree with, and greatly admire for dedication to this critical cause. A secondary reason for not naming them is concern that I might misrepresent some aspect of X’s position.

Dumbing Down to Safeguard Self-Esteem: A Disastrous Strategy for a Non-Existent Problem

As part of prep for a book project, I’ve been reading some classics. One of those was Charles Silberman’s 1971 Crisis in the Classroom. A general takeaway is WOW; a lot of things are still almost exactly the way they were then. Silberman provides scathing criticism of the public school system, including disappointment after disappointment with reform movements. What they all had in common was that new information — studies indicating what the public school system authorities and teachers should do — alone was expected to bring about a change in education system policy and educator behavior; also that innovation had to work through the public school system for everyone to not eventually be dismissed as another failed fad. We still haven’t learned — not enough of us have — that people on the inside of broken systems will rarely, if ever, be capable of fixing them.

A shorter point worth digesting is that we created a lot of academic wreckage by dumbing down to make sure we didn’t hurt students’ self-esteem; the current system’s approach to leaving no child left behind. A particularly sad part of the whole story is that, on the whole, there was no fragile self-esteem problem to address. And to the extent that self-esteem problems might have existed sporadically, it might have been manufactured by cheapening accomplishment; communicating that you didn’t need to do great things to be great. Also, keep in mind that there is a whole lot more accomplishment to recognize if we abandon one-size-fits all approaches that leave a lot of children behind despite the apparent symbolic commitment to not do so. In an often reasonably justified cynical view of the political process — the sausage factory — it quite often produces exactly the opposite of the intended result.

Bernie’s Free College Plan

In May, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced the “College for All Act,” which would make four-year public colleges and universities tuition free. To fund the program, he has proposed a 0.5 percent speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds and other stock trades, a 0.1 percent fee on bonds, and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives.

Making his case for passing the law, he argued that making public colleges free would increase the competitiveness of U.S. workers by creating the most educated workforce in the world. Sanders isn’t entirely wrong on this point. While the United States used to be the leader in terms of higher educational attainment, we now rank 12th.

Why Your State Should Copy Nevada’s School Choice Plan

By Lance Izumi

With new research showing widespread underperformance among middle class students in states across the country, Nevada’s recently enacted nearly universal education savings account (ESA) program could not have come at a better time.

Under Nevada’s new program, for parents earning above the low-income level, the state will deposit funds totaling 90 percent of the average statewide support per pupil, or roughly $5,100, into an individual education savings account for each child. For parents earning below the low-income level, or who have children with special needs, the state will deposit 100 percent of the average statewide support per pupil, around $5,700, into the child’s ESA. Parents can withdraw funds from their ESAs to pay for a variety of educational services, such as private school tuition, distance-learning online programs, and tutoring.

Linking Education Funding to Results

A new education funding law in Colorado aligns education spending with achievements. The result of this new law is that taxpayers are only responsible for repaying the costs of initiatives that produce desired results.

All current and future requests to increase funding could be met with a requirement to show results. At present, we are spending too much on education, while falling behind in student performance.

From the Grave, Based on Prejudice, James Blaine Strikes Again

By a 4-3 vote, the Colorado Supreme Court said the Douglas County School Choice Program violated the Colorado Constitution’s Blaine Amendments that prohibit allocation of public money to sectarian schools, even by parents.  Statewide policies in several states have suffered the same fate. That will cost Douglas County quite a bit of money, and force 500 Douglas County families to return their children to schools they determined were a poor fit for their children.

If the U.S. Supreme Court does not seize this opportunity, probably based on the 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris voucher ruling, to demolish the Blaine relic of anti-Catholic bias, the smart move in the states with strong Blaine Amendments, for now, is to discriminate against families that prefer religion in the curriculum for their children, and allow use of vouchers, tax credits and education savings account (ESA) funds only at non-sectarian private schools.

Even though sectarian options dominate the private school choices of the current school system, universal choice like the Nevada ESA legislation can quickly grow the non-sectarian private schooling options.

Despite the unsavoriness of discriminating against anyone’s notion of what is best for their children (subsidizing all schooling but church-run options), we cannot wait for private school choice until we muster the super-majorities needed to repeal state constitutional amendments to appropriately transform our K-12 school systems.

Rural Areas Suffer Even Greater in an Weak Educational System

A weak education system existing in today’s urban America is even more so in rural areas. Political and education leaders must focus on creating the policy conditions and more fully integrating the industry opportunities that can best address rural education improvement.

Texas, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Louisiana, and Alabama include 66 of the nation’s 100 poorest counties.

Noteworthy Confirmation of Persistent Futility

We have another high level confirmation that we have not addressed the roots of the K-12 low performance problem. Whether the roots of the low performance problem differ from my diagnosis, or not, we have definitely not addressed them with the decades-long, expensive frenzy of activity, nationally, or in any state. Nevada may have begun to do so with an Education Savings Account law that will reduce government spending while increasing the per pupil funding of Nevada’s traditional public schools.