Growing Higher Ed “Bubble” to Burst on Taxpayers

The National Center for Policy Analysis recently discussed President Obama’s higher education reform plan that would give community college students two “free” years of community college at a projected cost of nearly $70 billion (ultimately to be paid for by workers who don’t go to college). Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have proposed sweeping higher education reforms, making it even more “free” to students. Now, the federal government is planning to take all of the student debt and give it to taxpayers.

The result of infusing colleges with billions of dollars in additional funds will be to raise the cost of a college education even higher ― just as student loans and federal grants have encouraged wasteful spending by colleges and universities across the country. The open spigot of federal money continues to flow, mostly in the form of guaranteed student loans. These institutions are charging higher tuition rates because they can rely on receiving guaranteed money from the government. Because of these practices, student debt has reached $1 trillion, surpassing credit cards and car loans as the largest source of debt in the country, and there is growing evidence this is creating a “student loan bubble.”

New CREDO Study Is Seriously Flawed, Say Critics

In March 2015, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a new study on urban charter schools that reports charters outperform city public schools in math and reading.

The study analyzes data from just over one million charter school students in 41 urban areas in 22 states for school years 2006-2007 through 2011-2012. The goal of the study is to measure school performance of charter students in those urban areas against students who attend “feeder” public schools in the same urban areas.

The Necessity of Evidence Documentation

Once Nevada’s recently enacted universal Education Savings Account (ESA) law emerges from the shadow of the ACLU legal challenge, the availability of the $5000 — $5700 annual deposits (more for special ed children) may begin to drive entrepreneurial initiative-based change in the menu of schooling options. May? I’m hedging my prediction because Nevada is a mostly sparsely populated state. Most of the state cannot support very many schooling options. Most of the menu change will be concentrated in the mostly dense populated parts of the state, especially the Las Vegas — Henderson area. Recognition of that is a critical part of the evidence documentation process. To prevent negative spin through data loss/aggregation, the data generated by the ESA’s impact on entrepreneurial initiative needs to be disaggregated into sub-state units. County may be too small. Metro area and multi-county region are likely the optimal sized places. Also, we need to document changes in schooling patterns, not just new school start-ups. Existing schools may expand, contract and/or change their offerings and the ESA will likely increase use of online instructional approaches provided by vendors based outside of Nevada.

Luckily, the Friedman Foundation recently surveyed Nevada’s private school sector. Those data can serve as a critical benchmark from which to document what changes as the ESA becomes widely known, and schooling producers and consumers adapt to it. This is especially important because it will immediately refute the periodic claims that a state’s existing schooling options and excess capacity define the potential to provide school choice. A state’s existing schooling options and excess capacity are important only when legislators enact narrowly targeted, restriction-laden school choice programs; something they should do only when that is all that is politically feasible. The children of every part of every state need a lot more school choice — transformational school choice — than they currently have. Nevada’s schoolchildren will be the first to possibly see a significant increase and diversification of the schooling options available to them. The change in the Nevada menu needs to be carefully and thoroughly documented.


The Challenges of ESA Programs

America must think beyond the current system of government run schools to find market driven solutions for education. As parents continue to demand school choice, these policies will face increasingly difficult challenges: administrative, constitutional and regulatory.

While a traditional voucher can be used only in a lump sum, education savings accounts (ESAs) offer a different approach — funds are unbundled to allow access to a variety of private school options as well as options outside of traditional or private schools.

There are two ways that an ESA differs from a traditional voucher: parents can totally customize their child’s education choices and they can save unused funds for later use.

Let the Money Follow the Students

The North Carolina law in 1996 stated that education funds would follow the student whether they went to a charter public school or traditional public school.

(c) If a student attends a charter school, the local school administrative unit in which the child resides shall transfer to the charter school an amount equal to the per pupil share of the local current expense fund of the local school administrative unit for the fiscal year. The per-pupil share of the local current expense fund shall be transferred to the charter school within 30 days of the receipt of monies into the local current expense fund. The local school administrative unit and charter school may use the process for mediation of differences between the State Board and a charter school provided in G.S. 115C-218.95(d) to resolve differences on calculation and transference of the per pupil share of the local current expense fund. The amount transferred under this subsection that consists of revenue derived from supplemental taxes shall be transferred only to a charter school located in the tax district for which these taxes are levied and in which the student resides.

However, school districts lobbied to amend the law and successfully added amendments in 2010 that allowed school districts to keep more money. Now, legislation is under consideration that would return the funding back to following the students.


Niners Dash and Dot Robots

The 49ers-clad Dash and Dot robot is a model of programmable robots that are designed for children five and older. Recently, the San Francisco 49ers Museum partnered with Wonder Workshop, a robotics company from Silicon Valley. This partnership allows the 49ers STEM Education Program to provide its students with programmable, interactive robots, promoting technological and engineering practices in the children.

Some capabilities of the Dash and Dot robots:

  • Have make-believe tea parties, build elaborate forts, or have adventures with friends.
  • Program them to squeal when you pick them up, navigate around sharp corners, or be on the lookout for approaching siblings or pets.
  • Send simple commands, learn programming concepts as you play and progress to create more complex algorithms.
  • Play a song on Dash’s Xylophone, take videos using the smartphone mount, and add bricks (including LEGOTM) to them with Building Brick Connectors.

As the Dash and Dot robots allow students to learn about robotics and technology in an engaging and dynamic matter, they fit perfectly with the goals of the STEM Program. These programmable robots will give students direct exposure to core STEM subjects such as coding and robotics at a young age.

Can Private Schools Survive as a School Choice Option?

Private school enrollment is on the downswing. The percentage of all students in private schools decreased from 12 percent in 1995-1996 to 10 percent in 2011-2012. Catholic schools have less than half as many students as they did 50 years ago.

Catholic school enrollment peaked in the early 1960s with more than 5.2 million students in 13,000 schools.

During the 1970s and 1980s both the number of students and schools declined sharply followed by a steady increase in enrollment from the mid-1990s through 2000, although there were school closings during this period.

There are several factors impacting private schools.

Another Lesson in Political Accountability: It’s Mostly an Oxymoron

Hope often triumphs over experience because change is difficult. So, we imagine that changing key officeholders, or some policy tweak, will suddenly make something happen that has been rare or unheard of in the past. The last several district superintendents looked like they were going to turn around the district’s performance, but didn’t, but the next one will. Right! We can make central planning work though it never has, within education or elsewhere; that is, produce a high-performing school system through a political/administrative process to decide what to teach, how, by whom, where, and to whom. Right!! Just a tweak here, some new information, and maybe a few personnel changes and suddenly the current governance and funding processes will produce totally different behavior; much better behavior from mostly the same people in the same circumstances. Right!!!

In The School Choice Wars (2001), I documented the futility of “More-of-the-Same-Harder”. Rick Hess (2010) documented the futility of The Same Thing Over and Over. Diane Ravitch (2000) documented, A Century of Failed School Reform. In the last approximately 30 years, we’ve assumed that clearer, higher standards, and the promise/threat of increased accountability would make our current system produce much better academic outcomes. But there has been little or no enhanced accountability, including for promising better results from policies that have repeatedly produced disappointing results; very few firings and school closures.

The latest example to cross my desk is this unsurprising, but still noteworthy, observation about teacher training programs: Despite frequent, widespread, well-documented problems, “the closures of teacher education programs are exceedingly rare; states favor warnings, second chances” for faltering programs to fix themselves; something that is rare in the public and private sectors. What is even more telling about lack of accountability than failure to close faltering programs, is that school districts still hire the graduates of such programs. In a system with the true accountability that arises from meaningful competition (genuine choice from a dynamic menu), that would not happen. Footloose parent/shoppers would shun schools that hire teachers from low quality training programs. But public school districts’ monopoly on public funding precludes any meaningful accountability/competition. Districts can/do keep spending buckets of money on failing school turnaround despite the history of very low success rates with school turnaround within an unchanged governance and finance setting that was likely instrumental in producing the “failed school” outcome. Districts can/do keep assigning children to officially failed schools; no way out unless you can muster the cash to pay tuition after paying school taxes.

Why Do So Many Children Have ADHD?

Ignoring research that shows early academic learning inflicts long term harm on young children, American schools have transitioned from play-based to academic learning.

As a result, the percentage of students being diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has risen sharply from 7.8 percent in 2003, 9.5 percent in 2007, and 11 percent in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Highly respected veteran teachers have reported dramatic changes in the social and physical development of children over the past several generations. Today’s youngsters cry easily, fall out of chairs frequently, run into walls and other children and are less attentive. Others will repeatedly strike themselves in rhythmic patterns or rock their bodies back and forth.