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Sunday, August 29, 2010

School choice can lower incarceration rates

Dr. Jay P. Greene (University of Arkansas) points to some interesting research from David Deming, a Harvard student, who found in a recent paper that the school choice lottery program in Charlotte, North Carolina led to lower incarceration rates among African American males who had participated in the program. The effects lasted for several years after the students had left the program.

Read Dr. Jay P. Greene's summary here.
Read David Demming's paper here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Adequacy lawsuits unlikely in Nevada

Back in September of 2009, Senator William Raggio (R-Washoe) worried that budget cuts to education in Nevada could result in an “adequacy” lawsuit. Supposedly, such threats would compel him, and others, to increase taxes. Later I responded with an article, “Inadequate? or Ineffective?” to relieve those concerns.

I noted that the vast majority of states which lost adequacy lawsuits for public education and then increased spending saw no significant gains in student achievement. Only Massachusetts saw significant gains, but its students were outperformed by those of Florida, a state which spent about half as much per pupil.

Some good news on the adequacy-lawsuit front comes from Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth. In an article for the Federalist Society, “Judicial Funding Mandates Related to Education Sharply Decline,” Hanushek and Lindseth report that a dozen adequacy lawsuits have been dismissed by state courts across the nation since 2005. Not a single case since 2005 has resulted in a judgment demanding increased funding to public education.

In Horne v. Flores the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower-court decision requiring increased funding to programs for English language learners in Arizona. The court noted that increased funding had little to no impact on student achievement.

According to the Pacific Legal Foundation "[t]he issue was whether the courts improperly declined to modify an injunction against Arizona for failing to provide sufficient funding for non-English speaking school children."

Even though Nevada’s constitutional requirements of public education are written in a way that would make a victorious adequacy lawsuit improbable to begin with, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Horne v. Flores now makes that scenario even less likely. Senator Raggio, you have nothing to worry about now.

With the adequacy lawsuit monkey off Nevada’s back, maybe lawmakers can turn their efforts toward smart, effective and frugal education policies — rather than trying to figure out more creative ways of taking other people’s hard-earned money.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Special education vouchers: part 2

Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene make the case for special education vouchers in Education Next. The highly detailed article covers everything regarding this issue from the history to the very popular myths of special education to the real costs.

Some important things to remember:

1) Federal Law requires states to provide free and appropriate education to children with special needs – public or private.
2) Parents may unilaterally place their child in private schools and be reimbursed for the cost of tuition if they can prove in court that the public schools have failed to provide an appropriate education.

3) Costs for special education have not risen drastically enough to dry up resources for other uses in public education. In fact, the Federal government provides substantial support for special education programs.

4) The student population with severe mental retardation are on the decline. Students with autism make up only 0.3 percent of the student population and account for 0.45 percent of all public education expenditures.

5) The largest growth in special education has been from Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) which are minor and inexpensive to provide care.

6) Special education vouchers have slowed the growth of SLD identification as public schools may have been diagnosing poor performing students as SLD in order to gain access to additional funds.

7) Special education vouchers are often cheaper than the cost of a public education. Florida’s McKay scholarships (special needs voucher) average just $7,206 while the average disabled student in Florida’s public schools costs approximately $17,000 per year.

On a side note: Senator Barbara Cegavske (R, District 8) has attempted (at least twice now) to introduce and pass a school choice program for special needs children. As the evidence in support of special education vouchers (and tax-credits) mounts, Senator Cegavske may find herself with more momentum in 2011.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Education reform in India

No matter where one seems to go, debates on education reform are the same. The facts regularly show that centralized and bureaucratic government schools unaccountable to parents perform dismally compared to their less costly private school counterparts.

Some education-reform videos from CNBC show that this holds true even in India. While much poorer than Nevada, India still faces a very similar problem: ineffective and unaccountable government schools. So, even in India, private schools exist, the vast bulk of them serving some of the poorest people in the country. Despite having the government’s “free” alternatives available, even impoverished parents will scrimp and save to ensure their kids receive better education than that offered at the public school.

Appearing in this three-part series (about 25 minutes long) is Dr. James Tooley, author of “The Beautiful Tree.” Private schools are serving some of the poorest people in the world with quality education superior to that of the “free” government schools, and his book documents it.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hold the celebration again

My article, “Graduation time: Hold the celebration” highlighted the dismal state of affairs in Nevada public education. The article referenced recently released graduation data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and a 2009 report from Education Week. Recently, Education Week has issued its 2010 report. In it, you’ll find no good news for Nevada.

According to Education Week’s “Cumulative Promotion Index,” Nevada’s four-year high school graduation rate has fallen from 47.3 percent to 41.8 percent, and is now 27 points below the national average. Over the last decade, Nevada’s graduation rate has fallen 23.9 points. (Note: The 2007 data is the most recent data available.)

Graduation rates fell among all subgroups, with Asian students’ 13.7 point drop representing the steepest decline. African-American, Hispanic and Native American student graduation rates all now sit below 33 percent.

Left-click table to see a larger picture

Education Week also estimates that in Nevada, there will be 23,908 non-graduates this year alone. However, some of these students may graduate with a traditional diploma at a later date or leave with alternative credentials like a GED.

Nevada’s official reported graduation rate for the class of 2007 was 67.5 percent. Nevada uses a “Lever Rate” calculation, which is determined by dividing the total number of students earning a standard diploma by the total of the number of students earning standard diplomas or alternative credentials, plus dropouts. This may allow for additional graduates to be counted as it may not consider the time taken to graduate. According to Education Week researchers, state graduation rates are typically inflated because of poor-quality data on student dropout rates.

NCES reports a four-year graduation rate of 51.8 percent for the class of 2007. NCES and Education Week do not include CTE diplomas as standard diplomas when calculating graduation rates.

CORRECTION: After consulting researchers at Education Week, I learned that they include all graduates as reported by the State. So this would include the Career, Technical and Adult Education but not GEDs or certificates of attendance.

The poverty of preschool

* 10 minute video by on universal preschool

"The Poverty of Preschool Promises” is a new report released by the Cato Institute. According to report author Adam Schaeffer, more than 1 million children in 38 states attend government-run preschools. The results continue to show statistically significant gains in early grades which all but disappear by middle school. Typically, even those temporary gains appear significant only for low-income students. Essentially, we’ve spent billions and in the end there is no gain.

Schaeffer explains the failure: “[P]roponents often base their claims on studies of high intensity family intervention programs that look nothing like the preschool programs that have already passed and that are now being debated in legislatures around the country.” And even these high-intensity quality preschools have “generally been shown to improve the school readiness of only low-income children, and these effects usually fade quickly when the children enter the K–12 public education system.”

The report not only discusses why pre-k programs have failed and why the research supporting the programs has been suspect, at best. It also recommends an approach that offers much more promise: an early childhood education tax credit for students rather than an expensive government preschool monopoly. The tax credit will allow individuals and corporations to claim credits for direct payment of education expenses or for contribution to scholarship programs for low-income students.

The report is about 14 pages long and includes model legislation on how to enact the tax-credit program in the appendix.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Special education vouchers

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to provide “free appropriate public education” to students with disabilities.

The law ensures that parents get to work with the schools in the design of their child’s individualized education plan, and also lets them take legal action against school districts if the appropriate services are not provided to their children. Those include, if the public system is not providing appropriate services, education of the child in a private school.

In June 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parents of disabled students could be reimbursed for the cost of a private tuition if they can later prove that the public schools failed to identify their child as disabled and failed to provide the child with an appropriate education. The case — Forest Grove School District vs. T.A. — means that parents can have immediate access to a proper education for their child without having to wait through a lengthy court battle first.

Dissent, in the Supreme Court and the public both, has focused on the cost of reimbursing parents who send their child to a private school. Some assert this would cost public schools billions of dollars. Dr. Jay P. Greene, an education researcher at the University of Arkansas, and Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, estimate that “the total financial cost of private placement is less than a billion dollars and amounts to less than one-quarter of one percent of total public school spending.”

That cost is minuscule compared with the more than $500 billion spent each year on K-12 education in America. As it turns out, says Dr. Greene, special-needs children in private schools make up only 1.1 percent of the entire special-needs-student population and just 0.14 percent of the total student population. Given the level of parent dissatisfaction with the quality of special education in America’s public schools, it is a surprisingly low figure.

Some public schools seek to avoid the additional expenses required by federal law by failing to identify students with special needs, delaying their entry into programs or providing ineffective programs instead. Then, when parents have pulled their children out of the public school, the financial burden of the programs gets shifted to the parent.

Forcing school districts to pay private-school tuition, if the programs are ineffective, means districts should be more likely to work to accurately identify students with disabilities and provide them with a proper education. Additionally, the greater certainty that districts will end up paying private tuition should discourage them from falsely classifying troubled or disturbed children as special-needs students to acquire additional federal subsidies.

Of course, taking school districts to court requires parents willing to endure legal battles that are often long and protracted. Fortunately, there is a better way.

Already several states have special-needs voucher programs. Florida, with its McKay Scholarship Program, is perhaps best known. Thus, while public schools complain about the burden placed upon them by special-needs students, private schools — given even a portion of the subsidies public schools receive — compete to provide a proper public education program.

The Nevada Legislature failed to take action on Sen. Barbara Cegavske’s special-education voucher bill — an opportunity that won’t return until 2011.

Perhaps by then Nevadans will agree that private options can productively play a larger part in public education.

*Edit: It now appears that parents could only be reimbursed after winning their court case, though they are now able to sue (and win) even if the school district never placed the child in a special education program.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Race to the Top?

*Dramatization of teacher union official blocking the path of a noble education reform crusader.

Teacher union and stakeholder support is worth 70 out of 500 points in Obama's "Race to the Top" application. A lack of support from the local teachers union in Florida cost the state enough points to place second - and win hundreds of millions of dollars.

Education reformers feared that RTTT scoring gave a lot of veto power to local unions that would result in watered down - if not meaningless - reforms. Those fears may be founded as Indiana and Kansas have dropped from the race - citing a lack of local union support (they now join Alaska and Texas which refused to participate in Round 1).

The teachers union in Massachusetts withdrew its support of the state's RTTT application citing disagreements over how to turn around low performing schools. Pending Legislation in Colorado will change how the state evaluates teachers, but this has caused the teacher unions in Colorado to withdraw support from the state's application as well. Additionally, the teachers union in Florida pressured the Governor into vetoing legislation that would have tied teacher evaluations to student test scores - before this, Florida had the support of less than 10 percent of the unions in their RTTT application.

Union support isn’t the only factor for winning RTTT – but it is an important one.

Government ignoring its own laws

In case you missed the latest updates on Nevada's empowerment schools (schools that control most of their own budget rather than having central office bureaucrats dictate how resources are to be used), I previously revealed that both Washoe County School District and the Nevada Department of Education are ignoring laws requiring the creation of empowerment schools.

Unfortunately, ignoring state law is not a new phenomenon. A 2006 Legislative Counsel Bureau compliance audit of the Nevada Department of Education notes that the department had failed to comply with state and federal laws in the past. The audit found "...weaknesses allowed non-compliance with some state and federal laws, rules, regulations and guidelines, and monitoring of certain educational programs..."

Between FY 2001 and FY 2007, said auditors, the department failed to take adequate steps to oversee proper use of approximately $390 million in legislative appropriations. Laws establishing rules for revoking teacher certifications, including teachers who had become convicted criminals, were ignored, as were laws regarding employee evaluations. They have since fixed those problems problems, but the empowerment school law is still being ignored.

Education is a civil rights issue

Racial segregation in education ended with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Sixty-five years later, racial segregation is long gone, but a racial achievement gap still remains.

I highlighted this achievement gap in my 2009 report “Failure is No Longer an Option,” noting that, while 71 percent of Nevada white students in the fourth grade read at grade level, just 47 percent of African Americans and 42 percent of Hispanic students do so.

These problems are not isolated to Nevada. The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights has been looking closely into this issue for a long time. The group's goal is to "eliminate the racial and ethnic achievement gap in public education by working to create an effective school for every child."

The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights released a report titled "National Teachers' Unions and the Struggle Over School Reform," in which it placed some of the blame for the existing racial achievement gap on the teacher unions.

Over "the last decade," notes the report, "the national leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have made their unions implacable foes of laws and policies designed to improve public education for disadvantaged children."

As I have noted already, “education reform is a civil rights issue.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A good point

Dr. Jay P Greene, an education research professor at the University of Arkansas, makes an excellent point about teacher recruitment.

“If we make an appeal to prospective teachers at all,” he notes, “it is usually akin to an appeal to enter the priesthood. You’ll make the world a better place, we say. We almost never say, “And you’ll do well for yourself while doing well for others.”

The observation is valid. Other colleges within the university point to the wonderful jobs a student may move into after graduation. They highlight the pay, benefits and opportunities. But in the realm of education, it is all about sacrifice and working for others. How appealing is that?

Dr. Greene points out that teachers make pretty good wages, have high job security, and excellent benefits. While there are serious problems with the teacher pay schedule — ignoring individual excellence, for example — prospective teachers should be told they have a chance to make a good living while helping students succeed in life.

Read his comments here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Munchausen by Proxyocracy

Guest post, by Dr. Matthew Ladner

Goldwater Institute economist Byron Schlomach and I argue that Americans suffer from battered taxpayer syndrome.

Remember the girl in the Sixth Sense whose mother, suffering from Munchausen by Proxy, poisoned her to gain sympathy and attention?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Good teachers should earn more money

Good teachers should be paid really well, unfortunately, Nevada does not.

Clark County School District (CCSD), teachers with a master's degree earn an extra $5,655 annually, while teachers who also have an advanced certification receive $8,845 more. Nationwide, most school district contracts provide higher salaries based on extra coursework and advanced degrees. Indeed, it is estimated that about half of all teachers in the United States have such an advanced degree.

Applying that estimate to Nevada would suggest that CCSD each year spends approximately $51 million paying teachers extra for having obtained a master's degree. But does this extra spending produce results or simply waste taxpayer money?

Eric Hanushek, of Stanford University, and Steven Rivkin, writing in the 2006 edition of the Handbook on the Economics of Education, cite the "most ... remarkable ... finding" from numerous studies "that a master's degree has no systematic relationship to teacher quality as measured by student outcomes" (page 11 of the article, "Teacher Quality"). Advanced degrees are not likely to increase the quality of the teaching and, more importantly, there is no evidence that they increase student achievement.

This suggests that the Clark County district is simply wasting about $51 million each year. Instead of cutting all teacher salaries by 6 percent (and angering all teachers), Nevada should end these additional payments for advanced degrees and certifications and substitute a merit-pay system that rewards teachers for measurable improvements in individual student achievement.

It is hardly fair to cut all teachers' salaries equally, considering the fact that some teachers make considerably more while providing no extra benefit to their students. The fairest way to make the budget reduction would be to eliminate this waste.

Doing so statewide could save an estimated $72 million a year. Then, when the state economy recovers, the current, rigid pay grid should be replaced with merit pay, a system that actually rewards high-quality teachers, and schools, for their efforts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaching content is teaching reading

According to the Nation's Report Card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 43 percent of Nevada's fourth-grade students can't read at grade level . And that is after we've spent over $40,000 educating each of them. Obviously, improving reading is important: Students who fail to learn how to read are more likely to end up as high school dropouts—with an increased likelihood of a lower living standard and all the problems associated with poverty.

Nationally, the average first-grade student devotes as much as 62 percent of his or her time to language arts. By the third grade, students are spending as much as 47 percent of their time in language arts. Nevada students are likely no exception.

So, is there a better way?

Professor Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, thinks so. To improve reading, we need to improve reading comprehension, but to do so, we need to improve the student's general knowledge—meaning more civics, more geography, more science, history, arts, and music ... and less emphasis on reading strategies. An interesting idea.

Professor Willingham has a compelling 10-minute video presentation, "Teaching Content is Teaching Reading," on YouTube. We think you'll find it interesting.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Buildings don't teach children

University of Arkansas education professor Dr. Jay P. Greene asks, in a recent blog post, "Why are schools so expensive?" That's a very good question to ask here in Nevada. Jay also made a great point on how it's not buildings that teach kids – a lesson our policymakers should learn, since a healthy chunk of Nevada's education spending is going toward building new schools.

Nevada ranks third in the nation in construction costs per student and second in the nation in interest payments on debt. In 1998, Clark County asked voters to approve a $3.5 billion bond package to construct 88 new schools. In 2008, the county asked for $7 billion (as part of a total $9.5 billion construction fund) to build 73 new schools over the next decade.

That amounts to more than $130 million per school (though the school district will probably use some of that money to refurbish older schools) – quite a hefty sum to add onto the largest education debt-to-expenditure ratio in the nation.

Nevada needs to figure out how to save on construction costs, because raising taxes is not a responsible option. Walt Rulffes may think there is no other way to provide a learning experience for new students other than borrowing almost $10 billion, but the truth is, there are other options.

Nevada could make it easier to form charter schools (public schools run by private companies), and to create and use school vouchers or tuition-tax scholarship programs. All of these options move financing for some new school construction to the private sector. Since the private sector would also take the risk of building the schools (and that cost has to be made up by attracting students), there is a strong incentive to keep construction costs low to save money and to build where demand is highest.

The money saved could be returned to the taxpayer or pumped back into the classroom, and that (along with other elements of serious education reform) would create a win-win situation for everyone.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

How much do we spend on education?

Everyone agrees that Nevada's education system is a mess. What we don't agree on is how to fix it. One side claims (and always will) that the system doesn't work unless we give it more money.

But at some point Nevadans will have to ask,"how much is enough?" As you can see from the charts below, Nevada has increased education spending considerably. Where are the results?

*K-12 operating budget expenditures in Nevada (excludes capital expenditures and debt repayment). Source: Legislative Counsel Bureau. Each graph has been adjusted for inflation.

The total operating budgets from all districts have increased over 45 percent since 2001. Don't think population growth is the only reason for budget growth - education expenditures outstrip both inflation and population growth combined.

*"Current spending" per pupil (excludes capital expenditures and debt repayment). Source: U.S. Department of Education

Spending per-pupil grew 15.2 percent between 1998 and 2007. The tax increases in 2003 produced a rapid rise in education expenditures.

*K-12 operating budget expenditures in Nevada (excludes capital expenditures and debt repayment). Source: U.S. Department of Education

This final graph shows that Nevada's per-pupil spending has increased 180 percent since 1959. That means we've nearly tripled education expenditures PER PUPIL. That growth rate is so large that if Nevada had ONLY DOUBLED per-pupil expenditures, we wouldn't have a budget shortfall today!

Spending more money on education only funds the failed status quo. Fixing education is going to require some serious reform. Why not try to be more like Florida? Read NPRI's full report on Florida's education reforms here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Charter schools in New Orleans

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina forced the closing of the failing, corrupt and bankrupt New Orleans public school district. Instead of reopening under school board control, the school district was instead opened with many schools reconstituted as independent charter schools. This meant no more big, central bureaucracy, no more union contracts and no more teacher tenure. Importantly, the dollars follow the student to whatever traditional public or public charter school he or she wants to attend. This creates much-needed competition between public schools. The results have been promising, and today, 60 percent of New Orleans kids attend charter schools.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lost opportunity

President Barack Obama promised voters he would have a fact-based presidency. Policy would be decided based on what worked rather than right-wing vs. left-wing dogma. But two months into his presidency the U.S. Department of Education quietly buried a report that found the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (read vouchers) worked. Not only did it work, but the first students in the program now average a 19-month learning advantage in their reading skills over their public school peers. Additionally, the program is incredibly popular and in high demand with parents, with four parents applying for a scholarship for every one available.

The D.C. Program serves just 1,700 low-income D.C. kids, mostly minorities, and costs just $18 million. It awards scholarships as high as $7,500, although the average school scholarship is around $6,600. What is the annual per-pupil cost for D.C.’s abysmal public school system (the worst in the nation) to operate? Some $26,000.

Despite all the benefits of the D.C. scholarship program, Democrat majorities in Congress have all but killed the program. Many members seemed more concerned with how much funding public schools receive than with how successfully they boost student achievement – never mind that the D.C. program removes $0 from the D.C. public schools.

These politicians forget the original mission of public education altogether — namely, to assist children to receive a good education. The antipathy toward vouchers — which do just that, and very cost-effectively — is more than disturbing. It suggests a fundamental callousness toward the welfare of real children.

It is time to stop thinking about public education in such antiquated terms. Vouchers and tuition tax-credits can be a valuable benefit for public education, even if the student attends a private school. If the goal is to educate children, does it really matter where or how they receive that education?

Watch the Reason TV video on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program above to learn more.