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Thursday, October 28, 2010

End ethanol subsidies

Ethanol in our gas does nothing but waste money and food. It does nothing to save the environment and may actually result in more pollution and less fuel efficient automobiles. The EPA has already bowed to political pressure to increase that crap in our gas from 10 to 15%.

Now the National Academies of Sciences as a new commentary in their journal which finds,

According to estimates by Earth Track founder, Douglas Koplow, if current laws are maintained until 2022, the biofuels industry will receive more than $60 billion per year in subsidies, more than six times the $9.5 billion in support received in 2008. Cumulative subsidies between 2018 and 2022 are expected to total $420 billion. If the Obama plan to require 60 billion gallons by 2030 comes to pass, subsidies in that year would be $125 billion, and cumulative support from 2008 to 2030 would be in excess of $1 trillion.

Read more at Reason Magazine.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Teacher unions gone wild

WARNING: Strong language and disregard for students and taxpayers. Viewer discretion is advised.

Changing education paradigms

I agree with the premise - modern education is exactly the same as it was in the 19th century. With all the exciting changes in technological innovation, public education hasn't made a giant leap forward since the invention of the chalk board. The result? We are literally boring children to death. I do disagree with the semi-complaints about standardized testing - we need some form of testing to measure results. What do you think about all this?

More on this from Dr. Greg Forster.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nevada unemployment still high

Unemployment in the Silver State remains at a nationwide high of 14.4 percent. Unemployment in Las Vegas has increased from 14.8 percent to 15 percent.  Reno unemployment increased from 13.3 to 13.6 percent. Nevada has not seen a real decline in unemployment rates since December of 2005! Nevada has seen double digit unemployment since February 2009.

The labor force reached its peak in March of 2008, just a few months into the official recession. Since then the labor force has declined 9.7 percent while unemployment increased 167 percent.

The problem, in part, is Nevada's high taxes. The Modified Business Tax, which Jon Ralston ridicules as being very small (just 1.2 cents out of ever dollar paid to each employee), but it adds up to $385 million in lost wages and job opportunities.

Taking money out of productive wealth producing enterprises to prop up the boom and bubble era budgets of inefficient and bloated government bureaucracies destroys wealth and jobs in Nevada.

If state agencies have their way, Nevada will need to increase taxes 59 percent - about 50 percent more than the last two tax hikes combined. If Governor Gibbons gets his 10 percent reduction on the 30 percent general fund increase then we will need a 38 percent increase in tax hikes - still larger than the last two tax hikes combined.

If Nevada goes after more tax hikes rather than making REAL cuts in the budget (like rolling back to pre-recession pre-bubble years) then I suspect unemployment might linger at high levels for a long time in Nevada.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Budget tricks

Penn and Teller, two famous Las Vegans (perhaps you've heard of them) explain the cup and ball trick, I'm going to try and explain the Nevada budget trick

The budget trick is simple - cut the general fund budget and then supplement the cuts with Federal ARRA subsidies. K-12 did it, higher education did it, and state government did it. Of course, its plastered on their budgets: * Does not include ARRA funds, etc. But when policy makers and state agency leaders talk about the budget they don't include the ARRA funds as part of their expenditures.

This, of course, makes their budget cuts look bigger. They ignore the ARRA subsidies when they want the cut to look big, and include the ARRA subsidy when they want to spend the money. I'm still waiting to hear back from the LCB or Andrew Clinger to get actual expenditure figures and some clarification.

I'm guessing our General Fund budget went from $6.95 billion to $7.012 billion (GF plus ARRA subsidies). Total budget, however, may actually have declined. Still, it seems we're trying to maintain economic boom level expenditures.

Arizona's tax credit program challenged

Nevada offers tuition tax credit scholarships to help low-income children afford private schools. Arizonans can make donations to private scholarship organizations and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit in exchange for their donation. But the low-income parental choice program is being challenged in court. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear this case on November 3rd 2010.

School districts ignoring the laws

Four school districts in Oklahoma are refusing to give special needs students vouchers to attend private schools - in direct violation of state law. Sounds familiar. Both Washoe and Clark County school districts in Nevada refused to follow the state's empowerment law (Clark County followed some, but not all of the law) and the State's department of education refused to enforce the law.

Read more about Oklahoma from Dr. Jay P. Greene.
Read more at Education Week.

On a side note, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Utah and Arizona offer special needs vouchers or special needs tuition tax-credits to attend private schools.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hang 'em high

We can't have good olde fashion western justice anymore, but we can vote the bums out

Taking a second look at Clinger's budget numbers makes me think the State legislature has been "BSing" (that is the nice way of putting it) Nevadans just like NSHE by excluding certain taxes and federal subsidies when politically convenient.

In 2009 the state legislature approved a $6.9 billion budget for the biennium (though they wanted a $7.9 billion budget). In 2010 they had to reduce that amount to $6.4 billion.

Now Clinger and the state agencies claim they want $8.3 billion. But he reaches this number by adding in lost ARRA subsidies and lost local revenues. This most likely means our state government simply excluded those numbers from the General Fund so they could claim they cut the budget.

Based on these figures it seems instead of spending $6.9 billion as originally planned, we actually spent $7 billion. Basically, the Nevada state legislature made cuts to the General Fund then back filled lost revenue with Federal subsidies and may have actually increased spending. (Update: I'm now thinking spending was $7 billion, with the local support taxes as part of the subsidized Distributive School Account Funds. Depending on how Clinger defines the General Fund or General Fund operating appropriations, we may not have actually cut the budget).

Why would you list lost revenue as an expense, unless the lost revenue was used to supplement existing spending above and beyond the General Fund?

I'm going to have to investigate this more to see if this is true, but it seems like our government has lied to us by excluding budget numbers to coax us into tax increases.

UPDATE: It may be the case that the state bureaucrats misled the state legislature. After all our legislative members are part-time tenderfoots compared to the full-time charlatans running the various state bureaucracies.

UPDATE 10/9 @ 5p.m to reflect uncertainties. It now appears that lost local revenues is for the FY11-13 biennium rather than money actually spent by the state this year. According to the Nevada Plan, the state legislature must guarantee certain local funds if they fall short. In this case, it may be early projections on falling local revenues for the next biennium that the state must pick up -  assuming they don't change the statute. That said, we can always roll back the basic support per pupil as it actually INCREASED in value in 2009, despite the recession. 

Free speech still restricted on campus

Huge imaginary budget cuts coming

It is ONLY $145,000!

With my revenues coming in lower than expected, I've had to cut my Aston Martin budget out of my expenses… yet again. These recessionary times are just killing me.

But hey, the recession won't stop Nevada State agencies from coming up with a delusional budget request. Despite 14.4 percent unemployment, and estimated revenues that are 18 percent lower than current spending, our state agencies want a 30 percent increase in funding!

30 percent! In this economy?

They want to take our general fund budget from $6.4 billion to $8.3 billion - an amount larger than anything spent in Nevada state history. That $3 billion shortfall number you've heard - over half of that comes from imaginary increases in spending (money we've never spent before).

This is all kinda like my Aston Martin budget - I've never made enough to afford one; my revenues are lower than my imaginary expenditures. Can I legitimately claim that I've cut my budget if I NEVER had the revenue to even buy a $145,000 super car?

If you're the Nevada state government, then the answer is yes. But then maybe our government never learned to live in reality in the first place.

PAT ON THE BACK - this makes me (and Geoff Lawrence) 4 for 4 on Nevada budget predictions.

WALK OF SHAME - goes to the Las Vegas Sun for reporting that the $3 billion shortfall was out of a $6.5 billion budget and that we'd have to cut spending 50 percent.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

How good is your school? How good is your state?

Nevada is worst in the nation for graduating students

Greatschools, NBC and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partnered up to give us a gem of a website. The Education Nation Scorecard for Schools creates a national searchable database on school performance. Want to know how your school is doing? Just search. Your school will be compared to others across the state and district. They even allow comparisons between states on things like graduation rates and math and reading scores on the NAEP. Data also includes average income for high school graduates and dropouts.

Nevada has the worst graduation rate and is considered to set low expectations for students. We also alculate one of the most inflated graduation rates in the nation (better estimates put the true graduation rate between 42 and 52 percent).

There is a silver lining. Thanks to Nevada’s gaming and entertainment industry, Nevada has an outlet to provide jobs to low skilled individuals. High school graduates in Nevada average an income of $30,968 a year and high school dropouts manage an average income of a very respectable $24,731. Of course there is only so much gaming and entertainment we can do - so we have to improve the quality of education to move the states economy forward.

Greatschools also has a great website with a searchable database and includes parent comments and rankings about local schools.

Here are some charts I pulled from Scorecard website comparing Nevada's 4th grade reading and math scores with the rest of the nation.

4th Grade Reading

4th Grade Math

Note: While Nevada's 4th grade students beat a few states, including California (which spends about $1,000 more per pupil) the number of states we beat on tests drops as students move into middle school.

Obama Care's unseen costs

Higher education is an impressive house of cards - but it will collapse as bachelor degrees continue to drop in value relative to cost and it may collapse even sooner thanks to ObamaCare.

Reason Magazine has a good article on the unseen costs of ObamaCare (including the very visible tax hikes that come along with the program. Cato Institute also has a new study on these tax increases. One thing is missing, however, and that is the squeeze Obama Care will put on state budgets. Medicaid has already grown to be the biggest budgetary item in state budgets (it is second biggest in Nevada behind K-12 education) and as it grows under ObamaCare I expect it to squeeze spending for education – most notably higher education.

And since universities can pass off part of state budget cuts onto consumers in the form of tuition increases, I also expect college tuition to increase even more rapidly. Since higher education tuition has already blown through the roof (already dwarfing the housing bubble) I also expect the Higher Ed bubble to pop sometime in the next ten years to twenty years (few people will be willing to pay that much for a piece of paper that offers little, if any, future monetary award). Watch out, it will be painful for everyone involved in higher ed as universities slash budgets by axing the jobs of all the highly-paid non-educators.

Politically correct college mascot

Ole Miss got rid of Colonel Reb - a civil war looking rebel that offended some - and replaced him with a black bear. Now they are the Ole Miss Rebels represented by a black bear named Rebel Black Bear. I'm not exactly sure how black bears rebel, but oh well.

I'm just a little disappointed they didn't select Admiral Akbar...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

High speed bull

Senator Harry Reid wants to push the high speed Desert Xpress train from Las Vegas, Nevada to Victorville California. Problem is, the numbers (DX's numbers not Harry Reid) look bogus.

I'm willing to bet the capital costs are underestimated. The high speed rail project in California was estimated to cost $20 to $45 billion, but now may cost between $65 and $81 billion. Rider estimates are also down from 65 to 96 million riders now to 23 to 31 million riders.

Desert Xpress claims they will get 10 million riders a year (a number that is coincidentally required to make the train look profitable), but this is fanciful. 10 million riders happens to be nearly 3 times as many riders as the nations only high speed rail line: Acela Express - which runs from Washington D.C. through New York City, to Boston.

Quick review - Las Vegas to Victorville will have 3 times as many riders as Washington D.C. to New York City to Boston.

Besides, 10 million riders requires them to run their trains 80 percent full 16 hours a day 7 days a week, all year long.

Can you smell the bull?

Oh Heck, they've got the right Angle

Dr. Joe Heck (running for Congress against Dina Titus in Nevada) and Sharron Angle (running for Senate against Harry Reid) have both been criticized for wanting to shut down, or reorganize, or eliminate the cabinet level status of the U.S. Department of Education. This was something President Reagan couldn't accomplish, but the facts show that the U.S. Department of Education's $69 billion a year price tag is questionable at best.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) was created by President Carter in 1979. Its budget has grown from $14 billion dollars a year to $69 billion. So what have we bought with all that money?

The answer is a whole lot of jobs for adults but not much improvement in student achievement. Furthermore, what little value we do get out of the Department of Education – like Pell Grants, student loans, National Center for Education Statistics, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – can be done by other agencies or even by private sector companies on contract with Congress.

Let’s look at student achievement, click on the graphs to zoom in. As you can see, achievement growth has been pretty flat (and I'm being generous here, this is a 500 point test).

Source: Ironically it is the U.S. Department of Education.
Note: 1 = Original version of test.

Source: Ironically it is the U.S. Department of Education.
Note: 1 = Original version of test.

Examining student testing data from the NAEP we see virtually no improvement in reading from the time the U.S. Department of Education was created. Younger students see marginally larger improvements, but 17 year old students aren’t any better off.

Worse still, seven out of the 12 point increase in nine year old reading scores and three out of five points for 13 year olds occurred before the Department of Education was even created. In other words, more than half of the reading achievement gains in the last forty years occurred BEFORE the U.S. Department of Education was created.

Looking at math scores we do see a different picture, but this might be due to the fact we don't have much data, at all, on math scores prior to the creation of the USDE. Nine year old students are much better at mathematics today than in 1978 (when the test was first given). But just like reading, the growth in improvement shrinks as the children age. Between 1978 and 2008 math scores improved 24 points for 9 year old students but only 6 points for 17 year old students. On a five hundred point test, this is negligible.

Let's look at this another way. The following graphs compare scores, by age, between 1980 (for reading) or 1978 (for math) and 2008. This allows us to take a closer look at the achievement gains since the U.S. Department of Education was created.

Source: Ironically it is the U.S. Department of Education.
Note: 1 = Original version of test.
Source: Ironically it is the U.S. Department of Education.
Note: 1 = Original version of test.

You may think the math scores prove the U.S. Department of Education is worth keeping around, but I have to point out Florida – a state that implemented vast changes in education including a social promotion ban, teacher evaluations using student data, graded schools A-F on student progress and achievement, created a huge virtual and charter school program, a voucher program and a corporate tuition tax-credit scholarship program to help low-income children afford private schools.

The results in Florida? Between 1998 and 2009 Florida’s fourth grade students saw their reading scores increase by 18 points. By comparison the U.S. average increased by only 5 points in the 30 years since the U.S. Department of Education was created. (Note Jeb Bush’s reforms were implemented between 2000 and 2002, Florida did not have test results for 2000).

As for math, Florida’s students increased by 26 points between 1996 and 2009 while the average U.S. score increased by 24 points since 1978. In other words, Florida surpassed the 30-40 years worth of achievement gains in about 12-14 years (likely in less time, but we’re missing data at the start of Jeb Bush’s reforms).

The Cato Institute has some good ideas on wasteful K-12 education spending and wasteful higher ed spending here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

U.S. Census figures on education spending in Nevada

A new legislative session is just around the corner so we will, no doubt, hear talk about Nevada's funding of K-12 education. So here are some updates on K-12 spending from a Federal source (just in case you don't trust my own numbers).

The U.S. Census Bureau released the financial report on education for FY 2008, this summer (it’s the latest data on education spending. The results are actually quite surprising; to the point where I think the U.S. Census Bureau may have erred.

  • Nevada’s total revenue (local, state and federal) for K-12 education comes to $10,116 per pupil, ranking 39th in the nation (actual total spending may be higher).
  • Nevada got $651 per pupil from the Federal government – ranking 51st (last).
  • Nevada’s state government revenue came to $5,816 for K-12 education and ranked 22nd - in other words, the Nevada state legislature provides above average funding for K-12 education - though I think they may have gotten this wrong (explanation just below).
  • Nevada’s local governments provided $3,645 per pupil, ranking 34th.

The reason why I think they erred is because the Nevada Plan calls for the state legislature to create a “Basic Support Per Pupil” which is a guaranteed amount of money the local school districts will receive to fund K-12 education. The funds that make up the basic support are a combination of local and state tax revenue. There are additional sums of money for classroom reduction and other programs outside this amount. The basic support per pupil was just over $5,200 in 2008, but the bulk of the funds come from the local school district. The state just promises to subsidize those local funds, to ensure the district maintains the basic support, if certain local revenues fall short.

In other words, the state is not providing the full $5,200 sum. Essentially, I think the state and local numbers might be flipped.

Back to the U.S. Census numbers.

Nevada’s current expenditures (excluding expenditures on debt repayment and capital projects) comes to $8,285 ranking 44th.

Other spending rankings

  • 46th for instruction spending
  • 33rd for general administration
  • 21st for school administration

Here are two more I calculated based on U.S. Census numbers:

  • 2nd for debt per pupil ($14,006)
  • 6th for construction cost per pupil ($2,469) - by the way, that is 55 percent higher than in Arizona, the second fastest growing state in the nation at the time.

The U.S Census Bureau did not calculate a total spending per pupil, which is probably higher than the total revenue per pupil. I'd calculate it myself, but I did not see debt repayment (principal and interest) in their figures.

Bionic exoskeleton helps the paralyzed walk again

According to Berkley Bionics, the creator of the exoskeleton,

The device is battery-powered and employs a gesture-based human-machine interface which — utilizing sensors — observes the gestures the user makes to determine their intentions and then acts accordingly. A real-time computer draws on sensors and input devices to orchestrate every aspect of a single stride.

From science fiction to science fact, how cool! Science and progress - two reasons to look forward to the future.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Links around the world

Should the U.S. ban foreign political campaign donations?

What does it mean to be middle class?

ACLU chief disgusted with Obama

Libertarian wins Nobel Peace Prize - left wing in Sweden erupts in anger

How to profit from expanding freedom

The new craze on campus

Diversity is so last century. Today, higher education is pursuing "sustainability."

Peter Wood writes,

The pursuit of diversity on campuses remains a highly visible priority, but it is being subtly demoted by enthusiasm for sustainability. As an ideology, diversity is running out of steam, while sustainability is on fire. This month hundreds of colleges will mark the eighth annual Campus Sustainability Day, with activities to include a Webcast offering "social-change strategies and tools" to help campuses lower carbon emissions.
Read the whole Chronicle of Higher Education article here.

For more on the sustainability movement in Nevada check out the following links.


Vouchers may lead to burdensome regulations on private schools

Advocates of parental choice believe that parents, not government officials, should decide how and where students are educated. However, advocates don’t agree on how to fund parental choice.

Milton Friedman came up with the concept of the school voucher (a public scholarship to attend a private school) in the mid 1950s. Vouchers have certain advantages – they are easy to implement and are more “user friendly” for low-income parents (low-income families may not have the income to pay a private school tuition and wait for a tax refund).

Vouchers also have distinct disadvantages – they don’t control costs as well as tax-credits and they may conflict with state constitutional mandates on using public funds for public schools. Vouchers may also violate Blaine Amendments – separation of church and state rules that were written to stop the spread of Catholic schools and charities in the 19th century.

The other method is known as tuition tax-credits. The parents, donors, or corporations, spend their own money on private school tuition and the state gives them a dollar for dollar tax-credit in exchange (meaning they pay lower taxes). Tax-credits are more likely to pass constitutional muster and are probably more likely to control education costs. Finally, tax-credits are far more popular with the public than vouchers.

The disadvantage of tax-credits is that people have to spend their own money first and wait until tax time to see any savings. This is a distinct disadvantage for the poor. However, this problem is remedied by allowing individuals and corporations to earn tax credits for donations they make to organizations than grant scholarships to low-income children. Both Arizona and Florida have tuition tax-credit programs that focus solely on low-income kids.

There is another argument on vouchers vs. tax-credits over government regulation of private schools. Some people have argued that vouchers would enable the government to regulate (and subsequently stifle) private schools. This is a valid concern when you consider the fact that traditional public schools are regulated to the point of ineffectiveness – (can’t let education get in the way of bureaucratic paperwork).

Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute set out to find out if vouchers do in fact lead to an over-regulation of private schools. He finds “vouchers, but not tax credits, impose a substantial and statistically significant additional regulatory burden on participating private schools.”

While it is extremely difficult to compare regulations of private schools between states, if this analysis holds true then tax-credits are a superior method to delivering parental choice.

Education spending in Nevada

CCSD's per pupil budget 2004-2011 (2010 Dollars). Click on the graph to zoom in.

Since the Clark County School District (CCSD) educates 3 out of every 4 children and spends $3 out of every $4 on K-12 education in the Silver State, examining its budget provides a reliable estimate for the overall health of spending in Nevada. So how are we doing in this economic downturn?

Since the massive 2003 tax hikes began funding K-12 education in 2004, CCSD's total budget has increased 9.2 percent per-pupil, operating budget 9.8 percent and salaries and benefits for employees 12.1 percent. From the end of one recession to the end of another, CCSD has more money per-pupil, even after adjusting for inflation. Hardly tough sledding and we suspect the same story is true for most of the other school districts in Nevada.

So even with the "massive budget cuts" K-12 education has seen in the last two years, per pupil spending is still higher today than it was from 2000-01 through 2005-06 school years.

But as you've heard from media reports and pundits (almost daily) for the last two years is that education has been "cut to the bone."

Since the recession began at the end of 2007, CCSD's per-pupil spending from the general operating fund (yes, even adjusted for inflation to 2010 dollars) has declined by a "massive" 1.01 percent.

Yup, 1 percent budget reduction - right down to the bone.

But as I've stated numerous times, the operating budget ($6,900 per-pupil) isn't the total budget ($11,900 per-pupil). CCSD's total budget per-pupil has declined by an "impressive" 3.3 percent.

So are the children really suffering with a 1 percent decline in the operating budget and a 3.3 percent decline in the total budget? Hardly, it's the policymakers and bureaucrats that are "suffering" because they have to make adult decisions on how to use scarce resources more effectively.
Inflation Adjusted Salary and Benefits Per Pupil at CCSD from 2004-2011 (2010 Dollars). Click on the graph to zoom in.

"Staffing hurt by budget cuts" writes the Las Vegas Sun. Yes, that is true, in part. But when you take a close look at taxdollars devoted to salaries and benefits for K-12 education in Nevada you'll notice that salary and benefits outstrips inflation and student enrollment growth combined - even within the last couple of years.

2004 was the first full school year in which the 2003 tax increases (largest in state history) were available to fund education (also the first year available in detail from the Clark County School Districts detailed budgets). Since 2004, CCSD's general operating fund (what they consider the day to day operating budget for the school district) increased by 9.8 percent.

Salary and Benefits for CCSD employees grew by 12.1 percent - more than the operating budget and total budget.

This isn't surprising. After all, in 1955 the Clark County School District employed 1 person for every 20 students; today they employ one person for every 8.6 students. We have more employees in education earning far larger salaries and benefits, but is this investment producing the results we need?

Maybe it is time we start thinking about the outcomes for children rather than how many jobs K-12 education can provide for adults?

FYI, if you think 2004 is an arbitrary figure to select, that date is higher than 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 with 2000 being the low point in the last decade. And if you are worried about the recent budget cuts, these increases are AFTER the budget cuts. In fact, per-pupil spending devoted to salary and benefits hasn't gone down...AT ALL since the recession started.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hyperinflation in higher education

Table 1: U.S. housing price index vs. U.S. higher education tuition
Source: Dr. Mark Perry, George Mason University

My latest article on higher education budget cuts and financing shows that 1) the budget cuts have been smaller than advertised (10 percent rather than 30 to 50 percent), 2) smaller than the dramatic growth in revenue in the preceding 17 years (at least) and 3) financing is being crowded out by declining state revenues and new spending priorities (like ObamaCare).

A previous article highlighted how Nevada's universities use new revenue to hire highly paid non-educators (read: administrators) and luxurious ameneties for students (nicer dorms, better cafeterias, massive gymnasiums). UNLV, for example, actually decreased the number of educators while increasing the number of administrators.

So even though Nevada's universities are mispending scarce resources on non-educators they are facing a tougher financial time than they're used to; but that doesn't mean we should hand over more tax dollars or dramatically increase tuition and fees on students.

Just looking at the last 10 years alone shows a large spike in tuition and fees for higher education. From the 2000-01 school year to 2009-10, UNLV's and UNR's published tuition and fees increased 73.9 percent and 64 percent, respectivly (inflation-adjusted). The most dramatic jump has been in student fees.

Note: total price includes tuition, fees, books, supplies and the cost of living on campus.

Table 2: Inflation adjusted price increase in Nevada higher education from 2000 to 2010.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, IPEDS database

Worse still, tuition and fees continue to rise. Even though the Consumer Price Index fell by 0.4 percent between 2008 and 2009 and has only grown 1.76 percent since last year, the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents approved a statewide 5 percent increase in undergraduate tuitions. The hyperinflation in higher education is simply unsustainable.

This rapid increase in revenue has not increased the quality of either UNR or UNLV. No student is learning 60 to 70 percent more, even though students are paying 60 to 70 percent more in tuition and fees than students from just 10 years ago.

Both universities must learn to live within their means while providing a higher-quality service at a reasonable (and probablay lower) cost/price. If we don't fix the problem now, then the higher-education bubble burst will - and the situation will be even more painful then.

Democrats for education reform

Whitney Tilson from Democrats for Education Reform has produced a 240-page presentation outlining the problems with public education and some sensible solutions to improve quality and help students achieve.

So what's going on?

1) We spend a lot of money.
2) We don't get a good return on our education investment.
3) Education results have stagnated for decades.
4) We are falling further behind our global competitors.
5) Our racial achievement gap is widening.
6) Public education is unaccountable, inflexible and uncompetitive.
7) Wealthy, entrenched special interests defend the status quo out of self-interest and self-preservation, not to help the children.

Read "A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform."

Shenanigans with Race to the Top

Round 1 of Race to the Top (RTTT) is over, and reform fan-favorite Florida has been bested by Delaware and Tennessee. Florida lost a significant amount of points because the state’s application lacked “stakeholder” support – especially among the teacher unions.

However, there is another element to the scoring – human bias. Some of the reviewers appear to have almost nit-picked Florida to death. One reviewer witheld points because Florida didn’t explain which of its MANY reforms produced the dramatic results. Points were also withheld because Florida failed to articulate how it would improve student achievement for Asian and Native American students (Florida’s application highlighted its proven ability to raise achievement levels for all students, plus Hispanic, black and low-income students in particular).

One reviewer docked points because the reviewer felt Florida planned to reduce the achievement gap by “holding the achievement of white students constant over the life of the grant.” For example, Florida promised to improve the level of its already high-achieving fourth-grade white students from 81 percent basic or better to 85 percent basic or better, while low-income and minority students were given a more ambitious goal. Another reviewer withheld points for a similar reason, stating, “[Florida] is closing its achievement gap, in part, by letting the top flounder.”

Flounder? Really? Florida not only manages to improve student achievement across the board, but it does so while also increasing the number of high-achieving students. And frankly, if Florida is letting the top “flounder,” what is the RTTT winner - Delaware - doing?

While Delaware has posted dramatic gains in student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that state has been relativly stagnent over the last few years. Delaware may have an ambitious plan for improving achievement and closing achievement gaps, but it hasn't accomplished this in the last six years - at least not like Florida. Despite this, Delaware seems to earn just as many points as Florida on "demonstrating significant progress on improving student achievement," a category worth 30 of the 500 points in the RTTT application.

Compare for yourself with the charts below (click on the graph to bring up a larger image):


*Source: U.S. Department of Education. FRL = Free and Reduced Lunch. Students eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch program are considered low-income students.





Nevada needs Florida's reforms

Since 1959 Nevada has increased per-pupil spending 180 percent and we still score below average on national tests. The fact is, spending more money hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work in the future. That is why we need serious reform.

Fortunately, we have as an example the state of Florida, which continues to prove that genuine reform works. The 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress report shows Florida continues its march of success. Nevada? Err, not so much.

Florida’s Hispanic students now tie or best the statewide average for all students of 30 other states (including Nevada) on the NAEP fourth-grade reading exam – up from 15 states two years ago. Florida’s black students now tie or best the statewide average for all students of eight states (including Nevada), up from two states two years ago. Even Florida’s low-income students best the statewide average of all Nevada’s students and beat or tie students from 13 other states.

Is there any doubt now that education needs to be seriously overhauled?

*Florida's low-income students outscore the statewide average of all Nevada students.

*Florida's Hispanic students outscore the statewide average of all Nevada students.

Corporate tuition tax credits

Florida’s very popular Corporate Tax Credit (CTC) program serves more than 20,000 low-income students with $3,950 scholarships that allow each student to attend a private school chosen by his or her parents. The vast majority of those students are minorities.

Corporations make a donation to a non-profit scholarship organization, which in turn awards the scholarships to low-income kids. The State of Florida offers a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for each dollar so donated.

This week a study of the CTC program that the Florida legislature had ordered was released. According to the St. Petersburg Times the study revealed no significant gains for students enrolled in the program. However, Dr. Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas noted that the study was descriptive and did not complete a statistical analysis of the available data, making such a conclusion premature.

Dr. Greene, along with the study author, noted that students receiving the CTC scholarships come from schools where students are more disadvantaged than students remaining in Florida’s traditional public schools. As a result, the typical criticism from voucher opponents — that vouchers only benefit advantaged students — falls flat, as the voucher students here are the poorest and lowest achieving students. Unfortunately the study does not prove, one way or the other, the effectiveness of the program.

Dr. Greene believes that more data and a more rigorous research design will provide enough useful information to reach a conclusion on the program, but it is too early to tell. The problem, he notes, “is that the standard for success when it comes to school choice is that it has to produce a quick fix or critics deem it a failure…”

What teachers say about teaching

A new study from the Friedman Foundation, “Free to Teach: What America’s Teachers Say About Teaching in Public and Private Schools,” conducted by Dr. Greg Forster and Christian D’Andrea, has found that “public school teachers are currently working in a school system that doesn’t provide the best environment for teaching. Teachers are victims of dysfunctional government schools right alongside their students.”

Ironically, those who claim to speak for the teachers, the unions and policymakers, oppose nearly every reform to improve education — for students and teachers alike. So long as public teachers remain miserable, the union has power.

Using the survey data on teachers conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, Forster and D’Andrea find:
  • Private school teachers are much more likely to say they will continue teaching as long as they are able (62 percent v. 44 percent), while public school teachers are much more likely to say they’ll leave teaching as soon as they are eligible for retirement (33 percent v. 12 percent) and that they would immediately leave teaching if a higher paying job were available (20 percent v. 12 percent).
  • Private school teachers are much more likely to have a great deal of control over selection of textbooks and instructional materials (53 percent v. 32 percent) and content, topics, and skills to be taught (60 percent v. 36 percent).
  • Private school teachers are much more likely to have a great deal of influence on performance standards for students (40 percent v. 18 percent), curriculum (47 percent v. 22 percent), and discipline policy (25 percent v. 13 percent).
  • Public school teachers are much more likely to report that student misbehavior (37 percent v. 21 percent) or tardiness and class cutting (33 percent v. 17 percent) disrupt their classes, and are four times more likely to say student violence is a problem on at least a monthly basis (48 percent v. 12 percent).
  • Private school teachers are much more likely to strongly agree that they have all the textbooks and supplies they need (67 percent v. 41 percent).
  • Private school teachers are more likely to agree that they get all the support they need to teach special needs students (72 percent v. 64 percent).
  • Seven out of ten private school teachers report that student racial tension never happens at their schools, compared to fewer than half of public school teachers (72 percent v. 43 percent).
  • Although salaries are higher in public schools, private school teachers are more likely to be satisfied with their salaries (51 percent v. 46 percent).
  • Measurements of teacher workload (class sizes, hours worked, and hours teaching) are similar in public and private schools.
  • Private school teachers are more likely to teach in urban environments (39 percent v. 29 percent) while public school teachers are more likely to teach in rural environments (22 percent versus 11 percent).
  • Public school teachers are twice as likely as private school teachers to agree that the stress and disappointments they experience at their schools are so great that teaching there isn’t really worth it (13 percent v. 6 percent).
  • Public school teachers are almost twice as likely to agree that they sometimes feel it is a waste of time to try to do their best as a teacher (17 percent v. 9 percent).
  • Nearly one in five public school teachers has been physically threatened by a student, compared to only one in twenty private school teachers (18 percent v. 5 percent). Nearly one in ten public school teachers has been physically attacked by a student, three times the rate in private schools (9 percent v. 3 percent).
  • One in eight public school teachers reports that physical conflicts among students occur everyday; only one in 50 private school teachers says the same (12 percent v. 2 percent).
Read the full report here: And for a synopsis from Dr. Forster, go here:

Rockstar pay for rockstar teachers

Outstanding teachers who can deliver outstanding student-learning gains could soon be earning six-figure salaries, say the authors of a new report, entitled New Millennium Schools.

Dr. Matthew Ladner, vice president at Arizona’s Goldwater Institute and fellow authors Dr. Gregory Stone and Mark Francis cite research showing that high-quality teachers are 10-20 times more effective in behalf of genuine student achievement than small classrooms.

Nevada could implement this policy without raising taxes. Just use money reserved for classroom size reduction and those meaningless teacher bonuses that are based on number of education degrees — rather than how much a student learns.

What’s your thinking? Should teachers be paid over $100,000 a year if they produce outstanding results?

School choice myths

Milwaukee's school-choice program is the grandfather of voucher programs in the United States. As such it is often a target of anti-choice groups (primarily teacher unions) that work very hard to prove that school choice fails. Milwaukee's program is their favorite punching bag, and it is true that the simple fact that Milwaukee's program was first does not necessarily mean it is the best.

A recent battery of empirical analyses of Milwaukee's voucher program found some interesting results, but newspapers focused on the wrong information. The unions seemingly argue plausibly that vouchers are expensive, harm public schools, decrease racial diversity and only really help the rich pay for private schools they can already afford.

Research, however, suggests the exact opposite. The School Choice Demonstration Project found the following:

1) The voucher program saves taxpayers money.
2) Vouchers increase racial integration.
3) Voucher students and students in the Milwaukee public schools both saw improvement, with no statistical difference between the two groups.
4) Milwaukee public schools that face voucher competition increase attention on their low-income and low-performing students. Thus, vouchers improve the quality of public education.

According to Greg Forester, "The students in the comparison group were selected by the researchers because they had similar demographics to those of the voucher students, similar test scores at the start of the study, and came from the same neighborhoods as the voucher students." Bear in mind, the voucher students are not likely to be wealthy, white suburbanites.

Other studies even suggest that Milwaukee's voucher program may have led to increased graduation rates.

The empirical evidence of Milwaukee's voucher program suggests that the unions' favorite scare-charges are flat-out wrong. There is no white flight because of vouchers; instead there is increased racial diversity. Low-income students are the biggest beneficiaries of the program, because vouchers let them attend private schools that they otherwise could not (rich students have the opportunity either way). Vouchers are not more expensive, and public schools do not suffer because of the competition, but instead, improve. More importantly, student achievement increases across the board for both voucher students and students who remain in the public school system.

As the evidence mounts for greater parental choice in education, the question remains: Will Nevada's legislators lead the way for education reform or continue to fight a rear-guard action against it?

Teacher certification law may keep minorities out of teaching profession

One major public education myth is that teacher certifications requirements help improve the quality of teachers. However, research by the Brookings Institution has shown that there is virtually no difference between the effectiveness of a certified teacher and an uncertified teacher.

This means that teacher certification requirements reduce the supply of effective teachers available for Nevada to hire.

Source: Brookings Institution, “Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job

Nevada, like many states, has strong certification requirements and no real path toward alternative certification. This means that Nevada’s efforts to reduce class size have only had the result of increasing the likelihood that Nevada’s students are exposed to ineffective teachers.

Beyond harming students, teacher certification requirements also harm minorities who aspire to become teachers.

Research by Paul Peterson of the Hoover Institution found that states with real alternative teacher certification programs not only saw significant gains in student achievement but that the percentage of minority teachers increased as well. States with real, not symbolic, teacher certification pathways see a teacher population that is more reflective of state demographics.

Florida created real alternative pathways for becoming a teacher, and today about half of all new teachers in Florida are alternatively certified. The proportion of minority teachers has also increased to a level that more closely resembles the makeup of the state population.

In Nevada, however, minorities make up 41 percent of the population but less than 9 percent of our teachers. Given that 91 percent of teachers in Nevada are white, the state’s Department of Education might as well hang a sign on the door that says “minorities need not apply.”

Source: U.S. Department of Education and Hoover Institution

Nevada's legislature can remedy the situation, improving instructional quality and student achievement while also raising the number of minority teachers.

All lawmakers need to do is eliminate the state's restrictive and useless teacher certification requirements.

Nevada could use more charter schools

Nevada's charter school situation is embarrassingly poor. We have about 420,000 students in the public school system and yet fewer than 30 charter schools.

What, exactly, is a charter school? Basically it's a normal public school where tuition is free for all students and virtually whoever applies must be accepted. (Usually, if there are too many applications, a lottery is used.) Unlike traditional public schools, however, charter schools are free from much of the usual bureaucratic red tape. The idea is that they are free to be creative and innovative in the ways they teach students.

Put simply, there are about a million different ways to teach students, and charter schools offer many alternatives to the one-size-fits-all dogmas of the usual government school.

Unfortunately, charter schools in Nevada are hamstrung by the fact that school districts—and unions—don't really want them to exist. Even the Departments of Education at the state's two public universities—the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Reno—don't sponsor charters, even though that would give them a chance to put their ideas to a real-world empirical test.

Furthermore, charter schools in Nevada are still regulated by the state's one-size-fits-all central bureaucracy instead of a Charter School Institute - a government agency that wants to see their schools succeed.

Recently the teacher union in Massachusetts, unlike the one in Nevada, decided to put its money where its mouth is. It lobbied to create "pilot schools"—charter schools under union control. Researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that union-controlled pilot schools in Massachusetts (which have special rules that allow them to deny students admission, unlike charter schools) typically perform no better than the traditionally run public schools. But Massachusetts' normal charter schools—which are free to choose how they hire, reward or fire teachers—outperform both the traditional public schools and the union-controlled pilot schools.

Charter schools should be part of the education reform equation in Nevada. Quite simply, they work. To improve Nevada's charter school program, we not only need a regulatory board supervising charter schools that operates independent of the school districts and the Department of Education, but we also need to allow charter school administrators to hire, fire and reward as they see fit.

Evidence continues to mount that charter schools outperform. But if the union disagrees, let's experiment by duplicating both the charter and pilot-schools programs of Massachusetts.

Step Up for Students

One of Florida's best and most effective parental choice programs has been Step Up for Students, a corporate tuition scholarship program for low-income children.

The corporate tuition scholarship allows corporations in Florida to make tax-deductible contributions to organizations that provide scholarships to low-income children to attend private schools or out-of-district public schools. Corporations get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit (up to 75 percent of their tax liability to the state, up to $5 million) when they donate to a scholarship tuition organization. The total sum of tax credits that can be offered was capped at $88 million last year but will now rise to $118 million.

Low-income students -- meaning students who qualify for free and reduced lunches -- qualified for $3,500 scholarships to attend private schools or $500 scholarships to attend out-of-district public schools.

This year the scholarship has allowed 23,000 low-income children to receive a better education. Minority students have been the biggest beneficiaries of this parental-choice program: about 40 percent of the students are African Americans, 25 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white and about 10 percent Asian or other. On top of helping low-income students receive educational opportunities they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford, the tax credit saved the state an estimated $1.49 for every $1 lost from the tax credit. This means the state may have saved as much as $42 million through the program this year.

Florida isn't the only state with a tax credit program. Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are allowing corporations and/or individuals to donate millions of dollars each year to help low-income children and/or children with disabilities and foster care children attend schools of their choice.

Nevada could create a similar program using the Modified Business Tax (MBT), gaming, room or other taxes as a source of funds. Were the state to use just 50 percent of the MBT (about $125 million) to fund a tuition tax-credit scholarship program, we could send over 17,000 low-income students to private schools on $7,000-scholarships -- or over 41,000 on $3,500-scholarships similar to Florida's.

Parental choice is a diverse movement, with support from all races and all parties, that is growing nationwide. It is time for Nevada to join the reform movement and upgrade to the 21st Century by providing better educational opportunities for our children.

Teacher certification doesn't make teachers better

All 50 states have teacher-certification requirements. The justification being that, in order to determine who is a qualified teacher, prospects must be subjected to a lengthy process of schooling and testing. Typically, certified teachers have completed a degree in education (or have taken upwards of 30 hours of education-related coursework), completed a semester of student teaching and passed several hundred dollars worth of tests (which the would-be teachers usually pay to take).

Even after becoming certified, teachers have to jump through dozens of hoops, including more coursework, more seminars and more testing. But, as it turns out, all of this effort, testing and screening is for nothing.

The left-of-center Brookings Institution recently published a report called "Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job," and found that certified teachers are virtually indistinguishable from alternatively certified and uncertified teachers when it comes to educating and improving student achievement.

The above graph overlays the bell curve for each category of teacher – Traditionally certified, Alternatively certified and Uncertified – for their ability to positively or negatively affect student performance.

As the Brookings Institution discovered, an uncertified teacher is just as likely as a certified one to improve a student's level of educational achievement. So why is Nevada keeping qualified but uncertified teachers out of the classroom? Wouldn't students be better off if we were to replace certified but unqualified teachers with qualified but uncertified (or alternatively certified) teachers?

Nevada needs to focus on hiring quality teachers, and de-emphasize certification. We need to figure out how to hire and retain the teachers on the right side of that graph – those who can improve student achievement – while getting rid of the teachers on the left, who do the opposite.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nevada higher education: efficient or bloated?

*To Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Klaich, employing one person for every 5.9 students is not bloat.

News 4 in Reno lets Chancellor Dan Klaich get the last word in on university bloat, which is unfortunate, because I had such a good comeback line.

Klaich claims, accurately, that UNR and UNLV are less bloated and more efficient with staffing than other universities. I have never disputed that.

But like almost all universities, UNLV and UNR have been dramatically increasing the size of staff - specifically, highly paid non-educators (whom NSHE does not want to call "administrators"). In fact, UNLV and UNR are increasing the number of highly paid non-educators faster than the student body.

Worse still, they've increased the number of employees per student and the dollars per student, but neither UNLV nor UNR can graduate 50 percent of its students after six years.

But back to Klaich's bragging about the bloat - or non-bloat, as he see's it.

Is being more efficient than the average four-year university really something to celebrate? As I told Victoria Campbell from News 4, what Klaich is doing is akin to "bragging about being 150 pounds overweight instead of 200 pounds."

There is still a lot of work to be done - namely, graduating educated students rather than providing university jobs for adults.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Do we really need more teachers?

President Obama wants public schools to hire 10,000 new math teachers nationwide. Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute asks why? The last few million new public school employees haven't done much for student achievement. Maybe its about getting more due paying members to help fund political campaigns for things that have nothing to do with education?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Should we still try merit pay?

A new Vanderbilt University study on merit pay - the most rigorous ever conducted - shows that a merit-pay plan in Tennessee had no statistically significant impact on student achievement. That is the bad news. The good news is that it also produced none of the doom-and-gloom predictions that unions normally attach to the concept of merit pay.

Eric Hanushek (Stanford University) notes that the study did not examine the long-term effects of attracting higher-quality teachers to the profession via merit pay (they no longer have to wait 15 years to maximize their salary). We already know that the average teacher today is recruited from the bottom third of college graduates and that paying teachers more money doesn't attract better teachers (we just pay more money for the same talent pool), so maybe merit pay has the long-term potential to attract higher-quality teachers. At this point, we still don't know.

Dr. Matthew Ladner (Goldwater) still supports the idea of merit pay (for reasons including those given by Eric Hanushek) and wonders why merit pay worked in Little Rock, Ark., but not in Tennessee. He thinks more research on the right way to do merit pay is still needed.

Dr. Jay P. Greene (University of Arkansas) claims to have always been skeptical of merit pay (and now is even more skeptical). He reasons that creating market forces (via merit pay) won't work when the teachers are still operating within an uncompetitive, government-controlled monopoly. According to Dr. Greene, the whole system needs to change.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Have unions lost the war of ideas?

With the upcoming nationwide release of the education documentary "Waiting for Superman" by director Davis Guggenheim (Inconvient Truth) - which takes a critical look at the failure of American public education - Dr. Jay P. Greene (University of Arkansas) and Dr. Greg Forster (Kern Family Foundation) have announced that the unions have officially lost the war of ideas on education.

It is only a matter of time before the education unions (which influence more than just education) are replaced with professional service organizations that treat teachers like professional adults rather than cannon fodder.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Public support for tuition tax-credts grows

A new survey by William G. Howell, a professor at the University of Chicago and Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West both of Harvard University, find overwhelming public support for tuition-tax credit education scholarship programs to help parents afford private school tuition.

They write,

A number of states—Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, for example—provide tax credits for low-income families who send their children to private schools or to those who give to charities established for such purposes. Support for tax credits is much higher than for vouchers, especially if the question makes clear that credits may be used for school expenses at both public and private schools.
Today, 55 percent of Americans support the idea of tax-credits while only 20 percent oppose. The support continues to grow among African-Americans and Hispanic Americans. Allowing people and/or corporations to earn tax-credits for donations made to low-income student scholarship programs boosted the popularity further.

In other reform news, 47 percent of the American public opposes teacher tenure while just 25 percent support it. Additionally, 49 percent of the public supports merit-pay for teachers while just 25 percent oppose it. There was also strong public support for tougher standards and more testing.

Read the full article here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Special education enrollment declines

Nationwide, enrollment in special education declined from 6.7 million in 2004-05 to 6.6 million students in 2007-08 (latest data available). Specific learning disabilities (SLD) - which is the largest but mildest form of special education - fell from 2.9 million to 2.6 million over that same period. Even the number of students classified with mental retardation fell slightly.

It is interesting to see this evidence (again) just after the Clark County School district requested legislation to boost funding for their special education programs.

But why are special-ed enrollments dropping?

Some, like professor Torgesen at Florida State, claim early intervention and improved reading education (like Reading First) are a cause for the decline in special education enrollment (some SLD children are classified as special-ed because previous teachers were ineffective, not because the student was born with an impairment).

Torgesen also suggest it may budgetary - special education costs about 1.6 times more than regular education - and other education programs like class-size reduction are squeezing funds available for special education.

Yet others, like Dr. Jay P. Greene at the University of Arkansas, argue that declining enrollment may also be the result of districts identifying fewer students as learning disabled to avoid paying private school tuitions (as required by Federal law if the public school cannot provide appropriate services). According to Greene, districts appear to have been labeling students SLD to acquire additional resources attached to special education. Greene found evidence that special education vouchers are correlated with a decline in students being labled SLD.

Also, Greene notes that students in private special education look considerably different than in public schools. Public school special-ed is dominated by speech/language disabilities and specific learning disabilities, while private school special-ed is dominated by students with autism, multiple disabilities and emotional disturbances.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

ALEC ranks Nevada education 18th in the nation

A new American Legislative Exchange Council report titled "Report Card on American Education" ranks states “A” through “F” on education reform laws and 1 through 50 on low-income student achievement. The report by the Goldwater Institute’s Dr. Matthew Ladner along with Andrew LeFevre and Dan Lips ranks Nevada's performance 18th in the nation and gives the Silver State a “C” for education reform.

The ranking was based on reading and math scores for fourth- and eighth-grade low-income students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. By focusing on low-income student achievement the researchers create a better apples-to-apples comparison between states.

The good news is that Nevada beats all of its regional neighbors in educating low-income students. Nevada's ability to provide above-average education to low-income students is worthy of praise, but Nevada's middle- and high-income students don't perform much better, which drags Nevada’s overall achievement levels down.

Policies like identifying effective teachers, rewarding good teachers, alternative teacher certification and expanded school choice can all help improve the quality of education for all children in the Silver State.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More on Florida

"Oil Millions Didn’t Make Jethro Smart," writes Dr. Matthew Ladner of the Goldwater Institute, referencing the billion-dollar windfall Wyoming received because of a booming natural-gas industry.

Spending over $16,000 per pupil (including capital costs and debt repayment), Wyoming sees its students tie Florida's Hispanic students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress' fourth-grade reading test. Florida spends $5,000 less per pupil.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Civil rights groups wrong on education reform

Recently, several civil rights groups, like the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, attacked the concept of charter schools in a report (both groups have since distanced themselves from the report, but not necessarily from their attack on charter schools). But as it turns out, a majority of African-Americans now support charter schools.

Dr. Paul Peterson of Harvard University writes in the Wall Street Journal,

“Each year we provided respondents the same, neutral description of charter schools, followed by the question: "Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools?" Those interviewed were also given the choice of saying they "neither support or oppose" charters.

Support for charters among African Americans rose to 49% in 2009, up from 42% in 2008. This year it leapt upward to no less than 64%. Among Hispanics support jumped to 47% in 2010, from 37% in 2008.

Opposition to charters is expressed by 14% of African-Americans and 21% of Hispanics. Twenty-three percent of African-Americans and 33% of Hispanics take a neutral position.

Among the public as a whole, charter supporters currently outnumber opponents by a margin of better than 2 to 1. Forty-four percent say they are in favor of charters, while 19% stand in opposition. Parents in general are even more supportive of charter schools: 51% like them, 15% don't.”
So why are civil rights groups ignoring their constituents? Dr. Peterson concludes,

“By casting their lot firmly with teachers unions, the leadership of the NAACP and the Urban League hope to preserve their power and safeguard their traditional sources of financial support. Not only is this is a cynical strategy, it ignores where African-Americans and Hispanics are on the issue. Thankfully, the Obama administration is paying attention to the needs of low-income, minority communities and not to their purported leaders."

For more on this subject, check out my new commentary, titled "Civil rights groups’ education proposal misses the mark."