Wednesday, February 06, 2013

School Choice: Making the Grade

More than 200 organizations across the country are staging some 3,600 events to mark this year’s School Choice Week. But many grateful parents have reason to celebrate every week.

Just ask Joseph Kelley. A single father living in Washington, D.C., Kelley was shocked when his son Rashawn failed the first grade. Worse, his teachers didn’t even realize that he knew how to read. But rather than work to improve his vocabulary and get him up to grade level, the D.C. Public School System placed Rashawn in special-education classes.

Kelley knew his son was smart but wasn’t being well-served by his assigned public school. He heard about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to low-income children in the nation’s capitol to attend a private school of choice, and he knew what it meant: a second chance for his son.

Rashawn applied and was enrolled in the program. After two years in his new private school, he caught back up to grade level. Today Rashawn is in college, attending the University of the District of Columbia. That wouldn’t have been possible if 1) he didn’t have a parent who cared, and 2) he didn’t have a school-choice option available to him.

It’s not hard to find the first part of the formula. There are plenty of parents who care about their children’s education. It’s the second part that’s tricky. School choice remains beyond the reach of far too many other children just like Rashawn: smart, but ill-served by a broken system.

We’re now spending an average of nearly $11,000 per student, a record amount. Yet test scores and other measurements of academic achievement continue to lag behind.

Yes, there are many good public schools nationwide, with dedicated teachers who deserve praise. Unfortunately, far too many students are languishing in bad schools. And when you consider the damage they inflict, making it nearly impossible for students to learn and fulfill their potential -- you wonder why anyone would settle for such a deplorable status quo.

But that’s been changing in recent years. Support for school choice is at an all-time high, in fact. Forty-four percent of Americans favor allowing students to choose a private school to attend at public expense. School choice favorability has jumped 10 percentage points since last year.

Today, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of school choice. Some states provide school choice through scholarships, or vouchers, which go directly to students to be used at a school of the family’s choice. Other states provide tax credits to individuals or corporations that contribute money toward scholarships. Some states provide both types of programs.

Education savings accounts -- currently available only in Arizona -- are a particularly innovative approach to school choice, allowing families of special needs children to use a portion of the dollars that would have been spent on their children in their assigned public schools for a variety of other education options, including private-school tuition, online education, and special-education services.

The benefits are undeniable. For one thing, students in school-choice programs are more likely to finish school. For example, students who spend all four years of high school in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the nation’s longest running school-choice program, had a 94 percent graduation rate. Their peers who attended four years of public high school had a 75 percent graduation rate.

School-choice students also tend to do better academically. A comprehensive study by the Foundation for Educational Choice notes that nine out of 10 empirical studies using random assignment to assess vouchers found that they improve student outcomes. (The 10th one found no impact.)

With school choice on the march, we have good reason to believe that the status quo in education won’t remain the status quo much longer. The trend is flowing away from government control -- and toward parental control.

In nearly every area of life, from iPads to insurance, Americans can decide what works best for them. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to something as important as our children’s education?


Watch your language ladies: US school asks girls to take a 'no swearing' vow

A US school has implemented a "no swearing" rule – but only for girls.

Female students at a Catholic high school in northern New Jersey have taken a ‘no swearing’ pledge at the request of school administrators.

The girls were asked to stand and raise their right hands and vow, “I do solemnly swear not to use profanities of any kind within the walls and properties of Queen of Peace High School. In other words, I swear not to swear. So help me God.”

But some people are questioning why male students weren’t required to do likewise.

The teacher who organized the pledge says that while males weren't asked to take the vow, they have been asked not to curse when girls are near.

Teacher Lori Flynn told a local reporter at The Record there was no double-standard.  Ms Flynn says school officials want ‘ladies to act like ladies’

And school principal, Brother Larry Lavallee, said girls have the foulest language.

Apparently many female students said they would try to follow the pledge they took last Friday morning, even though they believe it should apply to all students.

Teachers said they hoped that if the girls cleaned up their language at school for a month, their improved manners would rub off on the boys.

The rewards for ditching foul language? Lollipops and pins featuring pink lips.


Australia: Language policy gone loco

For every story of sovereign debt risks in Europe and US fiscal woes, there is a reminder of Asia’s bullish economic ascension.

The Liberal Party’s latest policy document, Our Plan – Real Solutions for all Australians, reflects this shift in the world’s centre of economic gravity. Noting that the Asia-Pacific region will be home to 66 per cent of the global middle-class by 2030, the Liberal Party wants Australia to ‘develop more Asia-capable talent.’

As well as a two-way ‘Colombo Plan’ redux that will send Australian students to Asian universities, the policy sets a target of 40 per cent of Year 12 students studying Languages Other Than English (LOTE)—with particular emphasis placed on Asian languages.

Like the discontinued Keating and Rudd government-era initiatives, this latest proposal to increase the number of students studying LOTE flies in the face of the practical considerations at the forefront of students’ minds.

As edifying as learning another language might be, it is unlikely to be an appealing choice for many students trying to edge out their peers in tight ATAR competitions.

On top of the great challenges of absorbing a new and incredibly complex system of communication, many students suffer the added disadvantage of not having the trump card of a native-speaking parent.

Battling through years of tortuous tones or confusing conjugations will hardly seem worth it when their likely competition is exposed to the language every night at the dinner table.

Many students will also conclude that the long-term career benefits of LOTE study are often exaggerated by language study advocates.

As I have argued elsewhere, English will probably remain the global lingua franca in the Asian Century.

There are approximately 2 billion English speakers worldwide; 800 million of which are in Asia—far more than the entire Anglosphere.

One-third of the world’s population is already studying English, and by 2050, four of the six most populous countries in the world (India, the United States, Nigeria and Pakistan) will have English as an official language.

To be sure, studying LOTE is by no means a waste of time. Learning another language provides a rewarding entrée into another culture and is a useful tool for leveraging oneself into careers in diplomacy, business, hospitality, and a host of other fields.

Nevertheless, the difficulty of language learning and the global dominance of English suggest that the target of 40 per cent of Year 12 students studying LOTE is loco.


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