Monday, January 13, 2014

School Choice in 2014

After another year of steadily increasing school choice nationwide, where will school choice fever hit next? Look for action in Oklahoma and Tennessee, says the Friedman Foundation’s Leslie Hiner. Oklahoma lawmakers are discussing Arizona-style education savings accounts (ESAs) and Tennessee lawmakers will have to decide between statewide vouchers and those limited to urban areas.

(ESAs deposit a child’s state education dollars into an account parents control and can use for many education resources, as opposed to a voucher, which may be used only at one school.)

As always, there’s no telling what will happen until 2014 is over. The Wall Street Journal dubbed 2011 “the year of school choice” because 13 states enacted school choice laws, and another 28 considered doing so. That was just the beginning. From 2011 to 2013, 26 states passed 47 school choice laws, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. In 2013, 11 states passed new or expanded existing private school choice programs.

While the number of legislative victories in recent years rapidly outpaced all the gains between 2011 and 1992, when the nation’s first voucher program began in Milwaukee, the number of students these programs reach is still comparatively minuscule. According to Friedman Foundation estimates, 1.1 million children attend private schools using vouchers, education tax credits, or education savings accounts. That sounds like a lot--and it’s a large expansion--but it’s just 2 percent of the nation’s 55.5 million preK–12 students.

So while school choice has come a long way, it’s got even farther to go. Time will tell how far it manages to travel this year.


Government School “Accountability” In South Carolina

Taxpayer-funded educrats routinely attack free market schools for having “no accountability,” but one of the nation’s worst government-run school districts is showing just how non-accountable – and non-transparent – “public” schools can be.

In Jasper County, South Carolina last month, school district leaders conducted their annual evaluation of Superintendent Vashti Washington, determining her performance to be “satisfactory” – this despite the abysmal performance of her district’s schools on state and national tests.

In 2013, Jasper schools scored a 27.3 out of 100 on state tests – down from 39.5 in 2012. That’s the worst score of any district in South Carolina, which routinely ranks among the worst states in America in terms of SAT scores and graduation rates.

If not results – or even progress toward results – then what did Jasper officials use to justify Washington’s “satisfactory” evaluation?

Parents and taxpayers will never know, because Washington’s evaluation – along with her one-year contract extension and the $15,000 bonus payment she received on top of her $165,000 annual salary (excluding benefits) – was conducted behind closed doors.

Not only that, district leaders refused to put anything on paper for fear of the public uncovering the scam.

“(Past written evaluation forms) resulted in (Freedom of Information Act) demands for the forms, and became embarrassing for the superintendents, so nobody uses forms anymore,” the school district’s attorney told The Jasper (S.C.) Sun.

Wait – isn’t the job of a school district to thoroughly evaluate those charged with educating students?  Not spare these failing leaders “embarrassment?”

“This is the absolute worst-performing government school district in the worst-performing state in America – and its administrators are as dishonest and corrupt as they come,” South Carolina political website FITSNews notes.

Judging by the district’s conduct, it’s hard to argue the point.  Of course it’s not just conservative blogs weighing in on this scandal though.  The local mainstream media is also criticizing the school’s secrecy – and its chronic failure.

“It appears that the board has bought into the superintendent’s bogus argument that the district’s back-to-back ‘F’ grades on federal accountability standards have ‘no meaning’ and are based on ‘bad data,’” an editorial from The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet observes.

The paper’s editorial added that Jasper officials were displaying “animosity toward the public” by engaging in a process that even its own attorneys agreed was “rigged to be secret.”

Astounding, isn’t it?

Next time you hear someone challenge the “accountability” of parental choice programs, send them this story.  And let them know that if such shenanigans were to take place at a non-government school, parents would have the option of taking their business elsewhere.

Sadly in South Carolina – which has previously rejected universal parental choice programs – parents and students have no alternative.


Boss of British supermarket chain criticises schools claiming youngsters who apply for jobs at the supermarket can't spell or add up

The boss of the Morrisons supermarket chain has slammed Britain's educational system claiming many school leavers who turn up at his stores asking for jobs can't spell or add up.

Dalton Philips, 45, said he was concerned that UK schools were falling behind those in other countries and failing to teach basic numeracy and literacy skills.

Last month it emerged that British teenagers had dropped out of the top 20 rankings in maths, science and reading for the first time and now lag behind those from countries such as Vietnam, Shanghai and Poland.

Mr Philips told the Daily Mirror: 'I worry about our schools system. When young people come on to our apprenticeship schemes we have to do remedial literacy and numeracy work with them and it's holding them back.

'I don't know where it's gone wrong. I would love to see young people proud to join an apprentice scheme and wear it as a badge of honour.

'University isn't for everyone and we need to give more encouragement to those who choose an apprenticeship.'

The poor results come despite a near doubling of the education budget between 1997 and 2010 under Labour – from £50billion a year to £89billion.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the poor results showed radical reform was necessary in a ‘stagnating’ education system.


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