Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shining Spotlight on Bogus U.C. Berkeley “Think Tank” During National Sunshine Week

This week is National Sunshine Week, a time when many journalists across America publish stories on government spending and transparency. One organization that needs more sunshine is the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at the University of California at Berkeley, a union propaganda mill disguised as an academic think tank and financed with taxpayer dollars.

The IRLE receives money from the State of California to churn out shoddy and biased research timed to influence election results. It released two reports examining proposals to increase the minimum wage in San Francisco and Oakland before voters cast their ballots. Voters subsequently approved both wage hikes. The Oakland increase went into effect on March 2, a nearly 36 percent increase to $12.25 an hour. San Francisco’s hourly minimum wage increased to $11.05 on January 1, and will increase to $12.25 on May 1, matching Oakland’s rate.

Michael Saltsman, research director at the D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute, says the two IRLE reports provided misleading information before the voting:

"The new minimum wage in Oakland also means unintended consequences for employees and higher costs for consumers. Oakland small businesses like Homestead, Caffee Teatro, Johu Beach Club, The Half Orange, and 475 Café report planned price hikes of up to 20 present. These hikes are significantly larger than the 2.5 percent figure predicted by the embattled U.C. Berkeley research team, whose study on the minimum-wage increase effects preceding last year’s vote predicted big gains and little-to-no pain from a hike to $12.25.

This miscalculation follows a separate U.C. Berkeley study of San Francisco’s minimum wage that drastically underestimated the associated increase in labor costs, as evidenced by recent small business closures or near-closures. Such apparent mistakes mean that voters and policymakers should treat U.C. Berkeley minimum-wage studies with considerable skepticism, but such hindsight is of little solace now to Oakland’s small business community".

Shoddy, politically motivated research is nothing new for the IRLE. In 2003, Andrew Gloger and I were one of the first to expose the politically driven research agenda of the U.C. Institute for Labor and Employment (ILE), the U.C. umbrella group that coordinates these multi-campus propaganda mills of which the Berkeley IRLE is one. As we said in 2003:

"The ILE has a right in a free society to promulgate its anti-capitalism views and to fund research that strikes at the heart of a basic economic freedom in America – the right of employers and employees to freely negotiate compensation. But why should taxpayers be forced to bankroll ILE’s union propaganda?

Unions collect roughly $880 million in dues each year in California. Surely they can spare $4 million to support the ILE on their own and unburden state taxpayers."

These words are as true today as when first written in 2003. The ILE received the California Golden Fleece Award in 2003 for ripping off taxpayers.

The ILE, the coordinating umbrella group, has since switched its name to the U.C. Miguel Contreras Labor Program, but it still carries the unions’ water (its board must include at all times at least two labor representatives), and it has received millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. Its primary role is to provide academic cover for the political agenda of unions and their allies.

Shining a spotlight on corrupt taxpayer-funded research is what Sunshine Week is about.


Free Schools: why shouldn’t we experiment with education?

Last week, UK prime minister David Cameron announced that if the Conservative Party is re-elected at the General Election, the free-schools programme will be expanded. Cameron has pledged a further 500 free schools, which would create 270,000 extra places within the school system, by 2020. Speaking in west London, Cameron announced that 49 more free schools have been approved. He spoke of the importance of raising school standards and providing a great education for children. He said the expansion of independent schools within the school system was integral to this process.

Free schools provide the opportunity for groups of parents, teachers, charities, existing schools or other organisations to open state-funded independent schools. They are free of interference from local authorities, and have greater freedom from central government than traditional educational institutions. The programme began in 2010. Championed by the then Tory education secretary, Michael Gove, the programme was aimed at diversifying the state-education system. Despite some teething problems at the beginning, 71 per cent of free schools are rated as either good or outstanding by the schools inspectorate, Ofsted, in comparison to 69 per cent of state schools. Research conducted by the think-tank Policy Exchange shows that free schools are driving up standards in the state-funded sector.

The programme has come under criticism from the Labour Party and shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt. Hunt claims that free schools have been a costly mistake, diverting money and resources away from areas that are in need of school places. However, according to the New Schools Network (NSN), an organisation that champions and supports those establishing or looking to establish free schools, this couldn’t be further from the truth. NSN reports that 75 per cent of mainstream free schools opened in 2013 are in areas which have a shortage of places. ‘Free schools’, it states, ‘are 10 times more likely to be located in the most deprived areas in England than in the least deprived’.

What the backlash against the free schools programme has shown is that Labour doesn’t believe in the ability of parents to make the choice about what’s best for the future of their children. Instead, it wants to impose its bland, conformist vision of education on everyone. Meanwhile, the demand for more choice has been shown by the success of free schools up and down the country.

After decades of dreary conformity in the education sector, the extension of the free-schools programme should be welcomed as an opportunity to try something new and interesting


True or False? Jeb Bush’s Education Reforms Boosted Florida’s Schoolchildren

While Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, the state “made dramatic improvements in the academic outcomes of all its students,” a report from The Heritage Foundation concluded in 2010.

It said Florida also made “significant progress” in narrowing the nationwide achievement gap in grades K-12 between white students and minorities, particularly blacks and Hispanics.

The Heritage report by Matthew Ladner and Lindsey M. Burke credited parental choice, higher standards, and both accountability and flexibility for pushing the state’s black students to match or outscore the statewide reading average for all students in eight states, and for propelling Hispanics to do the same compared with 31 states.

Beginning in 1999, Bush and the state legislature implemented reforms emphasizing choice in public and private schools (including charter school and virtual education); annual tests and grading schools and districts A through F based on test results; requiring illiterate children to repeat third grade; performance-based bonuses for teachers; and making it easier for talented applicants to gain teacher certification.

In one of the most hotly debated aspects of the changes, any student at a public school that got an F twice in four years could get a voucher to move to a different public or private school.

The initiatives came against a national backdrop of ever-increasing per-student spending and reduced class sizes—federally supported policies preferred by teacher unions—that left academic achievement relatively flat and graduation rates stagnant, Ladner and Burke argued:

"Florida enacted a series of far-reaching K-12 reforms despite opposition by the teacher unions. The result was unique: The unions effectively lost control of K-12 policy in Florida".

And the state’s students went on to make the strongest gains in the nation on a test known as NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, since 2003, the first year that all 50 states used the exam.

Some conservatives regard Bush with deep suspicion because he has not renounced his early support for Common Core education standards even as they have faltered in implementation and been shaped by grants from the Obama administration.

Others see Bush’s refusal to abandon Common Core as a virtue, evidence that he would rather fix what’s broken than give up on an idea he believes in because it’s easier politically.

Put aside the ruckus in recent years over the federal government’s role in “incentivizing” the adoption of common academic standards, however, and Bush’s record in achieving what the Heritage report called “meaningful academic improvement” is the sort of story that heartens parents who harbor fears about their children’s future.

“It’s really difficult to argue that Florida is not much better educationally because of the reforms of the Jeb Bush administration,” said Winters, whose studies took him to the state for much of Bush’s second term and who also writes about education as a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He added:

If minority children nationwide had made the same improvement as their counterparts in Florida, we would have closed the achievement gap nationally. It’s pretty impressive, I think. … Everything New York City was doing [in public school reform] they were doing because they were trying to emulate Florida.

Achievement Built to Last?

Eight years since Bush left the governorship, the Florida reform model called the A+ Plan for Education continues to be considered and adopted by other states—thanks in part to the marketing efforts of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an outfit that Bush put together.

More to the point, education experts say, Florida schoolchildren keep gaining ground based on his reforms and others for which he set the stage.

But that’s not how the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, sees it.

“After 15 years of this approach, students are a little better at taking tests,”  FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow told The Daily Signal, “but many of the subjects that get children excited about learning have been curtailed or eliminated so that they can spend more time on the tests, public schools are still chronically underfunded and teachers are left feeling underappreciated.”

Asked by The Daily Signal to update data in her report, however, Burke said the latest U.S. Department of Education statistics show the 2011 reading score for Florida fourth-graders was above the national average.

In addition, their 16-point gain from 1992 to 2011 was bigger than all other gains reported in large states as well as bigger than the national average.

“Florida has been a leader in education reform for well over a decade,” @lindseymburke says.

Black students in both Florida and California made greater gains than their peers nationally, Burke said. She also noted this finding: “Between 2003 and 2011, Florida students with disabilities and those eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch made greater gains than their peers in the nation.”

As for Hispanic students, the Ladner-Burke report predicted they could exceed the national average for white students. Checking the latest  raw numbers at the request of The Daily Signal, Burke said they show Hispanics in Florida tied the national average in 2011 and outstripped it by four points in 2013.

That means the average Hispanic fourth-grader in Florida reads better than the average American fourth-grader.

Burke, Heritage’s Will Skillman fellow in education, said the latest NAEP test scores also show “tremendous gains for low-income students.” Florida leads the nation in percentage of low-income fourth-graders (27 percent) who scored proficient or better on the reading test in 2013.  She told The Daily Signal:

Florida has been a leader in education reform for well over a decade. The Sunshine State has successfully married transparency of outcomes with choice – the key ingredient to empowering families to understand how their children are doing in school and to act on that information. Without the ability to exit underperforming schools, transparency of outcomes has no teeth.

Those who disagree with the Bush approach—often because they are allied with and financed by the teachers unions he took on—warn that the A+ Plan solutions are “corporate-backed” and aren’t in the best interests of  all children.


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