Friday, June 26, 2015

Education Savings Accounts and Their Impact

Education savings accounts are an outgrowth of the school choice movement that, by literally giving parents an “education debit card,” allows them to craft a customized education plan to meet their children’s specific needs.

By giving access to state education funds that would have otherwise been spent in their assigned public school, parents with children enrolled in Nevada public schools can spend money on tuition and fees at an approved private school, tutoring services, textbooks, and so forth.

To offset repercussions of lower enrollment in public schools, local and federal government education dollars will still feed into the public school system. (Typically, public schools receive combined funding by local, state and federal governments.)

For Robbins and her seven children, who range in ages from 8 to 26, the program will be life-changing.

“If you have a health challenge but you’re still a college-bound student, there are no options for you in our district,” Robbins said. “You are just on your own.”

Two of Robbins’ daughters are affected by the inherited connective tissue disorder. Because of extensive surgeries, medical tests and debilitating symptoms, they’ve missed entire years of school at a time.  “Children with health problems … they are forgotten in the school districts,” Robbins said.

Amber is now taking college courses online and was still able to graduate a valedictorian and receive a five—the highest score possible—on her AP government/law exam, despite the challenges she faced.  “She has a medical condition but she is still a bright, articulate student,” Robbins said.

While teachers worked with Amber to turn in assignments remotely, Robbins said her daughter did not receive “one day of tutoring” while she was out her senior year.  “That is a tragedy,” Robins said.

With education savings accounts, Robbins will now have a whole host of education opportunities available to her youngest children, who are also at risk for developing the condition as their bodies develop.

How Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts Work

Nevada’s education savings account differs from those set up in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee, all of which have stringent requirements for the type of students who are eligible. In Nevada, the only requirement is that students must be enrolled in the public school system for at least 100 days.

If everything goes according to plan, parents will be able to access the accounts at the beginning of next year.

On average, parents will receive about $5,100 per year, or 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil spending amount. (The total per-pupil spending amount in Nevada is approximately $8,400, or about $3,300 more than the amount of the education savings accounts grants.)

“[Education savings accounts] are going to start an education revolution,” Robbins said.  “And that education revolution is going to force the public school system to begin to modify itself.”

Rallying Against the Revolution

Robbin’s inkling towards an “education revolution” is precisely what has many organizations and teachers unions rallying against it.

Many traditional advocates of public education fear that education savings accounts will strip public schools of already limited funding, and legitimize whatever curriculum a parent wants—say, a Biblical teaching that runs contrary to the public school curriculum—at the taxpayer’s expense.

In Arizona, which was the first state to set up education savings accounts, no mass exodus occurred when education savings accounts were signed into law back in 2011.

This year, 230,000 students were eligible, and only 1,300 participated. But since its inception, the program has become so popular that eligibility was expanded four times to include children entering kindergarten, with special needs, from underperforming schools, from active-duty military families, in foster care, of fallen soldiers and from tribal lands.

Organizations like the American Federation of Teachers and the Nevada State Education Association, which is a union of more than 3 million teachers in the state, argue the program is “dangerous” and could devastate traditional public schools.

Neither organization responded to The Daily Signal’s request for an interview, but in a statement to Politico, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said earlier this year that education savings accounts create an “unregulated, unaccountable market.”

“Instead of the exit strategy from public education that these programs represent, we need a renewed commitment to strong neighborhood public schools for every child,” he said.

A Rising Tide

School choice advocates believe the introduction of education savings accounts will create competition, which will better education for all students, including those who remain in public schools.

“By allowing all students to attend private school, Nevada has introduced an element of competition into its public school system,” said Chantal Lovell, communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which supports the school choice initiative. Lovell added:

In the coming years, we should see all schools in Nevada—public and private—improve as they compete for students and the dollars that now follow them. It’s a phenomenon similar to what we see when a new restaurant opens in a community that previously had very limited and mediocre dining options.

Every year since 1994, Robbins has had at least one child enrolled in Dooley Elementary, which is located in one of the largest school districts in the country. In 2014, the K-12 school was named a Blue Ribbon School. This award is given by the U.S. Department of Education to schools for their academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps among students.

Despite having the privilege of being able to send her children to a nationally recognized school, the “cookie cutter design,” Robbins said, isn’t cutting it.

“We’re unusual,” she said. “Lots of children have different ways of learning and we need to be able to find ways to bring out the best in every child. And at a large school system that’s a cookie cutter design does not do that.”


Obama Administration Seeks Expansion of Student Visas for Immigrants

President Obama has proposed to extend the time some immigrant students can stay and work in the United States after they graduate from college, and some in Congress are unhappy because they say these students take and keep jobs that should go to Americans.

The Optional Practical Training allows students to stay in the United States and work under their student visas after graduation. The program, which involved more than 100,000 of the nation’s 1 million foreign exchange students in 2013, allows students in any field to stay 12 months beyond graduation to receive practical experience.

Since 2008, those in science, technology, engineering and math have been allowed to stay an additional 17 months beyond that, for a total of 29 months. The administration has proposed increasing the extension for these majors to 24 months, which means they would be able to work a full three years in the U.S. beyond graduation on their student visas. If they subsequently earn a master’s degree, they can stay another three years.

And Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has weighed in against the expansion of the program. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed concerns.

Grassley wrote, “The proposed new regulations, while still being internally discussed, are irresponsible and dangerous considering the Government Accountability Office report issued in March 2014 finding that the program was full of inefficiencies, susceptible to fraud, and that the department was not adequately overseeing it.”

Grassley cited a report from the Government Accountability Office that found, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, has not identified or assessed fraud or noncompliance risks posed by schools that recommend and foreign students approved for optional practical training, in accordance with DHS risk management guidance.”

Grassley asked Johnson to reconsider the rule and cancel the program. Or, failing that, to implement some key reforms, including:

1) Increase oversight and monitoring compliance by schools as well as foreign students and those who employ them

2) Ensure that employment is secured before any Optional Practical Training is granted

3) Ensure that foreign students report any changes in employment to designated school officials and be held accountable if they do not

4) Ensure that designated school officials are notifying the department about the whereabouts of their students, including the employer’s name and location and be held accountable if they do not

5) Require that employers who hire any foreign student with Optional Practical Training be enrolled in E-Verify

6) Require employers to pay a reasonable wage to foreign students with Optional Practical Training

7) Require employers of students with Optional Practical Training to pay a fee equal to the wage savings from not having to pay FICA payroll taxes for Optional Practical Training workers, in order to level the playing field between Optional Practical Training and American workers

8) More closely bind Optional Practical Training training to the student’s academic course of study

9) Establish avenues for foreign students to report employer abuse

10) Place a numerical cap on the number of foreign students who may receive a work authorization

Grassley requested a response from Johnson no later than Monday, June 22. As of press time, Grassley had not heard back, according to his office.


Australia: Politically correct school reports

School report says: Spirited. Teacher really means: Your kid is a pain in the ass

At school, I was one of those kids who did fairly well by studying hard and staying out of trouble.  Not so my brother Benjamin, who spent the last day of every term defecating bricks. Inside his school bag was always an explosive report card, more dangerous than a stick of dynamite when it reached the hands of my parents.

One year I remember Dad opening a particularly giant can of whoop-ass on my naughty sibling, after his report revealed “serious misbehaviour” with “hot metals and acid” in science. The exasperated teacher also went on to chastise his habit of “rocking on chairs” and “pea shooting” during class.

Then there’s my good friend Joanne, who recently shared one of her classic report cards from the 1980s.  “One of the noisiest girls I’ve ever seen in a classroom. Can be a thorough pest. Concentrate on the work Joanne,” her Year 11 English teacher wrote.

The maths teacher offered a similar observation.  “Joanne is a very bright girl but needs to be less noisy.”  Adding insult to injury, there was also this:  “Joanne is a capable student who has made good progress, however she is a chatterbox.”

Nearly 30 years later, and my friend can still vividly recall the sheer terror of handing that clanger over to her hardworking parents in Darwin.

Words like “lazy”, “uncooperative” and “anti-social” weren’t uncommon on kids’ report cards when I was growing up. If you were rebellious, the teacher said so. If you dared backchat in class, or regularly failed to hand in homework, then your parents read about it in a personalised, handwritten school report. Drop the f-bomb or blatantly flout the school rules? Then you were busted, custard.

In 2015 however, I find myself wondering if there is such a thing as a “bad report” anymore. Do they even exist?

This week, parents (like me) will open our little darling’s half-yearly school reports. And chances are they’ll be so sterile, so bland, so terribly boring that we’ll struggle to make sense of what’s actually being said.

Instead of receiving a truthful, pull-no-punches assessment of our kid’s progress, we’ll open up a white, printed out page filled with computer generated safe words and corporate jargon.

But these newfangled, vanilla flavoured reports aren’t the fault of teachers. Or principals. Our politically correct school system has bound and gagged educators with bureaucracy and red tape, preventing them from telling the warts-and-all real version of our kid’s classroom behaviours.

A former senior-level teacher I know left her job, after becoming completely disillusioned with the education system.  “Teachers cop it from all directions these days,” she tells me.  “We are constantly treading on eggshells, dealing with greater numbers of delusional parents — and classrooms full of kids who’ve been wrapped up in cotton wool.

“The writing — and delivery — of report cards is a minefield. It’s definitely the worst part of any teacher’s job,” she says.

Demanding, pushy parents are also partly to blame for this new trend in sanitised school report cards.  “Many of them see their kids as perfect little angels, with an IQ worthy of a Mensa membership,” my teacher mate says.  “If we write a school report and tell the parents otherwise, then the evidence is against us.

“So it has become standard practise now to use insipid, watered-down phrases instead of the real truth.”

Looking back at a few of my own children’s report cards, I notice they’re peppered with words like “satisfactory”, “sound” and “working towards”. The boring babble hides the real truth.

Some examples:

“…needs to continue to focus on the quality and neatness of his work presentation,” one comment suggests.

Let’s cut to the chase here. We’re talking about unbelievably shocking, mostly illegible bookwork. And I know it for a fact because I kick my boy up the backside every time he puts pen to paper. So why did his teacher sugar coat the facts? To make me feel better about his sloppy efforts in class?

“He tries to listen carefully when not distracted by others around him.”

He tries to listen? Are you serious? Clearly, he doesn’t. And reading between the lines, it seems he’s also mucking about with mates instead of being focused on his work.

My teacher friend reckons that if you look hard enough, it is possible to decode your child’s next school report.  Here is her Top 10 list of euphemisms, frequently used by educators everywhere.

1. School report says: Spirited. Teacher really means: Your kid is a pain in the arse.

2. School report says: Keen to participate in group discussion. Teacher really means: Little Johnny talks too much. Shut your cake-hole and give someone else a go.

3. School report says: Satisfactory effort. Teacher really means: Has done the bare minimum.

4. School report says: Energetic. Teacher really means: Possibly ADHD and requires medication.

5. School report says: Creative. Teacher really means: Can’t follow instructions and makes a mess of everything.

6. School report says: Helpful. Teacher really means: Annoyingly so.

7. School report says: Is developing (eg: handwriting) skills. Teacher really means: Still can’t do it despite all the hours I’ve put in.

8. School report says: Took awhile to settle in. Teacher really means: We didn’t like each other.

9. School report says: Needs to settle when working with other teachers. Teacher really means: They don’t like your kid either.

10. School report says: I wish them well next year. Teacher really means: Thank god they won’t be in my class again.


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