Friday, July 15, 2016

Even When School Choice Works, Critics Call it a Failure

Thomas Paine recommended vouchers to help parents afford private schools for their children more than 200 years ago. While most college students today use vouchers to attend public or private colleges and universities, the concept remains needlessly controversial when it comes to parents using them for their school-age children.

For example, in a recent Washington Post article Emma Brown recently claimed school choice hasn’t worked based on evidence from New York City, where students are no longer assigned to public high schools based on their zip codes.

For starters, the Big Apple is hardly, as Brown calls it, “a real-life laboratory for questions of school choice” just because in 2004 the city deigned to allow parents of eighth-graders to choose up to 12 public high schools to attend out of a possible 400.

Currently, more than half of all states have parental choice programs that include private schools – not just public schools. New York isn’t one of them.

But Brown’s own evidence shows that empowering parents over their children’s education works. According to Brown, as of 2015 NYC’s overall public high school graduation rate has improved steadily and now exceeds 70 percent. Even neighborhood-based racial graduation rate gaps have diminished. Yet because they exist, school choice must be a failure. Brown seems to be implying (although she doesn’t say so explicitly) that returning to the old way of assigning students to schools would level the playing field.

It likely would...but not in a positive way since assigned schooling minimizes the likelihood students will be able to attend schools that are the best for for them. And, by removing competition for students schools have little (if any) incentive to customize instruction to individual students’ needs.

The reality is, parental choice programs are helping participating students (overwhelmingly those from disadvantaged backgrounds) as well as non-participating students who benefit from the effects of their schools having to compete for students and associated funding.

A new research synthesis helps shed light on the growing body of research proving that parental choice works.

Currently, there are 50 private school scholarship programs in 26 states and Washington, DC. What’s more, over half of them were implemented in the past five years. But do such programs work?

Experts from the University of Arkansas conducted a global review of “gold standard” studies, and using scientifically exacting methods concluded that private school choice results in statistically significant improvements in reading and math performance, 0.27 standard deviations and 0.15 standard deviations, respectively.

To put those results into perspective, 25 percent of a standard deviation represents approximately one year of academic growth on most measures of student achievement. These results are all the more remarkable because most private school choice programs limit eligibility to students from low-income families, and these students typically struggle academically.

Such results should come as welcome news for addressing chronic achievement gaps and high college remediation rates – but they likely won’t.

Parental choice in education, private-school parental choice in particular, remains a political hot button. Teachers and administrators unions, among others, fiercely oppose supporting parents’ right to choose non-public schools for their children.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has done everything in its power to shut down the successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program – (although it was recently reauthorized) in spite of evidence from the US Department of Education “What Works” division that the program is effective, efficient, and popular. It’s also accomplishes more for a whole lot less.

Thankfully, parents and policymakers in the states are moving ahead with an ever-growing array of parental choice programs, including vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts (ESAs). Such progress will be difficult if not impossible to stop, no matter how loudly critics complain.


A Glimpse into the College Entitlement Mentality

Should a college education be a handout or something earned?

A recent feature in The New Yorker Magazine provides a sobering glimpse of things to come if advocates of “free college” get their way.

In his feature article “The Big Uneasy,” author Nathan Heller interviewed several Oberlin College students who demanded, among other things, the suspension of any grades below C so they could devote more time to on-campus activism (driving some 40 minutes to protest in Cleveland proved too burdensome).

About 85 percent of Oberlin students receive financial aid from federal, state, and local sources to attend this progressive liberal arts college, amounting to nearly $24,000 per student. About half of those funds come from the federal government.

Nationwide, just 33 percent of Americans have four-year college degrees. The vast majority of adults are slogging away at their jobs day-in and day-out to pay the taxes that subsidize college students, who are effectively absent from the economy for four to six years (more if they pursue graduate studies).

And what does this “investment” yield for Jane and Joe taxpayer? Apparently, far too many undergraduates who think that they are entitled to do whatever they want, whenever they want paid for by the sacrifices of others.

When asked about her post-graduation plans, Oberlin student government co-liaison and campus activist Megan Bautista stated, “Just getting the eff out of America. It’s a sinking ship.”

Well, bon voyage to Bautista and undergraduates like her. No doubt their acute sense of social justice will motivate them to pay back all the subsidized handouts they received from us bourgeoisie before departing.

Modern-day campus activists may romanticize their Vietnam War-era predecessors, but the real heroes are the Veterans, most of whom did not have trust funds or parents wealthy enough to buy their way out of the draft—so they could attend college, fight “the man,” then turn around and join him for the right price years later.

There’s a better way to support undergraduate education without encouraging this kind of entitlement mentality: make college an earned benefit.

This month marks the 72nd anniversary of what is now known as the G.I. Bill. Today, seven education benefit programs are helping more than 1 million Veterans, Servicemembers, Reservists, and eligible family members earn their college degrees, specialty certifications, and job training.

In spite of numerous challenges, including deployments that can last up to 13 months, nearly 60 percent of student veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan War generation complete their four-year college degrees within five years. Students like Leslie Lingo.

After serving in the U.S. Army, Lingo enrolled in Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where she just completed her bachelor’s degree in social work. Not only is Lingo a single mom, she is also an active member of her local Student Veterans of America chapter. Her advice for success in college:

“Learn how to effectively listen...By listening you learn something new, whether positive or negative, and this leads to progress.” Lingo adds, “Have humility and resilience, while always being comfortable outside of your comfort zone – taking calculated risks that push you to your limits will help you progress to the next level.”

We value what we earn and in turn better appreciate the sacrifices others make on our behalf.

Earned benefits don’t have to take the form of military service, either. Businesses could fund performance grants for future employees, who could attend class and work part-time in exchange for a specified time commitment after graduation. Any number of such private and non-profit apprenticeship performance arrangements could be created for fields requiring postsecondary certificates or degrees.

The GI Bill shows that earned college benefits beat hand-outs hands down.



Half of British primary schools set to teach maths Chinese-style

Half of primary schools will adopt the traditional Chinese method of maths teaching in a Government drive to stop British youngsters falling behind their Asian counterparts.

They will ditch ‘child-centred’ styles and instead return to repetition, drills and ‘chalk and talk’ whole-class learning.

Teachers will be offered training, textbooks and advice on how to adopt the ‘Shanghai maths’ method.

Youngsters in the UK lag way behind those in China, Singapore and Japan in international league tables of numeracy.

Critics blame ‘progressive’ teaching styles that focused on applying maths to real-life scenarios in an effort to make the subject more interesting.

They say this has led to confusion and stopped children learning the basics.

Under the Government’s new plans, children as young as five will have drills to practise sums and exercises, and must master each concept through repetition before moving to the next. Nick Gibb, the schools minister, announced yesterday that training will be provided for 8,000 primary schools – half the country’s total – to switch to the Shanghai ‘mastery’ approach.

‘We are seeing a renaissance in maths teaching in this country, with good ideas from around the world helping to enliven our classrooms,’ he said.

‘The significant expansion of the Asian maths mastery approach can only add to the positive momentum, with thousands more young people having access to specialist teachers and quality textbooks.

‘I am confident that the steps we are taking now will ensure young people are properly prepared for further study and the 21st-century workplace, and that the too often heard phrase “can’t do maths” is consigned to the past.’

He has pledged £41million to provide textbooks and training for two teachers from each participating school, although the scheme will be voluntary.

Currently, classes are often divided into groups based on ability, with each group given work of varying difficulty. Under the new approach most classes will be taught as a whole.

This would mirror techniques used before new teaching philosophies were disseminated by teacher training colleges in the 1970s.

Mr Gibb and his predecessor as schools minister, Liz Truss, arranged exchanges between maths teachers in Shanghai and England, and set up 35 specialist maths teaching centres to encourage the ‘mastery’ approach.

The centres use textbooks such as Inspire Maths and Maths No Problem, modelled on Singapore’s teaching resources.

But some teaching leaders questioned whether the success of Asian countries was purely down to the style of lessons.

James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, a union for middle school leaders, said: ‘Part of the success of maths teaching in countries like China and Singapore comes from the respect in which they hold teachers and the time they give them to plan and prepare. If the Government wanted to import these practices, too, we wouldn’t object.’

In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s latest PISA tests for 15-year-olds, Shanghai came top in maths while the UK came 26th.


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