Thursday, January 26, 2017

School Choices

Education is one of my intense interests. That’s why we homeschooled for a decade. I’ve written a whole education collection of posts, and have added more (quite a few this past year).

·         Education Collection (July 24, 2013
·         Education Ruse (September 25, 2013
·         A Parent’s Job (May 16, 2016
·         Leeper Day (June 9, 2016)
·         Separating School from State (October 3, 2016
At last weekend’s tea party meeting one of the speakers talked about school choice. And I’d been thinking I’d write about that this week. As I was gathering info, I kept coming across—unbidden—stuff about school choice. Sometime on Tuesday it became clear: this is School Choice Week. 

Here in Texas that meant a gathering at the state capitol on Tuesday, with the governor and lieutenant governor committing their support to school choice during this legislative session.

Nationally, Senator Ted Cruz offered his support for school choice. In a statement he said,    

The facts are unequivocal—school choice improves students' test scores, keeps them in school longer, saves taxpayer dollars, provides a safer learning environment, and increases competition and quality in traditional public schools. School choice truly is the civil rights issue of the 21st century—it's opening doors for children to pursue their talents and ambitions and it’s providing some of our poorest students a ticket to a better life and more promising future.
If that is true, the question should be, then why isn’t everyone on board with school choice?
Also this week, Prager University launched this new video on school choice:


PragerU has launched a new initiative called where you can sign a petition of support, as a parent, teacher, or other supporter, and donate if you choose to.

There’s also an older PragerU video entitled “Teachers Unions vs. Students,” which provides some important background.

Now for some specific information, and then some Spherical Model perspective.

Colleen Dippel, from Families Empowered ( ), was the other speaker at our local tea party meeting last Saturday, which got me thinking about education this week. They are not lobbyists, or a think tank; they are trying to take action toward better education. I gather one thing they do is help parents find a public school, a charter, a private school, or some other option in their area that might meet the child’s need.

Dippel told us there are about 5.2 million K-12 students in Texas. That means 10% of kids in the US are going to school in Texas.

More fun facts: there are 130,000 students on wait lists for charter schools—which are proliferating in Texas, but can’t meet the need. Meanwhile there are 100,000 empty seats in private schools. She didn’t say how you could seat some of those students in those empty seats; vouchers would cover only a portion of private school tuition. But it’s interesting that there’s a demand and supply that aren’t getting together.

Also, there are 900,000 (17% of that 5.2 million) attending 1,032 failing schools in Texas. That means the school didn’t meet the minimal yearly progress (a pretty low bar) for three years in a row.
It seems obvious that giving parents the option to get their kids the heck out of those failing schools ought to be a given. But it isn’t.

Every district is different. Here’s some info about ours—in a fairly well-off, conservative suburban area, where we have nevertheless fought the pro-government-control of our school board.

·         Student enrollment has grown 30%, with a population explosion.
·         Teacher ranks have grown 50%, which is well above that population growth.
·         Non-teaching staff has grown 102%.
Non-teaching staff can include bus drivers and kitchen and custodial help, which is actually lower cost per hire than for teachers. But that doesn’t account for more than triple the growth of the students. It means money isn’t getting to the classroom.

All of us know the difference between having our child in a class with a good teacher and a not-so-good teacher. Even in a failing school, your child’s teacher is the most important factor beyond what the parent does with the child at home. When you have several administrators looking over the shoulder of every teacher, that’s not actually helping the teacher. Often it’s hindering the teacher—creating more paperwork, worrying about testing and other issues that the bureaucrats worry about, but that have no positive benefit for students in the classroom.

We talked about what choice means. It can mean freedom to attend the public school of choice, instead of the one assigned because of your address. It can mean winning the lottery for a position in a charter school. It can mean using a voucher to attend a private school. It can mean homeschooling (probably without a voucher or any benefit, but at least not stopped by government).

And then there’s the Education Savings Account option, which were pushing for in Texas this year. That means, like with a health savings account, the money follows the child, but the parents can use it as they see fit for that child—in any combination of educational options, curated by the parent for their child, including online options that are growing. Funds can be carried year to year, and even saved toward college for that child. It’s a way of inputting market into the educational world.

There’s a dirty little secret about these choices. After all the money the state collects and puts toward education, it does not fund—has no intention of funding—those who choose an option other than public schools.

Public schools count on a certain number of students opting out—at their own expense. If all of those private schoolers and homeschoolers opted to attend those public schools, there isn’t anything close to the funding to educate those additional students.

That’s why there’s so much push back against ESA’s, vouchers, and other choice options.
What is interesting in this School Choice Week discussion is that it’s considered an odd, new idea to make choices for our children’s education.

If the parents aren’t the main, expected decision-makers for their child’s education, then we are living in tyranny. Public schools have been a tyranny.

We should have expected this outcome. Every time government steps beyond its proper role—protecting life, liberty, and property—then it will cause negative consequences, usually exactly opposite of the stated purpose.

This is very obvious at the national level; I went through my entire public school education before the creation of the Department of Education, during the Carter administration. Education costs have gone up astronomically since then, while outcomes have gone down or flat lined.

At the state level, the more the state government tries to control, the worse the outcomes. The more the parent controls, the better. If you’re going to have a classroom, the person in control needs to be a good teacher, supported by parents, plus a minimum number of administrators who smooth the way for that teacher, as well as hold him/her accountable.

What does living in tyranny feel like? Having some distant, arbitrary dictator force us into living in a way that we would not choose for ourselves and our families.

This is America. When tyranny happens here, we have to stand up and say, “No! Not here. You don’t control my life.”

The fact that we have to discuss school choice, because it has for so long been taken from us, means we’ve allowed tyranny.

If we want to educate every child, we need to wrench control back from government, and do it right, with parents in a free market.

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