July 28, 2010
According to FactCheck.org, "the teachers’ PAC gave $1.5 million to 10 PACs, which in turn gave nearly $1 million to True Republican PAC. Joe Cottle, a lobbyist for the teachers’ group, is the treasurer of five of the PACs, and Rudy Davidson, a former education lobbyist and a contributor to A VOTE, was treasurer of four others. Such PAC-to-PAC contributions are legal. Cottle told us they are necessary in cases when a candidate or group doesn’t want to be publicly associated with AEA — which is unpopular in some circles, particularly in a Republican primary — but wants its money, or when the AEA wants to help moderate Republicans."
After the money was laundered through teacher union front groups, it was used to attack Byrne with political ads stating that Byrne supports teaching evolution, something the teacher union also supports. Now that’s hypocrisy.
Hat tip to Jay P. Greene.
July 21, 2010
July 15, 2010
Who spends more on political campaigns?
D) American Bankers Association
E) National Association of Realtors
G) National Education Association
If you said G) National Education Association, give yourself a gold star. In fact, according to Mike Antonucci, author of the recent Education Next article "The Long Reach of the Teacher's Union," the NEA spent $56.3 million in the 2007-08 election cycle, more than all of the above combined!
Between the NEA and AFT (the other major teacher union), the unions spent $71.7 million on political campaigns during the 2007-08 election cycle. The NEA almost always fronts money for politicians and voter initiatives to raise taxes or to fight tax cuts and tax-limitation measures. Naturally, the unions also fight against parental choice and charter schools, both of which limit their influence by decentralizing control over education.
During the 2007-08 election cycle, the teachers unions spent $812,000 in Nevada. Teacher union spending in Nevada amounts to $34.68 per teacher, ranking Nevada 11th highest in the nation.
The NEA also funds many left-wing organizations like America Votes, the Economic Policy Institute, People for the American Way, the Center for American Progress, and Media Matters. The NEA also funds dubious academic research centers like Arizona State's Education Policy Research Unit, which is highly critical of charter schools and conservative/libertarian organizations, and the left-wing Great Lakes Center for Education Research, which pretends it's not an NEA front group even though the bulk of its funds come directly from the NEA.
July 8, 2010
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina forced the closing of the failing, corrupt and bankrupt New Orleans public school district. Instead of reopening under school board control, the school district was instead opened with many schools reconstituted as independent charter schools. This meant no more big, central bureaucracy, no more union contracts and no more teacher tenure. Importantly, the dollars follow the student to whatever traditional public or public charter school he or she wants to attend. This creates much-needed competition between public schools. The results have been promising, and today, 60 percent of New Orleans kids attend charter schools.
July 7, 2010
The respective education plans of Brian Sandoval and Rory Reid have come under scrutiny by the Las Vegas Sun. The Sun notes that both plans claim to be “revenue neutral” by using existing resources more effectively, and that both gubernatorial candidates are advocating more parental choice. In the end, the Sun takes a slightly more critical look at Sandoval’s plan by relying on some flawed reasoning or half-thruths.
1) Sandoval wants to ban social promotion in the third grade. If the student isn’t reading at grade level, he or she is held back for some remedial education focused on reading.
What the Sun finds: “As for Sandoval’s plan for third-graders, the district is already retaining hundreds of students annually. And “the sword cuts both ways,” Superintendent Walt Rulffes said. “There is research that shows retained students are at a much higher risk of dropping out of school. Supplemental services are a better solution.”
Why this is wrong: We have no reason to disbelieve that Nevada’s public schools are retaining hundreds of students, but we have no reason to believe that retention is consistent, concentrated, goal-oriented or focused on test results rather than teacher discretion.
As for the research, Walt Rulffes claims that some research shows that retention can harm students, and indeed some research does make this claim. However, many of these studies suffer from serious methodological flaws. These studies examine the results of students retained by teacher discretion – rather than test results – making it very difficult to have an appropriate control group. Control groups (promoted students) should be as similar as possible to the treatment group (students who are held back), but with teacher discretion, students in the control group range widely in skills, from low achievers to high achievers. Thus, we do not have an apples-to-apples comparison between students who are held back and those who are promoted.
Stronger empirical analysis shows that retention strongly benefits students. Two studies on Florida’s social promotion ban found that retained students improved in both mathematics and reading and that after two years, many had caught up with their peers. Those students who were socially promoted fell further and further behind.
2) Reid wants to tie teacher tenure and recertification to performance. This is an excellent idea. Sandoval wants more alternative teacher certification and to increase certification reciprocity with other states.
What the Sun finds: The Sun takes no qualms with Reid, as the National Council on Teacher Quality even registers Nevada as a state where tenure is “virtually automatic.” The council also recommends tying teacher performance to recertification. Reid seeks both recommendations, which is great policy.
Sandoval wants to eliminate tenure and base teacher bonuses on performance. He also wants to make it easier for professionals to become teachers and expand reciprocity (accepting teacher certifications from other states). The Sun takes issue with Sandoval’s plan by stating, “Nevada already has reciprocity with other states when it comes to licensing, as well as the Alternative Route to Licensure program for individuals who have a bachelor’s degree and want to enter the teaching profession.”
Why this is wrong: The Sun’s take on Sandoval’s proposal is only partially correct. Nevada does indeed have reciprocity and “alternative” teacher licensing, but Nevada’s reciprocity is not granted to teachers of all states, limits teachers on how much experience they can transfer over to qualify on the pay scale, and forbids emergency, alternative, conditional, preliminary, provisional, restrictive and other licenses from other states. In fact, you pretty much need a standard certification that was earned through college coursework at an accredited four-year college or university. Obviously, Sandoval is correct: We can and should expand reciprocity.
As for alternative pathways to teacher licensures? That is a more complicated story. For several months, the Nevada Department of Education’s website on teacher licensing has stated “COMING SOON!” and underneath lists dead links to information on alternative pathways to teacher certification. When I called the Nevada Department of Education to acquire more information on alternative pathways, I was immediately redirected to the Clark County School District.
CCSD’s alternative program is restricted to future science, math and special-education teachers. Completing the program requires a bachelor’s degree with a 2.75 GPA or above, 120-150 hours of professional development, 30 hours of in-classroom time with a veteran teacher, three to nine credit hours of additional graduate work in education, plus the successful completion of the Praxis exams. This is a very limited and time-consuming alternative.
Your other alternative is to re-enroll in your local university and earn a degree in Education, and that isn’t much of an alternative. In fact, Dr. Paul Peterson of Harvard University considers Nevada to be one of the states with no “genuine” alternative route to teacher certification. Although Nevada claims to have alternative routes to teacher certification, Dr. Peterson considers these routes symbolic only.
Florida, which Sandoval wishes to emulate, allows private non-profit organizations to train and certify teachers. The American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) is one of those organizations. The course, which can take six to 10 months to complete, costs just $1,995 and includes course materials and relevant tests. Compare that to the $2,230 (plus books) it would cost to enroll in CCSD’s alternative program or the $4,836 (plus books) it might cost to get a second bachelor’s degree in education (assuming the cost of Fall 2010 in-state tuition at UNLV).
3) Both Sandoval and Reid want to hold teachers and principals accountable. Principals will get more freedom to operate, but they will be given more responsibilities as well.
The Sun finds: “Ralph Cadwallader, executive director of the Nevada Association of School Administrators, said so far no one’s asked the state’s principals if they want the intensive additional responsibilities that come with empowerment models.”
And because Sandoval proposed tapping into bond and capital funds, “Principals say there are too many older campuses in the district that need major remodeling, and those bond dollars must be protected.”
Why this is wrong: Right now principals are not much more than security guards and bureaucratic paper pushers. It sounds crude, but because principals are subjected to so much bureaucracy and central control, that is effectively what they have become. Principals in Nevada are held accountable for filling out paperwork and not much else. Principals should be given more control over how the school operates, its budget, and its teachers and then be held accountable for the results. If principals don’t want the additional responsibilities that come with freedom and accountability, then they probably don’t deserve the $100,000-plus salaries we’ve been paying them.
In regards to the bonds and capital projects, CCSD sat on $1 billion last year. For what reason? We don’t need more schools (even though they did build three more). The reason schools become dilapidated and need frequent remodeling is that schools don’t take good care of their buildings. This isn’t a Nevada problem, it’s a national problem, and it stems from the fact that building maintenance is a separate, central-office fund. They have no incentive to use buildings efficiently or take care of them because they will always have more revenue from tax dollars and bonds. If the funds were broken down by student and then awarded to schools based on student enrollment, you would likely see local schools taking better care of their facilities.
4) Sandoval and Reid want more school choice. Reid proposes public school choice and Sandoval proposes choice for kids in failing public schools and a universal voucher program.
What the Sun finds: “No Child Left Behind already requires districts to offer transportation to alternate schools for students who want to opt out of low-achieving Title I campuses (which receive extra federal funding to serve students from low-income households). But while tens of thousands of Clark County students qualify, only a few hundred take advantage of the option each year.”
Why this is wrong: The Sun always points this out when the issue of school choice is brought up, but this isn't the whole story. It is true that No Child Left Behind requires students in failing schools to be given the option of a new school, but 1) the school must be considered failing two years in a row, 2) the school district gets to choose the alternative schools, 3) many districts have been criticized for inadequately advertising the fact that parents may move their children, 4) there is often a short, two-week window in which to transfer the child and 5) choice between uniform, centrally controlled public schools isn’t much of a choice, and parents might recognize that fact.
Just because Nevada has a very limited, poorly advertised choice program among uniform schools that few students participate in, does not mean we should not have an expanded choice program – especially one in which schools must compete for students.
5) The conclusion
Finally, the Las Vegas Sun paraphrases Dr. David Damore, writing, “But the burden is on Sandoval to prove that school vouchers would really have a significant effect, Damore said. In other states the vouchers have proven to be of little use to parents because the monetary value isn’t enough to cover the full cost of parochial or private school tuition.”
Why this is wrong: The burden is not on Sandoval to prove vouchers work; it has already been proven. Nine out of 10 empirical random assignment studies show that vouchers work (nine out of 11 if you include the latest study on the D.C. voucher program, although there is the caveat that the voucher resulted in a graduation rate that was 21 points higher than the control group). Additionally, 18 out of 19 empirical studies find that public schools improve when faced with voucher competition.
Damore’s conclusion that vouchers are of little use because the monetary value isn’t high enough is only a partial truth. The ACLU made a similar claim this year in testimony to the Nevada Legislature, but the reasoning is bogus. It's like arguing that you shouldn't have food stamps because the food stamps don't cover the cost of all the food you might eat.
Here is the reality. Pretty much every voucher and tax-credit program in America today offers just a sliver of the funds available to traditional public schools. This is by design. When voucher opponents fail to stop the program in its tracks, they work to limit the funds available in the hopes that they can make the program less attractive. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program offered scholarships worth up to $7,500 while the district spent $28,000 per pupil. Incidentally, the average scholarship awarded in D.C. was just $6,600.
Finally, the majority of voucher programs in the U.S. are so overwhelmingly popular – despite the limited funds – that they require lotteries in order to choose which lucky kids will get the money to go to a private school. If parents didn’t find vouchers to be of much use, we wouldn’t need lotteries to sort out who could attend a private school with a voucher and who was stuck in the traditional public school. Additionally, maybe Dr. Damore can explain how vouchers aren't of much use to these parents and students protesting the cancelation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program:
*Other issues like privatization will be addressed at a later date. It is highly questionable whether CCSD has something resembling privatization, especially considering the fact that CCSD employs a legion of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, architects, mechanics, custodians and lawn-care laborers (you wouldn’t exactly call that privatization, would you?) Furthermore, I will note that separate budgets from the general fund do not mean those other funds can not make more efficient use of available resources. Additionally, the funds themselves are merely budgetary gimmicks, as the money can be moved around.
More on Reid's and Sandoval's education plans here.
July 1, 2010
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wisconsin) wants to steal a portion of the Race to the Top (RTTT) funds to "save" up to 300,000 teacher jobs. The RTTT grants were intended to encourage states to adopt meaningful reforms by holding a competition for the money. Incidently, the money constituted just 5 percent of an overall $100 billion stimulus bill for education.
All that money to sustain a broken system of K-12 education isn't enough for Obey, as the teacher union wants to ensure that no teachers are laid off. High-end estimates suggest that as many as 300,000 educators could be laid off. But this represents less than 5 percent of the K-12 work force.
In order to fund the $10 billion "Keep Our Educators Working Act," Obey wants to cut "about $500 million from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund, $200 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund that supports creation of pay-for-performance programs and $100 million from the Charter Schools Program."
How come so many Democrats in Congress are concerned about funding jobs for adults and so few are concerned about actually educating students? I mean, with policies that actually work?
In the Las Vegas Sun, Jon Ralston writes, "But both Rory Reid and [Brian] Sandoval have abandoned any pretense that they want to pay teachers more or infuse any money into one of — if not the — most pathetically funded states in the country."
Because Reid and Sandoval, the two major candidates for governor, want to hold teachers and administrators accountable (and make it easier to get rid of ineffective teachers and administrators) and give students a choice in where they are educated, Ralston believes that this election is really about "conservative vs. very conservative" ideas.
Although Ralston seems to be one of the few people who recognize the similarities between the candidates' plans, he misses the big picture. First, how much you spend matters less than how effectively you spend it. Second, our public education system is broke and it needs a major overhaul. Third, yes, there are such things as bad teachers; the sad thing is we can’t get rid of them. Finally, school choice works.
1) Nevada's education spending ranks anywhere from 26th to 47th (using figures from the U.S. government) depending on which expenditures you include and how you calculate the numbers. But does this matter?
No. Between 1959 and 2007, Nevada increased public education spending by 180 percent per pupil – and yes, that is after adjusting for inflation (but doesn’t include capital costs and debt repayment). Even with this 180 percent more money per pupil, no one in his or her right mind would argue that the quality of education today is better than 50 years ago.
In fact, almost no respected researcher argues that spending more money improves student achievement.
The National Working Group on Funding Student Learning, an assembly of several education researchers including professors from Washington, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Penn State, Stanford and U.C. Berkeley (hardly a bastion of conservative thought) reached a consensus that "the connection between resources and learning has been growing weaker, not stronger,” and that “…the system itself is the problem … State education finance systems were not designed with student learning in mind …”
And much more evidence suggests that there is no correlation between spending more money and improving student achievement.
Don't forget, it is widely recognized that teachers in Nevada are paid quite well relative to other states (ranking anywere from 17th to 22nd highest). Not that paying teachers more helps. According to Dale Ballou and Michael Podgursky, authors of "Teacher Quality and Teacher Pay," increasing the pay of teachers does not attract higher-quality teachers to the profession - school districts simply spent more money on the same pool of teachers.
2) Reid and Sandoval are right: Public education in Nevada is broken. We have dismal math and reading scores, rank fourth-worst in drop-out rate and are last in the nation in graduation rates. Fewer than half of low-income, black and Hispanic children can read at grade level, according to the NAEP fourth-grade reading exam. According to Education Week, fewer than one-third of African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans will graduate on time with a standard high school diploma in the Silver State.
Why are our results so bad? The major reason is that Nevada's public education system is an unaccountable, bureaucratic monopoly that focuses on jobs for adults, not education for students. I’m not alone in this judgment. The School Finance Redesign Project at the University of Washington, Bothel, concluded that public education is “focused on maintaining programs and paying adults, not on searching for the most effective way to educate our children.”
3) Both candidates want to reform teacher evaluations, teacher seniority and teacher tenure. Doing so will help ensure we get bad teachers out of classrooms.
The National Council on Teacher Quality notes that Nevada is a state where earning tenure is “virtually automatic.” Few higher-ed teachers, by contrast, actually receive tenure, and even then it takes five or more years to earn the privilege. Tenure makes it hard to get rid of really bad teachers.
According to the Center for American Progress, a left-of-center think tank (read: NOT CONSERVATIVE), and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, Nevada’s school districts terminated or failed to renew the contracts of just 0.2 percent of “untenured teachers” and 0.3 percent of “tenured teachers” in 2007-08. Overall, Nevada kept 99.4 percent of its teachers that year. Only Arkansas, Delaware and Pennsylvania fired fewer teachers.
If getting rid of bad teachers and implementing teacher evaluations, eliminating seniority privileges and tenure is such a conservative idea, then why would U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan say, “[w]hen inflexible seniority and rigid tenure rules that we designed put adults ahead of children — then we are not only putting kids at risk, we are putting the entire education system at risk.” Yup, Arne Duncan: NOT A CONSERVATIVE.
Furthermore, Whitney Tilson of Democrats for Education Reform (read: NOT A CONSERVATIVE) identifies “three pillars of mediocrity” that must be eliminated: a) Lifetime tenure, b) lockstep pay and c) seniority (instead of merit).
4) School choice isn’t a conservative issue, either. It's an education issue. Partisans have made it into an ideological issue solely because one major source of campaign funding – the teacher unions – hates school choice. More choice for parents and students means less opportunity for unions to control and manipulate education policy and, thus, fewer opportunities to fatten their own pockets.
Howard Fuller, a former Black Panther and current professor at Marquette University (read: NOT A CONSERVATIVE) has stated: "There is a fundamental issue confronting African Americans, and therefore all Americans. Parents without the power to make educational choices lack an indispensable tool for helping their children secure an effective education."
Anthony Colón, a former vice president of La Raza (read: NOT A CONSERVATIVE) has stated: "Vouchers are not a Republican idea. If your community is underperforming with low graduation rates and sits at the bottom of the barrel in math and science, you don't worry about vouchers being a Republican issue. You worry about what works for your community."
Senator James T. Meeks, a Democrat from inner-city Chicago (read: NOT A CONSERVATIVE), not only pushed for a voucher program for low-income children in Chicago, but when the union was angered by his efforts he wrote the union a check and returned its campaign donations.
And don’t forget the crowd that marched in Florida to expand the Step Up for Students program.
Or the diverse crowd that marched on D.C. to protest the Democrats' union-backed and ideologically driven attempt to kill a voucher program that works.
Note, Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein (Read: NOT CONSERVATIVES) have tried to bring back the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Speaking of what works, how about the evidence that vouchers work? Nine out of 10 empirical studies find that students benefit from the use of vouchers to attend private schools. Eighteen out of 19 studies find that public schools improve when faced with voucher competition. In 2009, a U.S. Department of Education study found that students using the D.C. voucher to attend a private school over a three-year period saw an 18-month gain in reading skills, while a 2010 report found that students using the scholarship to attend a private school saw graduation rates that were 21 percentage points higher than the control group.
It is very, very clear that vouchers improve student achievement, graduation rates and public schools. It is also clear that competition between public schools as well as public school choice improve student achievement.
Researcher Carolyn Hoxby of Stanford University found that charter schools in New York improved student achievement in reading and mathematics, especially among low-income children. Importantly, Hoxby's research shows that the charter schools closed the achievement gap significantly. Additionally, Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, found that traditional public schools improved when faced with competition from charter schools.
Even the union-run but autonomous Pilot Schools in Boston outperformed the traditional government monopoly school. Choice and school decentralization work. Period.
If Jon Ralston really does believe we need to spend more money on education, then he is advocating what doesn't work. Ralston is completely wrong in his assessment of Reid vs. Sandoval. Painting empirically proven education policies as ideologically driven dogma is not only incorrect, it is a disservice to the students of Nevada who deserve a much better education. Reid vs. Sandoval on education policy isn’t “conservative vs. very conservative” ... it is “what works vs. what works.”