Thursday, September 01, 2005

Do you have your bullshit detectors on?

I hope so. Because this article from the American Spectator about vouchers is full of it.

For the first time, Republicans are pushing vouchers into the burbs and the American Spectator is so excited that they're practically wetting themselves. But in the midst of an exuberant article on the expansion of the Ohio vouchers statewide are several keys to understanding the ridiculous spin and unexamined assumptions of the conservative case for vouchers.

First, the ridiculous spin:

Universities and think tanks report academic results ranging from no change to improved test scores, both for voucher students and for their public school peers in Milwaukee and Cleveland. "It doesn't make sense to me to call these mixed results," said the Manhattan Institute's Jay Greene. "If study findings range from zero to positive, that's positive." No academic study has found that choice programs harm student performance.

What Greene conveniently fails to mention is that the private schools in the voucher program do not have to accept any student they don't want. Most of them have no special education students, for example. The public schools have no choice. They must, by federal law, accept anybody that shows up at their doors -- no exceptions. With that fact in mind, Green's "positive results" don't look so positive anymore.

Further, most results show no improvement at all. The few that do show improvement in private voucher schools typically show a 1.5% increase in one subject area, no increase in another. Thus, the "mixed results" of which Greene is so dismissive.

The bottom line: So far, voucher schools, despite the right of refusal they have that public schools do not, have showed barely any improvement at all.

Then, there's the unexamined assumptions, which we will now examine:

THOUSANDS OF SUBURBAN OHIOANS will choose their schools this fall, and they have reason to welcome the opportunity. A list of the state's struggling schools belies the myth that only urban schools fail. According to the Ohio Department of Education, 60 of its 88 counties have at least one school in "academic emergency."

What constitutes "academic emergency?" Usually, it's failing to meet standards for any subset of students in any subject at any grade level. The fact taht 28 counties have no failing schools is practically miraculous.

One wants to ask these voucher lovers if the private voucher schools will be held to the same standards? After two years of failing any subset in any subject at any grade level, will the voucher schools be shut down? I doubt it.

And, of course, this is a window ino conservative "strategery." Make the standards for being an academically acceptable school or district almost impossible, then run around like a banshee wailing about how bad the schools are. This is the game plan. Don't try to fix public schools. Try to undermine them and turn the whole enterprise -- and the billions of dollars per year -- over to an unregulated market.

Like how the health care system works? Get ready for that in education if the right wing has its way. Like how cable or energy deregulation has worked out so far? If so, you're gonna love the brave new world of education.

The right wing is impervious to fact. They've been spouting their bull shit so long that they've actually come to believe it. That's the scariest part.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rell v. Spellings

Hartford Courant political columnist Michelle Jacklin defends Republican Gov. Jodi Rell in this morning's edition for bucking the Republican establishment by signing on to the lawsuit against No Child Left Behind.

Although the focus of the lawsuit is funding, in fact the most destructive element of NCLB is its mindless adherence to annual testing. State Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg asked the feds for relief from having to administer tests in grades 3, 5 and 7 because the state already tests children in grades 4, 6, 8 and 10, and has for 20 years.

The request was denied. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said the additional tests are a cornerstone of the law. She accused Connecticut of fearing the results. "Parents want to know where their children stand," she sermonized.

Spellings is living in a fantasyland if she thinks parents - at least those who care - don't already know "where their children stand" from the reams of data generated by the current crop of tests, report cards and teacher conferences.

The lawsuit could have been averted had Spellings allowed Connecticut to test every other year instead of every year. But, according to Spellings, that went against the "bright lines" of NCLB, whatever the hell that means.

Jacklin makes an excellent point. If you don't know how you're kid is doing in school already, with all the reams of data coming out of schools these days -- not to mention the old fashioned method of, well, spending time with your kids -- then a few more tests aren't going to make the difference. Sorry. But they won't.

This lawsuit is silly-- not because Connecticut doesn't have a case. They do. It's silly because the Education Dept. and Spellings could have so easily avoided it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Missing the point

The usually spot-on Christian Science Monitor completely missed the point in an editorial today. They dismissed the Connecticut NCLB lawsuit with this argument:

It's hard to summon up much sympathy for the money complaint. The Government Accountability Office found in 2003 that Congress was providing enough dollars for state testing. Also, NCLB compliance is voluntary.

Yes, opting out means forfeiting federal money for educating disadvantaged children. For some poor states, that's not really a choice. But many states are in better fiscal shape these days. If Connecticut, expecting a budget surplus this year, is convinced its testing method is best, it can stick with it.

What they neglect to mention is that the lawsuit is based on a Republican "Contract With America" law that clearly states that any federal mandate on the states MUST be fully funded. The question is not whether or not Connecticut can afford it or not. The question is whether or not the Department of Education is in violation of the law.

Republicans decry activist judges and insist the law be strictly enforced-- when it's convenient to their ends. Here, it's not.

Any judge strictly interpreting this law would have to side against Spellings and the Department of Education.

The Monitor missed the point.

Education experience means nothing

Last week, a Texas state Rep. retired. It wouldn't be a news item I'd usually post on here except for the fact that the Rep. was a former superintendent who was retiring largely because he was exasperated with the anti-education politics of his own party. From News 8 Austin's Harvey Kronberg:

[Rep.] Griggs [R-Ft. Worth] quickly discovered that real world experience about schools had no place in the debate. He was astonished by the low regard in which the House leadership held public education. And the icing on the cake? He refused to support vouchers.

Griggs, the only person with day to day experience of running a school district, was booted off the Public Education Committee.

Many Republicans are hell bent on an agenda to undermine, and eventually dismantle, public education, in favor of a privatized system. Many principled Republicans know that, as much as they love the free enterprise system, a deregulated, privatized education system would be a disaster.

We're going to see more R's pushed out of the process for speaking their minds and standing up for the well being of kids. Ideology trumps principle in the backwards world of Republican politics these days.

And good guys like Rep. Griggs, who are more principled than ideological, find themselves on the outs.

Candidate DeVos

One of voucher-supporter Dick DeVos's opponents in the Republican primary for Michigan Governor has dropped out of the race. DeVos has funneled millions of his father's Amway fortune to support vouchers, including funding an initiative on vouchers in 2000 which lost 69-31.

From the blog "Red State":

It's all in DeVos' hands now. He can self finance, and has a core following, particular among school choice supporters and some social conservatives. DeVos's wife Betsy, was also the state GOP chair during much of the 90's, and from 2003-2004, so there is an organization base to start with.

IMO, DeVos already has most of the "social vote" wrapped up to begin with, so he needs to (and is) running on the economy. He shouldn't run from his stands on issues(even vouchers, smartly saying that the people had their say on it), but the big issue here is the economy. The recovery has skipped Michigan. This race is certainly winnable, for that reason alone.

It'll be interesting to see if this commentator gets it right and DeVos stays away from vouchers with his campaign message. If he does, though, he certainly won't stay away from it if he wins.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sales v. property taxes

This is becoming an increasingly familiar debate across the country. In Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the proposed change to school funindg would be a reduction of property taxes by 2/3 with a 3 cent (or 75 per cent) increase on sales taxes. Texas had a similar, though less extreme, proposal on the table this year. It failed. Apparently, a dozen or so other states are also considering the tax shift.

The problems are apparent. It would shift the tax burden from upper-middle and upper class taxpayers to lower-middle and lower class ones. And for schools, it would shift the system from a reliable, consistent funding stream to a wildly fluctuating one. From the article:

School officials fear basing funding on sales tax collections, which can fluctuate with the economy. Officials in several districts, including Gwinnett, have seen shortfalls in special sales taxes to build schools. Property taxes, though, are easier to predict and increase annually in fast-growing areas. Other states that rely more on sales taxes, like Alabama, have had problems paying for schools in recent years.

Gwinnett Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks opposes funding education solely with a sales tax. "I feel it is not stable enough and could put in jeopardy the local option sales tax that school systems and counties use to fund capital improvements."

Cherokee County Superintendent Frank Petruzielo recently told his school board he feared the sales tax plan would not provide enough money to keep up with the system's needs. And he warned it would put renewal of the special purpose local option sales tax at risk. Cherokee has already postponed building two schools because sales tax revenues are down.

Officials in other districts, including Decatur, Cherokee and Coweta, have also voiced concern about the proposal.

"It's alarming that sales tax would be used for education," said Coweta board member Smith Pass. "Planning would just be impossible."

It'll be interesting to see how this proposal turns out. It would take a 2/3 majority of House and Senate to pass it, followed by a simple majority vote of the general population in November.

Another unintended consequnce for states that do this is that taxpayers can not deduct sales tax, whereas property taxes can be deducted against federal income tax. One economist predicted Georgie would lose over $300 million to federal taxes under the tax shift.

Doesn't matter to the ideologues though. What are facts compared to ideology anyway, right?

Who needs nuance anyway?

From today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an editorial by David Salisbury of the Center for Educational Freedom (schoolchildren, you have only your chains to lose!) tells us that universal vouchers are the only way to save public education. Save it by killing it. Great strategy.

It's a very typical pro-voucher article: all ideology, no nuance.
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