Charting a New World of Educational Freedom

School choice has entered a new world. Because Americans are increasingly vocal on providing parents the ability to choose their children’s schools, states are adopting broad-based school choice initiatives. Those successes can be attributed to various individuals, groups, and campaigns nationwide. However, it is school choice’s “Christopher Columbus” who deserves recognition for starting this movement more than 50 years ago.

In 1955, Milton Friedman introduced school choice as a way to improve the quality of American education. His idea was simple: Give parents access to their children’s public education funding, rather than require they attend the government (public) schools nearest their homes.

“Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services,” Friedman wrote in 1955. “Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an ‘approved’ institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions of various kinds. The role of the government would be limited to assuring that the schools met certain minimum standards such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants to assure that they maintain minimum sanitary standards.”

Because of vested interests in the education arena, Friedman’s suggestions were ignored. And, as a result, the cost of public education doubled while its academic performance stayed the same. As Friedman noted, that shouldn’t come as a surprise because that’s exactly what monopolies do: They offer a product of similar, if not worse, value at a higher price than normally would be allowed if they had to compete in the free market.

But those days are over. Many states are broke, preventing them from dropping more money out of airplanes over public schools. And many parents are fed up, wondering why their kids are underperforming or unmotivated in K-12 schools and unprepared for their college courses and future careers.

Because of that sentiment and cash crunch, last year a historic number of choice programs were enacted across the country. Substantiating that momentum, the Wall Street Journal called 2011 “The Year of School Choice.”

Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia provide some type of private school choice for their residents. And more states continue to come online. Already in 2012, Virginia has joined the school choice “family;” New Hampshire’s legislature has passed a school choice measure; Florida and Arizona expanded their programs; and Louisiana dramatically increased the scope of its school voucher program. Oregon is behind the curve, with no significant private school choice programs―yet. But widening charter school and online school options hopefully will soon lead to more school choice for all Oregon children.

Of course, no state has followed Friedman’s vision entirely―i.e., school choice for all families. Indiana and Louisiana are close, in that both make more than half their states’ student populations eligible.

But Friedman’s vision was not for school choice to be just another government program. He wanted to see school choice fundamentally change the way public education operates from its current structure that supports schools to a better model that empowers parents. Both rich families and poor ones can receive government funding when their kids use public schools. And both rich and poor should be able to receive government funding for their kids to use vouchers.

It took America more than 50 years to reach today’s environment in which parent empowerment in education is celebrated, not ridiculed. Moving forward, the late Milton Friedman’s voucher idea is more important than ever, for it is the tool advocates can use to navigate the new world for school choice they helped discover.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, which is participating in July 31st Friedman Legacy for Freedom Day, an international event celebrating the late Milton Friedman on what would have been his 100th birthday.

Oregon’s Status Quo Lobby: How Teachers Unions Retard Real Education Reform

Oregon’s public education system is beset with problems. Too many students drop out, and too many of those who stay aren’t achieving to the levels we expect. The national publication Education Week ranked Oregon’s public education system 43rd in the nation in 2011, and our K-12 achievement level only earned a D grade last year.[1]

Some people argue that more money will solve our schools’ problems. But with total expenditures now over $11,000 per public school student, according to the nation’s largest teachers union,[2] it’s hard to believe that $330,000 for each 30-student classroom is not enough money to get education right.

What happens in our public school system is driven more by politics than anything else, and for many years the most powerful political force driving education decisions in our state is what we call the Status Quo Lobby. While many children continue to fall through the cracks, this Lobby fights for more of the same: more powerless parents, more powerless principals, more hamstrung teachers, more taxpayer spending, and more control over the decisions parents should make for their own children.

Who is the Status Quo Lobby? Primarily, it’s the Oregon Education Association, the teachers union that represents most public school teachers in this state. The OEA is primarily concerned with the paychecks of its members, not with the achievement and success of Oregon schoolchildren. Unfortunately, what’s best for OEA members’ pocketbooks isn’t necessarily best for our kids’ education. Make no mistake, huge financial interests rest on the bulk of the laws for which they lobby. And, the Status Quo Lobby is often the biggest contributor to political campaigns in Oregon.

In a word, the Status Quo Lobby fights for more centralization, which Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman said is responsible for much of the decline in the public school system over the decades.

In 2006, the year he died, Friedman noted, “When I went to elementary school, a long, long time ago in the 1920s, there were about 150,000 school districts in the United States. Today there are fewer than 15,000, and the population is more than twice as large.”[3] Friedman blamed what he called “your friends in the teachers union” for this centralization and corresponding decline in educational results for America’s children.

The Status Quo Lobby has long claimed to lobby in the name of helping kids. But it itself typically has the most to win or lose―in terms of money and power―when it shows up to a hearing for proposed laws. While children’s futures are at stake, the choices legislators make today often have a delayed impact for kids. The Status Quo Lobby, however, often sees a quick impact to its bottom line.

Because far too many people seem to think these lobbyists are just in it “for the kids,” Cascade Policy Institute has launched a new website called “Enough with the Status Quo Lobby” at www.StatusQuoLobby.com. At this website, Oregonians can discover just who the Status Quo Lobby is, which policies it advocates, and what kinds of results are seen from these policies.

At this site Oregonians also can see just how the Status Quo Lobby stands in the way of real education reform, often labeled “school choice.” Milton Friedman first described school choice in 1955 as letting parents choose which schools their children attend―public, private, religious, or home school―with the money following the student.[4] Most Oregon parents want such choices,[5] and they shouldn’t let the Status Quo Lobby stand in their way.

To help educate voters on how to keep their legislators accountable for their voting on educational policies, the StatusQuoLobby.com website includes a report card grading every legislator during the 2011 legislative session on their votes either supporting the Status Quo Lobby, or supporting school choice for Oregon’s children.

Oregonians also will be able to see how much money the Status Quo Lobby has contributed to each legislator’s campaigns, along with videos of them speaking on policies affecting the education of Oregon’s children.

We urge all Oregonians interested in learning about who is standing in the way of real educational reform in our state to go to www.StatusQuoLobby.com and see for yourselves.

 

Endnotes

[1] Report Awards State Grades for Education Performance, Policy…, Education Week, January 11, 2011

2 National Education Association report Table F-2 (pg 39)

3 Teachers Unions and Public Schools: Who Needs ‘Em?, latimes.com, Bob Sipchen, July 3, 2006

4 The Role of Government in Education, Milton Friedman, Economics and the Public Interest, 1955

5 Nearly Nine of Ten Oregonians Would Opt Out of Regular Public Schools, Cascade Policy Institute, Steve Buckstein, January 5, 2009

After a Century of Friedman, Parents Should Be “Free to Choose”

By Erin Mae Shiffler

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman would have turned 100 years old on July 31. This will be an opportunity to remember his accomplishments and to celebrate his legacy. Dr. Friedman was thoroughly invested in the cause of educating children by fixing our current school system. He once said, “The only solution is the same solution as we found everywhere else―which is competition. The essence of an effective television industry, an effective telephone industry, an effective computer industry, or an effective mail delivery industry―you name it―is competition. That’s what we need to get in schools.”

Friedman promoted competition among teachers themselves, as well as among schools. By allowing competition, successful and innovative teachers would earn more for their efforts. Schools would obtain more students, and therefore additional revenue, to educate those students, if they were good schools. Poorly performing schools would lose students until they found ways to improve.

Unfortunately, we have not seen this kind of system in Oregon because teachers unions and lobbyists protect teachers at the expense of what is good for students. As parents who want a better education for our kids, we need to promote Dr. Friedman’s ideas in order to push against the current stagnant system. To learn how teachers unions stand in the way of real education reform, and to see if your local representatives are holding back or trying to improve your choices and your child’s education, visit www.statusquolobby.com.

Erin Mae Shiffler is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy think tank.

Rescue Children from Our Burning Public School System

Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker is a larger-than-life figure fighting for what he calls the “Most Important Civil Right of All – equal access to high quality education.”

Last week Booker gave an inspiring keynote address before the American Federation for Children, a national school choice organization. He said his strong support for school choice stems from the options he was afforded in his own life-  options denied to millions of children because their ZIP codes determine what schools they must attend.

A Black Democrat himself, Booker made it clear he is disappointed that “his president” hasn’t yet joined him in supporting school choice for every family, not just for those he calls “the connected and elected.”

Not surprisingly, the left was upset that Booker would speak before a group partially funded by what it considers right-wingers. Booker slapped those concerns aside in his talk, making it clear that to him school choice is not a left/right or partisan issue, but one of equal rights.

But, the heat Mayor Booker took from the left last week pales in comparison with the heat he took last month. Ignoring his security team’s advice, he ran into a burning building to save his neighbor trapped in the flames. He rescued the woman and then went to the hospital with second-degree burns and smoke inhalation.

Cory Booker is a genuine hero. Not just to the woman he saved from that fire, but to the millions of poor and minority children trapped in a life of disappointment and failed dreams by what, in effect, is our burning public school system. Booker is trying to rescue those children, too. Please join him by making full school choice a reality in your community.


Addendum: On May 8th Cory Booker tweeted about another education hero I wrote about recently. Booker said to Salman Khan: You’re an American Hero – Watch the video.

Steve Buckstein is interviewed about his latest commentary “Do You Feel Exploited by Apple?”

In his latest commentary, Do You Feel Exploited by Apple?, Steve Buckstein asked a group of students if they felt exploited by Apple after buying Apple products. They didn’t because they chose to make those purchases.

See how Steve relates this choice to a need for competition in public education.

Seattle School Board Considers Expelling Bright New Teachers from the City of Goodwill

By Liv Finne

Third grader Enrique (not his real name) eagerly describes his Teach for America teacher like this: “He let us borrow bigger books.” “I am learning English now.” “My goal is to be at fourth grade in reading by the end of the year.”

Teach for America (TFA) is a nationally recognized training program that provides highly motivated, talented teachers to schools nationwide, especially in low-income inner city communities. TFA graduates come from highly respected colleges, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Washington. Studies show their students typically make more progress in reading and math compared to students of other teachers, including veteran and certified instructors.

TFA educators set high goals for their students: a clear focus on math and science, 40 minutes of reading every night, and a desire to graduate and go on to college. In the communities where its teachers work, TFA is helping children to raise their sights and reach for the stars.

Seattle-Tacoma is the only metro area in the Pacific Northwest in which Teach for America operates. Despite TFA’s nationwide track record, however, not everyone in Seattle is happy. The Washington State teachers’ union sees opening schools to TFA graduates as a threat to their power within the system. Union executives did not want TFA in Seattle in the first place, and now they are doing everything they can to drive these young instructors out of local classrooms.

In late March, the Seattle School Board members took up the issue whether to accede to the union and bar TFA teachers from city schools, or to allow them to continue educating Seattle children.

How did this happen? How did Seattle get to a point where the school board considers ousting some of the best-qualified teachers in the country where they are most needed? In October 2010, the board invited TFA to provide trained instructors for some of the most-needy schools. In response, six young TFA teachers have been working in Seattle classrooms for nearly a year, impressing administrators and parents with their energy, ability, and professionalism. Though demanding, they are popular with students and set high expectations for what they believe kids can achieve.

Then the School Board changed. In the 2011 election the teachers’ union backed two candidates, giving thousands of dollars to their political campaigns. These candidates won; and in what some see as payback, they are now spearheading the union drive to oust TFA from Seattle schools.

There’s more. The Seattle Times reported that union-inspired activists are harassing TFA teachers at Aki Kurose Middle School and South Shore K-8, hoping to get them to quit. Their personal information has been posted online. One teacher’s home was burglarized.

TFA may be stirring up the union in Seattle, but the program is considered routine in other cities. Since 1990, nearly 33,000 TFA-trained instructors have taught more than three million students. Today, 9,000 of them educate more than 600,000 students in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

 

The program is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Ironically, the Seattle-based charity eventually might find it can fund TFA educators in Philadelphia or Boston, but not at John Hay Elementary up the street from their headquarters. Over 3,000 University of Washington graduates apply to TFA each year. Why can’t these UW grads find a welcome at schools in their own city?

On March 21, the Seattle School Board voted 4-3 in a packed public hearing to keep the school district’s partnership with Teach for America for now. According to The Seattle Times, the board member considered the “swing vote” said she did not want to limit a program which some principals wanted, noting that participation is their choice.

In the end, the Seattle School Board was right to allow principals to choose if they want to hire TFA teachers. Schools exist to teach students, not to benefit a union. Children should be free to learn from high-achieving, motivated, effective teachers; and principals should be able to hire the best teachers available. Banning Teach for America from a school district won’t harm the adults involved―TFA teachers would just move to schools in other cities. The real harm from the reactionary and mean-spirited campaign in Seattle falls on kids like Enrique, all because some grownups think protecting their privileged status is more important than helping children learn.


Liv Finne is Director of Washington Policy Center’s Center for Education and serves on the Education Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council. She holds a law degree from Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College. Liv is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

What does Oregon’s new open enrollment law mean for your child?

WHAT THE LAW DOES

The new statewide open enrollment law will take effect in the 2012–2013 school year. The new law allows Oregon parents to enroll their kids in any Oregon public school district, as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. No longer will the student’s resident school district be able to block a student’s transfer to another district. Families who live inside a district that decides to accept transfers will get first priority to transfer their children to other in-district schools. Siblings of students who are considered residents of the district will get second priority.

HOW CAN YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS NEW LAW?

Districts will announce how many transfers they will accept by March 1. By April 1 parents must request a transfer from the district they would like their child to attend for the 2012-2013 school year. Districts must notify parents if their transfer requests are accepted by May 1.

HOW LONG WILL MY CHILD BE ABLE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPEN ENROLLMENT?

The open enrollment law is set to expire in the summer of 2017, except for children who are already taking advantage of the law. Once a child is accepted into another district under this law, he or she will be considered a resident of that district until he or she graduates, enrolls in another district, or becomes ineligible because of age or expulsion. Parents should note that after one year of using the program, the receiving district can transfer students to another school within that district, provided that it is in line with district policy. (Districts cannot single out certain students for transfer, nor can they give preference to new out-of-district transfers.)

WHAT IF THE SCHOOL LIMITS HOW MANY TRANSFERS IT WILL ACCEPT?

Similar to current public charter school enrollment rules, the school will not be allowed to discriminate among transfers. If not enough slots are available for all students requesting transfers, the district will hold a lottery.

WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORTATION?

Parents are responsible for getting their child to an existing bus line within the district the child transfers to. Districts are allowed to provide transportation scholarships for low-income families or special bus lines, if they desire. For more information, contact the district into which you want to transfer your child.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?

To learn more, you can contact the district you would like your child to attend, or read the bill that created open enrollment at http://gov.oregonlive.com/bill/2011/HB3681/.

Todd Hosts the Bill Post Radio show

Check out the audio of Todd filling in as host for the Bill Post Radio show (2/7/2011).


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Todd and Christina talk education

 


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Todd talks to Gus Gates of the Surfrider Foundation about the plastic bag ban

 


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Todd talks with John Audley from the Renewable Northwest Project and Paul Bachman from The Beacon Hill Institute on renewable mandates in Oregon

 


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Todd talks with John Audley from Renewable Northwest Project and Paul Chesser from the American Tradition Institute on renewable mandates in the US
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