Tag: Giving parents the power

Watch: Milton Friedman on Parents, Choice and Education Funding

As a titan of economic theory, Milton Friedman more than deserved his Nobel Prize. But perhaps his greatest contribution came not with the Monetarist theory or the concept of permanent…

As a titan of economic theory, Milton Friedman more than deserved his Nobel Prize. But perhaps his greatest contribution came not with the Monetarist theory or the concept of permanent income hypothesis, but in developing the concept of school vouchers — the first step in expanding parent and student choice over education. Although vouchers remain controversial, small-scale experiments, his theories on school choice have helped education reformers offer an alternative path to traditional public education.

This excerpt from a debate with several education and economic theorists — including longtime American Federation of Teachers Albert Shanker —  from Friedman’s show, Free to Choose, offers a sense of the understanding Friedman had about the power of choice that most educators still lack today. Whether or not one agrees with him, one has to admire the intellect and the apparent care he had for the lives of children and families.

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A Considerable Legacy: Steve Barr

One man’s vision others couldn’t see or embrace becomes real.

Leading a parent revolution.

Leading a parent revolution.

Back in 2003, when I was a reporter in Los Angeles, I had begun work on a piece about Steve Barr, whose Green Dot Charter Schools was simply a handful of charter schools in Tinseltown’s gritty neighborhoods. What was fascinating at the time — which my editors could never fully grasp at that time — was the revolutionary (for L.A.) ideas he espoused: That city’s Latino students, often cast off as future gang-bangers, potential Chicano revolutionaries or likely cleaning staff, could actually achieve academic excellence, graduate from college and become contributors to the city’s — and nation’s — socioeconomic fabric; and that L.A. Unified and its sister school districts owed their taxpayers far better than substandard teaching and curricula.

These days, it seems difficult to realize how dispirited most were about the possibilities of achieving a high quality education in L.A. schools. The gamesmanship of maintaining a residence in Beverly Hills to attend the schools, as shown in the film Slums of Beverly Hills was no movie fantasy. For the poorest parents, many of whom were (and still are) undocumented immigrants, the struggle to achieve the American dream on behalf of their children and themselves made such activity the last thing on their minds. The simple idea that every neighborhood should have a great school, a concept that had already taken hold in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New York through the charter school movement and school district overhauls, was not even considered in L.A. Unified, a district which managed to squash Jaime Escalantes and Richard Riordans alike. Especially odd given that California was the second state to legislate charters into existence.

Barr wanted to make this happen by gathering parents and focusing them on the basics. Back then, he had a few believers, notably boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya (the namesake of one of Green Dot’s schools) and the parents left behind by the region’s educational establishment. This was two years before Barr and his crew began staring down L.A. Unified, first in an unsuccessful attempt to convert Thomas Jefferson High into a charter school — and four years before he and parents at Locke High finally wrested control of that school from the district’s bureaucracy. And certainly long before national attention noted that in the City of Angels, another model for education reform — one both eschewed the inside-the-Beltway game and evolved independent of the Teach For America school — was coming to fore.

Now, with L.A. Unified talking and (mostly) walking school choice and accountability, one can now fully get what Steve Barr was doing. And as he leaves the board of the charter school organization he founded, it will be interesting to see what he does next.

By the way: More on L.A. Unified will appear in National Review Online this week.

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The Daily Read

Commentary and thinking inside all around the dropout nation (updates and new stories marked with an *): Homeschooling: Not just for Fundamentalist Christians anymore: Although the number of black families…

By homeschooling his children, Paul Cotton is taking control of the educational -- and ultimately, social and economic -- destinies of his children, making their lives better. Not every parent can -- or even should -- homeschool. But every parent, including black parents, can be more pushy and active in charting the educational course of the lives of their children. Do it. (Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.)

By homeschooling his children, Paul Cotton is taking control of the educational -- and ultimately, social and economic -- destinies of his children, making their lives better. Not every parent can -- or even should -- homeschool. But every parent, including black parents, can be more pushy and active in charting the educational course of the lives of their children. Do it. (Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.)

Commentary and thinking inside all around the dropout nation (updates and new stories marked with an *):

  • Homeschooling: Not just for Fundamentalist Christians anymore: Although the number of black families engaged in homeschooling is still a smidgen of the overall population — a mere 220,000, according to the National Home Education Research Institute (and more likely, a little less than that, if one looks at the 1999 National Center for Educational Statistics data), it has become a choice for middle-class families not too cool with how public schools treat racial minorities, according to the Houston Chronicle. If so, this marks another sea-change in how groups that have been traditionally allied with traditional public education are viewing the status quo.
  • Parental engagement? We need more of it!: And they need to be pushy about it to boot, declares Lord Adonis, Britain’s education minister. If the nation is going to get rid of the most substandard of its public schools, it will be up to parents to eschew those places and head toward with better academic performance. For months, the rival of –and likely successor to — Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative Party leader David Cameron, has been arguing that line. Now, imagine U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings saying the same thing. Can’t. Proves my point: It will take more federal and state school officials embracing more active parental involvement before parents will dare get themselves entangled in battles with teachers and administrators over the direction of the schools to which parents send their kids.
  • Speaking of substandard: The Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston may join Dallas Independent schools in watering down standards; this time, the school board appointed a committee looking into limiting the amount of homework given to students, reports the Houston Chronicle. Why? The poor children are being stressed out. Actually, it’s the suburban parents of the district who are stressed out by actually having to be parents. Again, like the battle against standardized testing, which has suburbanites allied with teachers’ unions and suburban school districts against urban districts and school reformers on both the left and right, this is another lifestyle argument that has little to do with actually dealing with the reality that suburban school districts are often doing no better in elevating the academic performance of the children in their care than urban counterparts.
  • Attempting to keep them in school: Fifty percent of students in Muskegon High School in Michigan drop out, thus making the school a major dropout factory outside of Detroit. So the school district is looking at ways to stem the tide, according to the Muskegon Chronicle. One move: Hire specialists such as Chandar Ricks to focus on getting kids back in school and keeping the at-risk students inside. This is an approach that has been taken by districts such as Indianapolis Public Schools earlier in the decade, with smattering of success. And although it is a good move on the district’s part to do this, it must also look at the long-term curriculum and instruction issues that are among the underlying causes of students leaving before they graduate high school.
  • A new relationship with teachers’ unions: Ever since the Progressive Policy Institute’s school reform efforts in the 1990s (then led by Eduwonk’s Andy Rotherham), centrist Democrats and a new generation of black leaders in the party have viewed the arguments made by teachers unions more skeptically than the rest of the base. Now that big-city mayors such as Chicago’s Richard Daley and Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., are taking control of traditional public school districts, the unions are getting even less sympathy. This, along with the development of groups such as Joe Williams’ Democrats For Education Reform and primary victories by its supporters — including Denver’s Jared Polis — is making things less comfortable for the AFT and NEA. Mickey Kaus finally realizes this while in Denver during coverage of a Democratic convention shindig. (Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs).
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The Read: Thinks tanks go wild edition

NEWS AND COMMENTARY FROM AROUND the dropout nation. Updates are marked with an *: Widespread academic failure — on an international scale: Last week, during a debate with immigration skeptic…

The real question isn't about the effectiveness of vouchers, but about assuring every child gets a chance at a high-quality education that gets each one on the path to success in their life. (Photo courtesy of Viewimages)

The real question isn't about the effectiveness of vouchers, but about assuring every child gets a chance at a high-quality education that gets each one on the path to success in their life. (Photo courtesy of Viewimages)

NEWS AND COMMENTARY FROM AROUND the dropout nation. Updates are marked with an *:

  • Widespread academic failure — on an international scale: Last week, during a debate with immigration skeptic Norman Matloff, he disputed my citing of PISA and TIMMS international testing results, which showed American students scoring in the 95th percentile — the nation’s best students — trailing their peers in ten countries. He continued arguing that the academic underperformance was merely limited to an “underclass” of poor students, even though these are unlikely to be the poorest students and more likely to be the product of middle-class households. Now, at Edspresso, Vicki Murray and Evelyn Stacey of the Pacific Research Institute offer more evidence that academic failure and underperformance extends beyond the poorest Americans. Half the students at one in every ten middle-class California schools, for example, are failing the state’s CST standards test.
  • The source of academic struggle: EducationNews.org’s Michael Shaughnessy interviews George Leef, who had written a piece earlier this week on the woeful math instruction training at America’s education schools. Leef offers another reason why many teachers have become inept at teaching math: “Many students grow up with teachers who have been trained to think that feeling good is more important than getting correct answers.” And the administrators and the parents sometimes engage in the same garbage. Why does anyone think social promotion — moving kids from grade to grade despite failing school — continues to exist despite evidence that it is an abject failure?
  • The value of vouchers: Edsize’s Leo Casey accuses voucher supporters of cherry-picking studies that support their positions. Jay Greene responds by listing a series of different studies proving the value of the school choice plans. Greg Forster joins the fray by offering the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation’s latest report on the Ohio voucher program. Andrew Coulson also joins in on the fun. All of this began with Greene demanding that Casey and his allies in the Broader, Bolder Coalition submit their concept for school reform to major study.
  • At least the argument isn’t pointless like the debate over whether it is proper for the latest book released by Fordham to have “Paternalism” in the title. Or the debate among priests over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
  • And the usefulness of national standards: Neil McCluskey of Cato calls out Fordham and Mike Petrilli for not responding to McCluskey’s question (and that of Eduwonk’s Andy Rotherham) as to whether the political forces at the state level that often collide over development of curriculum standards won’t rear themselves during the development of national standards. Petrilli responds. All I’ll say is if you think the battle between advocates of phonics and supporters of whole language was rather nasty, wait until USDOE tries to develop standards for history. The NAACP, La Raza and the Knights of Columbus will get into this, along with the NEA, the AFT and the other usual suspects.
  • Here is the REL WestEd study of dropouts and the revolving door at San Bernardino schools mentioned on Dropout Nation last week. Read. Think. Take action.
  • But will they keep them there: Schools in Texas are trying to get dropouts to re-enroll in school. But they have until the end of September to make it happen. Or else they won’t get any money for them. Yes, it is always about the money.
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