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School Choice: Time to Move Forward

March 9, 2012 | Filed Under Budget, California, Democrats/Leftists, Economy/Finances, Ethics, Larry Sand, Liberals, Public Employees Unions, Taxes, Teachers Unions | Comments Off

-By Larry Sand

As evidence mounts that the government/union education monopoly is failing our children, 2012 should see ramped up efforts to advance school choice.

Last week, Education Week published “What Research Says About School Choice,” in which nine scholars analyze the results of various studies concerning “school choice” – the quaint notion that parents should be able to choose where to send their kids to school. The report boasts no ecstatic claims, nothing about lions and lambs, no Hallelujah moments – just a sober look at the 20 year-old movement to end mandatory zip code school assignments. Some of the findings:

Among voucher programs, random-assignment studies generally find modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both. Achievement gains are typically small in each year, but cumulative over time. Graduation rates have been studied less often, but the available evidence indicates a substantial positive impact.

Among voucher programs, these studies consistently find that vouchers are associated with improved test scores in the affected public schools. The size of the effect in these studies varies from modest to large. No study has found a negative impact.

A third area of study has been the fiscal impact of school choice. Even under conservative assumptions about such questions as state and local budget sensitivity to enrollment changes, the net impact of school choice on public finances is usually positive and has never been found to be negative.

Also last week, the California Charter School Association released its second annual “Portrait of the Movement: How Charters are Transforming California Education.” Not a sales pitch or compilation of cherry-picked data data, the CCSA report is an honest look at California’s 900 plus charter schools which educate about 400,000 students. A few of its many findings:

Charters that serve low-income students exceeded their prediction at high rates relative to the traditional system; students at charters serving low-income populations are five times more likely than their non-charter counterparts to be served by a school in the top 5th percentile.
Charter schools are more likely than non-charters to have both above average academic performance and above average growth. They are less likely than non-charters to perform below both state averages of status and growth.
A small number of low-performing charters were closed after the 2010-11 school year.

Earlier this month, the results of a study about school choice and its effects on crime in North Carolina, conducted by David J. Deming, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, were released. This study examined neither vouchers nor charter schools, but rather a district-wide open enrollment policy whereby any student could apply to any school within the district. If a popular school had more enrollees than seats, a lottery was held. The rather stunning findings:

In general, high-risk students commit about 50 percent less crime as a result of winning a school choice lottery. Among male high school students at high risk of criminal activity, winning admission to a first-choice school reduced felony arrests from 77 to 43 per 100 students over the study period (2002-2009). The attendant social cost of crimes committed decreased by more than 35 percent. Among high-risk middle school students, admittance by lottery to a preferred school reduced the average social cost of crimes committed by 63 percent (due chiefly to a reduction in violent crime), and reduced the total expected sentence of crimes committed by 31 months (64 percent).

The study finds that the overall reductions in criminal activity are concentrated among the top 20 percent of high-risk students, who are disproportionately African American, eligible for free lunch, with more days of absence and suspensions than the average student.

Hence, the ability to choose the school that a child attends not only increases chances of a better education, but also greatly decreases the likelihood that the youth will become a criminal. And not only doesn’t it cost anything, lower crime rates have been shown to be a boon to local economies.
Another kind of school choice was recently attempted by parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern California. Tired of low test scores, some parents organized and got more than 50 percent of the parents at the school to sign a “Parent Trigger” petition, which would give them the right to choose a different type of school governance. Their choices included firing the principal, removing some of the faculty, shutting the school down or turning it in to a charter school. Linda Serrato, Deputy Communication Director of Parent Revolution, explains that this particular petition laid out two options: “…negotiate with the parents to give them the autonomy they need to turn around their school, or they will use the Parent Trigger to take their school away from the district and convert it into a community charter school, run by local parents and educators.”
However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the California Teachers Association, a union that will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and thus its political power, sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (“Union speak” alert: “Representatives” and “information” really mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes and feeding them lies about the petition that they just signed.)
The unionistas’ door-to-door rescission campaign managed to scare enough signers into revoking their signatures, thus nullifying the proposed action. CTA pulled the same stunt in Compton, the first time parents rose up and “pulled the Trigger.” But after a legal challenge, in which the parents were successfully represented pro bono by the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, the Trigger went forward, and produced the opening of a new charter school. Apparently, Kirkland and Ellis are ready for a second go-round and will represent the parents in Adelanto.
School choice is an idea whose time is long overdue. Scholars know it. Charter school attendees know it. Crime free youths in North Carolina know it. Parent activists in the Mojave Desert know it.

The nearsighted, the naysayers, and the beneficiaries of the current failing status quo — moribund educrats, reactionary school boards and power-mad teacher unions – realize they could be in trouble and will desperately fight to extinguish the fires of reform whenever and wherever they can. But as parents and taxpayers become enlightened about the advantages of choice and empowered to take action, their opponents — with their lame assertions, name calling, sophistry and bullying — will see their hegemony wilt and ultimately will be rendered powerless.
______
Larry Sand began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Retired in 2009, he is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.

“CTEN” was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. This past May, after his weekly blog proved to be very popular, he began writing a monthly article for City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s policy publication. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs and talk radio shows in Southern California and nationally.

Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March 2010, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August 2010, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions. This past January he was on panels in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo in support of National School Choice week. Additionally, CTEN has hosted two informational events this year – one addressing the secret agenda that is prevalent in many schools these days and the other concerning itself with California’s new Parent Trigger law. The latter event was covered by both the English and Spanish language press.

Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions. At this time, he is conferring with and being an advisor to education policy experts who are crafting major education reform legislation.

CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.

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