Out of Sandtown

A CVS Pharmacy burned in Baltimore when rioters cut the firefighters’ hose.

Derrell Bradford grew up in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood that’s exploded in anger at the death of Freddy Gray in police custody. School choice got him out of Sandtown, Bradford writes on The Catalyst.

That corner where the CVS was burned and looted? That’s where he caught buses to better schools in other parts of town. It’s why he now runs the New York Campaign for Achievement Now.

. . . it’s exactly because you grow up in Sandtown that you know the value of an excellent school which you get to attend regardless of who your parents are, how much money they make, or where you live. While watching students of Frederick Douglass High School throw rocks at police across the Gwynns Falls Parkway, all I could remember was my first trip to that school. I arrived as a visitor and an athlete—not a student—at what would have been my zoned public school. There was glass in the grass of the end zone; I was the only one of my classmates who knew to look for it.

. . . but for the right school, and the shining fingertip of providence, you are Freddie Gray.

“Choice is the most powerful way to create new worlds of possible for kids who are destined to have so little possible for themselves,” Bradford concludes.

74% favor school choice

For National School Choice Week:  74 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of “school choice” and 72 percent favor “parent choice,” according to a Center for Education Reform survey.

Support for school choice unites Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who is about as liberal as it gets, and Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s about as conservative, reports Reason.

Steve Jobs: Computers won’t fix schools

Technology can’t fix education, Steve Jobs said. He also strongly supported school choice, notes Jay Greene on Ed Next.

“I used to think when I was in my twenties that technology was the solution to most of the world’s problems, but unfortunately it just ain’t so,” Jobs said in a 1995 Smithsonian interview.

We need to attack these things at the root, which is people and how much freedom we give people, the competition that will attract the best people. Unfortunately, there are side effects, like pushing out a lot of 46 year old teachers who lost their spirit fifteen years ago and shouldn’t be teaching anymore. I feel very strongly about this. I wish it was as simple as giving it over to the computer….

As you’ve pointed out I’ve helped with more computers in more schools than anybody else in the world and I absolutely convinced that is by no means the most important thing. The most important thing is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can. The elements of discovery are all around you. You don’t need a computer.

As an entrepreneur, Jobs fired people who didn’t come up to his very high standards. He thought schools should not tolerate mediocre teachers.

Jobs attended public schools in Cupertino, California — now a very high-performing district — but dropped out of Reed College in his first year.

Fake-address mom isn’t a felon any more

Lying to get children into a better school should be a misdemeanor, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has decided, overruling the state parole board. Kelley Williams-Bolar, of Akron, served nine days in jail for falsely claiming her children lived at her father’s address in a neighboring school district. Her two felony convictions were reduced to misdemeanors by the governor.

Kasich is requiring Williams-Bolar to report for probation, serve 80 hours of community service, work full time, not take any drugs or drink alcohol and pay the cost of her prosecution.

Williams-Bolar’s older daughter now attends an Akron public high school. Her younger daughter uses a voucher to go to a private middle school. Williams-Bolar works as a teacher’s aide at Akron public schools and hopes to qualify as a teacher in the future.


Do vouchers boost achievement?

Vouchers have “no clear positive effect” on student achievement and mixed outcomes overall, according to a review of 27 studies by the Center on Education Policy. From Ed Week‘s Inside Schools Research:

Low-income students receiving vouchers made similar achievement gains to comparable public school students in district schools in several studies, the report found.

The report also noted that some research found that voucher students graduate at a higher rate than their public school peers, and that overall achievement at public schools was higher in those schools most affected by voucher competition. However, the report said it is difficult to tease out causation in those results, because schools most affected by vouchers often are targeted for other intensive school reform efforts.

The CEP review did not include privately funded vouchers or tax credits or voucher programs for students with disabilities or students in foster care.

“CEP’s study narrowly cherry-picks school choice studies in a handful of states and inaccurately characterizes the results of these studies,” said Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a voucher advocacy program based in Washington.

A rival analysis of voucher research by the Foundation for Educational Choice found large benefits for some programs, but modest gains for most.  No voucher studies have found a negative effect, said Greg Forster, a senior fellow at the foundation. “When the small, restricted programs produce moderately positive results, that indicates we should be trying bigger things,” Forster said.


Gates: Was the $5 billion worth it?

After spending $5 billion on education grants and scholarships, Bill Gates tells the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley,  “It’s been about a decade of learning.”

The Microsoft co-founder’s foundation is worth $34 billion, more than the next three largest foundations (Ford, Getty and Robert Wood Johnson) combined.

Small schools, an early Gates Foundation initiative, didn’t improve achievement. I was impressed by the foundation’s willingness to admit that.

Small schools improved students’ attendance and behavior, but “didn’t move the needle much” on college attendance, which is a foundation priority, Bill Gates told Riley.  “We didn’t see a path to having a big impact, so we did a mea culpa on that.”

The foundation decided to focus on curriculum — Gates strongly backs a core curriculum — and teacher quality — the foundation is researching what makes good teachers effective.

Many worry that a multi-billionaire has too much power, even if his intentions are noble. (And not everyone thinks they are.) And Gates tells Riley he’s trying to use his money to influence how public money is spent.

 Instead of trying to buy systemic reform with school-level investments, a new goal is to leverage private money in a way that redirects how public education dollars are spent.

However, the foundation’s approach is scientific, not political, Gates say.

“I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts.” Compared with R&D spending in the pharmaceutical or information-technology sectors, he says, next to nothing is spent on education research. “That’s partly because of the problem of who would do it. Who thinks of it as their business? The 50 states don’t think of it that way, and schools of education are not about research. So we come into this thinking that we should fund the research.”

Gates supports charters — he’s a KIPP fan — but not school vouchers.

. . .  the politics, he says, are just too tough right now. “We haven’t chosen to get behind [vouchers] in a big way, as we have with personnel systems or charters, because the negativity about them is very, very high.”

Gates’ approach is doomed to fail, responds Jay Greene. While trying to influence education policy is sensible, “education does not lend itself to a single ‘best’ approach.” The foundation invokes science “to advance practices and policies they prefer for which they have no scientific support,” Greene charges.

Attempting to impose particular practices on the nation’s education system is generating more political resistance than even the Gates Foundation can overcome, despite their focus on political influence and their devotion of significant resources to that effort.

Greene’s part 2 on the Gates Foundation is here.

In a new mini-book, Greene advocates school choice as the way to create incentives for school improvement.  Here’s his interview with Jason Riley.

Community College Spotlight, which I write for the Hechinger Institute, is funded, in part, by Gates money. Gates is funding almost every innovative idea involving community colleges, notably research on how to improve remediation and boost graduation rates. I think it’s money well spent, though the research isn’t likely to find a silver bullet.

2011 is ‘year of school choice’

Republican electoral gains have made 2011 The Year of School Choice, writes the Wall Street Journal.

No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011, and 28 states have legislation pending. Last month alone, Louisiana enhanced its state income tax break for private school tuition; Ohio tripled the number of students eligible for school vouchers; and North Carolina passed a law letting parents of students with special needs claim a tax credit for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.

Wisconsin removed the cap of 22,500 on the number of kids who can participate in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, the nation’s oldest voucher program, and expanded school choice in Racine County.

Even more significant, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation that removes the charter cap, allows all universities to be charter authorizers, and creates a voucher program that enables about half the state’s students to attend public or private schools.

Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma have created or expanded tuition tax credit programs. North Carolina and Tennessee eliminated caps on the number of charter schools. Maine passed its first charter law. Colorado created a voucher program in Douglas County that will provide scholarships for private schools. In Utah, lawmakers passed the Statewide Online Education Program, which allows high school students to access course work on the Internet from public or private schools anywhere in the state.

Pushed by House Speaker John Boehner, Congress revived the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program for low-income students.

Choice doesn’t guarantee excellent schools, the Journal concedes. But it drives reform by eroding “the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live.”

I’ll be very interested to see what happens in Indiana.

School choice programs grow

Twenty private-school choice programs now serve nearly 200,000 children in 12 states and the District of Columbia, reports Alliance For School Choice’s new yearbook.

Nearly all choice programs target children in low- to middle-income families or children with disabilities.

Choice programs that enable students to attend private schools are boosting achievement, the yearbook concludes.

Specific studies conducted in Milwaukee, Washington, D.C. and Florida last year also showed as much as a 68 percent improvement in standardized test scores for school choice participants, graduation rates more than 20 percent higher than traditional public school students, and almost universal parent satisfaction in some programs.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman has scheduled hearings Wednesday on “Saving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program” (vouchers).

Media Bullpen joins the fray

The Media Bullpen, a critique of education reporting, was launched this week by the Center for Education Reform, which supports school choice, including charters and vouchers. It’s an ambitious project: CER hopes to expand its staff to a dozen analysts who will review hundreds of education stories daily.

The site isn’t designed to push an agenda, CER President Jeanne Allen told Linda Perlstein on The Educated Reporter.

“The issue is not that education is underreported,” she said. “It’s either misreported or doesn’t really focus on the issues at hand.” If there’s a bias, she said, “it’s that education is critical, achievement is down and needs to be better.”

Perlstein has doubts on the no-agenda part.

New hope for D.C. vouchers?

Speaker John Boehner’s guests for the State of the Union speech tonight — he gets a box — will be students, parents and teachers, reports National Review Online. Three of the four children will be students who are using  “opportunity scholarships” to attend Catholic schools. Another guest will be Virginia Walden Ford, who runs D.C. Parents for School Choice. This is National School Choice Week.

Boehner and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, will introduce legislation tomorrow morning to reauthorize the District’s scholarship program, which was killed by the president and congressional Democrats.

A strong supporter of Catholic schools, Boehner invited teachers associated with the Consortium of Catholic Schools and Catholic-school parents.