U.S. students fall below the international average of 29 industrialized countries in both math literacy and problem solving, according to a new National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report to Congress. The NCES finds that U.S. 15-year-olds had an average math literacy score of 483 compared to the international average of 500, based on data from the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that measures how prepared students are to enter the workforce.
The good news is a new analysis by Ludger Woessmann of Germany's Ifo Institute for Economic Research reveals an effective way to improve student performance. Woessmann finds that "across all countries," students in privately managed schools score 16 to 20 PISA test score points higher than students in publicly managed schools, even after controlling for factors including a country's development level, student spending, and family background.
That 20-point gain would put U.S. students above the international average in math literacy. In Arizona, comparable gains could result in more students passing AIMS without having to lower passing cutoff scores.
So what can Arizona policymakers do to help students stand tall? Expand Arizona's education marketplace through privately managed charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and education vouchers.
-NCES report: The Condition of Education 2005
-Woessmann analysis: "Evidence of the effects of Choice and Accountability in International Student Achievement Tests," in What America Can Learn from School Choice in Other Countries
-Goldwater Institute report: Survey of Arizona Private Schools: Tuition, Testing and Curricula
Some public officials in Arizona have pinned the state's economic future on the hope of a big biotech payoff. Just last month, Governor Napolitano signed a bill creating a tax credit to subsidize investment in certain bioscience companies. But the industry's track record does little to inspire confidence.
In 2004 alone, the 330 publicly traded biotech firms posted a collective loss of $4.3 billion. Cumulative net losses since the first biotech company went public are more than $40 billion.
The Wall Street Journal likens the biotech craze to "a casino that sends capital to otherwise neglected high-risk corners of research-and rewards a very few with huge paydays."
Despite its massive losses, biotechnology may hold great promise. But private investors are best suited to weather these losses and manage the risks, not "visionary" officials using public money to jumpstart their entree into the high-tech economy via industrial planning.
As Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker wrote, "Silicon Valley could never be reproduced through bureaucratic hothouse support." The numerous localities and states-including Phoenix and Arizona-trying to woo this fickle and unprofitable sector should leave the risky business to private investors, not taxpayers.
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Biotech profits still seen as years away"
- Business Week: "Global Silicon Valleys? First, Kill All the Subsidies"
- Fedgazette (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis), "Focus: Biotech"
- Wall Street Journal: "Biotech's Dismal Bottom Line" (paid subscription)
- Arizona Republic: "Arizona's Tech Game Plan" (paid subscription)
The Arizona Registrar of Contractors (ROC) is charged with protecting vulnerable consumers in Arizona from construction scams: the elderly, new home owners, the City of Tempe. The City of Tempe?
When Tempe decided to install a city-wide wireless internet (wi-fi) network, the ROC stepped in to protect the city from itself. The city had hired an experienced technology firm to install the system, but the ROC threatened to shut down the project because the firm was not licensed to perform construction in Arizona. Setting aside the merits or demerits of Tempe's project, the ROC has overstepped its consumer protection mission.
Instead of focusing on helping consumers resolve claims against contractors who walk off a job or do shoddy work, the ROC is increasingly becoming a pseudo law-enforcement agency, complete with most-wanted lists and sting operations.
Fundamentally, this raises the question of whether ROC functions are necessary and appropriate to government. Private organizations like the Better Business Bureau, the Underwriters Laboratories, and numerous self-regulating industry agencies protect consumers from fraud. Oversight from such private organizations is effective for consumers, less costly to taxpayers, and importantly, keeps government within its appropriate purview.
The Florida Supreme Court hears oral arguments tomorrow on a lawsuit brought against the Florida school voucher program. Florida's program, the only one of its kind in the country, helped some 700 students this year, most of whom were poor and trapped in failing public schools.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that vouchers are constitutional, teachers' unions are taking the legal fight to the states, many of which including Arizona still have 19th century anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments that forbid public funding of religious institutions.
As Goldwater Institute senior fellow Clint Bolick wrote in a policy brief last year, "the Arizona Supreme Court has repudiated a broad interpretation of [Arizona's anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment] that would foreclose educational options to children who need them. In Kotterman v. Killian, the court upheld scholarship tax credits against challenges under both the First Amendment and the state constitution."
That ruling has not stopped school choice opponents from heading to federal court to challenge Arizona's tuition scholarship tax credit program, which allows individuals to receive tax credits for contributions of up to $500 to private school scholarship programs. In March, the federal district court judge dismissed the challenge as frivolous.
With any luck, the Florida Supreme Court will soon join the Arizona Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court in upholding the constitutionality of school choice, and help put parents in charge of their children's educations.
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