Education Reform

Too often, the traditional public-school model fails students and teachers. Charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and merit pay are giving students a better education and teachers a better career.

<p>Too often, the traditional public-school model fails students and teachers. Charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and merit pay are giving students a better education and teachers a better career. </p>

When the Arizona Capitol Times hosted a public discussion on Sept. 9 about higher education, the first question from the audience was about the recent Goldwater Institute study on administrative bloat at Arizona universities. An interesting objection was raised by Dr. Bernie Ronan, an associate vice chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District.

During the previous decade, state funding for early childhood programs has been steadily increasing. Supporters of these types of government programs succeeded in creating First Things First through a ballot initiative in 2006. Now, Arizona voters have to decide whether to shield that program’s unused funding from the economic crisis, or to support other services for children that have been targeted for elimination.

Hell has officially frozen over: someone from the Goldwater Institute is urging you to go see a film by the director of Al Gore’s global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary, Waiting for Superman, makes a compelling case for sweeping reform of the American K-12 education system.

Last week, I explained Johns Hopkins University’s work on “dropout factories,” public schools where 60 percent or fewer students graduate on time. Under this definition, all of Arizona’s community colleges qualify as dropout factories, even if you consider their graduation rates after three years instead of two. I received an avalanche of email in response.

School choice is back before the U.S. Supreme Court today with Garriott v. Winn, a lawsuit that involves a challenge to Arizona’s 13-year-old scholarship tax credit program. The program funds more than 27,000 scholarships for students to attend private schools. The state authorizes an income tax credit of up to $500 for individual contributions, and $1,000 for married couples, to privately operated School Tuition Organizations. In turn, these organizations award scholarships to cover private-school tuitions.

Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance has published a new report on the Arizona tuition scholarship tax credit. The report does a great deal to answer the misleading claims of some of the program’s critics. Vicki Murray of California’s Pacific Research Institute surveyed Arizona scholarship groups and found the tuition tax credit really does expand the options available for middle- and low-income families to educate their children.

I recently received an invitation to attend a conference about Milton Friedman’s legacy in a variety of policy areas, and to present a paper about Dr. Friedman’s impact on education policy. This led me to prepare a progress report on the movement to engage parents in choosing the right schools for their children’s education.

So how is Dr. Friedman’s legacy looking today, two decades after the first program to fund scholarships at private schools was approved by Wisconsin in 1990?

There are ugly results from a recent analysis by the Los Angeles Times and RAND Corp. that contrasts school employee layoffs with teacher performance in the classrooms of the L.A. Unified School District. From the article:

“Because seniority is largely unrelated to performance, the district has laid off hundreds of its  most promising math and English teachers. About 190 ranked in the top fifth in raising scores  and more than 400 ranked in the top 40%.”

Recently, I wrote about the fact that all Arizona community colleges meet the Johns Hopkins University definition of “dropout factories” by a very wide margin. Now, Glendale Community College, which only has a completion rate of 22 percent, is adding insult to injury in the form of an anti-competitive textbook program that will make textbooks more expensive for students.

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