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>

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.

Sometimes a single sentence can send special-interest groups into a frenzy.
The latest example: House Bill 2002, sponsored by State Representative John Kavanagh, which would prohibit governmental entities from using taxpayer dollars to pay dues to groups that attempt to influence ballot outcomes.

There’s good news from Arizona’s neighbors. New Mexico’s newly elected governor, Susana Martinez, the nation’s first Latina governor, is putting her state on the path to real education reform. In her first press conference as governor-elect, she commented on Florida’s successful education reforms:

“The Florida model is a proven one…We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to do what is best for New Mexico as quickly as possible.”

Pima Community College Chancellor Roy Flores recently announced that he wants the college to consider new admissions requirements. What he had to say on the subject to his governing board was right on target:

Right now, the college does not require a high school diploma or its equivalent, a GED, or SAT scores that indicate that you’re ready for college. As a consequence, we’ve been accepting people who really aren’t ready.