One Argument Not to Make About School Choice

I generally like to shy away from the school choice debate over here mainly because there are diverging opinions about it among our community. Even though I personally favor some school choice programs (and the idea that parents should have control) there are valid concerns about strings being attached to school choice programs.

A prime example was how Indiana’s voucher program pushed Common Core into private schools in the Hoosier State. So there are legitimate arguments against certain programs, and I think almost all of us can oppose any school choice efforts coming from the federal level.

The argument that Katherine Stewart at The New York Times makes isn’t one of those arguments, however. She said that school choice, aka “attacks” on public schools, harkens back to racism

She writes:

But the attacks on “government schools” have a much older, darker heritage. They have their roots in American slavery, Jim Crow-era segregation, anti-Catholic sentiment and a particular form of Christian fundamentalism — and those roots are still visible today.

I find it ironic that she addresses “anti-Catholic sentiment” when the biggest road blocks for school choice is Blaine Amendment language adopted by many states that actually comes from “anti-Catholic sentiment.”

David French at the National Review responds to Stewart’s piece.

Why do libertarians and Christians intentionally increasingly use the term “government schools” to describe public education? First, because it’s true. Public schools are government schools. Second, because it’s clarifying. Too many Americans are stuck in a time warp, believing that the local school is somehow “their” school. They don’t understand that public education is increasingly centralized — teaching a uniform curriculum, teaching a particular, secular set of values, and following priorities set in Washington, not by their local school board. The phrase is helpful for breaking through idealism and getting parents to analyze and understand the gritty reality of modern public education. The phrase works.

And so it must be squashed. And there’s no better way to discredit any modern idea than by tying it to a Confederate past. It’s certainly easier than addressing the core of the fundamental idea — that it’s better for America if more parents enjoy the educational choices that wealthy progressives take for granted.

I don’t agree with everything French says in his piece, but it stands to reason that we do not prop up straw man arguments to respond to a policy we do not like. Ultimately parents who want school choice like it because they want options and control over how their children are educated and it has nothing to do with race.

(Video) School Choice: The Hidden Dangers for All

This video is the third in a series launched by FreedomProject Media. They record a roundtable with two activists that I’m certain most of our readers are familiar: Lynne Taylor from North Carolina and Kirsten Lombard from Wisconsin.  Mary Black is the moderator. In part one they talk about a shift in the education model to a workforce development model. In the second video, they discuss student data mining.

Below is the description they give on YouTube:

School choice sounds great. Yet, it has a hidden meaning that is not widely understood by the public, and it’s that hidden meaning that is shaping education policy in Washington, D.C., and the 50 states. The true and hidden meanings of school choice are both discussed, along with how language in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ensnares students and their families, including private and homeschoolers.

This video falls out of our purview, but for the sake of continuity, I’m sharing it here along with the other videos in this series. Our community and readership do not all share the same opinion of school choice. I think we all agree on the risk of strings being attached, but we don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to specific programs, particularly at the state level.

So Kirsten and Lynne’s views do not necessarily represent Truth in American Education and its advocates.

Cardinal Newman Society Releases K-12 Catholic Curriculum Standards

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The Cardinal Newman Society released new Catholic School Curriculum Standards. Dan Guernsey and Denise Dohohue, the developers of the standards, explain that the standards are supplementary and are meant to be a resource to Catholic schools. “The Cardinal Newman Society offers these Catholic Curriculum Standards as a resource for educators to help keep focus on what is unique about Catholic elementary and secondary education: its evangelizing mission to integrally form students in Christ and transmit a Christian worldview,” they wrote.

They further describe the standards:

The standards cover English language arts, math, scientific topics, and history, focusing on unique Catholic insights into these curricular areas and complementing the Church’s standards for religious instruction. They are broadly grouped into two grade levels, K-6 and 7-12. They express student outcomes of learning, inviting educators to assign or develop materials and choose subject matter that serve the unique mission of Catholic education.

We built the standards on the solid foundation of Church documents, the educational philosophies of faithful Newman Guide colleges, and many writings on Catholic, liberal arts, and classical education. We consulted with many leading Catholic scholars, school leaders, and standards experts to ensure the highest quality resource.

Consultants that helped with the development of the standards are:

  • Joseph Almeida, Ph.D. (Franciscan University of Steubenville)
  • Dominic Aquila, D.Litt et Phil. (University of St. Thomas, TX)
  • Christopher Baglow, Ph.D. (Notre Dame Seminary)
  • Anthony Esolen, Ph.D. (Providence College)
  • Joseph Pearce (Aquinas College, TN)
  • Chad Pecknold, Ph.D. (Catholic University of America)
  • Andrew Seeley, Ph.D. (Thomas Aquinas College)
  • Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. (The Magis Center)
  • Ryan Topping, D.Phil. (Thomas More College of Liberal Arts)
  • Gregory Townsend, Ph.D. (Christendom College)
  • Michael VanHecke (The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education)
  • Susan Waldstein, S.T.D. (Ave Maria University)
  • Christopher Zehnder (Catholic Textbook Project)

Unlike the Common Core State Standards, teachers and schools are allowed to adapt the standards how they see fit.

The release of the standards follow a white paper published by American Principles Project and the Pioneer Institute that found Common Core is incompatible with Catholic education.

The Classic Learning Test: An Alternative College Entrance Exam

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With SAT changes that has brought it into alignment with the Common Core, and ACT’s involvement in the creation of the standards, it is important that we find an alternative college entrance exam.

The Classic Learning Test (CLT) is an alternative that is actually being used now.  The CLT came about specifically out of a need seen first-hand by its Founder, Jeremy Tate, who, while running a test-prep company, saw that homeschooled and privately educated students were being disproportionately discriminated against by being held to standards they had rejected.

The CLT provides private high school and homeschooled students with 1) a higher and more accurate standard of assessing grade-wide academic proficiency, 2) an affordable alternative to SAT/ACT exams, and 3) a way to further distinguish the high school from other academic institutions in the area whose standards have not progressed past the nationwide status quo.

Numerous colleges are already accepting the CLT for admission. The current list of colleges are: Aquinas College, Belmont Abbey College, Benedictine College, Bethlehem College, Bryan College, Christendom College, Grove City College, John Paul the Great Catholic University, John Witherspoon College, Liberty University, New College Franklin, New Saint Andrews College, Northeast Catholic College, Patrick Henry College, St. John’s College, The King’s College, Thomas Aquinas College, Thomas More College, Truett McConnell University, University of Dallas, Walsh University and Wyoming Catholic College.

Here is a video with more information.

You can also take a practice exam which consists of a reading section (40 questions), writing section (38 questions) and math section (38 questions).

You can read and download an overview of CLT here. Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute is conducting a validity and reliability review. You can read about that here.

I encourage you to spread the word about this test. We also need to encourage colleges to accept CLT, so if you are sending your child off to college soon, let those colleges know you want your child to take the CLT. If you are associated with a particular college, please let them know as well. The CLT is a better assessment for students who have been home schooled or who have attended a private or parochial school.

Private Schools Feel Common Core Pressure

In an email sent out today by the American Association of Christian Schools called “The Washington Flyer” they highlighted how private schools are being impacted by the Common Core State Standards:

Education Week, the American education news site of record, has been chronicling the Common Core Standard movement since its meteoric rise since 2009.  This week, analysts published a comprehensive article which focuses on the effect of the CCS on private schools across the country. The CCS consists of uniform standards in math and English for K-12 curriculum. Since 47 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, representatives from the major private schools associations cite “practical considerations” such as textbook offerings, teacher preparation, new assessments, college entrance examinations, and the credibility factor when considering how to adjust their curriculum. Among private school groups, Catholic schools have been the first to adopt the Common Core Standards on a widespread scale with over 100 Roman Catholic dioceses adopting the Common Core. Additionally, Catholic educational leaders have formed the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative to ensure that the standards integration includes distinctive, doctrinal elements and supports church teachings. Others such as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have also signaled that they will be assimilating the standards into their curriculums. However, some groups are hesitant to join this movement; a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Schools stated that “decision-making through a national effort runs counter to our very being.” Dr. Jeff Walton, AACS Executive Director, noted that while there is “no great track record for national reform efforts” some schools will feel the need to align with the standards because of external pressures such as credit transfer, voucher program inclusion, and college admission.

I’d like to take time to reemphasize that this isn’t just a public school problem.

Why Homeschoolers & Christian School Parents Should Be Concerned About the Common Core

A couple of our partners were interviewed by Napp Nazworth of The Christian Post.  They both expressed concerns about the Federal government’s involvement in promoting the Common Core State Standards and what that could mean for homeschooling and Christian schools in the future.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Maureen Van Den Berg, legislative director for the American Association of Christian Schools, expressed concern over the potential that the CCSSI could develop into a national curriculum that even private schools would be pushed into adopting.

“One of our biggest concerns is that [CCSSI] will turn into a national curriculum,” Van Den Berg said. “If the federal government already has their fingers in the national standard movement because they tied the Race to the Top competition, the very first one, to the state’s adoption of the common core standards, by tying the Race to the Top competition to whether or not the states adopted that, that’s an indirect endorsement of the national standards, so it could very easily become a national curriculum. So, we’re very concerned from a private Christian school perspective.”

Van Den Berg also disfavors, in general, policies that infringe upon the local control of education.

“Anytime you’ve got a one size fits all attitude regarding education, it’s never good for the students, the parents, or education in general,” Van Den Berg added.

Homeschooling advocates share similar concerns. In an interview with The Christian Post, William Estrada, director of federal relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said that his organization opposes the pressuring of the states by the federal government to adopt the CCSSI, because policies that take away local autonomy for education also threaten homeschools.

“Our concern for homeschool freedom is that if every state and every student’s curriculum adheres to the CCSSI, the pressure will mount for homeschool students to be taught and tested in line with the CCSSI. Many homeschool families choose to homeschool specifically because they want a different or better curriculum than that offered in their public school, and they would lose this freedom if they were required to follow the CCSSI. So far the CCSSI only applies to public schools, but it is doubtful policy makers would allow it to stay that way if it truly did become a national curriculum,” Estrada said.

One of the ways that Christian schools and homeschools could be pushed into adopting the CCSSI is through college admission requirements, Van Den Berg explained. Since a large portion of these students will seek college admission, if the CCSSI were to become a basis for college admission or college admission exams, Christian school and homeschool teachers may feel obligated to adopt the CCSSI standards for their curriculum.

One of the architects of the CCSSI, David Coleman, was recently appointed CEO of College Board. One of the primary vehicles for determining admission by most colleges in the United States is the SAT exam, which is administered by College Board.

Read the rest

Obama's Education Power Grab

President Obama 2012 State of the Union AddressPresident Barack Obama had a lot to say in last night’s State of the Union address, I mean a lot… apparently this was the 10th longest in words and 9th longest in time.  It was broadcast from 8:00pm – 9:30pm (CST).  I frankly don’t have time to dissect everything that he said, but with his comments regarding education it is clear that he does not care about parental or state rights.  In a nutshell when he said last night he said, “that government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.”  It is clear, based on his speech, that he doesn’t think there’s much we can do better by ourselves.

On education he first referred to Race to the Trough:

For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country t0 raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that’s happened in a generation.

I know, that Mike Huckabee thought this was a brilliant idea, but bribing states with one-time money to adopt standards in way that undermines the democratic process, educational freedom, local control and parental authority was simply unconstitutional. Doing some simple fact checking demonstrates this wasn’t a good idea.  Like the idea that it raised the standards for teaching and learning is false.  He is right that this is the first time in our nations history that this has happened, and it was done in violation of the law.

So wonderful… he went on to demonstrate his lack of knowledge about how education is even run…

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers.

Who hires teachers and lays them off?  Not states, but school districts; of course in Iowa some do want to eventually make that a state function.

He then continued:

Teachers matter.  So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal.  Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones.  And in return, grant schools flexibility:  to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.  That’s a bargain worth making.

So here we see more meddling with education.  The “and in return”  now we get to No Child Left Behind waivers.  I’m not a fan of NCLB, but since Congress didn’t do what Obama wanted; they bypassed them.  Since President Obama is willing to do things “with or without this Congress” we shouldn’t be surprised.

Let me say something “radical” here (at least to the establishment and elites) there is no legitimate federal role in education – period.  There should be no bargaining with the states.  There should be no U.S. Department of Education stamp of approval on certain standards.  President Obama, unfortunately was not done, he presumptively spoke on behalf of parents and the states:

We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.

Now how does he propose to do this?  Probably he’ll do anytime the Feds want to foist something on the states, but threatening to withhold funds.   Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association said, “There appears to be no limit to the president’s desire for power. Car companies, banks, doctors, and now schools and the family. He’s gone way too far this time.”

Yes he has.  HSLDA in a press release today reminded that this again is historically unprecendented:

State-mandated attendance has not been the historical norm. In 1642, the Massachusetts Bay Colony stipulated that parents provide religious instruction for their children. For the next 200 years, most education laws were minimal and focused on family-centered education, giving children the tools to read, write, and do arithmetic, helping them understand what it meant to be virtuous citizens, and allowing them to learn a trade.

This is ultimately up to parents, not the Federal government, to decide.  Again, it is unlikely that President Obama would get this through Congress so I’m sure he’d find a way to bypass them and bully the states like he plans to do with colleges and universities if they don’t cap their tuition at the level he’d like to see.

We see clearly Obama’s lust for power in his remarks on education.

Originally published at Caffeinated Thoughts.

Iowa Governor Branstad’s Uninspiring Education Remarks

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in his Condition of the State address on Tuesday said the following about their plan to reform education in Iowa:

One, we need a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal leading every building. That starts with being more selective about who can become an educator. A “B” college grade-point average for admission to Iowa’s teacher-preparation programs is not asking too much.

Two, all prospective teachers seeking a state license should demonstrate content and teaching mastery to assure they are ready for the crucial work of teaching our children.

Three, the School Administration Manager program should be changed to provide more time for principals to be instructional leaders.  Other staff can take on management tasks to free principals to observe and coach teachers in their classrooms.

Four, the Iowa Department of Education will continue to improve the Iowa Core —our state standards in math, science, English, and social studies. But well-rounded, healthy students need more than just these core areas.

The department will work with educators to develop new standards for music and other fine arts, character education, physical education, entrepreneurship education, applied arts, and foreign languages.

Five, a new kindergarten assessment will measure whether children start kindergarten ready to learn and leave prepared to flourish in first grade.

Six, end-of-course tests for core subjects will demonstrate that high school students are ready to graduate.  These will be designed with teachers, and will emphasize not just knowing content but being able to apply it.

Seven, all juniors should take a college entrance exam, with the state covering the cost. In addition, they should have the option of taking a work skills readiness test.  This will tell us whether Iowa students are college and career ready for life after high school.

Eight, let’s assure that children can read by the end of third grade.  Otherwise, they will fall further and further behind.  An intensive focus on literacy means working closely with families and providing more support for reading and writing in schools starting in preschool, and continuing through kindergarten, first, second, and third grades.

Because reading is so essential for later success in school, it is unfair to promote an illiterate child.

Nine, Iowa has some highly innovative schools, and we should encourage more schools to be innovative. Youngsters need more opportunities to engage in real-world experiences–including internships–in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Doing well in these subjects is the gateway to fast-growing fields with some of the best-paying jobs—whether students are headed for career training or a two- or four-year college.

To encourage such efforts, Iowa should establish an Innovation Acceleration Fund.  Schools and partners will identify education problems and innovative solutions.  Competitive grants will fund the best ideas, which may be scaled up statewide.

Ten, online learning that complements learning in traditional classrooms should be promoted.

So should competency-based learning that personalizes education for each child, and begins the process of moving us away from the time-based industrial model of education.

Let’s do all this and more for our children with a bipartisan consensus that will stand the test of time.

All this and he wants to take a decade to accomplish it.  Color me uninspired.  Raising GPA standards for teachers alone won’t address the problem if the content they are taught is poor.  Indoctrination has been a hallmark of the university.  In their blueprint they addressed alternative licensure process which I don’t see highlighted here.  That’s unfortunate.  Let’s recognize that some of our best teachers may not be produced by a university’s education department.

Not to mention this requirement would be placed upon all 32 of Iowa’s teacher prep programs who are approved by the State Board of Education – whether they are private or public. 

Testing alone won’t produce reform that is needed.  They want to expand the Iowa Core which is exactly what we don’t need.  More local control not less.

The administration also doesn’t want to tackle the teacher’s unions which are the primary roadblock to meaningful reform and then they skirt over the proven reform measure – more choice.  Their charter schools proposal will be meaningless since they don’t address collective bargaining.  Their online education idea, as far as I can see, is public only.  No mention of increasing tax credits for School Tuition Organizations, lifting onerous requirements on homeschoolers, school vouchers, even tax credits or deductions for homeschoolers, or allowing for private online education.

Leaving choice out of the equation and not dealing with teacher’s unions will doom this plan to failure and it’ll take 10 years to achieve that result.  Oh how wonderful!

Originally published at American Principles in Action

The Education Choice and Competition Index

Brookings Institute just released the Education Choice and Competition Index Background and Results.  They scored the 25 largest school districts in the nation to see how they fared using this criteria:

  • Availability of alternative schools.
  • Policies on Virtual Education
  • Funding Follows Students
  • Restructuring or Closing Unpopular Schools
  • Assignment Mechanism
  • Application Process
  • Comparable Standards and Assessments (not thrilled with this criteria)
  • Gain Scores
  • Accessible Online Information
  • Additional Performance Data
  • Transportation
  • School Quality

New York was the top school, but it had only a B.  Chicago came in second also with a B.  You can see the results here.

HT: School Book

School Choice: An Anti-Bullying Tool

Richard Zeile, member of the Michigan State Board of Education wrote an op/ed for the Heritage Newspapers (serves Southeast Michigan) and he makes the argument that school choice should be seen as an anti-bullying tool.

So how do bullying and school choice relate? Bullying is often a social system problem.

Bullies find that their negative behavior works for them. Their peers are intimidated, or actually supportive, of their harassing an unpopular or isolated student.

And the victim of bullying is often socially isolated, having established or been labeled with an identity which he or she cannot escape (“Oh, you’re the one who exposed himself last year…”).

Anti-bullying programs rightly address the social world and peer pressure of the school, equipping students to deal with these issues.

But the child who is overwhelmed and thinking of killing him- or herself because there is no escape needs a more immediate and drastic escape. Such a child (and family) needs school choice.

Safety is one of the unacknowledged advantages of school choice, whether it is enrollment in a neighboring district or a nearby charter school.

When security is of paramount importance, the choice is often a private school (the time-honored choice of so many public officials, including recent presidents and governors).

School choice is not a cure-all for the bullying issue, but it may be an option for a family or a student.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen this angle on school choice, interesting argument.