Teacher Tenure Has Been Tried And Found Wanting

Teacher Tenure

Back in April, I posted a series of quotes from Marcellus McRae’s closing argument in Vergara v. California to Jay P. Greene’s Blog. Yesterday, the court handed down its decision and it appears that McRae was right, “You can’t make sense out of nonsense.”

Today, I have a piece on the Daily Caller summarizing the ruling and highlighting my take-a-way from the case.

On its face, this was a legal case that considered whether teacher tenure and other job protections violated California’s state constitution. At a more fundamental level, however, this was an evaluation of policies lauded by teachers unions throughout the country – teacher tenure, due process, and last-in, first-out provisions. For these policies to be found unconstitutional they first had to be proven to have an adverse effect on disadvantaged students; and indeed, they were.

I go on to say:

Legally, there are still many questions to be resolved. In the court of public opinion, however, the ruling could not be clearer: Teacher tenure has been tried and it has been found wanting. You simply cannot make sense out of nonsense.

I invite you to check out the full piece here.

School Choice is UnAmerican…Not!

Bald-eagle-school choice


(This post originally appeared on the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice Blog)

Should taxpayers be compelled to fund schools that teach concepts that support “junk science” or violate their convictions?

Teacher/blogger Peter Greene thinks that is un-American, and he followed up a few days later on the Huffington Post to claim that as his fifth reason “conservatives should hate school choice.” So here I am, back to respond to his belated claim in today’s Friday Freakout.

Greene argues that “School choice is taxation without representation.” He goes on to say:

Schools are not a service for parents. The people who produced the student are not the only “customers” for the school.

The educated human who emerges from school will become a neighbor, an employee, a parent, a spouse, a voter, a (one hopes) involved citizen, a person whose job will contribute in some way to the life of the community. Everybody who will ever deal with her in any of those capacities shares the benefits of that education. They are all “customers” of public education. Whether they are relatives of the educatee or not is hardly the point.

We all have a stake in public education.

In many ways, I agree with that statement. As a society, we all benefit from educated citizens. That is why we operate a public education system; but, that is not an argument against school choice. Public financing does not necessitate public operation of the schools.

Public education is the idea that all kids deserve a quality education at public expense. If students in school choice systems receive a quality education, then those choice schools—even the private schools—are helping to advance the cause of public education.

What about Greene’s objection that some private schools may teach creationism or some other objectionable material?

For as long as anyone can remember, there have been disagreements about what is being taught in public schools. That is because parents are compelled to send their children to public schools—if they can’t afford something different—and taxpayers are compelled to support public education through their tax dollars.

However, individuals have different values and beliefs. Of course, when parents disagree with their child’s public school they can pay for private school tuition, accept the school’s actions, or seize control and make the school change its position. Still, in all three of those scenarios, some people are being compelled to fund a school that teaches material with which they disagree.

There is simply no getting around the fact that someone’s beliefs or conscience will be compromised in the levying of taxes to support education.

With one particular form of school choice—tax-credit scholarships—that issue can be avoided. Tax-credit scholarships do not compel individual taxpayers to fund or support schools they may find objectionable. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that opponents of Arizona’s tax-credit scholarship program did not have standing because the tax credits are not government spending.

Tax-credit scholarships are funded through individual and corporate donations. The individual is not compelled to donate his or her money; he or she chooses to do so. The donations never enter the government treasury and the funds are not distributed by a government agency. Other than an all-out private system, where everyone pays for their own child’s education, this is about as close as we can come to a system that does not compel individuals to subsidize schools to which they object.

The distinction between tax-credit scholarships and other private school choice programs is an important one, but is somewhat beside the point. The fact remains that it is impossible to create a school that is perfectly neutral when it comes to every person’s beliefs, values, and convictions.

Therefore, do those who oppose private school choice for this reason believe their rights are more important than others who object to content in public schools—but are compelled to support them anyway?

When the district where I taught banned Slaughterhouse-Five and Twenty Boy Summer, few progressive thinkers applauded the district for acquiescing to a parent’s wishes. They deemed the district backwards and lampooned the individual who led the effort to ban the books.

Peter Greene and other opponents of school choice programs might not mind Philadelphia’s decision to include A People’s History of the United States—a highly controversial book written by socialist Howard Zinn—in the public school curriculum, but many people do mind.

Greene does not seem interested in protecting all citizens from being compelled to fund schools that violate their beliefs, only the ones that think like he does.

Furthermore, he says,

Do you think it’s a bad idea for a student to attend Flat Earth High School or Racial Purity Elementary School or God Is Dead Day School? Well, under school choice, if you don’t have a kid, you don’t have a voice. Too bad for you.

Beside the fact schools like the ones he mentioned don’t exist, he ignores one important function of community and local control. If someone ever wanted to open a school that teaches one race is superior or the earth is flat or “God is dead” or terrorism is a great profession, first they would have to comply with laws. (That eliminates schools that teach terrorism and racism.) If somehow their radical ways still manage to slip through, the public has the power to keep them out of their communities. Best of all, they can choose not to send their children there. And if private schools such as those can’t fill their classrooms even when every parent has the financial means to choose them, they simply won’t persist—bottom line.

What about the loss of “local control”?

Greene likes to hold a traditional school system, with democratically elected boards, up in nostalgic reverence: “Local control of schools used to be one of the last remaining arenas in which regular folks, regular taxpayers still had a say.” I can tell you from experience that “local control” means very little to the family that is dissatisfied with their child’s school.

Although Greene seems to get the point that public education is about providing a quality education to students, he continually misunderstands this implication. He thinks “public education” must be publicly operated and publicly governed by democratically elected boards. That is a system; it is not public education.

School choice does not remove the “public” from “public education”; it simply shifts the oversight and responsibility from a few politically connected board members to the individuals themselves. There are plenty of examples of this type of governance, including in pre-kindergarten and higher education, where public dollars go to students and parents who then choose private institutions that are not governed by a democratically elected board. Few cry foul when a Marine uses his or her GI Bill to attend the University of Notre Dame.

Is school choice un-American?

School choice is most certainly not un-American. School choice is about promoting individual liberty, and it doesn’t get more American than that.



Should Conservatives Support School Choice?

(This post originally appeared on the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice Blog)

Jedi Mind Trick

There are many ways to argue a point. The best method is to make your claim with well-reasoned logic and compelling evidence. This is not the method teacher/blogger Peter Greene used in his recent Huffington Post piece “Why Conservatives Should Hate School Choice.” Instead, he attempts to use a “Jedi Mind Trick.” He waves his hand at the evidence and claims, “School choice is not the system you are looking for.” This falls flat because, try as he might, a Jedi Peter Greene is not.

Sadly, I am no Jedi either. So, I’ll stick to logic and the facts.
I could start by questioning whether Greene actually knows what conservatives want or value, but I won’t. Let’s assume he knows conservatives. Do his claims hold any merit?

Claim 1: School choice is less efficient than the current system.

Greene writes:

One of the assumptions of every choice system is that a choice system can operate for the same amount of money – or less – than the current system. This is clearly false.

When you examine the evidence it is clear that cost savings are almost universally realized through school choice programs.

A recent study by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas found that the “average public charter school student in the U.S. is receiving $3,814 less in funding than the average traditional public school student.” Despite that fact, public charter schools perform just as well as, if not better, than their traditional public school counterparts. This isn’t rocket science: less funding + equal (or better) outcomes = cost savings and improved efficiency.

The same can be said for private school choice programs. In a comprehensive study for the Friedman Foundation, Greg Forster reviewed the empirical literature on the fiscal effects of private school choice programs. All six studies on the subject found significant savings for taxpayers. In Washington, D.C., for example, it is estimated the Opportunity Scholarship Program saved taxpayers $135 million.

Of course, school choice programs were specifically designed to provide cost-savings. It is possible the savings could disappear over time as choice programs grow in popularity and become more generous. This is not new to publicly financed education systems. Traditional public schools have faced growing costs for decades. Over the past 40 years, inflation-adjustededucation spending has increased by more than 180 percent. During that time, the traditional system has offered no hope of reigning in costs; school choice has. They are called education savings accounts (ESAs).

ESAs allow individuals to direct their education dollars to one or multiple schools and service providers. Unspent money remains in the account for parents to use on a host of educational expenses or to be saved for higher education purposes. That ability to save money from year to year puts a downward pressure on prices because it empowers parents to shop cost-consciously and it encourages schools to keep prices competitively low.

Ultimately, most would agree that if we must spend more money to educate children, that money would be well spent as long as children are learning. The system in which that spending increases is the difference. One must choose: a system where all families have the option to select their child’s educational setting or a system where only affluent families are allowed to make a school choice that defies district orders? I, and the Friedman Foundation, would rather spend money in a system that empowers all families first.

Claim 2: School choice will lead to big government.

In Greene’s opinion, it is inevitable that school choice will lead to greater government oversight. On this, Greene does have a point. As a new study by Andrew Catt of the Friedman Foundation points out, private school choice programs have led to increased regulations on private schools. Importantly, Catt finds that the design of the program matters.

Regulations tend to increase less in tax-credit scholarship programs than they do in voucher programs. Arizona’s ESA program was the only private school choice program that did not lead to increased burdensome regulation. Given these findings, there is hope that well-designed systems can help limit government intrusion in private schools.

With that said, Greene misses one of the most critical aspects of “big government” – compulsion. In the traditional system, parents are compelled to send their children to the local government-operated public school (if they can’t afford alternatives, and most can’t) and the school is compelled to comply with government regulations. School choice helps to break individuals free from that compulsion.

Private schools are free to choose to participate in the program and parents are free to choose the school that meets their child’s needs. They are not compelled to send them to a nearby school regardless of quality.

Claim 3: Competition does not foster quality products.

In his post, Greene suggests school choice will not lead to good schools. Rather, it will lead to schools that are fun and cool, such as “No Homework High.” This is insulting to the many parents who so desperately want a better education for their children.

We now have more than 6,000 charter schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia, which serve more than 2 million children. The most popular schools, the ones with waiting lists to get in, tend to be the schools with the best academic records and most rigorous curriculum. They are the schools that are putting students on the path to college.

School choice absolutely fosters quality. More important, it allows parents to determine what quality looks like to them. As James Kelly and Benjamin Scafidi note in their Friedman Foundation paper, “More than Scores,” private school choice parents consider a host of factors when choosing their children’s schools.

Claim 4: Competition will lead to centralized control.

Greene argues that conservatives should oppose school choice because it will lead to choice and competition, and you know what that means:

Unbridled competition leads to centralized control.” As examples, he points to Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Pearson, the education testing company.

The system he describes is not unbridled competition. It is a system of government intervention and corporate cronyism, which he even recognizes: “…[T]hey did not conquer their world simply by being so much better than everyone else. They use money and influence and, when necessary, the tool of Big Government to get their way.”

Milton Friedman spoke about this very issue. He argued there is a difference between being pro-free enterprise and pro-business. Businesses act in their own self-interest and support regulations that stifle their competition. That does not mean the free-enterprise system doesn’t work. It means that we must fight against government intervention in the free market.

Similarly, being pro-school choice is not the same as being pro-big education conglomerates. It is possible that education groups could grow unwieldy in a school choice marketplace, but you must ask yourself: Which is more likely to lead to centralized control, choice and competition or centralized government control? The large education providers, testing companies, and curriculum developers of today are not products of school choice. Rather, they grew so large, in part, because of the many federal regulations, including the Common Core State Standards, and the largely one-choice system we have in place today, which can be easily leveraged.


Peter Greene does not offer compelling logic or facts for why he believes conservatives should hate school choice. He simply waives his hand at the evidence.

Furthermore, he assumes conservatives are concerned only with what school choice will cost and what school choice will do to markets. Does the descriptor “conservative” now mean robot? Is he saying conservatives can’t care about helping more children, including our own, to access education that fits their needs and helps them thrive? As a conservative myself, I am offended by the implication. There are lots of practical reasons conservatives and liberals alike support school choice. The most important one? It helps kids who are struggling now to get the help they need now. That’s just good policy.

Private School Option – We Can’t Sit This One Out

(This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily blog)

My college track coach used to say, “We’re going to dance with the girls we came with.” Initially, I did not understand this colloquial expression. As I have aged, however, I have seen many circumstances where this expression captures the sentiment more than any other. It is especially true of the inter-district school transfer fix, Missouri Senate Bill 493. Different versions of the bill passed the Missouri House and Senate, a conference committee met, and now we have the final draft of the bill. This is it. There is no substitute. There is no other fix to the problems with the transfer program. We have to “dance with the girls we came with.” Yet, the education establishment seems perfectly willing to sit this dance out.

For them, the tiny provision that would allow students in unaccredited schools to attend a private school crosses the line. In their view, public dollars simply should not go to private schools. There is just one problem with that view – they already do. In fact, there is tremendous precedent for allowing public dollars to go to private schools and private organizations. Students use public dollars to attend private colleges and universities. K-12 public schools contract with private providers of all kinds of services, from school maintenance to food service; some even contract with private schools to help deliver educational services.

Take ACE Learning Centers, for example. ACE is one of the few private schools that would meet the narrowly defined criteria in SB 493. The school is located in an unaccredited school district and recently received accreditation from the North Central Association on Accreditation and School Improvement.

ACE currently has 12 centers and serves students from at least six school districts. An external review that AdvancEd conducted of ACE Learning Centers noted that the 2012-13 graduation rate was 86 percent. This is markedly higher than the nearby unaccredited public schools, where nearly half of students fail to graduate on time. This fact is especially remarkable when you consider that ACE serves students who are at risk of dropping out.

Josiah Ace Learning Centers

Speaking of his ACE experience, student Josiah said, “ACE is giving me another shot to finish high school and graduate with a diploma. I would recommend ACE to any student having trouble in their home school. I’m able to get a lot done with my classes here at ACE – I learn much better here.”

ACE Learning Centers and other private schools throughout the state are already using public dollars to serve students in Missouri. These schools are no less valuable to the public simply because they are privately run. The beauty of the private option in SB 493 is that it might allow more students like Josiah (and AdamBiancaGeorgiaEddie, etc.) to attend ACE Learning Centers.

The education establishment is wrong to draw a line in the sand on this issue. If they want to fix the problems with the transfer program and save the Normandy and Riverview Gardens School Districts from impending bankruptcy, they cannot sit this dance out.

It’s Difficult To Compete With Free

(This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily blog)

If it were your decision and you could select any type of school, what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child? This question was posed to 660 Missourians in a poll that theShow-Me Institute and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released this week. In their responses, Missouri voters overwhelmingly demonstrated that it is difficult to compete with free.

Only one-third of respondents indicated they would select the regular public school system. Thirty-nine percent indicated they would select a private school, making it the most common response. Another 21 percent indicated they would choose to homeschool their children or send them to a public charter school.

Q7 Friedman Missouri Poll

These responses stand in stark contrast to reality – nearly nine out of 10 students in Missouri attend public schools. Why this mismatch between preferences and actual choices? Cost and access.

Public charter schools are only located in Saint Louis and Kansas City and are limited on where they can expand. Private schools cost additional money. As anyone with a cursory knowledge of basic economics knows, demand decreases when cost rises. In other words, many parents are more likely to choose a free public school than they are to pay for a private school – regardless of preference.

But public schools do not have to be the only option for parents. Currently, 24 states and Washington, D.C., have school choice programs. Kansas became the most recent state to adopt a private school choice program with the creation of a tax credit scholarship program.

There is a clear desire for expanded educational options in Missouri. Yet, there is entrenched opposition to school choice from education establishment groups. These groups claim to oppose choice because they want to protect students. It seems obvious, they actually oppose school choice because they want to protect their advantage over the costly private competition. That is why economist Milton Friedman once said:

There is no doubt what the key obstacle is to the introduction of market competition into schooling: the perceived self-interest of the educational bureaucracy.

Opposition to school choice stands in the face of clear support among Missouri voters (including rural voters) and in the face of evidence that school choice works.

Paul DiPerna, the research director at the Friedman Foundation, and I discuss the new poll on this segment of Choice Media’s Reform School.

Survey Says . . . Missourians Dramatically Underestimate Education Spending

(This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily blog)

Today, Missouri lawmakers voted to override Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a tax cut bill. Immediately, opponents of the tax cut began decrying the legislature’s actions. They claim that this will lead to drastic cuts in education spending. First, it is important to note that these scare tactics are just that – scare tactics. On the Show-Me Daily blog, my colleague Michael Rathbone has shown how these predictions relied on cooking the books in order to come up with a loss of funds to education. With that said, it is important to understand why this type of scare tactic is so common and effective. To do that, you need look no further than the reportthat the Show-Me Institute and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released today.

We conducted a poll of Missouri voters and asked them a number of questions regarding school funding and school choice. When we asked participants how much they think we spend on each student per year, we found that the vast majority of Missourians have no idea. Seventy-two percent of Missouri voters either underestimated or were not even willing to guess how much Missouri spends in total expenditures per pupil. Approximately one-fifth of Missourians estimated that we spend less than $4,000 per pupil in current expenditures. In reality, we spend $9,400.

Q4 Friedman Missouri Poll

How does not knowing the facts allow for scare tactics to work? It’s simple. When people have more information, they are less likely to believe outlandish claims.

During the poll, we tested the impact of having spending information. We found that when individuals were told how much we spend on students, they were much less likely to say that spending is “too low.” There is room for honest debate in politics, even when it comes to education funding; but this debate should be based on the facts.

Q5 Friedman Missouri Poll

You can find the full poll on the Show-Me Institute and Friedman Foundation websites.