School Replaces Blind Student’s Cane With a Pool Noodle, What is Your Response?

Dakota Nafzinger

Over the past few days, my Facebook feed has been abuzz with the story of Dakota Nafzinger. Dakota, a blind eight year old, who had his cane taken away for bad behavior. In its place, his school gave him a pool noodle. Fox 4 in Kansas City reports:

The school wouldn’t go on camera, but North Kansas City School District Spokeswoman Michelle Cronk confirmed taking away Dakota’s cane, calling it school property that was given to him when he enrolled. They said they took it away after he reportedly hit someone with it and wanted to prevent him from hurting himself or others.

It may be unfair to judge the school or district based on this one instance, but this story brings up the incredibly important issue of educational options. What option did the parents have when the school clearly made a gross mistake? They could call the school, report the issue to the school board, and even get the news involved. At the end of the day, however, Dakota has to go back to Gracemore Elementary School. Of course, he could go to another school if his parents have the financial means.

Contrast this story with those of Jordan and Salima. Like Dakota, Jordan and Salima have special needs which make it difficult for them to function in a traditional public school; however, they have options. Jordan and Salima are fortunate to live in Arizona, the first state in the nation to adopt Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). Through the use of their ESA funds, Jordan and Salima’s parents are able to customize their child’s education to meet their unique needs. I challenge you to watch their stories below.

It is perfectly fine to look at what happened in Kansas City with Dakota Nafzinger and the pool noodle and be appalled. The appropriate response, however, is not simply to like or share his story on social media and move on. No, the next step is to educate yourself and advocate for expanded educational options for students like Dakota. Below are several resources to get you started.

School Choice Resources:

Public Dollars, Private Schools: Examining the Options in Missouri

Giving Arizona Children Better Opportunities in Education

Live Free and Learn: A Case Study of New Hampshire’s Scholarship Tax Credit Program

Available Seats?

Redefining Public Education


Risky Business: Don’t Expect Teachers To Slide Across The Floor Like Tom Cruise


Yesterday, I spoke with Bre Payton of about my recent paper, “Risky Business: An Analysis of Teacher Risk Preferences.” My co-authors, Dan Bowen, Cary Deck, Jon Mills, Stuart Buck, and I found that our sample of college students entering the teaching profession were relatively more risk averse than students in other degree programs.

Check out the video for a discussion about the paper and it’s implications.

Work Groups Continue Developing New Learning Standards in Missouri


Yesterday, I was in Jefferson City with a dedicated group of people committed to developing new K-5 math standards. Each of us was tapped for the task by a state lawmaker or by an education group within the state. Although we may not have gotten as much accomplished as we would have liked, the meeting was smooth and we were working together.

A reporter stopped by our meeting, maybe he was looking for some fireworks after hearing about the discord from earlier meetings. He asked me what I saw as the real benefit to developing new learning standards for Missouri’s schools. I said:

When you’re able to bring these groups together — of very different people — and we’re able to come together to make a product, I think that in and of itself is going to be superior to Common Core. We have something that a broad, diverse group of Missourians can agree upon. That’s gonna be the real benefit to these new standards,

As I wrote on Education News yesterday, conflict is inevitable. It is especially inevitable when you foist something as important as what children learn on unsuspecting people without their knowledge.

This conflict should have been expected. What’s more, it is a good thing. The citizens of Missouri are a diverse group of individuals. There are only two ways we can avoid conflict — stop centrally imposing standards or suppress the voices of some citizens.

Personally, I wish we would do the former. Setting standards implies that we know when students should learn each topic, which we do not. It stifles creativity and limits innovation. Moreover, there is not compelling evidence that setting standards at the state level will significantly impact student achievement. Thus, in an ideal world, we would equip local schools with the power to determine what works best for their students. We would allow them to determine which set of standards they would use. In other words, let them decide if fractions are best learned in fifth grade or sixth. Let them decide if students should be prepared for algebra at eighth grade or ninth. Of course, with this level of decentralization parents also should be empowered to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children.

Unfortunately, I am in the minority when it comes to standards. So, we will continue to develop what we believe to be “good” standards or “better” standards than the Common Core.

My group has only worked through the math standards for 5th grade and part of Kindergarten. Substantively, they are not that much different than Common Core. However, as I said to the reporter, if we are able to produce a set of standards that have been developed by Missourians and are supported by the very individuals who initially clashed at the work group meetings, then that in and of itself will be an improvement to the Common Core.

Check out my full piece, “Missourians Should Embrace Common Core Conflict,” on Education News.

Risky Business

James V. Shuls:

Jay highlights my new study Risky Business.

Originally posted on Jay P. Greene's Blog:

Some of my current and former students, along with a colleague from the Economics department, have a new article in Education Economics called Risky business: an analysis of teacher risk preferences.  Daniel H. Bowen, Stuart Buck, Cary Deck, Jonathan N. Mills & James V. Shuls used techniques from experimental economics to measure the risk aversion of graduate students seeking degrees in education, business, and law.  They found that people training to become teachers are significantly more risk-averse than those seeking careers in business or law.

The greater risk-aversion among prospective teachers was a function of two forces.  First, women make up a much larger proportion of prospective teachers and women tend to be more risk-averse across all graduate students.  Second, the smaller group of men seeking to become teachers are significantly more risk-averse than men pursuing other professions.

This article captures the first part of Dan Bowen’s dissertation.  Dan…

View original 275 more words

Enough With The Bad Arguments Against Amendment 3!

As we approach the November elections, education groups and public schools in Missouri are lining up in opposition to Amendment 3. Here is what you should know about this constitutional amendment:

  1. It applies to only new teachers. Teachers who are currently under contract with a school district remain under the current tenure system.
  2. It limits all new contracts with teachers to no more than 3 years.
  3. It requires school districts to “implement a standards based performance evaluation system approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education” The majority of the evaluation system “shall be based upon quantifiable student performance data.”
  4. These evaluations must be used in staffing decisions (i.e. hiring, firing, promotion, etc.)

A group called “Protect Our Local Schools” has organized opposition to the amendment. On the group’s website, they claim the amendment would:

  1. “Take away local control of our schools from teachers, parents and school districts, and hand it over to Jefferson City politicians.”
  2. “Take a one-size-fits-all approach to education, forcing teachers to “teach to a test” rather than focusing on actual instruction and learning.”
  3. “Force taxpayers to pay for costly government-mandated standardized tests even though school funding is already a problem.”

Now, please don’t mistake my criticism of “Protect Our Local Schools” as support for Amendment 3. There are many valid arguments against this proposal, these are not those arguments. I take that back. These may be very effective arguments against Amendment 3. They are just not very valid arguments.

These claims from “Protect Our Local Schools” have some serious problems. First, it is not entirely clear that Amendment 3 will lead to an increase in standardized tests. Amendment 3 does not specifically call for more standardized tests. It says that the evaluation must be based on “quantifiable student performance data.” A school district could create a common assessment and give a pre- and post-test. That would be considered “quantifiable student performance data.”

It is possible that DESE would approve evaluation systems that use this type of data in alignment with Missouri’s Educator Evaluation System. That is to say, the amendment may not significantly change evaluations from what DESE has already provided as a model.  Under the current evaluation system and the one proposed in the amendment, school districts still have a lot of flexibility within the parameters.

Is Amendment 3 a “loss of local control,” as opponents claim? Yes and no. The amendment does not put any authority in the hands of “Jefferson City politicians;” maybe in the hands of DESE bureaucrats, but not politicians. However, it does place some rules in place that limit local control; such as restricting contracts to three years.

The question, however, is whether Amendment 3 would result in a greater loss of local control than the current system. When a teacher receives tenure, Missouri state statutes mandate that school districts issue a contract that “shall be known as an indefinite contract and shall continue in effect for an indefinite period…” What’s more, current statutes mandate a specific process for removing a tenured teacher. The graphic below details this process.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it; setting teacher tenure rules and establishing the teacher tenure dismissal process in state statutes constitutes a loss of local control. Amendment 3 would restore this local control, but would impose other restrictions. It is up to you to decide if the changing the state’s constitution, as Amendment 3 does, is a positive or negative change in local control.


Mo Tenure process


That’s Why We Need More School Choice

Lorrine and Naomi Goodloe. Photo by Robert Cohen,
Lorrine and Naomi Goodloe. Photo by Robert Cohen,

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

As someone who studies the issue of education policy quite closely, I can tell you there are many compelling academic reasons for supporting school choice. Studies consistently show that school choice programs save taxpayers money. Moreover, students who utilize school choice programs tend to benefit academically. Although I have read tomes on the value and benefit of school choice, none have made the argument for school choice as clearly and succinctly as the recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch piece by Jessica Bock, “After Troubles at Normandy Middle, a Return to Francis Howell.”

Bock tells the story of Naomi Goodloe a seventh-grade student in the midst of the drama surrounding the interdistrict school choice program in the Normandy School District. Goodloe attended sixth grade in the Francis Howell School District. However, enabled by the State Board of Education, Francis Howell elected to not allow transfer students to return this year. Thus, Goodloe was relegated back to school in Normandy. As Bock writes:

Lorrine Goodloe believed it might be better in Normandy schools this year, and told her daughter so.

But barely two months into the school year, Naomi Goodloe has left Normandy again, bruised and now behind in her seventh-grade studies.

The path back to Francis Howell wasn’t easy. In fact, it only came as the result of a court order.

After weeks of asking to go back to Saeger [Middle School in Francis Howell], Lorrine Goodloe made phone calls and determined Naomi might still be able to get back to Francis Howell. Attorneys hired by the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, a school-choice organization financed by investment banker Rex Sinquefield, would go to court for Naomi’s right to return, as they have for others. The judge granted the orders based on his ruling in August that the state board had violated rules when they changed Normandy’s accreditation.

When Naomi returned to her Francis Howell school, she was greeted warmly by her friends. “Everybody gave me hugs, and they dragged me around the school, letting everyone know ‘Naomi’s back!’” she said. She is now receiving the education that she desires and the education that she deserves.

Families should not have to be passive consumers of whatever their local school is offering. Parents should be equipped to choose the school that is going to meet their needs. That is the beauty of school choice, and that is why we need to expand options for all of Missouri’s school children. If you haven’t already, read Bock’s entire piece.