Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Urgency for School Choice

“School Choice is the civil rights issue of our time.”  -Democrat Gloria Romero, State Director, Democrats for Education Reform

Today I had the privilege of attending an event in Austin entitled “The Urgency for School Choice,” presented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, The Heritage Foundation, and The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.  Here is just a quick synopsis of the day.
We began with an expert panel discussion that included Virginia Walden Ford of the Heritage Foundation, Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation, and Matthew Ladner, Ph.D. of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  The discussion was moderated by Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, who noted that while school choice initiatives have been sweeping the nation, Texas is lagging behind.
In his remarks, Robert Enlow discussed how school choice initiatives help reduce dropout rates- a benefit for all since high school dropouts are more dependent on government assistance and have higher rates of incarceration.  He suggested that we need to separate government funding for education from government running education.  Enlow also noted that the fastest growing educational choice programs consist of vouchers for special needs children.  (In the Texas Legislature, SB 115 and HB 1175 offer such a program, but liberal-progressives and educators are a bit hysterical about the possibility.)

Next up was Virginia Walden Ford who shared her family’s experiences in the D.C. public school system and how that led to her work for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Ford noted that choice programs like that in D.C. allow for children and families to escape cycles of generational poverty.

Dr. Matthew Ladner noted that even the best performing schools cannot serve the educational needs of every child.  (AMEN.)  “Texas is an economic juggernaut,” and successful since the state is “an opportunity magnet, not a welfare magnet.”  However, the Lone Star state is rapidly becoming a minority-majority state, and Texas public schools are not serving Hispanic and Black students.  (In 2011, only 17% of Hispanic and 15% of Black students achieved 8th Grade Reading proficiency.)  Ladner also pointed out that spending more does not necessarily lift test scores: Between 1992 and 2011, Florida increased education funding the least, but had nearly the highest gains in student achievement. 

Dr. Ladner’s graph on spending increases vs. achievement gains.

In the second session, TPPF’s Joshua Trevino discussed school choice with former California State Senator Gloria Romero.  Romero is now the state director for Democrats for Education Reform.  Considering her party affiliation, and that she herself is a union member who believes in collective bargaining, much of what she had to say came as quite a surprise.  She acknowledged that the teacher unions were much too powerful, and that reforms should allow schools to get rid of bad teachers.  Romero expressed disgust with teacher unions that cared more about protecting their own jobs than educating kids, and asked, “Is this a public education system or a public works program?”  As a CA state senator, Romero was heavily criticized for promoting Parent Trigger legislation and told that her stance was ‘Republican.”  To which she answered, “Since when did the Democrats abdicate representation of the poor and dispossessed?”  Even more provocative was Romero’s assertion that teacher union power within the Democrat party is “disenfranchising the “Black and Brown” members of the party.
During lunch we heard from former Senator Jim DeMint, now president of the Heritage Foundation, and Artur Davis. Although I found all of today’s speakers fascinating, Davis was particularly compelling.  A former Democrat darling & ‘rising star,’ he is now advocating for various ‘conservative’ policies like parental choice in education.  Davis shared an excerpt from an essay written by a 13 year old “Quentin” who had just been promoted from 7th to 8th grade, on how to make his school better.  Here’s a photo:

Sorry about the iPhone quality shot...

As Davis noted, Quentin cannot even spell his own name.  He is trapped in a failing public school, with no options.  Is this providing an equitable education to all children?

Davis asked us why no one in the media, even during a $2 billion presidential campaign, is asking about 13 year-olds who read and write on a 6 year-old level.  He asserted that BOTH political parties have been asleep at the switch on school reform, and it’s time to wake them up.  Equity funding lawsuits might work for the next generation, but they won’t help the Quentins of today. 

The time to act is now. 


concerned mom 102 said...

Are these statistics - "In 2011, only 17% of Hispanic and 15% of Black students achieved 8th Grade Reading proficiency" - quoted in your article from Texas or the nation? What test was used to determine reading proficiency?

Holly Hansen said...

Oh sorry- according to the information provided by Dr. Ladner, these are statistics for Texas. His concern is that as the Hispanic population grows, that population will be less-educated (which, of course is bad for all of us.) Interestingly, one of the women I met at the conference was involved in setting up a new charter school in Austin that would cater to lower income Hispanics, and she was very enthusiastic about improving student performance. They are very much hoping the legislature will raise the current cap of 215 Charter Districts statewide.