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Education system return on investment – not good

An almost terrifying report released in April, McKinsey & Company, a very diversified consulting firm, reported kids were falling further behind the longer they stayed in the United States education system. The report compared four specific areas including comparisons to other countries, race differences, economic differences and geographic differences.

My interest immediately got me thinking about economic differences since data shows areas with a higher median family income have kids that do better in school. It’s not the student to teacher ratio, teacher benefits or dollars spent per student. I found it interesting that this report mostly avoided the cost spent per child.

The full report is 24 pages and a suggested read. Walter Williams had an article this week and quotes from the study.

[T]he longer American children are in school, the worse they perform compared to their international peers. In recent cross-country comparisons of fourth grade reading, math, and science, US students scored in the top quarter or top half of advanced nations. By age 15 these rankings drop to the bottom half. In other words, American students are farthest behind just as they are about to enter higher education or the workforce.

The racial gap is significant and a huge concern, but that can be directly attributed to the economic gap. Williams goes on to remind us about the failure of government involvement in education.

The teaching establishment and politicians have hoodwinked taxpayers into believing that more money is needed to improve education. The Washington, D.C., school budget is about the nation’s costliest, spending about $15,000 per pupil. Its student/teacher ratio, at 15.2 to 1, is lower than the nation’s average. Yet student achievement is just about the lowest in the nation. What’s so callous about the Washington situation is about 1,700 children in kindergarten through 12th grade receive the $7,500 annual scholarships in order to escape rotten D.C. public schools, and four times as many apply for the scholarships, yet Congress, beholden to the education establishment, will end funding the school voucher program.

The following is one of the reasons I enjoy reading Prof. Williams’ stuff and hope to thank him in person some day. He’s so right on the money here, with my emphasis in bold.

Any long-term solution to our education problems requires the decentralization that can come from competition. Centralization has been massive. In 1930, there were 119,000 school districts across the U.S; today, there are less than 15,000. Control has moved from local communities to the school district, to the state, and to the federal government. Public education has become a highly centralized government-backed monopoly and we shouldn’t be surprised by the results. It’s a no-brainer that the areas of our lives with the greatest innovation, tailoring of services to individual wants and falling prices are the areas where there is ruthless competition such as computers, food, telephone and clothing industries, and delivery companies such as UPS, Federal Express and electronic bill payments that have begun to undermine the postal monopoly in first-class mail.

One note about dollars spent per student. Although the study does not got into how much is spent per student, they do discuss how much is spent per “point” for the Program for International Assessment (PISA) test on page 9. I’ll just leave you with this graph and another pointer to the report. Click on the graph for a larger version.

school-spending-pisa

You’re seeing more honors graduates the past few years

I noted this phenomenon in 2002 at the graduation of a family member. There seemed to be a high number of students graduating cum laude, magna cum laude and/or summa cum laude.

I certainly did not remember such a high percentage of graduates with honors during my stint (late 1980s) in college. Were students getting smarter or were standards being lowered?

Knowing the academic world as I do, I figured it was the standards. At the time, I thought it would be a good idea to look at graduate statistics during the last 20 years to see what percentage of students graduated with honors.

gpa-trendsStuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke professor, has looked into the subject and has a detailed Web page about grade inflation. Rojstaczer collected data from more than 200 schools and reviewed grade point averages, which directly reflect honors status.

Grade inflation started in the 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s. Click on the image to see recent GPA trends across the country.

Do take a look at the charts and comments on Rojstaczer’s page, he found grade inflation did not occur everywhere and one very substantial set of data showed no change – even a decline – in grades. Your reader participation homework is to find out where, and post it in the comments. 😉

Thomas Reeves at the National Association of Scholars took a look at Rojstaczer’s research and has a recap.

It is no secret that grade inflation is common within contemporary academia. The extent of it, however, is known to comparatively few. One student of the topic, Stuart Rojstaczer of Duke University, recently published data showing a steady increase in undergraduate grades from 1991 to 2007. In public institutions the average GPA rose from 2.93 to 3.11. In private schools the average GPA climbed from 3.09 to 3.30.

This escalation appears more dramatic within a historical context. Rojstaczer observed that in the 1930s the average GPA at American colleges and universities was about 2.35; in the 1950s, it was about 2.52. In the turbulent 1960s, grades soared; they leveled off somewhat in the 1970s, and then began again to escalate in the 1980s. “The grade inflation that began in the 1980s has yet to end.” And this is true at all sorts and conditions of colleges and universities in both the sciences and humanities.

Walter Williams comments today

Some college administrators will tell us that the higher grades merely reflect higher-quality students. Balderdash! SAT scores have been in decline for four decades and at least a third of entering freshmen must enroll in a remedial course either in math, writing or reading, which indicates academic fraud at the high school level. A recent survey of more than 30,000 first-year students revealed that nearly half spent more hours drinking than study. Another survey found that a third of students expected B’s just for attending class, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the assigned reading.

Parents with kids in college… how does this make you feel?

Teachers on both coasts paid to do nothing

I remember reading about this a couple of years ago. Now seems like a good time to bring it up again to see if there would be any backlash, and the Los Angeles Times has the story written by Jason Song. Teachers across California and in New York City are being paid their full salary and benefits – in some cases for years – while education bureaucrats try to figure out if they are fit to teach.

From the Times, with my emphasis in bold.

Every school day, [Matthew] Kim’s shift begins at 7:50 a.m., with 30 minutes for lunch, and ends when the bell at his old campus rings at 3:20 p.m. He is to take off all breaks, school vacations and holidays, per a district agreement with the teacher’s union. At no time is he to be given any work by the district or show up at school.

He has never missed a paycheck.

In the jargon of the school district, Kim is being “housed” while his fitness to teach is under review. A special education teacher, he was removed from Grant High School in Van Nuys and assigned to a district office in 2002 after the school board voted to fire him for allegedly harassing teenage students and colleagues. In the meantime, the district has spent more than $2 million on him in salary and legal costs.

Last week, Kim was ordered to continue this daily routine at home. District officials said the offices for “housed” employees were becoming too crowded.

Do read the entire article at the Times’ Web site. It also includes a video report.

Why? Union contracts. Previously, these teachers were assigned duties that did not involve teaching students, but district officials are…

…prohibited from assigning chores under the contract with the teachers’ union. Although there is no specific reference in the contract to housed employees, an attorney for L.A. Unified pointed to Article 9, Section 4.0, which defines the “professional duties” of a teacher, such as instructional planning and evaluating the work of pupils.

With no mention of photocopying, stuffing envelopes or answering telephones in the contract, the district and union have interpreted this provision as prohibiting clerical duties.

“Why would we denigrate [teachers] by forcing them to do something they’re not supposed to do?” said A. J. Duffy, who is now president of UTLA, adding that housed teachers are entitled to a presumption of innocence.

Look, either they are fit to teach or not. If not, they should find another job.

Would this work in the private sector? Hell no, unless of course your backed by the United Auto Workers, they too seem to get paid for doing nothing. These union contracts are unsustainable and destroying the productivity of this country.

As Malkin says

Nice non-work if you can get it.

Obama’s flip-flopping statements on school vouchers

One Wednesday, I wrote about the Obama administration’s plan to sunset the the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program – a federal initiative – that provided scholarships to kids.

After the kerfluffle of the Wall Street Journal piece, Education Secretary Arne Duncan proposed a solution. Let the kids who are already in the private system stay there, but cut off access for others. Nice.

What has not been noted, was President Obama’s flip-flopping statements on school voucher programs. In Feb. 2008, just one year ago, he was open to supporting them if they worked. From the New York Sun

Senator Obama said this week that he is open to supporting private school vouchers if research shows they work.

“I will not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn,” Mr. Obama, who has previously said he opposes vouchers, said in a meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We’re losing several generations of kids, and something has to be done.”

Education analysts said Mr. Obama’s statement is the closest they have ever seen a Democratic presidential candidate come to embracing the idea of vouchers. Vouchers are taxpayer-funded scholarships that allow families to opt out of public school and use their government-allotted education dollars to attend a private school instead. They are despised by teachers unions, powerful players in Democratic politics.

By June, the NEA had reminded Obama about his previous statements – and the official 2007 NEA questionnaire – that led the organization to believe he was against voucher programs. So much for ensuring our kids can learn.

Here is a report from the Utah Education Association noting issues most important to NEA members. The number one reason, at least as listed in the PDF…

Sen. Obama opposes using public tax dollars to provide financial support to private schools.

The NEA site, which no longer has the full questionnaire online, sums up the Obama and McCain stance on vouchers on their site.

candidate-compare-vouchers

So he had to “revise” his statements from February. From Catholic.org.

The senator told ABC News last week: “We don’t have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.”

A huge drain? Is he kidding me? The DC public school system spends an estimated $25,000 per kid and vouchers, in the case of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, are $7,500 per kid.

Obama is flat out owned by the National Education Association. They demand and he delivers, even if voucher programs work – and they do.

How can the Obama administration think these programs do not work?

Who cares when millions in donations come from NEA members. Gotta have the cash flow I guess.

Here is a snip from the AP story on the Education secretaries “clarification.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday that poor children getting vouchers to attend private schools in the District of Columbia should be allowed to stay there, putting the Obama administration at odds with Democrats trying to end the program.

Duncan opposes vouchers, he said in an interview with The Associated Press. But he said Washington is a special case, and kids already in private schools on the public dime should be allowed to continue.

“I don’t think it makes sense to take kids out of a school where they’re happy and safe and satisfied and learning,” Duncan told said. “I think those kids need to stay in their school.”

Democrats in Congress have written a spending bill that would effectively end the program after next year. The bill says Congress and the city council would have to OK more money, which is unlikely.

The vouchers allowed some families to get their kids out of the D.C. public system and into private schools like Sidwell Friends.

Hat tip to Malkin for the heads up on Duncan’s statement.

Obama administration attacks school choice

By offering school choice, many cities – including Washington D.C. – have been able to provide some kids with the opportunity to attend better performing schools. Following marching orders from the National Education Association, the Obama administration intends to let a popular D.C. program end.

As mentioned here and here, the administration is taking some heat after the Wall Street Journal introduced us to the Parker family.

Like the Obama girls, Sarah and James [Parker] attend the Sidwell Friends School in our nation’s capital. Unlike the Obama girls, they could not afford the school without the $7,500 voucher they receive from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Unfortunately, a spending bill the Senate takes up this week includes a poison pill that would kill this program — and with it perhaps the Parker children’s hopes for a Sidwell diploma.

Look, the Obama family decision to send their kids to Sidwell Friends School was probably a good move. Not only does the Obama family have the income to afford tuition, there are security concerns I’m sure Sidwell is familiar with.

But why take the opportunity from other families?

More about the programs offered
The Washington Scholarship Program (WSP) provides varying scholarship opportunities funded with private and public money. One opportunity is the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (D.C. OSP).

The D.C. OSP provides genuine school choice for low-income families in the form of scholarships for children to attend K-12 non-public schools within the District’s boundaries. The maximum annual scholarship amount of $7,500 per child is available for families at or below 185% of the federal poverty level ($39,220 for a family of four). Families must reapply and prove their eligibility each year.

Established in 2003 as a fully funded government pilot, the pre-2008 budget allocation seems to have been less than $13 million ($7,500 x 1,715 kids). The Bush administration suggested increasing this amount by $5 million in April of 2008.

So, how well was the program doing? The Heartland Institute’s John Schilling, chief of staff and director of national projects for the DC-based Alliance for School Choice, chimes in.

“This is a program that is working phenomenally well for nearly 2,000 very low-income children and enjoys overwhelming parental satisfaction,” Schilling noted, “yet [it] receives significantly less funding than DCPS or charter schools.”

Even the Heritage Foundation reviewed reports and suggested expansion in a Web memo last month.

I know, you’ve often heard me – and other libertarians/conservatives – flat out state that the government should not be involved with education at all. In this example – as with other school choice voucher programs across the nation – this is a perfect example of bipartisanship destroyed by liberal politicians.

Damn do I cringe at that word. Anyway…

As noted in a previous post, Obama’s current appropriations bill increases the District’s school budget by $20 million. The argument from liberals will be they are closing one program and replacing it with more funding for the public school system.

I’m certain the parents of Sarah and James Parker are confident that if their kids must return to the public school system, they will get the same service and quality they received from Sidwell.

The federal government is, after all, throwing more funding at the public system than was provided to the school choice program!

Good luck with that, since we’ve proven more dollars do not improve student performance. When will the politicians, the NEA and parents come to the same realization? By taking this funding and giving it to the public system, students and families who who have tasted educational success will learn an important lesson. If the government gives it to you, they can certainly take it away.

Are you up on your civics? Take the quiz!

I’m going to be blunt. There are a lot of ignorant Americans walking the streets of this great country, and I’m not sure what to do about it. We already know dollars spent per student, teacher to student ratios nor the number of computers in the classroom have much effect on academic performance, so today let’s think about what will work; add your suggestions in the comments section.

What’s got me in this grouchy mood? Well, todays column from Walter Williams brings to light results from a national survey on civics awareness. You know, civics, the study of citizenship and government. The results, well, they suck.

Read more

Take the Intercollegiate Studies Institute civics quiz

I’m going to be blunt. There are a lot of ignorant Americans walking the streets of this great country, and I’m not sure what to do about it. We already know dollars spent per student, teacher to student ratios nor the number of computers in the classroom have much effect on academic performance, so today let’s think about what will work; add your suggestions in the comments section.

What’s got me in this grouchy mood? Well, todays column from Walter Williams brings to light results from a national survey on civics awareness. You know, civics, the study of citizenship and government. The results, well, they suck.

Read more

The case againsts the Obama presidency (Part 2)

I mentioned this post in the chat room during the first hour of today’s show and Jim’s asked me to crosspost here on Radio Vice Online. Instead of posting everything, follow the link and post your comments here or there.

After reviewing Hot Air’s post written by Guy Benson, Mary Katharine Ham and Ed Morrissey, it became apparent more needed to be done. It is a good review, but there are many more reasons you should not vote for Obama Nov. 4.

This post covers Supreme Court nominations, the 2nd Amendment, Obama’s lack of experience (and a look at the experience of past presidents), dealing with terrorism, embryonic stem cell research, Obama’s friends (not Wright and Ayers stuff), tax cuts, education, energy, illegal aliens, social security, health care and other Obama programs.

The liberal education syndicate

I’m using syndicate to imply a negative connotation. Here at Conservative247 we try our best to pass along information that is educational. Generally, it’s no holds barred when it comes to providing lessons about what defines conservative concepts here in the United States.

If you have not added Walter E. Williams to your reading list, you really should. Yesterday’s syndicated column – this time using syndicate in the mass media distribution way – brings Williams back to one of his top issues; black education.

Black schools in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore developed top-notch graduates including doctors, lawyers, civil rights leaders, military commanders and a Supreme Court justice; all prior to the 1950s. Read more

What is the Cost of Educating Kids?

Quite frequently local municipalities provide data detailing how much money is spent per pupil for budget disclosure. But are the numbers we are provided the real cost of educating kids in the United States?

It should be a pretty easy calculation, take the total amount of money spent to run the facility, pay teacher salaries and benefits, pay the administrators, buy the books and supplies, play the utilities bill and then divide that by the number of kids in the school.

But what if a town or city is only using money appropriated to the schools that is contributed by the local tax base in their per-pupil spending numbers? Read more