12/2000 State Education Roundup

Published December 1, 2000

Arizona * California * Michigan * Oregon
Rhode Island * Texas * Washington


English Learners Short-Changed

After studying official reports filed with the U.S. Department of Education, Lexington Institute Vice President Don Soifer discovered that nearly all of the federally funded programs for English learners in Arizona failed to meet major program objectives, submitted unmeasurable objectives, or contained no outcome-based objectives.

The programs, funded mainly by Title VII bilingual education grants, account for one-third of the money spent on education programs for the state’s 140,000 English learners.

In his 15-page October 2000 study, “Letting English Learners Down: Federal Bilingual Programs in Arizona,” Soifer notes that some programs failed to demonstrate any significant growth in English proficiency for more than half of their students. Other programs spent funds on tangential activities, including out-of-state travel for program officials and seminars on such topics as “The Hegemony of English” and “Cultural Teaching of Wildlife.”

The Goldwater Institute Journal

The Goldwater Institute Journal made its debut this year with three issues covering the proceedings of the Charter School Research Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, in February 2000. The purpose of the conference, conducted by the Institute’s Center for Market-Based Education, was to examine charter school research, make researchers aware of what results are available, and determine the research questions that remain to be answered.

Conference participants included Lisa Graham Keegan, Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction; Jon Kyle, U.S. Senator from Arizona; Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; Robert Maranto from the University of Virginia; and Michael Podgursky from the University of Missouri. Maranto noted that while everyone talks about school choice, “Arizona has done it.”

“The districts that have been hit hardest by charter school competition are the ones where the administration was out of touch with their teachers,” he reported. “I’m not going to say that the choice experiment in Arizona has revolutionized public education, but I think it has improved it. And I think in particular, it has improved it for teachers.”


Government-Run Schools Fail State’s Children

Earlier this year, the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy issued a new edition of its influential California Index of Leading Education Indicators. When the first edition was published in 1997, it led directly to important education reforms such as eliminating bilingual education and more accurate reporting of dropout rates.

In the new 83-page study, authors Lance T. Izumi and K. Gwynne Coburn gather and present data on topics ranging from test scores to teacher quality, from dropout rates to drug use, and from remedial instruction to reduction of class size.

Whether viewed individually or as a whole, the indicators used to measure the performance of K-12 education in California clearly show there are fundamental problems with the state’s government-run school system. For example, California’s fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress ranked next to last among the states. Only 62 percent of the state’s science teachers majored in science, the fifth-worst in the nation.

In 1988, the graduation rate in California was only 67.2 percent–almost one-third of the state’s ninth-graders drop out before graduation. When the students who do graduate high school go on to college, vast numbers need remedial classes. In 1998, 54 percent of incoming freshmen in the California State University system were required to enroll in remedial math, with 47 percent required to take remedial English.


School Choice Is Improving Public Schools

Has the increased competition provided by limited public school choice improved or harmed educational opportunities for children in Michigan? Has the competition encouraged public schools to respond to the needs and demands of students and parents, or has it discouraged such improvements?

A recent study from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy finds that competition has been a powerful incentive for improvement while expanding the ability of parents to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children. The study’s authors, Matthew J. Brouillette and Matthew Ladner, find little evidence to suggest that competition has harmed the cause of better education for Michigan children.

Public school choice first came to Michigan when the state legislature approved the nation’s fourth charter school law in 1993. Today, nearly 50,000 children–3 percent of the public school student population–are enrolled in more than 170 charter schools across the state.

The Michigan legislature gave parents and students an even greater range of public school choice through the “schools-of-choice” program, which allows children to attend other public schools in their own and neighboring districts. Almost 18,000 students took advantage of this opportunity in 1999-2000.

The March 2000 study, “The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts,” concludes with recommendations for expanding parental choice in education and thereby increasing the positive impact of competition on Michigan public schools.


Costly Proscriptions Simply Maintain Status Quo

Implementing Oregon’s Quality Education Model will result in a significant waste of taxpayer resources because it is unlikely to improve student achievement, concludes Ohio University economics professor Richard E. Vedder in a recent report, called Money for Nothing, from the Cascade Policy Institute in Portland.

The Quality Education Model was developed over the past two years to determine “the fundamental requirements and costs of a quality education.” Vedder estimates the cost of the Model at $457 million to $1.15 billion a year.

“The Quality Education Model largely embraces the status quo, with the exception of the call for greater financial resources,” said Vedder, noting the Model ignores major efforts underway across the country that offer promising and relatively cost-effective alternative reforms.

According to Vedder, the Model ignores any possible structural reforms, such as parental choice; deals only partially with curricular reform; and concentrates on financial reform. That approach maintains the current mechanism of educational delivery but increases the resources provided to schools.

“Oregon has already invested more money in its public schools than many other states, yet our results are far from stellar,” noted Cascade Institute president Steve Buckstein. Even worse, he added, the Quality Education Model “relies on very costly proscriptions that fail to pass educational research and cost-benefit tests.”


Education in the Ocean State

In July, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council issued its annual report on education in the Ocean State, Education Results for Rhode Island – 2000. The 57-page report provides information on Rhode Island’s school system compared to other states in the nation, together with detailed information concerning individual school districts.

The publication is not intended to be a report card, but rather a research tool that provides a range of information to measure how the state’s schools are progressing and where increased attention may be warranted.

In 1998-99, Rhode Island spent approximately $7,607 per student, the sixth highest in the nation and 21.7 percent above the U.S. average of $6,251. While spending on general instruction increased by over 50 percent from FY 1990 to FY 1999, the proportion of education dollars spent on general instruction fell from 54.7 percent in FY 1990 to 50.9 percent in FY 1999.

Student enrollments in Rhode Island increased by 11.6 percent to 153,889 students from the 1990-91 school year to the 1998-99 school year. During that period, the percentage of students enrolled in Limited English Proficiency programs increased from 5.5 percent to 6.0 percent. Almost one-third of the state’s students (32.9 percent) were eligible for the federal free or reduced lunch program in 1998-99, compared to 22.5 percent in 1990-91.

The number and percentage of students enrolled in special education programs also increased over that period, rising from 15.6 percent of students in 1990-91 to 18.8 percent of total enrollment in 1998-99. Funding for special education programs grew from 12.8 percent of total spending in FY 1990 to 17.6 percent in FY 1999. According to a recent report prepared for the Massachusetts legislature, Rhode Island enrolled a larger percentage (10.8 percent) of children ages 3-21 in special education programs than any other state, with the U.S. average being 7.7 percent.


Texas Education Review

The Texas Review Society has begun publication of the Texas Education Review, a new quarterly academic journal dedicated to addressing critical concerns confronting elementary, secondary, and higher education. The Society is a nonprofit educational organization committed to promoting scholarly discourse as well as providing students with opportunities to write and publish. Students at the University of Texas, University of Houston, and St. Thomas University will compile the Review with guidance from a distinguished editorial board of professors and policy researchers.

The inaugural issue contains papers by Jay Greene and Nicole Mellow (“Integration Where It Counts”), Joseph Horn (“The Lowest Common Denominator”), Daniel Bonevac (“The Forgotten Principles”), and Bradford Wilson (“The Culture of Higher Education”). In “Hostility or Neutrality,” Allan E. Parker and R. Clayton Trotter make a case for the constitutionality of allowing faith-based private schools to access public education funds. They argue that the public school system’s claim of religious neutrality is false since secular education imposes its own values, which often are hostile to the beliefs of the children’s parents.

“Exclusion of faith-based schools from voucher programs is undeniably based on the viewpoint of their curriculums, rather than their content,” they write. “The opponents of vouchers for sectarian schools do not generally question their academic competence” but object to the teaching of academic content from a theocentric viewpoint. The authors conclude with the hope that the Supreme Court will resolve this issue “by deciding that exclusion on this basis is facially impermissible.”


No Place for Children at Collective Bargaining Table

The staff of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, after summarizing and analyzing collective bargaining contracts in most of Washington’s 296 school districts, has developed a series of recommendations for changing the collective bargaining model to make it more supportive of improving student academic achievement.

The Foundation’s report, written by Karen Helland and Corrie White, with assistance from Lynn Harsh and Jeanne Brown, is titled Collective Bargaining in Public Schools: Turning the Focus to Students. The research was inspired by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s publication of a similar report on collective bargaining contracts in Michigan public schools.

The authors point out that the impact of collective bargaining extends from obvious issues, such as teacher evaluation, sick leave, work rules, and retirement, to indirect issues, such as the use of volunteers in school campuses, the make-up of curriculum planning teams, and how much funding is available to hire teachers in the district.

Despite the claims of teacher unions to the contrary, the nature of the collective bargaining process often discards the interests of students and parents. As an example, the authors describe one collective bargaining contract that caused a revised school schedule to be discontinued, despite broad support for the schedule among students, parents, administrators, and even a majority of teachers.

“The collective bargaining process must change if it is to remain relevant for public education,” writes Harsh. In particular, school board members must become much more skilled negotiators so that improved employee benefits and working conditions do not come at the expense of the educational progress of students.

How Unions Get Around “Paycheck Protection”

Over the past four years, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation has been party to litigation concerning the Washington Education Association’s use of mandatory payroll deductions for political campaigns. Using the knowledge they gained during that process, the Foundation has prepared a detailed examination of 12 additional major union players in state elections.

According to EFF research analyst Jamie Lund, the unions were chosen “based on the amount of political influence they wield and their willingness to ignore the law and the rights of their members in pursuit of it.”

In the 61-page report, Taking Employee Wages to Hijack Elections, Lund first explains how unions have taken steps to neutralize the intent of Initiative 134, a 1992 citizen-approved statute that bars the withholding of any portion of an employee’s wages for political uses unless the employee first gives written approval. Unions have circumvented the law by transferring money from general funds to a union-controlled Political Action Committee; sending withheld dues to an out-of-state parent union that then returns funds to the state PAC; giving dues to an organization or PAC one step removed from the union; and modeling the union’s election activities on the traditional voter efforts of a political party.

“We uncovered numerous violations and brought them to the attention of the state Public Disclosure Commission,” said Lund, noting the alleged violations are still being investigated. For example, seven locals of the Laborers’ International Union of North America did not have PACs, exceeded $11,500 in contributions in 1998, failed to file major donor reports, and filed no record of giving a total of $117,648 with the Public Disclosure Commission, as required by law. Sixteen candidates received over $5,000 from LIUNA in 1998, despite a contribution limit of $1,150 per election.