Last week was National School Choice Week. Negative vibes and views about school choice whether achieved through vouchers, charter schools, Educational Savings Accounts, or by other means are quite common. Three years ago a study by Greg Forster, PhD used available empirical studies to show that vouchers improve outcomes for both participants and public schools in A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.
It’s easy to understand how participants would benefit by giving them more options, but schools likewise benefit as vouchers introduce healthy incentives for public schools to improve. Forster’s 2011 report indicates how 11 out of the 12 gold-standard studies on school choice found that choice improves student outcomes; the other study found neither a negative nor positive impact (Friedman Foundation for Educational Excellence, April 2013).
Chicago’s celebration of School Choice Week was commemorated at a joint venture held by The Heartland Institute and the Illinois Policy Institute at an evening event on Thursday, January 30, at the headquarters of The Heartland Institute, One South Wacker Drive #2740. Joe Bast is President and CEO of The Heartland Institute. John Tillman heads the Illinois Policy Institute as its CEO. Moderator was Bruno Behrend, Senior fellow for education policy, The Heartland Institute. Members of the panel were Joseph Bast, Heartland’s president; Tom Morrison, Illinois State Representative (R-54); and Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy, Illinois Policy Institute. All were credited as having expertise in education policy.
The discussion centered on how to improve our schools and give children a chance at a better future. There was ample time provided for attendees to direct questions to the three panelists. Free school choice educational materials was on hand to help spread the reform message, as was the book “What American Can Learn from School Choice in Other Countries,” which presents a wealth of information and insights into how parents in many other countries have more freedom of choice in education than Americans do and without the financial penalty.
In his opening statement moderator Burno Behrend spoke of the need to transform instead of reform, questioning why school districts and administrators even have to exist. The panelists were given a series of questions by Behrend for general response. At other times a specific question was directed to only one of the panelists for his consideration.
Frederick Hess and Bror Saxberg in their joint article published in the SPRING 2014/ VOL. 14. NO 2 of Education Next, “Schooling Rebooted: Turning educators into learning engineers”, advances the understanding of technology as a tool rather than some kind of secret sauce. . . The most important thing is the vision of what you’re going to do. Once you’ve got vision, there are various kinds of support that are needed in terms of curriculum and infrastructure. Trying to backfill technology into existing systems can be difficult.
All three panelists spoke favorably about the use of technology in education. Ted Dabrowski is convinced that technology will break down the status quo in education, allowing for more innovation. Tom Morrison spoke of the use of tablets enabling students to work at their own pace with a teacher available to check that students are doing their assignment, while Joe Bast believes that a technology revolution is already taking place outside of the school in virtual learning.
Selected statements made by Ted Dabrowski, Tom Morrison, and Joe Bast on a variety of subjects:
Ted Dabrowski -
- Children who are forced to remain in failing schools must be turned into heroes and not the victims they are perceived to be by those resisting vouchers or school choice.
- Four of 100 kids in Illinois’ worst schools won’t be college ready, meaning 96% aren’t going to make it.
- Make the case for vouchers by 1) doing a better job of promoting the money case, 2) having an action plan when the anti-choice side fights back with massive amounts of money, and 3) thinking more of being in a constant campaign mode as is the practice of unions.
- The pro school choice side is lousy at building coalitions. We miss opportunities by not partnering with parents who have children in the worst schools or who do want a choice. There are those even in suburban schools who would prefer to send their children to a private school. [Moderator Behrend raised the issue of how to overcome the stigma of poor kids attending mostly white suburban schools.]
Tom Morrison -
- Taxpayers are no longer willing to keep paying higher tax rates even if guaranteed a better educational outcome, in a realization that throwing more money at education is not the answer.
- The term “voucher” has gotten to be a bad word and doesn’t sell well with so-called soccer moms. Might be better to call them “opportunity scholarships” instead, where the money follows the child.
- In crafting a bill for Educational Savings Accounts, a family would receive the money and could choose how to spend it. Shopping around is possible as there is no need to spend the money all at one place. Any bill would need to stipulate non-means testing and a further requirement for qualification at 1-1/2 times the poverty level. Without these factors the legislation would be difficult to sell to legislators.
- Raised the question of whether it’s fair to force kids in Chicago to attend faulty schools?
Joe Bast -
- People in the front lines are the last ones to realize how much progress has taken place in school choice: 1.6 million children are attending charter schools. 250,000 are attending private school through vouchers.
- The other side has lots of money. We are outspent 100 to 1. We must win the political argument and the rest will fall into place.
- In answer to Ted Dabrowski who suggested that every child might be given the opportunity of school choice, Bast cited the lack of money and of political support for Ted’s universal proposal.
- Teacher burn out does happen. Burned out teachers who remain in the teaching profession, lured to stay by generous pension, do just as well as do younger and more enthusiastic teachers. How so? The really talented teacher leave the teaching profession to work in other fields, leaving in its wake the burned out teachers.
- Believes the next governor will sign on to vouchers or choice legislation. Illinois is way out of line with other states.
Question and Answer Highlights -
- Jeff Berkowitz of Chicago Now spoke about the importance of keeping the message simple. As related by Berkowitz, there are 15,000 students in the Chicago Public Schools. Unless we get 30 senators to vote for voucher legislation it won’t happen. At the end of the day it will be a pitchfork political battle with the fierce educational lobby. Whether school vouchers or pension reform, it’s all about money which is the driving force. When you can’t get the money, what do you do? Said Berkowitz: If the right message (public policy) is presented to get the people to move, the money will be found. Legislators must then be convinced to vote the right way. A better job of messaging is needed.
- Education doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution because the Founders didn’t want the government to manipulate schools.
- Common Core with its standards for each grade level might sound good to many. This presents the opportunity to show how ineffective Common Core actually is with government centralization. Common Core was referred to as “Obamacore.”
- Schools are to serve the children; children are their customers.
- The best schools in Chicago are charter schools. Even when located in areas with the same demographics, children fare better than in a traditional school setting.
- There is 60% support for school vouchers. The pubic gets it. It’s all about politics!
- All total there are 6.3 million individuals in public school education. Half of the system (3.2 million) is made up of pricy and often unnecessary administrators.
Moderator Behend’s closing thoughts:
The envelope must be pushed. Common Core was depicted as the “last gasp of centralized, top-down education.” And why doesn’t centralization work? Because one size fits all just doesn’t work.
Two dates to consider saving:
1. Tuesday, February 11 – Tevi Troy will present a lecture on his book, What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House. To register call 312/377-4000 or visit heartland.org.
2. Friday, September 12 – Michelle Malkin has been engaged to be the Keynote Speaker at The Heartland Institute’s 30th Anniversary Benefit Dinner. Visit: benefit. Heartland.org or contact Gwendalyn Carver at email@example.com or call 312/377-4000.