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  • Morning Bell: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of a New School Year

    As of today, the vast majority of American students have begun a new school year. As lunches are packed and carpool lines grow, Heritage reviews the good, bad, and ugly in education.

    The Good

    Support for school choice is at an all-time high. In a poll released in August, school choice favorability jumped 10 percentage points since last year, a sign that the proliferation of options such as vouchers, education savings accounts, and online learning is creating a welcome choice for families across the country.

    Options like the education savings accounts implemented in Arizona, statewide vouchers in effect in Louisiana, and tuition tax credits benefitting children in Florida provide families with greater control over education—something more and more parents are expressing they want.

    Social promotion is becoming less popular. In North Carolina, legislators approved a measure to end social promotion. Rather than automatically passing students on to the next grade, all third-grade students will be required to read at grade level before advancing to the fourth grade. Other states that have implemented this policy suggest that it is helpful in boosting student achievement.

    Online, customized learning is on the rise. Individualized online learning options allow more emphasis on areas where students are struggling, without holding back their peers who may be ready for the next level.

    Teachers union membership is declining. The National Education Association is projecting a loss of 308,000 members since 2010. One of the union’s top officials, treasurer Becky Pringle, blames “stupid” education reform: “We’re living with a recession that just won’t end, political attacks that have turned brutal, and societal changes that are impacting us—from stupid education ‘reform’ to an explosion of technology—all coming together to impact us in ways that we had never anticipated.”

    The Bad

    The Administration is singling out minority students for government “help” instead of raising them up through increased options. Over the summer, President Obama signed an executive order to form the new White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. According to the White House, the new initiative, which will work across federal agencies, “aims to ensure that all African American students receive an education that fully prepares them for high school graduation, college completion, and productive careers.”

    Parents and taxpayers would be correct to be skeptical of a new Washington initiative to improve student outcomes. A new evaluation by Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution and Paul Peterson of Harvard shows a far more promising route to improving academic opportunity for the students the President’s initiative aims to help: school vouchers. The study of low-income students in New York City found a 24 percent increase in college enrollment among African-American students who were awarded and used vouchers to attend private schools.

    This success has already proven the vital role of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Students who have used vouchers to attend private schools in the nation’s capital have a 91 percent graduation rate, while graduation rates in D.C. public schools hover around 60 percent.

    The Ugly

    Average per-pupil spending in public schools is reaching historic highs. Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year, meaning a child entering kindergarten today can expect to have no less than $148,000 spent on his or her education by the time the child graduates high school. In all, more than $570 billion will be spent on public K-12 education this year.

    Continual increases in the money spent per child and in overall spending haven’t led to increases in academic achievement. Heritage’s Lindsey Burke notes:

    We continue to fund institutions—sending that money to schools—instead of actually funding children. Imagine if a child could put those dollars in a funding “backpack” and take that $11,400 to any school—public, private, or virtual. As in every other sector of American life, we would likely see outcomes improve as a result of competitive pressure placed on the government school system.

    Despite the successes of more individualized learning and school choice, the Obama Administration wants to further centralize education in Washington through national standards and tests. It has been trying to entice states with waivers from the onerous No Child Left Behind law, which it gives to states that agree to adopt the Administration’s standards instead.

    Implementing Washington-controlled education standards means that states, local school boards, and ultimately parents will have less say in their children’s education. This year’s homework assignment for conservatives: continue the fight for increased parental control, individualized options for students, and decreased government interference in education.

    Quick Hits:

    • In the month of August, more than 103,000 refugees fled Syria—”almost doubling the total number of refugees from the previous 17 months combined,” CNN reports.
    • Gas prices hit a record high for Labor Day yesterday.
    • Vice President Joe Biden says Americans are “better off” than they were four years ago, and “if it weren’t so hot” at his campaign stop, he would have gone into detail.
    • First Lady Michelle Obama will speak tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
    • Where is the Obama Administration’s Spring 2012 regulatory agenda? By law, it’s supposed to be published by now—but the Administration is keeping mum on its plans for new regulations going into the election.
    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    32 Responses to Morning Bell: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of a New School Year

    1. gpscv says:

      Education is worse than failing it is "Obamanable". Anything this administration touches turns from bad to ugly. A marketing guy, Seth Godin wrote a book, about 100 pages, called "Stop Stealing Dreams". It is a free PDF, available here: http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/stopstealingdrea… – it has ideas, solutions, education, success stories, and paradigm alternatives to current early 20th century level education in practice today.

    2. JRP says:

      typical, you gotta give us more money to help education, and if you don't you are against "the children". Ok so the education complex got their money and did test scores rise? No. did achievement rise? No. Kinda like the stimulus money that created no jobs all the extra money into education did not good. "stupid' eucation reform? didn't the politicians do that from both parties looking for the easy way out? blame the NEA for just helping the teachers and NOT the students.

    3. Bill Garrison says:

      I'm a retired educator. I'm 83 years old and I taught children for fifty-three years. In my opinion, teacher preparation shares the greatest blame for the poor academic performance of many children. Professors are more interested in developing educational materials, writing books, and publishing "research." Teachers and principals do not know how to discipline. Discipline grows out of relationship and begins in kindergarten. And lastly, children need to enjoy learning. The pattern of teach, test, teach turns students off.

    4. ThomNJ says:

      I believe that if it were not for states like New Jersey that REQUIRE someone to be in a union, if a union is present, that union memberships would be much smaller. I was forced to join the Steelworkers Union in order to get a certain job years ago; though they did nothing for me and certainly took away a portion of my paycheck.

      The NJEA already gave the students off today, traditionally the first day of school in NJ. They also have a two more days off in the next couple of weeks for "Fall Recess". Maybe, just maybe the kids could have some consistency in their education rather than half days or off days before they even get going.

    5. reggiec says:

      Here is some information for home schoolers or for parents whos kids are in public school and might be struggling:

      The Khan Accademy is a free online source that provides courses on just about any subject. The nice thing about it is that you can pause and go back at any time to review some portion of the lesson you did not fully understand. Check it out. Even parents can go back to school.

    6. Dayle Robbs says:

      Great article Amy…I was "shocked" at what it costs for the average student to attend Public School! I began home-educating in 1986 and spent annually about $200 for all 3…

    7. Ruth Altrui says:

      I'm a retired teacher and a strong opponent of school choice. "Choice" means that there will always be large numbers of students relegated to failing schools. The good schools can't hold all of them. The greatest impediment to my teaching was always interference from the federal government and the threat of lawsuits because I might "violate" someone's civil rights. Over the years, my teaching became more and more geared to covering my behind. Private schools and most charter schools don't function with the boot of the federal government on their throats. If we want all students to have the same education that they would receive in private/charter schools, then let's adopt their practices and structure. Vouchers and school choice do nothing more than attempt to find a way around real problems that plague our educational systems. Get the federal government and lawyers out of our schools!

    8. Karen says:


    9. Bobbie says:

      There is no sign of "good" where federal government needlessly or unconstitutionally exists. Who's was the cry to beg for federal government help? The federal abuse of government authority, that's who. We the people government works for didn't ask for it or the undisciplined costs! Where's the crisis besides government approval lessening the qualifications, lowering the standards, focusing personal issues as social academia, increasing salaries and benefits of those employed in educational system? SAVE THE CHILDREN! Get the feds OUT! Their's is NO RIGHT to involve controlled counter-productivity!

    10. Ken Marx says:

      Yikes! $11,400 per pupil is $342,000 in a classroom of 30. After paying a teacher, maybe a teachers aide, and funding the facilities, there's a lot of money going somewhere into overhead and administration. How can I get in on such a gravy train?

    11. Charles Farley says:

      All your efforts and thinking exclude the major problem — how is a child going to learn if they go home where the parents don't care if the child does assigned homework due to drugs, alcohol, single parent working and no one is at home etc. In short, you do not address the condition our our culture and ways to improve it. You are only working on the "rear end" and not the "front end" of the problem.

    12. Marv says:

      President Obama was raised, during his most formative years, under a centralized and powerful government. He has no concept of "choice" as most Americans view it. Thus, he feels that for the government to allow us ignorant laypeople the option to decide how and where our children should be educated is foreign to him. Too many of our children are being taught by a centralized education system mandated to teach in a certain fashion, and certain subjects by that central government. As with health care insurance, we are no longer allowed to make our own decisions. This is just the sort of control our founding Fathers fought against. We should stop this now.

    13. J E Houser says:

      Regarding education: I think that in grammar schools ALL instruments such as computers and other such instruments should be banned from schools. Classroom walls should be dressed in blackboards, and the alphabet. Students should be taught and required to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and history, especially of the United States of America. Teachers, or someone in the principal's office, should be permitted and encouraged to discipline students for misconduct including misconduct of the simplest form such as not paying attention and failure to do require work.
      And the federal government should get entirely out of schooling. The one lesson history has demonstrated many times is that rampant mental improvement occurs only when there is a group of competitive states. Of course, some great achievements occur in other societies, but it like comparing occasional flowers while walking through a forest with a beautiful garden.

      • ThomNJ says:

        Spot on!

      • DMJ says:

        Excellent suggestions. I only take exception to the discipline of not paying attention. There are some children who cannot pay attention for long periods of time, especially those in the primary grades. To punish them for something they cannot do is not appropriate.

        • Bobbie says:

          that's a bit of embellishment isn't it? "children who cannot pay attention for long periods of time?" does that mean they can't learn to? I don't mean anything but that should be the concern and responsibility of the parents or care giver or guardian when reported by the teacher. Where schools are run by government overhead, many times issues that are necessary to report go unreported. Too much work and damage to the teachers while we witness teachers care more about their union benefits and salaries then educating…

          • DMJ says:

            There are children with Attention deficit disorder who cannot pay attention for long periods of time, especially if the child is not interested in the subject or if he already knows the information. This is not a matter of the parents disciplining the child. This is a matter of the child not being capable of paying attention. If the child is not being disruptive, why punish him? It is akin to punishing a crippled child for not being able to walk.
            I am not referring to children who are misdiagnosed with this condition because they are disruptive. I am referring to children who really do have the condition.

    14. toledofan says:

      No if and or buts about it the educational system, aka public schools, are in deep trouble and sinking fast. The illusion that pumping more money is going to make a difference is just absurd. One thing is for sure, at least in my perspective, is that as long as the Democrats are in charge, nothing will change for the better and things will even get worse. Political correctness has been the single biggest factor that has caused a major part of the deterioration and as long as we continue to be devoid of any meaningful discipline, then the system will continue to decline.

    15. Robert Calabro says:

      The school voucher system is the best answer for poor children. It is about time that the government education monopoly come to an end. The teachers would be well advised to leave the union! Teachers pensions should be converted to 401k plans. It is time for people to realize that our economic destiny is our hands, not the government. With a 401 k plan, teachers willhave a choice on how their hard earned money is invested. I firmly believe that every state in our country should be a right to work State! In 1948, the Supreme Court upheld freedom of association. The time has arrived for union coercian to end! I sincerely hope that Governor Romney pushes this issue. Regards Robert Calabro.

    16. James Stewart says:

      Please add to the Ugly: Government's aim is to indoctrinate, not educate. A perfect example is when schools teach Sharia law as an acceptable worldview.

    17. Mike says:

      I support school choice, but not in its current form. Mostly minority students benefit from this and their parents don't support Republicans. The only reason they support it is because it's another handout for them on mostly white people's backs. Heritage needs to reconsider their position on this.

    18. JohnGalt24 says:

      Obama is a statist first and foremost. Of course he wants more things run out of Washington. Damn the results it's full speed ahead.

    19. JohnGalt24 says:

      First and foremost, Obama is a statist. Of course he wants more things run out of Washington. Damn the results its full speed ahead.

      Every shred of data shows that the U.S. Government is the worst choice to run ANYTHING. Why, you ask; “ Because there is absolutely no accountability”. No matter how bad the results, the government holds no one accountable.

    20. muskegonlibertarian says:

      Home schooled children generally will out perform private school children, who in turn will outperform public school children. This is the 21st Century, but we are still educating children in much the same way as was done back in the 19th Century. Children's "summer vacations" came about because they were needed on the farm. Today only 2% of the population of the USA works or lives on farms. Germany has an educational system where part of the day is spent in the classroom, the other part of the day is spent in "on the job training". We need to show our children what the value of their learning means by showing them how what they learn is used in the work world.

    21. W. L. Adamson says:

      Close the Department of Education as a starter. Send the government dollars to the States to let them handle education without any strings attached (no government bean counters, no educational "experts" telling them where the money should go and how it should be spent. The result: the country would save one heck of a lot of money and kids would get a better education to boot. I was adamantly opposed to No Child Left Behind and the results have shown that I was right; it's a another Federal disaster. Shame on Bush for ever going for this program in the first place.

    22. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, of Obamanomics.

    23. Stephen says:

      My four young boys were homeschooled for several years before recently attending one year of public school in Virginia. Each of them aced the standardized tests, therefore improving the school average. The cost of educating all four for one year was around $1,000. The cost of educating one child in Virginia Public Schools for one school year….$10,928. It isn't about education anymore, it's a business.

    24. April says:

      I have never cared for the national standard tests given at any school. I understand why it is done, we need numbers to see how our children are faring compared to other schools. But, while teachers scramble to find ways to teach and feed all this information (that they are expected to teach), it ends up being choked down the students throat sometimes without the proper method and resources; thus, they are at a loss. I so wish teachers had more freedom to teach their students the way they see fit. There is an amazing relationship that happens between a teacher and a student. It's the best teachers that are remembered for educating outside the box…and it's not because they found a way to cram the test info down you; it was the fact they had a love for teaching.

    25. I taught high school English for nine years in private and parochial schools, and then 28 years in a public school system. I was certainly freer to innovate and teach individually to each student in the private schools–no question, but the pay was so low that I couldn't support my family. I did, however, figure out a way to individualize my public school classes by giving the students a great deal of choice in their reading and writing assignments. Doing that, I never had a student fail the state assessment. http://teachloveofreading.blogspot.com/

    26. Our schools went sour with more than ever disapline problems since prayer was taken out of the school system.

    27. Cecilia Ruhnke says:

      Money must be given to the school that the parents have chosen for their student. If money were given to the parents, much of it would not be used for the student at all.

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