Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Governor Bobby Jindal’s fight to give poor, minority children quality education

Here’s an update on the Democrat war on vouchers in Louisiana, posted by governor Bobby Jindal in the left-leaning Washington Post. In it, he explains how is trying to reform education in his home state of Louisiana, and how the federal government is trying to stop him for doing that.

Excerpt:

We all know the harsh cycle of poverty that exists in the United States and that a disproportionate share of those in poverty are minorities. Studies of health-care outcomes, incarceration levels and economic opportunity all show that education is key to improving quality of life.

Millions of single parents in this country work two jobs to make ends meet, hoping that their children won’t have the same struggles. Hope is their only option because they live in neighborhoods with chronically failing public schools and lack the means to move to better school districts or to send their children to private schools.

Obama and Holder think this should continue to be the reality. In Louisiana, we think the opposite is true. We believe every child deserves the opportunity to get a great education.

That’s why we started a school choice program in 2008 in New Orleans and expanded it statewide in 2012. Low-income families with children in schools graded C, D or F by the state are eligible to apply for a scholarship and send their children to schools of their choice.

The program works. From 2011 to 2013, students who had been trapped in failing schools and now attend scholarship schools showed improvement on literacy and math tests. The share of students performing at grade level rose 7 percent, state data show, even though in 2013, 60 percent of students taking the test had been in their new schools for only eight months. More than 90 percent of parents of students participating in the program reported satisfaction with their children’s schools.

This opportunity is perhaps these children’s best chance to escape the cycle of poverty. No one in their right mind could argue that the Justice Department’s efforts to block the scholarship program will help these kids. This can only be an attempt to curry favor with the government unions that provide financial largess and political power.

President Obama should do the right thing and order the Justice Department to drop the lawsuit. Not because I am asking, but because the parents and children in the scholarship program deserve an opportunity. For generations, the government has forced these families to hope for the best from failing schools. Shame on all of us for standing by and watching generations of children stay in failing schools that may have led them to lives of poverty.

We in Louisiana are rejecting the status quo because we believe every child should have the opportunity to succeed. A scholarship program is not a silver bullet for student success. Maybe a student will perform well in a traditional public school, or a charter school, or a virtual school, but the point is that parents should be able to decide, not bureaucrats in Baton Rouge or Washington.

If the president and the attorney general believe their path is right, I invite them to come to Louisiana and look these parents and children in the eyes and explain why they believe every child shouldn’t have a fair shake.

If the administration does not drop this lawsuit, we will fight every step of the way until the children prevail. Giving every child — no matter race or income — the opportunity to get a great education is a moral imperative.

You might remember that the Obama administration previously went after the D.C. voucher program, which was also for helping poor, minority students.  Why are the Democrats doing this? The answer is simple. Come election time, the Democrats rely heavily on the fundraising and activism of the teacher unions. The teacher unions have more money if they have more children trapped in their failing public schools. Therefore, Obama has every incentive to make sure that no child is allowed to leave a failing school. He needs the help of the teacher unions at election time more than he needs to help children who cannot even vote. That’s what is really going on here. Bobby Jindal would love to have the support of teacher unions, but given the choice between helping the unions and helping the children, he’s choosing the children.

The main point here is that the politicians who talk the most about spending more money on education may not be thinking about what is best for children at all. They might be thinking about paying their union supporters more, so that they will do more at election time. An alternative to just giving more money to the unions would be Jindal’s plan of giving money directly to parents and letting parents choose. Parents might not be as politically connected as teacher unions, but if your goal is to help children get an education, then maybe unions and elections don’t matter as much.

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What factors are contributing to the higher education bubble?

This article from the Wall Street Journal was discussed at length by Dennis Prager on his radio show yesterday.

Excerpt:

College costs have continued to explode despite 50 years of ostensibly benevolent government interventions, according to Mr. Vedder, and the president’s new plan could exacerbate the trend. By Mr. Vedder’s lights, the cost conundrum started with the Higher Education Act of 1965, a Great Society program that created federal scholarships and low-interest loans aimed at making college more accessible.

In 1964, federal student aid was a mere $231 million. By 1981, the feds were spending $7 billion on loans alone, an amount that doubled during the 1980s and nearly tripled in each of the following two decades, and is about $105 billion today. Taxpayers now stand behind nearly $1 trillion in student loans.

Meanwhile, grants have increased to $49 billion from $6.4 billion in 1981. By expanding eligibility and boosting the maximum Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350, the 2009 stimulus bill accelerated higher ed’s evolution into a middle-class entitlement. Fewer than 2% of Pell Grant recipients came from families making between $60,000 and $80,000 a year in 2007. Now roughly 18% do.

This growth in subsidies, Mr. Vedder argues, has fueled rising prices: “It gives every incentive and every opportunity for colleges to raise their fees.”

Many colleges, he notes, are using federal largess to finance Hilton-like dorms and Club Med amenities. Stanford offers more classes in yoga than Shakespeare. A warning to parents whose kids sign up for “Core Training”: The course isn’t a rigorous study of the classics, but rather involves rigorous exercise to strengthen the glutes and abs.

Or consider Princeton, which recently built a resplendent $136 million student residence with leaded glass windows and a cavernous oak dining hall (paid for in part with a $30 million tax-deductible donation by Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman). The dorm’s cost approached $300,000 per bed.

[...]Some college officials are also compensated more handsomely than CEOs. Since 2000, New York University has provided $90 million in loans, many of them zero-interest and forgivable, to administrators and faculty to buy houses and summer homes on Fire Island and the Hamptons.

Former Ohio State President Gordon Gee (who resigned in June after making defamatory remarks about Catholics) earned nearly $2 million in compensation last year while living in a 9,630 square-foot Tudor mansion on a 1.3-acre estate. The Columbus Camelot includes $673,000 in art decor and a $532 shower curtain in a guest bathroom. Ohio State also paid roughly $23,000 per month for Mr. Gee’s soirees and half a million for him to travel the country on a private jet.

[...]Colleges have also used the gusher of taxpayer dollars to hire more administrators to manage their bloated bureaucracies and proliferating multicultural programs. The University of California system employs 2,358 administrative staff in just its president’s office.

“Every college today practically has a secretary of state, a vice provost for international studies, a zillion public relations specialists,” Mr. Vedder says. “My university has a sustainability coordinator whose main message, as far as I can tell, is to go out and tell people to buy food grown locally. . . . Why? What’s bad about tomatoes from Pennsylvania as opposed to Ohio?”

[...]Today, only about 7% of recent college grads come from the bottom-income quartile compared with 12% in 1970 when federal aid was scarce. All the government subsidies intended to make college more accessible haven’t done much for this population, says Mr. Vedder. They also haven’t much improved student outcomes or graduation rates, which are around 55% at most universities (over six years).

[...]“Thirty-percent of the adult population has college degrees,” he notes. “The Department of Labor tells us that only 20% or so of jobs require college degrees. We have 115,520 janitors in the United States with bachelor’s degrees or more. Why are we encouraging more kids to go to college?”

Mr. Vedder sees similarities between the government’s higher education and housing policies, which created a bubble and precipitated the last financial crisis. “In housing, we had artificially low interest rates. The government encouraged people with low qualifications to buy a house. Today, we have low interest rates on student loans. The government is encouraging kids to go to school who are unqualified just as it encouraged people to buy a home who are unqualified.”

The higher-ed bubble, he says, is “already in the process of bursting,” which is reflected by all of the “unemployed or underemployed college graduates with big debts.” The average student loan debt is $26,000, but many graduates, especially those with professional degrees, have six-figure balances.

Mr. Obama wants to help more students discharge their debts by capping their monthly payments at 10% of their discretionary income and forgiving their outstanding balances after 20 years. Grads who take jobs in government or at nonprofits already can discharge their debt after a decade.

“Somehow working for the private sector is bad and working for the public sector is good? I don’t see on what basis one would make that conclusion,” Mr. Vedder says. “If I had to make some judgment, I would do just the opposite.”

He adds that the president’s approach “creates a moral hazard problem. What it signals to current and future loan borrowers is that I don’t have to take these repayment of loans very seriously. . . . I don’t have to worry too much about getting a high-paying job.” It encourages “sociology and anthropology majors compared with math and engineering majors.”

The most trouble thing for me is that we are taxing money away from current earners, and borrowing money from future earners, in order to subsidize many, many degrees that will never pay back the initial investment we are making to send them to college. The more that government jumps in to pay people to do useless degrees and then doesn’t get the money back, the more students are going choose useless degrees. Other countries like New Zealand and Canada have major problems right now because these loans are not being paid back. That’s what happens when government takes over student loan administration – they aren’t as concerned about being paid back.

What’s also troubling to me is that people who choose not to go to college but instead to go to trade school or start their own businesses are subsidizing the worthless degrees that so many people choose to pursue today. Why would the government waste taxpayer money on these worthless degrees? Well, because college is four years of liberal indoctrination. Students are so stupid that they will actually accept the propaganda pushed by professors as if it were true, even though these professors often have no experience in the private sector themselves. And these students will have the illusion of being educated as they vote for the secular left come election time. They don’t even realize that they are voting to harm their prospective employers and increase the national debt which they will have to pay back. When I try to talk to them about it, they seem to fall back on name-calling instead of making any kind of factual case. This seems to be the result of college as well. They’ve learned to demonize their opponents rather than debate them with evidence.

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Wayne Grudem explains what the Bible says about parents and schools

This is a must-listen, especially for any single Christian woman who would like to get married and have children. If you want to marry a Christian man, you should listen to this lecture and also the Dr. Morse lecture on marriage Every Day. Christian men expect Christian women to know a lot about marriage. About why children need mothers, and why they need fathers, and how the state is always taxing families and then using that money to poke their noses in and teach the children all kinds of bad things.

With that introduction, here is the MP3 file on education policy.

Note: public schools = government-run schools.

Topics:

  • Does God care whether we people marry and have children?
  • Does God care whether Christian parents raise their children to know him?
  • Should government promote bearing children?
  • What are some effects of declining birth rates in other countries?
  • What are the economic effects of declining birth rates?
  • Who has the right to decide how children are trained: government or parents?
  • What does the Bible say about parents having to raise children to know him?
  • Does the government have the responsibility for training children?
  • What do educational bureaucrats think of parents training children?
  • What do school boards think of parents training children?
  • Should school boards be elected by local, state or federal government?
  • Should Christians be opposed to government-run education? (public schools)
  • How should schools be viewed by parents? As a replacement or as a helper?
  • How are schools viewed by those on the left and in communist countries?
  • How can you measure how supporting a government is of parental rights?
  • How is parental authority viewed in left-wing EU countries like Germany?
  • How is parental authority respected in the United States?
  • Should parents have a choice of where their children go to school?
  • What is a voucher program? How is it related to parental autonomy?
  • How does competition (school choice) in education serve parental needs?
  • Why do public school teachers, unions and educrats oppose competitition?
  • How well do public schools do in educating children to achieve?
  • Does the government-run monopoly of public schools produce results?
  • Does paying more and more money to public schools make them perform?
  • How do teacher unions feel about having to compete in a voucher system?
  • Does the public school monopoly penalize the poorest students?
  • Does the public school monopoly penalize children of certain races?
  • Does the public school monopoly cause racial predujice?
  • What else should parents demand on education policy?
  • Is it good for parents when schools refuse to fire underperforming teachers?

This podcast is just amazing! This is what we need to be teaching in church. Church should be the place where you go to learn and reflect about how to tailor your life plan based on what the Bible says. And I think that this whole notion of free market – of choice and competition benefiting the consumer (parents) – applies to everything that government does, especially education and health care.

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Two British conservatives to watch: Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Gove

Here’s an article from the UK Telegraph about Iain Duncan-Smith.

Excerpt:

I’ve known Iain for many years since my days working for Lady Thatcher back when he was party leader. Few British politicians understand the Special Relationship as well as IDS, and he has made a concerted effort to cultivate ties with leaders in the United States, frequently visiting Washington over the past decade both in opposition and in government.

It was refreshing to see a British official showing leadership on an issue that few Washington politicians have seriously addressed since the reforms of the 1990s. His message was a compelling one – that Britain (and for that matter the West as a whole) is facing up to the biggest cultural challenge of the early 21st Century – dealing with “entrenched and intergenerational worklessness and welfare dependency.” In his speech he attacked “an obsession with inputs – with pouring money into social programmes so that governments are seen to be doing something,” a sentiment that tens of millions of Americans would heartily agree with:

So we are now faced with a fundamental challenge. Levels of social breakdown high and rising. Millions of people stuck out of work on benefits. Millions not saving nearly enough for their retirement. And politicians – of all hues – addicted to spending levels as a measurement of success, rather than life change as a measurement of success.

These are areas ripe for reform – but how do you reform when there is no money? The answer – you change the way you reform. Not just cheese-slicing, but recalibrating whole systems so that you change behaviours, and change the culture that allowed spending to get out of control in the first place.

With good reason IDS consistently ranks at the top of ConservativeHome’s poll of cabinet ministers, with an approval rating in the latest survey of 84 per cent. Together with Michael Gove (who currently ranks second), he has been the most consistently impressive minister in Cameron’s government. It is not hard to see why he is so popular with the grassroots. Duncan Smith is a conviction politician offering clear-cut conservative solutions to major problems, emphasising individual responsibility, a strong work ethic, and traditional values as opposed to big government meddling. His welfare reforms are a major step in the right direction, and the most radical since the system’s creation in the 1940s. They deserve widespread support, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Iain Duncan-Smith stands for pro-family policies and welfare reform. What does Michael Gove stand for?

Here’s an article about him in the UK Daily Mail. (H/T Dina)

Excerpt:

One Cabinet minister is increasingly standing apart from the crowd. Yesterday, this newspaper revealed that Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to bring back O-level-style exams.

Although this brave proposal is popular with parents across England, it is not uncontroversial. It takes us back to a system that separated academically gifted children from those with different aptitudes.

But I would argue that the abolition of O-levels in the Eighties was actually an early sign of the culture of dishonesty in our national life.

Britain fell into the grip of a dishonest kindness. We started to hand out good exam results like sweeties — regardless of whether pupils had really learnt anything at school.

We told ourselves that it didn’t matter whether parents spent their time working with their children or just letting them lounge in front of the TV.

We allowed school-leavers to think that a life on benefits was socially acceptable when it’s actually a place where they would easily rot and never fulfil their potential.

The statistics that poured out of the schools system suggested that all was well, however.

Like tractor production data from the old Soviet Union the latest exam grades were always better than last summer’s.

We were told to rejoice but employers and universities saw through the big lie. They complained that the children graduating from Britain’s schools lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills. Britain started sliding down the international league tables that compared the abilities of children in China, Germany, Korea and Britain.

Michael Gove is the first Education Secretary to say that enough is enough. He has said he’s not afraid to preside over a drop in exam grades. They’ll look less good, he concedes, but they’ll be more honest.

The teaching unions that have presided over the ‘All Must Have Prizes’ system will fight him tooth and nail. They want to protect their jobs-for-life regime where bad teachers are rarely sacked but are instead allowed to damage countless pupils’ life chances, year after year.

Gove is undeterred. He’s ready to close down a system where children who can’t manage their times tables are studying for exactly the same exams as those who are on track to study physics at Oxbridge.

[...]The compassionate politician who cares about equality of opportunity won’t accept this status quo, and will point out that the current system is dishonest. It puts children with very different abilities through the same sausage machine and then pretends that those who get ‘F’ or ‘G’ grades have still passed.

Michael Gove wants academically gifted children to be stretched by studying O-levels.

He wants other children to have a more appropriate educational experience, albeit an equally rigorous and demanding one.

This Government’s investment in high-quality apprenticeships and a new generation of technical colleges is early proof that it is serious about restoring the standing of vocational education.

Michael Gove’s specialty is education reform – he wants to stop the left from bashing kids into the same mold, regardless of their individual abilities and aptitudes.

Those are the two guys to watch. They’re not perfect, but they are the two best in the UK, in my opinion.

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Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal unveils education reform plan

Here are the details on Bobby Jindal’s new education plan, from New Orleans Online Access.

Excerpt:

 Gov. Bobby Jindal on Tuesday outlined a far-reaching set of proposals aimed at improving education in Louisiana, including a state-wide voucher program for low-income students, an expansion of autonomous charter schools and steps to link a teachers’ classroom performance to their job protections and their compensation. The governor has been promising for months now to make education reform the centerpiece of his second-term agenda.

[...]The voucher program may prove the most controversial aspect of the plan. Jindal is proposing to help pay tuition at private and parochial schools for any child of a low-income family who attends a school that receives a letter grade of C, D or F.

More than 70 percent of Louisiana’s public schools would fall into that category, opening up districts across the state to competition for public funding from private institutions. Parents who opt out of those public schools would be able to take the public funding set aside for their child with them to pay for tuition.

Voucher opponents argue that offering private school tuition siphons money away from public education, but the governor is framing the idea as a way to put decision-making in the hands of parents.

Also toward that end, Jindal is proposing to fast-track the approval of new charter schools for proven charter operators. Charters are publicly funded but privately managed and typically overseen by nonprofit boards. They compete with traditional public schools in their area for students.

Jindal is also proposing to end regular annual pay increases for teachers based on years in the classroom, ban the use of seniority in all personnel decisions and weaken the power that local school boards have in hiring and firing decisions in favor of superintendents.

Teachers coming into the classroom for the first time would also see major changes under Jindal’s plan: districts would have greater flexibility to establish their own pay scales for new teachers and tenure would be set aside only for those who earn high ratings on evaluations five years in a row.

I thought it might be helpful to also post this quick introduction to the issue of school choice, from the Cato Institute.

I don’t agree with the Cato Institute on everything, but they’re right on this issue. The Heritage Foundation also has 3 small videos explaining school choice – with cartoons!

There’s an even longer video narrated by John Stossel that you can watch, that really explains the why school reform matters – and why it’s a conservative issue. Like the sex-selection abortion issue that I blogged about here before, this is an issue that conservatives need to seize on. Here, we can really let our compassionate side show by helping the poorest students, especially those in visible minorities, who simply cannot get a quality education in a public school monopoly that is not responsive to the needs of parents, or their children. This is an issue where we can win – the only losers are the educational bureaucrats and the teacher unions. But the kids are more important.

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