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Posts Tagged ‘education’

Bernice Whaley, director of the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO), recently provided a glowing assessment of Delaware’s economy in a News Journal article. Ms. Whaley cites a current unemployment rate of 4.7% and growth over the last two years of 4% in Delaware jobs and 6.5% in personal income. And she notes recent increases in high technology employment in the state.

It might be helpful to put these statistics in perspective relevant to the average Delaware household.

The Delaware unemployment rate has thankfully fallen from a high of 8.7% in 2009 to 4.7% today. Two things are worth noting. First, in the year prior to the recession the state’s unemployment rate was 3.4%. Second, according to the most recent Census data, the percent of Delaware residents age 16 to 64 working dropped from 80.7% in 2009 to 76.7% in 2013. In other words, one major reason for a lower Delaware unemployment rate is that a large number of working age individuals have simply stopped looking for employment.

Total jobs in Delaware have expanded by almost 4% (2% per year) over the past two years. While it took more time to get there, this is similar to the job growth rate following the last recession in Delaware. Many of the jobs being added, however, are lower paying positions in such industries as temporary services and restaurants. The result from the Census is that between 2009 and 2013 the inflation adjusted median earnings of working Delaware residents with a high school degree has dropped 7% while that of residents with a bachelor’s degree or more has dropped almost 3%.

The earnings of Delaware workers are on average moving backwards.

Delaware personal income has grown at least 6.5% over the past two years. This compares to 13.8% growth following the last recession. More disturbing, the slowest growing component of Delaware personal income during the past two years has been earnings by residents while the fastest growing component has been transfer payments (e.g., Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, TANF).

Finally, growth in high technology industries in Delaware is positive, but it provides few opportunities for the almost two-thirds of working age Delaware residents who have less than an associate’s degree. Tests of Delaware public school students from 4th grade through high school evidence that the majority of students are not proficient in reading or math.

Obviously it is the job of DEDO to be positive and sell Delaware. And in all fairness DEDO has little control over the poor performing public schools, the green energy policies that have driven Delaware electric rates 35% above the nation, and the lack of a right-to-work law.

Nevertheless, a victory lap seems premature.

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The Washington State Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down charter schools, saying they “aren’t governed by elected boards and therefore not accountable to voters.” Read the decision here

Some background: In November 2012, voters approved a referendum to establish as many as 40 charter schools in the state. Charter school opponents became “Alarmed over the lack of local accountability and fiscal impacts of the Act” and filed a lawsuit against the network. The Washington State constitution says funding must be given to “common schools”, which were essentially defined as traditional public schools. The main complain is, charters and other school choice options are “selective” and force traditional schools to take “problem students.” The schools must also be “uniform”, or the same. If charters have lotteries and restrictions public schools do not have, then the schools are no longer uniform and charters cannot be provided public funding.

Delaware has a similar constitutional law which requires the government to fund a public education system, though it does not say the schools have to be run by the government, only provided. But the point is the same: these rules were set up not to ensure everyone an education, but to make sure as very few kids would be able to have an option besides the traditional public school. The way public schools are funded requires as many kids as possible to get into the buildings so the schools receive money.
Anti-charter proponents celebrated; at long last, they have succeeded in their quest to prevent students from going to a charter school. Most of these children will either end up home-schooled, sent to a private school which can take them, or, most likely, sent back to traditional public school where their attendance will ensure the schools get more taxpayer dollars and make any sort of education reform even more unlikely. Sadly, some adults are so opposed to school choice, the idea that a child might leave public school, that they openly cheer for the demise of alternative schools and education freedom just to make sure public schools (and those whose livelihood derives from public schools) keep getting money AND the status quo is maintained.
If you don’t think there is a problem yet, keep in mind SAT and ACT scores are flat, or even in decline. Here’s an article from left-leaning Slate acknowledging this.
The excuses abound: more students are taking the test (which is 1. dumb policy and 2. aren’t we supposed to improve everyone’s education? Isn’t that the whole point of No Child Left Behind?), Common Core State Standards are so stringent they are raising the bar too fast, the SAT and ACT are not fully aligned with student goals. The problem with this argument is, scores have declined for decades now in reading, and since 2006 writing scores declined across all ethnic and gender groups, and is now being eliminated from the SAT. Therefore, blaming Common Core for raising the bar and making the test now too difficult is a convenient overlook of the long-term problems we’ve had in this country.
What is not acknowledged is the stark reality: Most students just are not ready for college. Some ought not to go, but even then too many students are graduating high school lacking the basic skills needed to obtain a decent-paying job and career advancement opportunities. Of course, every entity except our current education system is to blame.
The same people who go after charters almost always include homeschooling and private schooling as a problem as well. Their attacks on charters and choice are little more than a thinly veiled effort to push all students to attend public schools, no matter how good or bad the school is run, no matter how ridiculous the government mandates are, or even irregardless of whether public education is right for every child.
Take the battle over HB 50, the Opt-Out bill. Supporters see this as a way for parents to have a say in their child’s education and keep their children from having to submit to a standardized test many feel is a problem. We agree- parents should be allowed to have a say in their child’s education, and absolutely students, especially in public schools, are over-tested. But what HB 50 supporters do not seem to understand is how futile their efforts are the long run, the “big picture” if you will. HB50 supporters seem to believe if you just get rid of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), somehow everything will be alright in the end. But they continue to believe in the system which gave them SBAC, they will find the bureaucracy will just provide a new program and standardized tests with similar, if only slightly different, objectives.  As long as they continue to keep the current system of education in place, there will be no real change.
Supporters of HB50 and anti-testing advocates also need to find a common alternative to Common Core/SBAC which will give principals the data they need to measure student progress and teacher competence. There are, in fact, teachers who are incompetent; admitting this is not “anti-teacher”, but a reality that no organization has complete competence from every single member. Not every student is motivated to learn on their own. Not every school is run well, or run poorly. As long as a method of measuring student progress is offered, education progress can be made.

Education Savings Accounts by themselves will not improve our education system, but they will move us forward when parents realize they do have the power to improve their children’s education if they want to. It’s parents, not school boards, not school districts, not teacher’s unions, not elected officials, not employees of the state Department of Education, not employees of the U.S. Department of Education, not private sector companies, who ought to have the final say in how their child is education. With a more competitive education system in place, one which empowers teachers and principals to do what is right, one which allows parents to have choices beyond what is in their zip code, education will improve.

And for those who say it won’t, look at our university system. We have arguably the best system on the planet, and there are plenty of public and private schools to go to. Oh, and public schools receive plenty of funding and are in no danger of going under, even though the government provides student loans to students who might go to a private school.

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pictured: Milton and Rose Friedman. photo: Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Today CRI celebrates the 103rd birthday of Dr. Milton Friedman, a man who was ahead of his time in recognizing the need for school choice to be available to all children, so that more children would be able to obtain a quality education, suited to their needs, and not be forced to live in poverty merely because of how they were raised.

Dr. Friedman wrote about school choice in his book Free to Choose in 1980, and dedicated a full chapter to the idea that parents should be allowed to choose schools for their children. It was based on the market idea of economics- schools should not be seen as sacred government buildings dedicated to protecting adult’s jobs, but as forces which should strive to provide the best services to its “customers” (students), and if they fail to do this, then the school either needs to be reformed, or the students should be allowed to go to another school which better serves their needs. This choice should be allowed irregardless of the parents’ income, or residential zip code which too often constrains students, particularly poor students, in poorly performing schools with no way out.

Advocates of public education for all will insist that education should not be  “privatized” and left to the evils of “capitalism.” Yet notice how upper-middle class and upper-class families handle their children’s’ education- private schools, charter schools such as the Charter School of Wilmington, home school, boarding school (for the very wealthy), or top-performing public schools. Notice how wealthier families do not feel the need to be constrained by zip code? There is a reason for this. Despite bluster by opponents of parental choice about how “privatization” is evil, rich parents will choose that option because the school must compete for the parent’s tuition dollars. If the school performs poorly, or does not serve the child’s needs, the child will be removed from the school.

When a similar situation happens in public school, teacher’s union leaders, superintendents, and local politicians wax poetic about the need for more “investment.” Never mind that Delaware spends $23,000 a year per student. But, teachers in Delaware earn roughly $59,000 a year minus benefits. Clearly, most of the money spent per pupil doesn’t pay teachers, even as debates over raising teacher’s pay are played out in districts around the country. Where is this money going? Wherever it is, expect those getting this extra funding to fight back against any efforts to take their money away, no matter how weak their justification for more “investment” is.

The poor performance of too many public schools causes parents with the means to do so to pull their kids out of public school. The kids who are left are usually poor, come from dysfunctional homes or impoverished neighborhoods, and are not offered a clear pathway to success. Combined with the influx of new students coming from recently arriving immigrant families, many of whom live in homes where English is not the first language, and an endless number of “Visions”, mandates, and standardized tests, these schools are not going to be in position to best help the children.

The goal of school choice is not, as our opponents allege, to “dismantle” public education or somehow sell it to multinational corporations. The goal is to merely go back to basic principles of greed, ambition, and what motivates us. Monopolies, by definition (which is how a lot of public school districts are operated, especially in low-income areas), nearly always provide poor quality, high prices, and poor customer service, because the human need to do better falls flat when there is no reward for doing so. We do not suggest people intentionally fail or desire to see kids suffer, because we know the vast majority of teachers, counselors, principals, and other building staff sincerely want to see children do well. In fact, teachers and counselors, especially in private schools, make very little money because teaching is their passion. They know they will never get rich teaching or advising.

The problem is, there is a system in place which has made too many people too comfortable, too dependent on the system to continue, and too unwilling to consider alternatives out of fear of what might happen if there are serious changes to the status quo.

We point out that teens and young adults around the country choose colleges or learning institutions right for them. If the school is not a match, the student leaves and goes elsewhere, or goes to work or to the military. Federal student loans are offered to students who go to private colleges which compete with public ones. Yet public schools are still very much around. Clearly school choice for college has not destroyed public education, and it will not destroy public education in K-12. All that will happen is, some people who believe they have a guaranteed job might lose it unless they are pressured into the marketplace of ideas.

All this was Dr. Friedman’s vision: great schools for all, and a vision of the best, most competitive education system serving student’s needs, the way colleges compete. Today we honor a man whose foresight has inspired the rest of us to see nothing less than a great system of education, improving the economic opportunities of all students no matter their household income, neighborhood, or learning challenges.

Here’s to you, Dr. Friedman.

His quotes:

“Our goal is to have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go. We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that — a system of free choice — we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.”
— CNBC Interview Transcript, March 2003

“It is only the tyranny of the status quo that leads us to take it for granted that in schooling, government monopoly is the best way for the government to achieve its objective.”
— “The School Choice Advocate,” January 2004

“Improved education is offering a hope of narrowing the gap between the less and more skilled workers, of fending off the prior prospect of a society divided between the “haves” and “have nots,” of a class society in which an educated elite provided welfare for a permanent class of unemployables.”
— “The School Choice Advocate,” July 1998

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A few weeks ago President John Stapleford (yea, that has a nice ring to it) published an article praising Governor Markell for making the decision to ask state employees to contribute a little more to their healthcare plans. He wrote:

“State employee and retiree health care costs have been rising exponentially and are not sustainable. The claims have jumped 20% over the past three fiscal years and the latest Pew Trusts analysis estimates that the State of Delaware has unfunded long term health care liabilities of $5.6 billion.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows what the Governor proposes is not onerous. The State pays for almost 91% of the employee’s health care premium. Nationwide, state and local governments pay 87% and the average in the private sector is just 79%.

According to the BLS, the average pay for workers in service-providing industries in Delaware was $51,647 in 2013 while the average pay for Delaware state government employees that year was $53,450. The 2013 BLS occupational wage survey for Delaware shows an average wage of $39,130 for full time workers in protective service occupations while 2013 State of Delaware payroll data shows annual pay for full time workers in the Department of Corrections to be over $46,800.”

After publishing this article, we heard back from state employees, upset by our article. Some unfriended us on Facebook. Others unsubscribed from our e-mail blasts. I even received on particularly upset letter with a five-dollar bill saying the following:

“As a State of Delaware employee, I work hard for my paycheck. I do not have a flashy job and am not in a position where I will ever receive accolades for my wondrous feats. When I retire, no one of acclaim will come to speak at my send-off party, if I’m lucky enough to have my friends pay to have one. I am grateful to have the ability to contribute to a retirement plan that will help supplement the meager social security check that I will receive when I am eligible under the rules of the Federal Social Security Administration….I am a fan of your organization, but would love to see some positive support for the hardworking State Employee.”

This particular letter is upset over our Transparent Delaware website, where we wrote:

“Caesar Rodney requested the State Pension Data as part of our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) effort and received this response from the State Office of Management and Budget.

“The release of pensioner information is addressed in Delaware Code.  Specifically, 29 Del. C §8308 (d) states as follows:
‘(d) All records maintained by the Board or the Office of Pensions and Investments relating to the pensions or pension eligibility of persons receiving pensions from the State or other post-employment benefits and who are not presently employed by or serving as officers of the State or its political subdivisions shall be confidential.’

Accordingly, your request for state pensioner information as contained in your December 16, 2011 request cannot be fulfilled.”

Many other states now release State Pension information for public use.

Caesar Rodney would have to go to court to secure the release of the Pension data even though the release of that data is forgone because it is taxpayers’ money. ”

We have a large number of supporters who are current and retired state employees, so let’s set the facts straight and respond to our letter writer.

No one at CRI hates state employees. Nor do we assume they are collectively a lazy, undeserving bunch. Delaware needs some number of competent, hardworking state employees, and this letter writer is correct that most of them receive middle class wages and not the six figures much of the leadership gets.

But what this letter writer misses, and what many state employees miss, is that they are receiving their salaries from taxpayers in the private sector. Regardless of where it comes from, if the government provides it, the private sector paid for it in some way. If government were completely honest about spending, we would not need to threat a lawsuit. But we as taxpayers have a right to know what they are giving to others, and while this letter writer may believe his or her pension is too meager to be noticed, the collective pension total of all state employees is very high- just how high, we don’t know.

AS for the complaints that Markell was wrong to ask state employees to contribute more to their healthcare plans, they are not being asked to pay more than anyone in the private sector, nor do we want it taken away in its entirety. But for many people, it’s difficult to see past their own personal lives. Most of those who voted in our poll to say taxpayers should pay more because state employees haven’t received COLA raises since Markell took office are missing the point that their private sector counterparts aren’t doing much better.

The reality is, Delaware spends too much money. Unfunded liabilities are a problem and private sector tax collection from individuals and businesses has declined the last two years, not even counting the casino troubles. This is a big reason why most of the referendums to raise property taxes to pay for the public schools were voted down- it isn’t because people hate teachers or don’t want to see the local public school succeed. In fact, all of us at CRI join the majority who want to see public schools do well because when all schools succeed, all children have the opportunity to succeed to. This success can and should include traditional public schools.

But people are tired of paying money into a system with mediocre to poor results. They are tired of being excluded from the policy-making process, all while told they need to cough up more or else they’ll prove they don’t like teachers, et. al. Why should taxpayers continue giving money to a system which has failed?

If state employees feel disrespected, they should understand the current system is the problem. The way we do business is simply unsustainable and unless changes are made, we really will collapse, and this is not a blog for conspiracy theories or nihilistic predictions. CRI is a government accountability organization, and as long as our state government officials are not held accountable for their actions, then CRI will continue to support policies which reduce the burden on the private sector and hold the government accountable for how they spend our money.

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The big news in Delaware today (not the awesome magazine, but today today) is that the state Department of Education has issued Christina School District with an ultimatum: close the three “Priority Schools” in the district (Stubbs Elementary, Bancroft Elementary, and Bayard Middle School) by the end of February 2015 or else turn them over to an outside manager. If they don’t comply the state will take them over.

Whereas Red Clay SD countered the state’s takeover plan with one of their own which did not require teachers to reapply for their jobs or for school principals to be fired and replaced with new $160,000 a year principals, Christina SD did not come up with a plan the state finds acceptable. Their school board also voted to reject the turnaround plan. So now the state is flexing its political muscle to get control over these three schools.

If you look at a map of Christina (click this link) you’ll see the district boundaries make no sense.

Christina serves the city of Newark and the suburban area around it, and then a piece of downtown Wilmington about 12 miles from its easternmost edge. Newark and Wilmington are not the same city and each has its own challenges. We at CRI believe there should be changes to how districts are drawn and the City of Wilmington should have its own school district. All three of the schools scheduled for closure or loss to outside managers or the state are in the city limits of Wilmington. Nonetheless, Christina is in charge and must come to a decision soon. What will they do?

If the past is any indicator Christina will fight the state all the way to the last week of February. In 2013 the district initially rejected Delaware’s requirements under Race To The Top but changed a portion of their plan when the state threatened to withhold $2.3 million in RTTT funding from the district unless it complied with federal directives. However, Governor Markell and Secretary Murphy are not exactly pushovers; we expect them to stand their ground on this issue and fully take over the schools at the end of the month if Christina doesn’t counter the Priority Schools plan with one the state finds acceptable. However, in the end the Governor has more power than the district and they know it; they will have to implement some reforms or else those three Wilmington schools will probably be turned into charters or turned over to private “for profit” entities who will (most likely) hire private management to oversee a turnaround effort.

Whatever happens, we will be watching with interest. From our end we have no stake in this battle except to see education in Delaware turn around. Again we repeat: 51st in SAT score performance, 9th in per-student per-year spending, and 4th in per capita administrative budget (number of administrators to students). Without serious education reform the state will continue to see businesses decline to invest here (unless they get goodies from DEDO) because our public education system isn’t “world class” enough to produce enough educated young people needed to take the high-paying jobs which move people out of poverty. Parents with children who have jobs in New Castle County will move over the border to Pennsylvania or send their children to one of Delaware’s private schools (we are #1 in the country for highest ration of children in private schools as a percentage of the total student body).

We are involved in our own education reform efforts. Look for CRI, in the days and weeks ahead, to continue to talk about Education Savings Accounts and why Delaware needs them. or visit http://www.caesarrodney.org and learn about what you can do to Impact Delaware.

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This week is National School Choice Week, a week where we draw attention to the need for parents and families to have School Choice as an option for all students.

No doubt this week is under fire from school choice opponents who worry school choice is a corporate, Koch-brother funded project to destroy public schools and, more importantly, public teacher’s unions,but those of us who believe in “free to choose” ask just one question:

1. “Who is more likely to make a better decision about a child’s future: That child’s legal guardian, or elected and unelected officials in state capitals and Washington D.C.?”

If you believe government officials, union leaders, school boards, superintendents, Department of Education employees, and politicians can all make a better decision about your child than you can, school choice is not something you will support. But if you believe schools should be run at the local level, with fewer mandates from above and more support for those who are there day-to-day, and if you believe students are unique human beings who should not be forced into “one-size-fits-all” based on their parents’ financial ability to find another school, then school choice week is for you.

If you believe there should be accountability for performance in our education system, without automatically blaming teachers and parents for poor performance, instead of the system which has been created, school choice is for you.

If you believe public schools who wish to have your child attend should have to work hard for your tax dollars, like every non-monopolized market in the private sector (i.e. sectors where companies use government to give themselves business or hurt competition), instead of requiring children whose parents aren’t rich to go to a school based only by their zip code, school choice is for you.

If the thought of stagnating academic performance, the rising number of students who enter college needing to take remedial classes, and the high drop-out rate for both high school and college bothers you, school choice is for you.

If you believe money spent on education, where Delaware spends to the tune of $13,000 per student per year and $16,500 if you include capital spending (refurbishing or building schools, source: DE DOE), ought to be spent efficiently and with the student’s best interest at heart, school choice is for you.

If you feel genuinely heartbroken every time you hear about another shooting in places like Wilmington, and know most of those young people get involved in drugs and gangs because they don’t have hope for a better future, school choice is for you.

If you are concerned about the values being spread in society at large, and would like to see your child(ren) be placed in a school setting which is closer to the values you wish the child to learn, school choice is for you.

If you believe America is a great nation with a lot of untapped talent among our youth, and want to see students use their talents in the best way possible, school choice is for you.

And lastly, If you believe a high-quality education is a fundamental right for each child to have, then school choice is for you.

If you believe school choice is something we can all work for together, then join the Caesar Rodney Institute in celebration of National School Choice Week, and let’s support #SchoolChoice!

Why do you support school choice?

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