By Nancy Thorner -
On Thursday, May 9, the Heartland Institute, in its continuing Author Series events, featured Joseph Bast and Dr.Herb Walberg reviewing of their joint endeavor, Education And Capitalism Review: How Overcoming Our Fear of Markets and Economics Can Improve America's Schools, in recognition of the book publication's tenth anniversary.
A bit of humor was provided initially by Jim Lakely, Communications Director of The Heartland Institute and Co-Director of the Center on the Digital Economy, before he introduced Dr. Herb Walberg. Lakely related how The Heartland Institute had distributed 100,000 copies of Steve Goreham's book, The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism. Some of the global warming alarmists who received the Goreham's book did not appreciate Heartland's gift and responded accordingly with nasty emails.
At the April 24 Authors Series event which featured John Lott, Lakely, tongue and cheek, told those in attendance: "Too bad. Maybe they could burn the book to keep warm in this a record cold spring, which might be a sign of the coming global cooling." Two individuals associated with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University did just that, and then posted a photo on their department's website of setting Goreham's book on fire.
Dr. Herbert J. Walberg was introduced as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Stanford University Hoover Institution and a member of its Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He holds a PhD from the University of Chicago and taught for thirty-five years at Harvard and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Editor and author of more than 65 books, in the last two decades Walberg has concentrated on educational policy.
To Dr. Walberg, school choice means that families can choose the best public or private (parochial or independent) schools for their children. School choice was described as resembling free enterprise by encouraging innovation, competition, reduced costs, better performance, and accommodation to a variety of parental preferences.
Walberg then went on to explain how school choice has reached a turning point in the last ten years, thereafter he defined various forms of school choice.
1. Charter schools are now found in the bulk of the states, although some states do limit their number and size. The origin of charter schools can be traced back to 1991 in Minnesota. Today the number of charter schools nears the 5,000 mark in the U.S. Charter schools are supported with public funds but are privately governed and managed, although there is a movement under foot in Chicago to unionize its charter schools.
2. Tuition tax credits are growing in more than ten states. Parents are allowed to deduct private (that is, parochial and independent) school tuition from their state income taxes. Most states, however, limit what a parent can deduct. Also, since the poor don't pay taxes tax tuition credits are of no assist to them.
3. Vouchers are possibly the most controversial and have a long way to go. Vouchers award publicly and privately funded scholarships to families for their children to attend private schools in deference to public schools.
4. About fifty are considering "parent trigger" legislation which closes failing schools upon a majority vote from the parents. Parents elect to either charter the school for private management, send children to another public school, or shut the failing school.
Stressed was that research has shown that charter and private schools excel both in achievement and a higher rate of graduation, and that both parents and students are more satisfied in these settings. As an added benefit, the average cost of a private school is about one half the cost of what a near by public school would spend per student.
A study by the Mathematica Policy Research group found that students in the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) network of charter schools -- 41,000 students in 20 states -- were eight months ahead of their public school peers in reading, eleven in mathematics, and 14 months ahead in science. There are Kipp schools in Chicago.
Of concern is the poor performance of our top high school students when paired against top students in other countries. Having seventeen of the top universities in the world, it is not complimentary that most of the top students hail from India or China. Reasons given by Walberg for our nation lagging behind at the high school level: 1) Only a minimal level of competence is required, and 2) Energy and money goes into bringing up the bottom instead of challenging top students.
In the most recent international achievement survey U.S. student ranked 27th in mathematics and 21st in science, yet this nation has the highest per-student spending in the world with the exception of Luxembourg. Long-term studies of test scores from ninety countries indicate that despite differences in culture, those countries having the largest percentages of students in the top five percent when scored against the top five percent of scores in other countries,experienced a faster rate of economic growth.
Lastly, Dr. Walberg accounted for why the present traditional public school system isn't rising to new international achievement standards. Over the course of 150 years more and more bureaucracy ensued as school districts became bigger replacing smaller, self-contained units. State came first to take away what had been local control of education. Now the federal government is on the move with Common Core, a devised set of curriculum standards for literature, math, etc., which most states have signed on to for implementation in their school districts.
Such interference by government only advances school choice proponents and the establishment of charter and private schools. Other things being equal, private organizations perform on the average better than government-run organizations at a lower cost and with more satisfaction for staff, parents and students.