Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Good thing our daughter’s a good softball player. It gives us the perspective that a relatively low batting average is still pretty good, against some tough pitching. The way the big anti-quality, anti-local control outfits like the Nebraska State Education Association threw their money against fiscally conservative candidates in education-related races Tuesday, campaign strikeouts were to be expected.

I’m especially sad about the four good fiscal conservatives who all almost – but not quite – unseated union party-line incumbents on the State Board of Education. I have some ideas about next time. Woulda! Coulda! Shoulda! I hope those good people will take heart by how many votes they got for how few dollars they had available to spend. I hope they’ll run again, with my promise that we’ll get more organized to get them more cannon fodder for their media machines next time.

But the game’s not over. Actually, things are looking up. We’ve got a new offense in place – Nebraska policymakers who are open to the solutions provided by school choice, in everything from better quality curriculum to more meaningful local control and property-tax relief.

Enough good people were elected Tuesday who will support progress, change, innovation and quality – translation: school choice – that I have high hopes for the next four years.

Congressmen Lee Terry and Adrian Smith both have said they could go for some form of school choice, perhaps tuition tax credits or vouchers for disadvantaged kids. Eight of the 13 candidates for the Legislature that GoBigEd picked because they indicated they could support school choice in some form won on Tuesday. That’s critical mass, added to those already on board. They’ll need data, but it’s out there, so I’m excited.

We know Gov. Heineman has said he wants to lead the charge to salvage the Class I country schools. That was strikingly seconded by the voters Tuesday in repealing the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad LB 126 that forced small schools to consolidate with big ones. That vote went a long way toward discrediting State Sen. Ron Raikes, chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, who is committed to big-government, centralized-power solutions to education’s problems. I hope he takes Tuesday’s vote as a wake-up call that he needs to do some more talking and learning about the future of education and what people want, or get out of the way and step aside as Ed Committee chair. Another hopeful sign is that Heineman did try to help with the OPS mess instead of caving in to OPS’ demands for “one city, one school district,” and has said he wants to keep trying.

Here’s another reason things are looking up:

Since the voters Tuesday decided to make early childhood education part of the mission of the K-12 schools, in the utter absence of any evidence that those sorts of programs actually benefit kids in the long run, the voters showed that they want to help kids, no matter what. They really do want to help, even though they know it’s costing them, big time. So since private schools are cheaper than public schools, and do a better job for disadvantaged kids in particular and all kids in general, that vote is a public mandate to go forward with a school-choice system that could help all us, but especially those disadvantaged by living in the inner cities or in the rural hinterlands. In stark contrast to early-childhood ed, school choice has been proven effective with increased test scores, higher graduation rates and lower costs. So it’ll be a no-brainer now.

Combine that with the fact that the people voted down the constitutional spending lid of Initiative 423 – indication that the electorate wants flexibility for its public servants even though it’s costing them, bigtime – and things are looking good for school choice. Not that school choice costs more – it doesn’t; it costs less – but because it’s something new, and will require everyone to keep an open mind and stay flexible.

We’re not talking about a school choice system that will decimate our public schools. We’re talking about a school choice system that will help maybe 5% to 10% of the student body – poor kids, and rural kids. When people see how great it works, a few years down the road, there’ll be critical mass to get school choice for the middle class, too, and that’ll be a good thing.

What’s ironic is that the sitting State Gourd of Education (whoops – Freudian slip) and state education poohbahs all appear to be so fossilized into union protectionism and bureaucratic empire-building that they will be left out in the cold, politically and procedurally, in all of this. They will be left gasping for breath as others NOT charged with the state’s educational system wind up making the much-needed changes while they sit to the side sucking the thumbs they’ve been sitting on for 25 years as other states have moved into the school choice arena.

It won’t be pretty, for them. But for the rest of us, TOUCHDOWN! School choice is the educational equivalent of the West Coast Offense. It can give the poor kids an honest chance at educational quality and opportunity, and the country kids can get their schools back.

We can . . . Restore the Order! So let’s bring it!

Perry Preschool Project. Look it up.
That study was hothoused, had flawed methodology and has never been replicated. It gets trotted out by cynics who want what they want regardless of whether the "proof" they offer holds water. See:
What about the children in the enviroment that your article suggested, that parents who can't or won't help their young child. Too bad for them? Every study has flaws if you look hard enough for them. Why not be concered about children as a whole instead of the lucky ones with parents like you.
Every study has flaws of human nature. What about the children whose parents can't or won't help or provide for them. Are they left w/ nothing. Not every child has a parent like yourself.
You write as though you don't KNOW any parents in poverty, and are imagining what they must be like. I think you are mischaracterizing them, and insulting them, sorry to say.

I've worked with kids in poverty, and in all my born days, have NEVER met a parent who couldn't, or wouldn't, do an adequate job of rearing their children -- even the mentally handicapped parents I have met are doing an OK job.

Where are you coming up with this picture of low-income Nebraska as being a wasteland of meth addicts or idiots who don't give a darn about their own children's futures? Sure, there must be a few. But boy, the vast majority of poor parents are doing a fine job.

It's not THEIR fault the OPS schools have academic track records that are so bad over the past 30 years. They're trapped in a racist, classist system that needs to be broken up if there is to be any fresh air for children of color in this state.

There are many other impoverished schools around the country whose test scores make OPS'look pathetic. OPS is just a big, impersonal, ineffective bureaucracy, and that's what's hurting disadvantaged kids more than anything else.

I can tell you really care about kids who may be suffering or put at a disadvantage in school; do you disagree that the answer is probably to break up OPS and get the focus back on meeting kids' academic needs without getting in to all the Political Correctness and bureaucracy?

Is resisting the temptation to make early-childhood ed an entitlement evidence that I am heartless toward the poor? Anything but. I'm just saying the schools in general, and government schools in particular, should not be assigned that mission.

Parents in poverty do deserve our utmost efforts, and are already getting them, in the way of tax funding and private funding for all kinds of social programs to give them a hand up. Nebraskans already invest tens of millions of dollars in Head Start, day-care subsidies, nutrition programs, Medicaid and a wide range of other social services for the poor, especially targeted toward the poor with small children.

If you read this blog, you know that Head Start doesn't do a darn thing for poor kids in the long run, despite billions spent.

On top of that is the enormous private-sector investment in everything from social-service agencies to churches and synagogues and other organizations dedicated to helping the poor. I've been on the boards of the Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Child Saving Institute Guild, and have helped a number of other youth-serving agencies. So I'm not just making this up:

What it comes down to is this: we are ALREADY spending a TON of money patching these wounds. Expanding the entitlement to the public schools is like the Cat in the Hat, spreading those pink spots even further around the house. The more we pretend that throwing money at this problem is going to fix it, just so we can feel good about ourselves as "caring about the poor," the more the solutions are going to elude us.

I say we need to keep the public schools focused on their mission, ages 5-18 or thereabouts, because there is plenty there that they're not doing very well at all, and the ones paying for it the most are the disadvantaged kids.

We need to resist forming a whole 'nother bureaucracy for ages 0-5, although of course that cow's out of the barn now. It makes me very sad, because we're slouching more and more towards the system the Soviet Union had, to our peril.

What do you see in the future?
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