Saturday, December 3, 2016

Breaking the Academic Chains that Bind

I was struck by a recent column in the Wall Street Journal that parsed the anti-trade beliefs of president-elect Donald Trump. After reviewing the history of trade and its relationship to American workers, authors Phil Gramm and Michael Solon made a powerful point: "Mr. Trump's proposal to unleash the talent of students now trapped in failing public schools by empowering their parents with greater school choice will have a positive, significant and lasting effect -- bigger than any change in trade policy can bring."

Education matters. And good education matters most.

Florida has been a leader in school choice. To the horror of teachers' unions, the legislature passed bills in recent sessions making it easier for students to switch from bad to good schools. Tallahassee also boosted charter schools, a growing national phenomenon. There are nearly 7,000 charters in this   country -- independently operated public schools -- serving some three million children in 43 states.

Charters have delivered big time, most measurably in test scores that have risen dramatically for minorities. Witness Eva Moskowitz's high-performing Success Academy, which began in Harlem and now has 41 schools across New York City.

This is happening despite fierce political opposition. An example: The NAACP, joined at the hip with union-backed Democrats, recently voted to oppose charters, effectively ignoring a 2015 Stanford study that found urban charters provided 40 more days of math teaching per year and 28 more days of reading classes than traditional schools. And the youngsters, many from poor families, prospered. It's a sad day when the NAACP puts politics above the interests of black children.

On a more positive note, the Nevada supreme court upheld the state's Education Savings Account, the country's first universal school choice program. This allows Nevada parents who withdraw their kids from public schools to use state funds in ESAs to pay for private schools. With no cap on the number of participants, there's a huge backlog of parents applying for the accounts.

The news isn't all good. Massachusetts voters rejected a referendum that would have lifted the ceiling on charters, stranding 32,000 kids on the waiting list. And Georgia defeated a constitutional amendment that would have created a state recovery district for failing schools. Not to be outdone,  Eric Holder's Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Louisiana's voucher program for poor children.

But changes are afoot. During his campaign, Trump said, "I will be the nation's biggest cheerleader for school choice." How things turn out remain to be seen. But one thing is certain. With Obama going and Clinton gone, a lot of baggage is being off-loaded. For example, the National Education Association, though still loud and destructive, will get little attention in coming years. And the anti-religious bias that thwarted support for poor kids attending parochial schools will no longer be tolerated.

Lest we get too far down in the weeds on school choice, let's admit the real reason to champion better education is that our prosperity depends on it. We need well-educated workers, with skills matched to modern jobs. And many of those jobs, often unfilled, require STEM education -- science, technology (meaning computer skills), engineering and math. The good news is that Governor Rick Scott understands this and has put STEM front and center in Florida school policy.

We can count on better days ahead.

No comments:

Post a Comment