State Colleges and Universities “suffer from all the inefficiency and poor decision-making of Soviet-style factories”

In its public meetings, panelists from Wall Street and elsewhere in the business world have criticized academia as failing to meet the educational needs of working adults, stem a slide in the literacy of college graduates and rein in rising costs.
During a February meeting in San Diego, Trace Urdan, a senior research analyst for the investment banking firm Robert W. Baird & Company, said state colleges and universities “amount to state-run enterprises and suffer from all the inefficiency and poor decision-making of Soviet-style factories.”

For the full story, see:
SAM DILLON. “Panel Considers Revamping College Aid and Accrediting.” The New York Times (Weds., April 12, 2006): A14.

Teachers’ Unions Fight Innovation, Customization, and Variety

(p. A27) Washington – A Wisconsin court rejected a high-profile lawsuit by the state’s largest teachers’ union last month seeking to close a public charter school that offers all its courses online on the ground that it violated state law by depending on parents rather than on certified teachers to educate children. The case is part of a national trend that goes well beyond virtual schooling: teachers’ unions are turning to the courts to fight virtually any deviation from uniformity in public schools.

. . .

There is a universal American desire for customization and variety in goods and services, and education must respond to that demand, whether the unions like it or not.
. . .

This debate, like the ones over many other education issues, is fundamentally about who gets to have power. Yet the power the teachers’ unions now wield will be fleeting if public schools do not become more responsive to parents.
An industry cannot survive by rushing to court every time a new idea threatens even a small slice of its market share. Instead, maintaining, and even broadening, support for public schools means embracing more diversity in how we provide public education and who provides it.

For the full commentary, see:
Andrew J. Rotherham. “Virtual Schools, Real Innovation.” The New York Times (Friday, April 7, 2006): A27.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Jhontelle Johnson on public schools: “you can’t make me go”

FransoirWilliamLarge.jpg
Fransoir William. Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/06/education/06voucher.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5094&en=d2a47406ed1f9127&hp&ex=1144382400&partner=homepage

(p. A1) WASHINGTON, April 5 – As a student at Shaw Junior High School here, Amie Fuwa strained to shut out the distractions of friends cutting up. She struggled through math, and used photocopies or the library when textbooks were scarce.
Now Amie, 14, a child of immigrants from Nigeria and the Dominican Republic, attends Archbishop Carroll High School, a Catholic school near a verdant hill of churches nicknamed the Little Vatican. When algebra confounds Amie, her teacher stays with her after school to help, and a mentor keeps her on course.
”It’s a lot of people behind my back now,” Amie said.
Before, she said, she ”felt like it didn’t really matter to different people I know, like my teachers, if I failed.”
Amie is one of about 1,700 low-income, mostly minority students in Washington who at taxpayer expense are attending 58 private and parochial schools through the nation’s first federal voucher program, now in its second year.
Last year, parents appeared lukewarm toward the program, which was put in place by Congressional Republicans as a five-year pilot program, But this year, it is attracting more participation, illustrating how school-choice programs are winning over minority parents, traditionally a Democratic constituency.
Washington’s African-American mayor, Anthony A. Williams, joined Republicans in supporting the program, prompted in part by a concession from Congress that pumped more money into public and charter schools. In doing so, Mr. Williams ig- (p. A16) nored the ire of fellow Democrats, labor unions and advocates of public schools.
. . .
Like many other voucher students, Breanna Walton, 8, rises before dawn for the long bus ride from Northeast Washington, ”amongst the crime and drugs and all that,” in the words of her mother, April Cole Walton, to Rock Creek International, near Georgetown University. There, she learns Spanish with the children of lawyers and diplomats.
Ms. Walton said that her neighborhood school ”has broken down,” and that she would have done just about anything to keep Breanna from going there. ”Every child here should be able to say I’m going to set my sights high,” she said. ”I refuse to let my child be cheated.”
Patricia William, a single mother, said that at first she liked her son Fransoir’s public school, John Quincy Adams Elementary School, a tall sprawling building in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Teachers seemed good, but overwhelmed. It was other parents, not teachers, Ms. William said, who told her that Fransoir was hyperactive. ”I was not getting quality information from them on time,” she said. ”For some reason, it was not working.”
Fransoir is one of 62 students with vouchers attending Sacred Heart Elementary, a Catholic school of 210 students, where he learns prayers along with five-digit multiplication and long division. He takes medication for his hyperactivity. Last year, he teamed up with another child to research the sinking of the Titanic. This year, he is interested in reptiles. Ms. William said her son today has nothing in common with the boy who once lay on the floor, turning in circles like a clock wound too tight. Now she is learning from him, about more than just math or reading or a sinking ship.
”All the effort he’s making every night makes me want to sit with him and study,” said Ms. William, a high-school dropout. ”I’m learning academically, but also about making an effort.”
. . .
. . . the pressure of competition is inescapable. In one sixth-grade classroom, two of six students said they would probably go to charter schools next year, unless Adams could get its seventh grade started.
”I’ll probably go to Washington Latin,” said Jhontelle Johnson, setting her sights on a new charter school opening in August. If not, she said, ”I’d probably be home-schooled.”
A teacher’s aide, Sheonna Griffin, looked askance. ”You don’t like public schools?” she asked the child.
Jhontelle turned back, her young eyes flashing. ”You can’t make me go,” she said.

For the full story, see:
DIANA JEAN SCHEMO. “Federal Program on Vouchers Draws Strong Minority Support.” The New York Times (Thurs., April 6, 2006): A1 & A16.
FransoirWilliam2Large.jpg
Fransoir William. Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/06/education/06voucher.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=d2a47406ed1f9127&hp&ex=1144382400&partner=homepage

Ernie Chambers Right in Supporting Parents’ Role in Education

For several months, the Omaha community has been roiled by the hostile efforts of the Omaha Public School (OPS) district to seize the schools and territory of long-established suburban school districts. Here ia an email that I sent to my representative in the Nebraska unicam on Sun., 4/9/06:

Dear Mr. Brashear:
I have appreciated your hard work as my representative in the legislature, and I have always voted for your re-election.
We believe strongly in giving our 11 year-old daughter a Montessori education. The Millard School District is the only area district that has had the entrepreneurial initiative to offer such a program, so we filled out the paperwork to option Jenny into the Millard District.
I strongly resent the implication of OPS that those who choose other school districts necessarily do so for racial reasons. We would have been very happy to stay in OPS (and it would have been more logistically convenient), but OPS does not support the diversity of educational options that Millard does.
Ernie Chambers is often wrong, but he is not always wrong. Dividing OPS into three districts would be a modest step toward increasing parental choice. Parents of all races want to be free to choose.
Tomorrow, I hope your vote will be to support freedom and competition.
Thank you for considering my views.
Sincerely,
Art Diamond

Solution to Problems in Health Care and Higher Education: Change the Incentive Structures


Vernon Smith, one of the 2002 recipients of the Nobel Prize in economics, advocates fundamental institutional reform:

Physicians and medical organizations face escalating administrative costs of complying with ever more detailed regulations. The system is overwhelmed by the administrative cost of attempting to control the cost of medical service delivery. In education, university budget requests are denied by the states who also limit the freedom of universities to raise tuition.
If there is a solution to this problem, it will take the form of changing the incentive structure: empowering the consumer by channeling third-party payment allowances through the patients or students who are choosing and consuming the service. Each pays the difference between the price of the service and the insurance or subsidy allowance. Since he who pays the physician or college calls the tune, we have a better chance of disciplining cost and tailoring services to the customer’s willingness to pay.
Many will say that neither the patients nor the students are competent to make choices. If that is true today, it is mostly due to the fact that they cannot choose and have no reason to become competent! Service providers are oriented to whoever pays: physicians to the insurance companies and the government; universities to their legislatures. Both should pay more heed to their customers — which they will if that is where they collect their fees.



For the full commentary, see:
VERNON L. SMITH. “Trust the Customer!” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 8, 2006): A20.

86% Agree that Government Should Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide

A junior high school student in Idaho, Nathan Zohner, demonstrated in a 1997 science fair project how easy it was to hoodwink a scientifically uninformed public. As described in “The Frankenfood Myth,” 86 percent of the 50 students he surveyed thought dihydrogen monoxide should be banned after they were told that prolonged exposure to its solid form caused severe tissue damage, that exposure to its gaseous form caused severe burns and that it had been found in tumors from terminal cancer patients. Only one student recognized the substance as water, H2O.

For the full commentary, see:
JANE E. BRODY. ” PERSONAL HEALTH; Facing Biotech Foods Without the Fear Factor.” The New York Times (Tues., January 11, 2005): D7.

Jefferson Believed: “redemption lay in education, discovery, innovation, and experiment”


Source of book image: http://images-eu.amazon.com/images/P/0060598964.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg

(p. 43) Jefferson was not a man of the Enlightenment only in the ordinary sense that he believed in reason or perhaps in rationality. He was very specifically one of those who believed that human redemption lay in education, discovery, innovation, and experiment. There were many such in the American Revolution. Thomas Paine spent much of his career designing a new form of iron bridge to aid transportation and communication. Dr. Joseph Priestley, another man who fled royalist and Anglican persecution and who removed himself from England to Philadephia after a “Church and King” mob had smashed his laboratory, was a chemist and physician of great renown. Benjamin Franklin would be remembered for his de- (p. 44) ductions about the practical use of electricity if he had done nothing else. Jefferson, too, considered himself a scientist. He studied botany, fossils, crop cycles, and animals. He made copious notes on what he saw. He designed a new kind of plow, which would cut a deeper furrow in soil exhausted by the false economy of tobacco farming. He was fascinated by the invention of air balloons, which he instantly saw might provide a new form of transport as well as a new form of warfare. He enjoyed surveying and prospecting and, when whaling became an important matter in the negotiation of a commercial treaty, wrote a treatise on the subject himself. He sent horticultural clippings from Virginia to the brilliant French consul Crevecoeur in New York, comparing notes on everything from potatoes to cedars. As president, he did much to further Dr. Edward Jenner’s novel idea of cowpox vaccination as an insurance against the nightmare of smallpox, helping Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse of Boston—the initiator of the scheme in America—to overcome early difficulties in transporting the vaccine by suggesting that it lost its potency when exposed to wamth. Henceforward carried in water-cooled vials, the marvelous new prophylactic was administred to all at Monticello. (Not everything that Jeffrson did on his estate was exploitation.) For a comparison in context, we might note that Dr. Timothy Dwight, then president of Yale and to this day celebrated as an American Divine, was sternly opposed to vaccination as a profane interference with God’s beneficent design.

Christopher Hitchens. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives). New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005. ISBN: 0060598964