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Case closed

December 22, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:30 AM

The New York Times recently ran this very interesting article about how charter schools (which currently serve more than two and a half million US students) were the brainchild of Albert Shanker, then the president of the American Federation of Teachers. 

The article seems biased to against charter schools to me - for example, it quotes a 24% teacher turnover rate and greater racial and economic segregation. Perhaps one of our readers could check out the accuracy of these statistics....

But in the final analysis it really doesn't matter because, in my opinion the article makes a brilliant case in favour of charter schools - in that it lauds a few charter schools that the author likes for a variety of reasons. And therein lies the strength of charter schools. Charter schools make it possible for educators to break the mould and experiment with different delivery models. One man's meat being another man's poison, some schools will suit some families but will not suit other families. That's because people are different, don't you know?

And for those nay-sayers who point to the dreadful charter schools that are failing their students, in fact this is yet another argument in favour of charter schools - because the parents of the students in the failing charter schools can transfer their kids to a better school. Whereas, of course, few parents of students in failing conventional public schools have that option.

Sunday at the Movies (Bullying)

December 21, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 09:46 AM

Here is one of our own videos, this one on the effect of bullying and schools' apparent inability to stop it.

Creating More Desirable Parents

December 20, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:36 AM


A recent post in this blog highlighted the argument that culture shapes achievement. The article cited in the posting is long but well worth reading. I'm going to take a single paragraph out of context and requote it here.

"Fryer observes that many charter schools have tedious application processes. KIPP makes parents sign a pledge that 'holds them responsible for their children's attendance (including on Saturdays and during the summer), for their childrens's adherence to the school dress code, and for their children's behavior'. Good charters may be successful, in other words, because their applications sift out parents who are less education-obsessed."

The implication is that inner-city charter schools skim the best parents, at least partially accounting for their success, and ergo there is not much hope beyond this group because culture is so hard to change. But let me suggest another possibility - that the tedious application process actually changes the culture of parents who attempt it.

In a delightful study, Freedman and Fraser asked homeowners to put up a tiny sign encouraging safe driving. The researchers came back a few weeks later and asked the homeowners to put up a larger sign for the same cause. The second sign was huge, ugly, and required 4-inch holes in the lawn. Any reasonable person would have refused it, which is what homeowners did when presented by this as the first request.

But a surprising number of homeowners who had previously agreed to the tiny sign subsequently accepted the larger one on their lawn too. The conclusion was that the small 'foot-in-the-door' action changed the homeowners' self-perception, and they became stronger advocates for safe driving.

My point is that the link between better parents and charter schools could be operating the same way. Perhaps the tedious application process is a foot-in-the-door for changing the culture of inner-city education. Perhaps the KIPP schools are not sifting out the less desirable parents but rather making their parents more desirable.

Ontario could do the same thing by offering school vouchers to low-income parents. Those parents who roused themselves to apply for vouchers and seek out a school for their child would have taken the first step to becoming the kind of parent who reviews his or her child's homework every night.

And it wouldn't cost the province a penny, as we already pay the school boards more than $12,000 per student.

Friday at the Movies (Making Dreams Come True)

December 19, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 09:53 AM

This student's life was changed by Democracy Prep High School which currently operates 14 no excuses schools in New York, New Jersey and DC. Here is how Democracy Prep does it.

With no shared goals, is the social contract possible?

December 18, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:10 AM

In his landmark book The Closing of the American Mind, American philosophy professor Allan Bloom despairs of his students' universal belief in the relativism of truth. All through elementary and secondary school, these students have been encouraged to think that all cultures and opinions have their merits and that no one has the right to say that one is better than another. When Professor Bloom poses the question:  "'If you had been a British administrator in India, would you have let the natives under your governance burn the widow at the funeral of a man who had just died?', they either remain silent or reply that the British should not have have been there in the first place." Dr. Bloom then goes on to point out the reasons behind the current indoctrination in relativism.

"Every educational system has a moral goal that it tries to attain and that informs its curriculum. It wants to produce a certain kind of human being. This intention is more or less explicit, more or less a result of reflection; but even the neutral subjects, like reading and writing and arithmetic, take their place in a vision of the educated person. In some nations the goal was the pious person, in others the warlike, in others the industrious. Always important is the political regime, which needs citizens who are in accord with its fundamental principle. Aristocracies want gentlemen, oligarchies men who respect and pursue money, and democracies lovers of equality.

"Democratic education, whether it admits it or not, wants and needs to produce men and women who have the tastes, knowledge, and character supportive of a democratic regime. Over the history of our republic, there have obviously been changes of opinion as to what kind of man is best for our regime. We began with the model of the rational and and industrious man, who was honest, respected the laws, and was dedicated to the family (his own family - what has in its decay been dubbed the nuclear family). Above all, he was to know the rights doctrine; the Constitution, which embodied it; and American history, which presented and celebrated the founding of a national 'conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal'.

"A powerful attachment to the letter and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence gently conveyed, appealing to each man's reason, was the goal of the education of democratic man. This called for something very different from the kinds of attachment required for traditional communities where myth and passion as well as severe discipline, authority, and the extended family produced an instinctive, unqualified, even fanatic patriotism, unlike the reflected, rational, calm, even self-interested loyalty - not so much to the country but to the form of government and its rational principles - required in the United States. This was an entirely new experiment in politics, and with it came a new education. This education has evolved in the last half-century from the education of democratic man to the education of the democratic personality.

"The palpable difference between these two can easily be found in the changed understanding of what it means to be an American. The old view was that, by recognizing and accepting man's natural rights, men found a fundamental basis of unity and sameness. Class, race, religion, national origin or culture all disappear or become dim when bathed in the light of natural rights, which give men common interests and make them truly brothers. The immigrant had to put behind him the claims of the Old World in favor of a new and easily acquired education. This did not necessarily mean abandoning old daily habits or religions, but it did mean subordinating them to new principles. There was a tendency, if not a necessity, to homogenize nature itself.

"The recent education of openness has rejected all that. It pays no attention to natural rights or the historical origins of our regime, which are now thought to have been essentially flawed and regressive. It is progressive and forward-looking. It does not demand fundamental agreement or the abandonment of old or new beliefs in favor of the natural ones. It is open to all kinds of men, all kinds of life-styles, all ideologies. There is no enemy other than the man who is not open to everything."

The Accident of Birth

December 17, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:52 AM

We have had many discussions on this blog about the intractibility of socio-economic background when it comes to poor educational outcomes, and here is an article that thoroughly discusses this universal problem. The first part of the article goes over well-known ground, including the failure of universal preschool programs to reduce the achievement gap.

In case you don't want a long read and if you're looking for a downer, I commend you to the last eight paragraphs, starting "The most sobering lesson about culture's way of shaping children's educational fortunes comes from Scandinavia." These paragraphs take you through the impact of a wave of recent low socio-economic immigrants on hitherto-homogeneous Scandinavian countries - and the failure of these countries to overcome their students' educational disadvantages. 

In slight mitigation of the depressing effect of all this bleakness, the article ends by mentioning charter schools that are succeeding in countering their students' cultural backgrounds.  H/T CT

How in the world?

December 16, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:03 AM

Click here for StatsCan's latest release comparing Canadian educational achievement to that of other OECD countries. The bottom line is that Canada tends to do a little better than the OECD average on most indicators, but leads only in how quickly Canadian teachers reach the top of their salary scales.

How best to keep our kids safe

December 15, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:58 AM

An attempted kidnapping at a Hamilton school has led to police recommendations to prevent parents from being in the school yard during drop off and pick up times. Some parents at the school think that this is the wrong way to go, and that having parents on the playground actually makes the school safer. more

In some ways, schools are dangerous places since they present an attractive target to deranged individuals. How can this danger best be offset? We can go the police route - metal detectors, locked doors, restricted access, all that. Or we can work on making schools mini-communities, where everyone knows everyone and supports each other and watches out for each other and works together towards shared goals. 

Obviously, the latter approach is preferable, but it would require some other things to change too. H/T TB

Sunday at the Movies (Jeb Bush on School Boards)

December 14, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:48 AM

As usual, Jeb Bush is pithy, insightful, and convincing.

School Choice for Non-Dummies

December 13, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:18 AM


Choice is the foundation of a free society. Everywhere you look, you are allowed choices.

Our shopping malls are filled with retailers offering different colours, styles, textures, and sizes. When you go to a restaurant, the menu is filled with dozens of different options to satisfy almost any palette. Even the government is decided by the choices we make at the ballot box.

But when it comes to educating our children, the choice of school is a luxury afforded mainly to those who can afford to pay private school tuitions. 

The Society for Quality Education is an organization that promotes a different system of education than the one we see in Ontario. It's called School Choice.

There are a number of mechanisms that give more parents school choice, for example school vouchers or tax credits that pay private school tuitions or tutoring, but I am going to focus on one particular mechanism - charter schools. Charter schools are public schools with two major differences from conventional public schools:  they operate autonomously (with oversight from a chartering body such as a university or a civic organization) and, rather than trying to be all things to all people, charter schools have one or more specific focuses.

For example, your son or daughter may have an aptitude for the arts. So one charter school might specialize in music, while implementing the standard curriculum. Another might specialize in mathematics and science or fine arts or languages or sports. There are charter schools for gifted students and schools for children with learning difficulties. By focusing on the strengths and interests of their students, charter schools enable children to reach their potential.

Imagine the possibilities. Imagine being able to offer your child the possibility of reaching his or her potential!

Charter schools have been implemented in most US states and the province of Alberta. Dozens of studies indicate that the students in charter schools learn more than their counterparts in conventional public schools. The Society for Quality Education's study A Tale of Two Cities inter alia confirms this finding.

School choice not only increases student learning, but it also reduces the cost to taxpayers and increases parental satisfaction. 

Wherever choice is offered, it increases competition. And the end result of competition is almost always a better produce or service.

As the mother of three boys, I have come to appreciate how different each child can be despite the fact that they share the same genes, grow up in the same household, and eat the same diet. Despite their DNA and similar life experiences, they somehow develop into unique individuals.

I don't need to tell parents with more than one kid that children learn differently. What sparks each of their curiosities is different in every case. Subjects that seem like a chore to my oldest son, such as math, are thoroughly fascinating to my youngest child, and vice versa.

In Ontario, those families who can afford it are allowed to opt out of the one-size-fits-all public school system in order to educate their children in an environment that they believe works best, namely private schools.

But if we allow wealthy Ontarians access to schools that they believe are better for their children, why do we not extend the same freedom to other less-affluent families?

The primary goal of publicly-funded education is to develop our young people into global leaders for the next generation. We want the best health care, the best legal system, the best engineering, the best artists, and so on. Every child has so much potential, and our schools should play an important role in helping children realize their dreams. By allowing parents to choose their children's schools, we can give the next generation the advantages they need to make Ontario even better.

The best people to make decisions in children's best interests are their parents, not some distant bureaucrat who has never even met the child.

It is essential for parents in Ontario to start this discussion with their elected representatives. In the meantime, the Society for Quality Education provides resources to help the thousands of children who are struggling in Ontario publicly-funded schools. 

Children are the foundation of our future. Let's help them realize their potential by bringing in school choice.

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