Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Book that is Making News.  A book that hit the market last fall is stirring up a lot of discussion.  The Public School Advantage:  Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools by husband and wife team Drs. Christopher and Sarah Theule Lubienski is a comparative statistical analysis of academic performance at traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools. The book also contains discussion of existing voucher programs.

What the research underpinning the book shows is that while raw numbers show that private school students score better on standardized tests, when controls for demographic differences are taken into account, public schools actually outperform private schools.  Needless to say, the results have caused a bit of a firestorm in the education reform community, especially from those quarters that stress greater reliance on market-driven reform.

Here is a link to the book, published by the University of Chicago Press, along with two reviews, one positive and one negative.


Positive Review:

Negative Review:

Interview with the Lubienski's from The Atlantic:

This book is going to be on my summer reading list, so I can't give you my own review, but the negative review from National Review (online) by Jason Bedrick hits my main nerve in the discussion of school performance and that is the use of the term "efficiency" and how private schools are more "efficient" in delivering education and having students reach educational outcomes.  It is difficult to paint with a broad brush here.  There may be private schools that are more efficient and private schools that are less efficient than public schools, but is efficiency the primary goal of the education system?  I highly doubt that exclusive private schools compare favorably in terms of efficiency.  They charge outlandish tuition and use that tuition to keep class sizes extremely low.

I'll let you know my opinion after I finish reading the book.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Politics, Politics, Politics.  Filings for statewide office ended earlier this month and the preliminary collection of candidates for all statewide, congressional district, and Minnesota House of Representatives races is set.  The list of candidates can be found at the Minnesota Secretary of State's website and I have supplied a link to that site below.  You can find the candidates for each race and websites of candidates who have furnished them are available.

Minnesota Secretary of State Election Website:

The primary will be held on Tuesday, August 12, 2014, with the Republican primary for Governor, which features four candidates, will be the headline event that day.  There are some very interesting Republican primaries for the House of Representatives and a lion's share of those contests are being held in legislative districts where SEE member school districts are located.  Looking through the list, I see three races that I will be watching closely.  They are:

  • District 30A (SEE members St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo), in a race that features Eric Lucero (endorsed candidate) and Kevin Kasel (St. Michael City Council member).
  • District 35A (SEE members Anoka-Hennepin and Elk River), where Justin Boals and Abigail Whelan (endorsed candidate) are facing off.
  • District 47A (SEE member Waconia), where Bob Frey (Norwood-Young America business owner) and Jim Nash (Waconia Mayor) are the Republican candidates vying for the slot in the general election.  There was no endorsement in this race.
I urge voters in these districts to acquaint themselves with these candidates and get out and vote in August.

The highest profile primary contest on the DFL side of the ledger features 42-year legislative veteran Phyllis Kahn facing off against Minneapolis school board member Mohamud Noor, who seeks to become the first Somali immigrant elected to a state-level office in Minnesota.

The battle for the House of Representatives will be extremely heated.  Both parties have identified the seats they are targeting to seize from the other party and those lists were outlined in a recent MinnPost article.  While there are usually surprises on election day in which a seat deemed "safe" by one side or the other switches parties, I think the list provided in the article are fairly accurate in their assessment.

Here is a link to the article that lists the seats both parties are targeting in the upcoming election.

MinnPost link:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Back to the Blog.  I've taken my month off from visiting here and it's time to get back on the beam and start blogging again.  I'm going to try and cover a lot of territory during the interim, posting articles and comments about national and state education policy and national and state political news.

I'd like to kick off the summer with an article from conservative thinker/writer Reihan Salam that was printed in Sunday's Minneapolis StarTribune.  The article is entitled "What Would Actually Happen if Tea Partiers Ran the Country?"  The gist of the article is that the Tea Party does have a distinctive vision of how it would govern given the opportunity.  Salam writes from a national, federalist perspective and a lot of the piece is very straightforward, particularly in Salam's assertion that education would more than likely be funded through vouchers and/or an aggressive expansion of charter schools in the more conservative states.  He doesn't mention how federal education policy would change and one of the bigger issues would be how special education and other federally-funded programs would be handled.  Would IDEA be repealed?  A great number of unanswered questions would arise in addition to this.

Where I would like to depart a bit from his script is to point out the more worrisome aspect of subsidiarity that he describes early in the article.  Subsidiarity contends that power should lie as close to the people-at-large as possible (and often that simple association between individuals can replace government).  I'm not intent on arguing those points.  Salam has a viewpoint and he backs it up in this piece.  What worries me is what the piece does not say.

Minnesota has a very strong constitutional provision relating to education, as do most states.  What makes the constitutional protection stronger in Minnesota is that the Minnesota Supreme Court argued in Skeen v. State of Minnesota that education is a fundamental right under the Minnesota Constitution.  The question then becomes--and admittedly this may be apples-to-oranges--is how the concept of subsidiarity meshes with this fundamental right.  Clearly, Minnesota is a local control state when it comes to education policy.  While there are numerous state mandates that limit the scope of what local school boards can do (and many of those mandates cause considerable headaches), local districts still do their own bargaining, develop their own curricula, etc.

What is a bit troubling to me is whether our funding system and the concept of subsidiarity fit together.  The role of the property tax in funding education (a tax that is favored by many who subscribe to subsidiarity because it is the tax closest to the people and funding services consumed directly by local residents) is always going to be contentious.  The tax burdens experienced by taxpayers in low property wealth districts is much greater than it is in high property wealth districts on a dollar-per-dollar basis of revenue even with Minnesota's commitment to property tax equalization.  I don't think that the concept of subsidiarity threatens that in the near future, but if there is a turn in that direction nationally and in Minnesota, problems of differential property tax burdens may again arise.  It is always important to remember that Van Dusart v. Hatfield, the lawsuit that launched the Minnesota Miracle was a tax lawsuit as much as an education funding lawsuit.

Anyway, I found this article extremely interesting as it provides some very heady food for thought.  The Tea Party gets bounced around a lot by criticism that it doesn't have a set of guiding principles, but I believe Salam provides at least an outline of some of the intellectual underpinnings of that particular movement.