Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Why college costs so much: government financial “aid” is more harm than “aid”

Posted on: April 13th, 2012 by Brian T. Schwartz No Comments

This originally appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera on April 9, 2012.

Are tax-funded student loans and grants financial “aid” or financial harm?  ”Harm,” political scientist Gary Wolfram would say. Tax-funded financial aid “results in increased tuition, leading to political pressure to further increase aid. This in turn leads to higher tuitions,” he writes.

Basic economics predicts that subsidizing the purchase of a product increases demand for it, and hence increases the price.  For example, in four-year public schools, a one dollar increase in student loans was associated with a 93-cent increase in average tuition students paid, writes Dr. Andrew Gillen in his study “Financial Aid in Theory and Practice.”

Dr. Gillen shows that since 1986, the federal government’s financial “aid” has nearly tripled. During this time per-student fees and tuition have almost doubled, Gillen shows. Student debt “has generally outpaced inflation” and family incomes, reports US News and World Report.

Educational opportunity hasn’t faired well, either.  In 1972, students in the top income quartile were six times more likely to earning a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than those in the bottom quartile. Today, upper income students are eight times more likely, notes economist Richard Vedder, author of Going Broke by Degree.

Politicians win points for being “pro education.” But politically-driven financial “aid” for college is truly harmful.  Low graduation rates show that “aid” distorts people’s career choices by encouraging them to attend college, even though learning valuable skills in an unsubsidized apprenticeship might be wiser. They drop out after realizing they’ve wasted time learning unmarketable skills. Then they must pay off debt, if they can find a job in today’s “stimulated” economy.

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See also:
Higher Education Subsidies” at
The Center for College Affordability and Productivity

Let’s Pay Teachers To Be Effective, Too

Posted on: February 23rd, 2012 by admin No Comments

by Ben DeGrow

Colorado is one key step closer to distinguishing teachers who effectively help students learn from those who don’t. But we certainly haven’t overcome every obstacle to delivering top-notch instruction.

House Bill 1001’s “rule review evaluation of educator effectiveness” quickly sailed through the Colorado Legislature with only a single vote against, before Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it into law. The rules flesh out how Colorado schools will tie professional teacher and principal evaluations more closely to measures of student performance and hold them accountable for the results.

HB 1001’s smooth sailing contrasts with the groundbreaking legislation that launched the process. Two years ago the Colorado Education Association (CEA) threw up a heavy roadblock to Senate Bill 191, standing alone against a broad coalition of parents, teachers, business leaders and other reformers. Union teachers lobbied lawmakers on the public dime and some lawmakers shed tears, while hearings and debates dragged into the late hours.

The state’s largest teachers union could not stop SB 191 but did win key concessions, primarily slowing down the process to put the new educator evaluation system in place. Twenty-seven school districts have begun piloting implementation of the model system. Meanwhile, four other “partner” districts that already have developed high-quality evaluation systems will provide feedback for comparison purposes. The full system is not scheduled to launch until 2014-15.

While the process may be moving forward more slowly than many would like, positive steps have been taken. Teachers will have to earn and keep tenure protections by demonstrating effectiveness, and seniority no longer can trump performance as a factor in lay-offs. Principals as instructional leaders will share accountability with classroom teachers for promoting student growth, which must make up at least half of educator evaluations.

Research shows Colorado is on track using value-added measures as a major factor in judging instruction. A peer-reviewed 2010 study in American Economic Review found that a teacher’s effectiveness at improving measurable student learning could be predicted far better by previous value-added ratings than by experience or credentials.

In fact, no result is so unanimous in education research as Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek’s survey of 34 high-quality studies, all of which found that master’s degrees do not make teachers more effective. That the vast majority of educators do not earn these advanced degrees to enhance relevant content knowledge partly explains the result.

The progress in upgrading evaluations and tenure boosted Colorado’s grade on the nonpartisan National Council on Teacher Quality’s recent report card of state teacher policies. Only eight states earned better overall marks at helping to ensure students receive the highest-quality instruction.

However, NCTQ pointed out weaknesses in several areas. Colorado netted consistently poor ratings for teacher preparation standards, including for teachers in early grades to provide effective, research-based literacy and math instruction. The report also identified plenty of room for improvement in our state’s existing educator compensation systems.

The same effectiveness measures that will be used to evaluate and make tenure-related decisions ought to factor significantly into how principals and instructors are paid. This logical leap forward from rewarding educators based on years of service and academic credentials can be enhanced further by paying more for harder job and school assignments. After all, fewer people are qualified to teach higher-level math or special education, and fewer people want to work at challenging, high-poverty sites.

The new effectiveness-based evaluation system paves the way to pay many more Colorado teachers for effectiveness, too. Districts can model and adapt groundbreaking changes like Harrison’s Effectiveness and Results plan or strategic compensation in Eagle County. Harrison and Eagle County have changed the paradigm by abolishing the old salary schedule and linking educator pay to performance.

Adopting new educator evaluation rules has proven a harmonious task for legislators. But as the process rolls on, Colorado’s real work of changing policies and systems to promote the highest-quality teaching has only begun.

This article originally appeared in the Summit Daily News, February 23, 2012.

Tim Tebow: Fans should thank home school equal access laws

Posted on: December 19th, 2011 by Brian T. Schwartz No Comments

This article was printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on December 17, 2011.

No one would be talking about Tim Tebow’s football excellence had the Florida legislature acted differently when Tebow was nine years old. In 1996 the legislature allowed home-schooled students like Tebow to participate in local public school sports programs.

In high school, Pro Bowl line-backer Jason Taylor also benefited from such home-school friendly policies. But in college the NCAA revoked Taylor’s football scholarship for reasons related to his home schooling. In 1994 he successfully challenged the decision and regained the scholarship. After this case, reports ESPN, the NCAA streamlined eligibility requirements for home-schooled athletes.

In a 2007 ESPN interview, Taylor spoke out in support equal access for home-schooled athletes: “It’s important to let the kids know, and the people who are holding the kids back know, that there’s a lot of kids with a lot of potential.  … They just need a chance. … It’s a problem when you have sixteen states in our country that say it’s OK to play and the other 34 still have a problem with it. … Look, the parents are still paying tax dollars. If [the students] can’t play in the school system, then give the tax money back.”

The Tebow family has lent their name to, which advocates legislation “to allow homeschooled students equal access to sports and extracurricular activities” in Alabama. According to the site, Colorado is among 24 states that now allow equal access, while 15 have introduced legislation.

Prop. 103 supporters: You can still donate more of your own earnings to tax-funded schools

Posted on: November 14th, 2011 by Brian T. Schwartz No Comments

This article was printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on November 5, 2011.

To paraphrase Mark Twain: Don’t let funding schools interfere with funding students’ education. Boulder Senator Rollie Heath was behind the defeated Proposition 103, the proposed tax increase for Colorado’s tax-funded schools. “I just don’t know how far in education cuts we’ll have to do before people realize what we’re doing,” he told the Daily Sentinel after the election.

Heath implies that increasing school funding improves students’ education. Where’s the evidence?  As I documented in a recent Denver Post op-ed, national standardized test scores for 17-year-olds have been essentially flat since the early ’70s, while real-dollar per-pupil spending has doubled since then.

Increased spending didn’t increase test scores, but it increased teacher employment. Since the early ’70s student-to-teacher ratios decreased by almost a third. Employment in K-12 schools doubled, though student enrollment increased by just 10%.

Prop. 103 was really a Democratic Party fundraiser. Hiring more teachers sends more tax revenue to teachers unions. The unions almost exclusively support Democrat politicians, who when elected push for higher school taxes, and hence more money for unions that supported their campaign. These politicians also oppose school choice, and hence protect tax-funded schools as a monopolistic cartel.

Don’t fret if you supported Prop. 103. You’re still free to donate more of your earnings to tax-funded schools. You just can’t force others to do so.  But if you really care about quality education, you should support efficient schools that provide quality education at low cost, rather than letting politicians determine where your money goes.

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Update:  Oddly, the website for the Boulder Valley School District does not make it easy for people to donate to the district itself or specific schools. But the District has received more than $2 million in annual donations. I did find the following:

Balancing Innovation, Accountability in Cyberschools

Posted on: October 19th, 2011 by admin No Comments

by Pam Benigno

Technological advances are continually creating new opportunities to effectively educate Colorado’s K-12 students through online learning. Colorado needs to look forward in protecting an environment for innovation, while balancing needed accountability for cyberschool operators.

Two decades of open public school enrollment have given Colorado families a gift that continues to be unwrapped. Today, Colorado school districts offer numerous charter schools and other options, including full-time online programs. Twenty-two unique online schools serve students anywhere in the state, while 23 programs serve only district residents.

Some of the dismal reports about Colorado’s full-time online education programs reinforce what many of us already knew. On average, these schools have shown disappointing results in educating and retaining students. The Colorado Department of Education plans to conduct a comprehensive review of the standards and accountability for online schools. Senate President Brandon Shaffer has requested an emergency audit of online schools.

However, technology is being developed so quickly we don’t know what future programs will look like or what the challenges might be. Though it is customary for government agencies and politicians to react to bumps in the road with more regulation, a closer look need not inspire more burdens on online schools already supervised by school districts and heavily regulated by the state.

More than 840,000 students attended Colorado public schools last year. Full-time online schools served about 15,000 of them, or less than 2 percent. The majority of full-time online students learn primarily from home. A parent is the student’s “learning coach,” while the student is assigned one or more qualified teachers employed by the online school. A major exception: Hope Online Academy’s mainly high-risk students attend learning centers assisted by “mentors” and are supervised by teachers.

Students leave traditional schools and enroll in a full-time online program for many different reasons. For some, their educational needs weren’t being met, their physical or emotionally safety had been compromised, or it was a better fit for their personal circumstances or opportunities.

Not all children will be successful with an online program without first developing the necessary skills, discipline, and motivation. A number of students end up leaving an online program because of the strong accountability and rigor.

But an increasing number of resources are available, including our School Choice for Kids website (, which provides important information, as does the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Key policy changes also can be made to help improve online learning results while protecting innovation. University teacher preparation programs are drastically behind in training teachers how to use digital tools and how to effectively educate students from a distance. Many veteran teachers need intensive training to develop these new skills, especially as more and more students enroll in programs that blend the power of online learning technology with traditional schooling in various ways.

Further, both traditional and online educators need stronger incentives to keep students in school and ensure they complete course requirements successfully. Rather than funding schools based on how many students show up in early October, the state should use multiple student count dates to determine funding. And as Utah has begun to do this year, funding should follow students to the course level, allowing traditional and digital learning opportunities to be blended and personalized.

The Colorado Cyberschool Association and many others in the online school community desire to share best practices and work toward solutions.

As we take an honest look at the data and seek to find answers, let’s not turn back the clock on expanded educational opportunities.

Article published in the Denver Post, October 17, 2011.