Nation’s Most Market-friendly School Board Re-elected
School Choice Weekly, Issue #15
Voters in a suburb of Denver have re-elected a market-oriented majority to the Douglas County school board in a nationally watched election that attracted donations from Jeb Bush and Americans for Prosperity.
Unions also had poured money into the race to back their slate of candidates, who promised to roll back Douglas County’s school choice programs including the first district-run voucher program, market-based pay for teachers, and competition among public schools.
Douglas County would seem an unlikely place for an education revolution. One of the country’s richest counties, with a median household income above $100,000, it’s a deeply conservative stretch of suburbia, blanketed with look-alike homes in muted earth tones. Its schools are well-regarded and parent satisfaction has traditionally been high. Yet since the reformers took control of the 65,000-student school district in 2009, the changes have come fast and furious.
The board’s first step was to abolish tenure. Then it sidelined the local teachers’ union by refusing to negotiate a collective contract, instead working out deals one-on-one with each employee. “That really freed us up,” said Doug Benevento, a board member running for reelection on the reform slate.
The board launched the first voucher program in the U.S. to subsidize private and parochial school tuition for wealthy families in a top-ranked public school district. (The schools, including some touting a Bible-based, creationist curriculum, received a down payment of funds in 2011, but the program is on hold pending court challenges.) Douglas County has also added more charter schools and directed public funds to subsidize books and classes for home-schooled children.
Pushing the free market farther still, the board has urged district elementary schools to compete with one another for enrollment, rather than simply serving all students in the neighborhood. Principals are encouraged to budget creatively so they can develop a marketable niche, a practice that has left some schools without art or music teachers as they build up science programs or bring in foreign-language classes. Then there’s the market-pay system, in which a first grade teacher is valued, and paid, more than a second grade teacher and teaching physics far outweighs teaching art.
Politicians and educators from as far as Arizona, North Carolina and Texas have looked to model their own reforms on Douglas County.
Voters statewide topped off that election by defeating 66 to 34 percent a ballot initiative that would have raised income taxes $1 billion for a grab-bag of education projects like preschool, longer school days, and professional development for teachers.
SOURCE: Denver Post, Politico
IN THIS ISSUE
- WISCONSIN: Why were so many new voucher students already enrolled in private schools? Partly because the state gave a very narrow window for signing up. The state also has the worst-designed voucher program, says John Merrifield.
- IOWA: School choice proponents look to expand the state’s tax-credit scholarships and introduce education savings accounts in 2014. A recent poll found majorities of Iowans support both ideas.
- OKLAHOMA: Opponents sue to stop tax-credit scholarships, alleging these violate separation of church and state, while themselves receiving public funds through religious organizations.
- WISCONSIN: State Sen. Alberta Darling has proposed a measure to increase the number of independent charters in Wisconsin while replicating the highest-performing charter schools. Currently, most Wisconsin charter schools must be approved by their competitors, school districts.
- LITERATURE: Common Core encourages teachers to use standardized measures of “text complexity” that become absurd, such as concluding The Hunger Games novels are more complex than The Grapes of Wrath.
- EDTECH: The upcoming national tests are prompting schools to spend millions on computers and tech infrastructure. Studies still don’t show that adding computers to classrooms has any net positive effect on students.
- WISCONSIN: A child psychologist verbally lashes two Democrat lawmakers for focusing on who paid his expenses to testify on Common Core rather than the substance of his testimony. “On behalf of every African-American, Latino, Autistic, gifted, depressed, anxious, and learning-disabled child in the state of Wisconsin, I demand your immediate resignation from public office,” he writes.
- CATHOLICS: Approximately 130 Catholic scholars write to the U.S. bishops, asking them to stop Common Core in Catholic schools. “Common Core shortchanges the central goals of all sound education and surely those of Catholic education: to grow in the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord, to mature into a responsible, flourishing adult, and to contribute as a citizen to the process of responsible democratic self-government,” they write.
- CALIFORNIA: The U.S. education secretary threatens to take up to $3.5 billion from California for deciding to ditch state tests for Common Core a year early. The secretary also has given other states the green light to do almost the same thing.
- TEXAS: What the state gave the feds to get a No Child Left Behind waiver. Texas had previously resisted the waiver and federal education grants on grounds those gave the feds too much power.
- BULLYING: Bullying hasn’t increased since 2005, according to federal data, but state laws have gotten much more harsh and numerous. Studies are also beginning to show anti-bullying laws are useless or counterproductive.
- TEACHING: Contrary to popular education theories, students need to memorize lots of information, says a teacher: You can’t “think critically” with nothing to think about.