Education Policy Institute

4401-A Connecticut Avenue, Box 294, Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 244-7535, Fax: (202) 244-7584
Education Exchange
Volume 3, Issue 3 -- March 1999

Focusing on Education Reforms at Your School, in Your State Legislature, and in Congress

In This Issue

In Education, Author Shows History Repeats Itself

EPI Chairman Disputes NEA President's Rosey View of New Unionism

Rep. Paul Introduces Education Package

PTA Teaches Political Activism at Legislative Conference

Critical Eye Needed When Considering Activist Materials

EPI's Education Quick Facts

In Education, Author Shows History Repeats Itself

At a kickoff luncheon for Market Education: The Unknown History at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on March 11, author Andrew J. Coulson discussed the prospects for systemic educational improvement. Based on his extensive review of the historical record dating back to Ancient Athens in 500 B.C., he argues that the last 30 years of debate surrounding school reform are hardly new and untried remedies, as most Americans seem to believe. The debate is, rather, a reiteration of the same problems and solutions that have been encountered and tested for centuries &endash;- 2,500 years or more, in fact, according to Coulson's research.

From classical Greece, through the medieval Islamic Empire, to the early American republic, and right up to the present, Coulson finds that those educational systems based upon a free and competitive education market consistently outperform state-run systems such as we have today.

In his comprehensive research, Coulson tried to avoid comparisons of schooling in one era to schooling in an entirely different era. Instead, he looked for the concepts working or failing within the same cultures and timeframe, and found great consistency in the success of for-profit schools.

Speaking about Horace Mann, whom he calls "the godfather of American education," Coulson notes, "Our ancestors were swept along for the ride, persuaded more by the fervor of the reformers' rhetoric than by the weight of their evidence." He says that Mann "even ventured the prediction that if public schooling were widely adopted, and given enough time to work, 'nine tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete, and the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged.'"

Coulson agrees that "there is one respect in which he [Mann] and his fellow reformers were completely successful: they forged an unbreakable link in people's minds between the institution of public schooling and the ideals of public education."

In fact, Coulson had to go back in history in order to find free market educational systems, for no real free systems exist in today's world. The Japanese system of afterschool tutorial services (juku) and similar American for-profit institutions do exist, but "once a state-run school system has become entrenched, it is extremely hard to dislodge."

With that in mind, Coulson notes that the weight of history shows the "success of free markets has rested on five factors: choice and financial responsibility for parents; and freedom, competition, and the profit motive for schools." These factors have been present and are present in the best educational systems throughout history.

For instance, Coulson says the information he uncovered concerning classical Athens "blew me away." He found that the Athenian schooling was completely controlled by parents with no input from the state. Adding a humorous touch to the comparison between the market-based Athenian education versus the state-run Spartan education of the day, Coulson notes the Athenians gave us Plato, Socrates, and other philosophers and educators who serve as the founders of modern civilization. The Spartans gave us a great name for high school football teams!

Coulson concludes that competitive education markets have demonstrated their superiority over state education systems time and again throughout history. He stresses that an important distinction must be recognized: public schooling run by governments is very different from the ideal of public education which seeks to ensure that the general populace is well educated.

Referring to market-based education, he writes, "Any approach to schooling that consistently produced good results across many different cultures, regardless of the prevailing social, political, and economic conditions, might have some interesting lessons to teach us."

Market Education: The Unknown History is available at http://www.educationpolicy.org/EPI Bookstore-A1.htm through EPI's online bookstore.

EPI Chairman Disputes NEA President's Rosey View of New Unionism

Two years after his declaration of a "new unionism," NEA President Bob Chase was at it again in a speech at the National Press Club on March 4. Chase's speech was remarkable for its reliance on reiteration of noble intentions as evidence that the NEA and its affiliates are seriously involved in education reform. He stated, "We need to liberate collective bargaining...we should be negotiating the future."

Noting the vital role that educators play in improving public education and ensuring children's success in learning, Chase challenged teachers &endash; and their unions &endash; to take charge of their profession. New unionism calls for teachers to take more personal responsibility for school quality, including involvement in peer assistance and review programs,

Chase called attention to a number of programs highlighted in a new NEA publication. Stepping Forward: How NEA Members Are Revitalizing America's Public Schools focuses on mentoring, peer assistance, peer review*, and professional development as evidence that change is already underway.

The publication turns out to be a list of 300 state and local projects that allegedly demonstrate union commitment to teacher quality and to raising student achievement. After reading Stepping Forward, EPI Chairman Myron Lieberman pointed out that it does not include a single instance in which there is reliable evidence that these objectives have been met.

To the chagrin of NEA officials, Lieberman, who was seated at the Press Club head table, also pointed out that Chase's appeal for support for in-service training for teachers totally ignored the tens (perhaps hundreds) of billions already being spent on salary increases for graduate courses taken by teachers.

Not surprisingly, Chase said nothing about the fact that the teacher unions try to negotiate complete teacher freedom to select courses for salary credit, no matter how unrelated the courses are to the teachers' assigned work. His speech illustrates that when the NEA supports a "reform", reliable evidence on its effectiveness is not necessary. Could the reason be that these reforms don't really change the status quo?

* In Teachers Evaluating Teachers: Peer Review and the New Unionism, published by Transaction Publishers, Dr. Lieberman has written an in-depth analysis of the peer review programs in Columbus and Toledo, Ohio.

Rep. Paul Introduces Education Package

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced what he calls an Education Freedom Package on March 2. It contains three separate pieces of legislation which are designed to give parents more options, encourage greater commitment to educational pursuits, and reward teachers.

The Family Education Freedom Act, which had been introduced in the 105th Congress as well (H.R. 1816), would give parents a $3,000 per child per year tax credit. The credit could apply to tuition, tutors, books, computers and other related educational needs.

In addition, the Education Improvement Tax Cut would allow individuals to claim up to $3,000 per year in tax credits for cash or "in-kind" donations to schools or scholarship programs.

The Teacher Tax Cut Act would allow all teachers to claim a $1,000 tax credit. Rep. Paul states, "One way Congress could ensure quality people enter, and remain in, the teaching profession is to raise teacher take-home pay by reducing their taxes." Reps. Green (D-TX), Radanovitch (R-CA), Deal (R-GA), Stearns (R-FL) and Hinchey (D-NY) have signed on as co-sponsors for the Teacher Tax Cut Act, making it a bipartisan effort.

Rep. Paul serves on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and on the Early Childhood, Work and Families Subcommittee.

PTA Teaches Political Activism at Legislative Conference

The National PTA held its annual four-day legislative conference in Washington, D.C. March 13-16. The conference was called "Effective Schools: Everyone's Assignment" in order to utilize the same acronym as one of its top priority items, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

PTA President Lois Jean White opened the first general session on March 14 with a brief pep talk that might have been called "Advocacy 101." In it, she emphasized that "our grassroots advocacy will be difficult if not impossible," but that "developing a relationship with a legislative aide is very valuable." White stressed that members should be very vocal, and make senators and Congressmen understand that their records are under close scrutiny. She concluded her remarks with the hope that members would take home what they learn at the conference to continue PTA advocacy efforts in their "own backyards."

Though many invited guests spoke, as did Secretary of Education Richard Riley, of the PTA as "a great bipartisan voice for education," the speaker list included no Republican or conservative-leaning government leaders.

After receiving special recognition for his achievements in the field of education, Sec. Riley patted himself on the back saying, "ALL children have the same high standards now... The president and I ended the watered down standards disabled children had before..."

Keeping with a common theme of PTA resolutions and lobbying, Secretary Riley emphasized his opposition to voucher "schemes" and encouraged the PTA membership to continue their opposition as well. Concerning another key theme of the Clinton administration and the PTA (school construction), he said, "If the federal government can build prisons, they ought to be able to build schools."

Opening the second general session on March 14, John "Jack" Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, pleaded with the conference attendees, "You have to get up to Capitol Hill &endash; please go because of your credibility." He noted the importance of "this town" for the "influence it has on the debate."

Referring to Andrew J. Coulson's National Press Club book kickoff (see article, page 1), Jennings remarked, "One of these millionaires supporting vouchers says public schools are an aberration going back to Athens..." He [Jennings] called the fact that Coulson advocates market education as a result of his historic research "myth building."

Jennings recommended that PTA members tell Congress, "Federal funding may only be seven percent of the money, but it is very targeted, very significant to poor children."

In March 15's afternoon general session, Scott Fleming and Judith Johnson, both assistant secretaries at the Education Department, spoke of their concern about programs being pitted against one another in the recently passed "Ed Flex" bill. They highlighted the need to hold the ESEA bill together as one piece of comprehensive legislation, rather than splitting it into several independent bills as House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Bill Goodling (R-PA) has suggested.

With more than $12 billion at stake, the ESEA reauthorization is far and away the largest and most comprehensive piece of federal education legislation.

Critical Eye Needed When Considering Activist Materials

The PTA and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) campaign to attack school choice (addressed in the October 1998 Education Exchange) now include among their online advocacy tools extensive "talking points" and legislative status updates.

The PTA has created an anti-voucher activist package that includes PDF file downloads for three professionally produced advertisements, all aimed at convincing the grassroots to pressure Congress into voting no on any and all voucher bills.

The package also includes a voucher fact sheet, a sample letter to Congress, a sample opinion editorial, and an activist primer.

Readers should view the anti-voucher materials with a critical eye, for the same questionable arguments and wording are used throughout. For instance, the materials repeatedly claim, "We know what works, and vouchers are not the answer." The solutions cited include reducing class size, hiring more teachers, and putting more computers in the classroom. These buzzwords of the education establishment lack evidence to back up their claims.

Nowhere in PTA materials is cost considered, teacher skills addressed, or the practical usefulness of technology mentioned.

The materials state the Cleveland voucher program "could have implemented a proven reading program..." Nowhere does it state what this proven alternative program should have been.

Regarding a school in Austin, Texas where students are grouped in multi-aged classes, the materials report "the gap is narrowing between Hispanic and white student test scores." On the surface, this statement sounds very positive. But, does it mean Hispanic scores are rising or white student scores are declining?

The public and the media love good soundbites, but their implied meaning is often very different from reality.

EPI's Education Quick Facts

  • Fifty-six percent of teachers reported having students with limited English proficiency enrolled in their classes, and 79 percent reported having students with disabilities. Thirty-three percent of such teachers reported applying, to a great extent, the same high standards of performance used for other students to students with limited English proficiency, as did 28 percent for students with disabilities. (Source: "Status of Education Reform in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: Teachers' Perspectives," National Center for Education Statistics, Dec. 1998))
  • The National Education Association ranks as the 11th most violent union in America according to a National Institute for Labor Relations Research study of recorded incidents of union violence since 1975. The NEA recorded 180 instances of violence during that time period. (Source: Lookout, National Institute for Labor Relations Research, March 1999)
  • Ten states and one large urban municipality are currently being sued over the quality of public education. They include Florida, New Jersey, New York City, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Vermont. (Source: USA Today, March 4, 1999)
  • Finding: Students are clear about what makes them put in more effort: fear of failure, exit exams, knowing employers look at transcripts, and the desire to get into a good college. But schools, parents and employers may not be pushing the right buttons. For example, few employers review high school transcripts, and most doubt grades accurately reflect student abilities. (Source: " Reality Check '99," Public Agenda)

See File

Copyright 1998
Education Policy Institute, PMB 294, 4401-A Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008-2322 202/244-7535, Fax 202/244-7584 http://www.educationpolicy.org