Howard Rich's Blog

July 23, 2009

Lake City charter school gains approval

AKE CITY — Lake City will soon be the home to a new charter school.

Dr. Deloris W.B. Brown, director of education for the new Lake City College Preparatory Academy Inc., said in a phone interview July 10 that the school received approval the previous week.

To receive approval for a charter school, she said, you have to establish a planning group of parents, educators and community members. The planning group is comprised of Queen Wallace, Shirley Kennedy, the Rev. Dr. Frank Maddox, the Rev. Ray McAllister, Gloria Tisdale, John Williams, Judy Toney, Vera Elliott, Ruby Jackson and Luvenia Richardson.


June 5, 2009

The Inevitability of Parental Choice

A year ago, the nation’s largest newspaper wrote in an editorial that it was time to “move beyond vouchers” in the debate over America’s educational future.

Although it did not reject any particular solution outright, the paper’s recommendation at the time was that America focuses its energy and attention on less controversial education reforms. In other words, it was a victory for those who have spent years – and expended untold taxpayer resources – in an effort to demonize parental choice and its supporters.

Then, two weeks ago, USA Today suddenly changed its tune.

Not only did the paper enthusiastically embrace parental choice – it also roundly criticized our nation’s teachers’ unions for “protecting failing schools.”

“Twenty million low-income school kids need a chance to succeed,” the USA Today editorial board wrote. “School choice is the most effective way to give it to them.”

What caused the turnaround?

While there’s certainly no shortage of reasons, the initial impetus for the shift appears to stem from President Barack Obama’s rank hypocrisy in closing an effective parental choice program in Washington D.C. to new applicants.

“Teacher unions, fearing loss of jobs, have pushed most Democrats to oppose vouchers and other options that invite competition for public schools,” the USA Today editorial board wrote. “Put another way, they oppose giving poor parents the same choice that the president himself — along with his chief of staff and some 35% of Democrats in Congress — have made in sending their children to private schools.”

Of course, it’s not just about failing schools and low-income students. It’s about giving all parents a choice in their child’s academic future, no matter where they live.

With each passing day, the mountain of evidence attesting to the futility of our nation’s failed status quo grows higher. Correspondingly, in those rare instances where choice has been permitted to take root and flourish, its success is undeniable.

According to the most recent data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), America’s per pupil expenditure on public education is the highest of any industrialized nation in the world.

Unfortunately, we are not receiving anywhere near a commensurate return on our investment.

On the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, American students scored well below the average of other industrialized nations on both the math and science portions of the exam – just as they did the last time the tests were administered. And the time before that.

And in a telling nod to the sort of institutional incompetence that has long plagued our public system, America’s reading scores on the most recent PISA exam had to be thrown out due to a printing error by the company that the U.S. Department of Education hired to administer the tests.

But our crisis is much bigger than poor standardized test results and bureaucratic errors. Over 12,000 schools across America currently rate as failing or below average – with hundreds of thousands of children trapped inside of them. Of course, each year when organizations like “Teach for America” try to place talented, highly-motivated college graduates in teaching positions within higher-risk school districts, their efforts are always rebuffed by the unions.

Each year, the purveyors of this country’s education monopoly continue failing children at a record clip – and yet in a perfect example of precisely what’s wrong with our system, they are rewarded for their poor performance with additional taxpayer resources.

In fact, according to President Obama’s plan – the more children you fail, the more money you get.

This self-perpetuating cycle serves no one. It doesn’t serve our children, it doesn’t serve their parents, and it doesn’t serve the best interests of our country.

Nor are we well-served by pretending that our “average” public schools are meeting the needs of most middle income children.

In an increasingly competitive global economy, we cannot afford to maintain a failed status quo on one hand and mediocrity on the other.

USA Today’s acknowledgment of this fact – and its support for parental choice – is yet another example of the inevitable march toward a system of education that promotes true academic achievement, a system built around a competitive, parent-driven marketplace where schools are held accountable for their performance.

December 4, 2008

America Needs Change Parents can Believe in

By Howie Rich

Let’s not kid ourselves.

Barack Obama isn’t the first (and he certainly won’t be the last) Washington politician to send his children to exclusive private schools.

In fact, Sidwell Friends – the elite private academy chosen by the Obamas for their two young daughters – was also selected by Bill and Hillary Clinton for their daughter, Chelsea, while they lived in the White House.

But you won’t hear me – or any other true educational choice advocate – condemning either family for selecting the educational environment that best fits the needs of their children.

That’s their right as parents.

In fact, in selecting this $29,000-a-year school, Michelle Obama specifically described it as “the best fit for what (our) daughters need now.”

Meanwhile in South Carolina (which includes eight counties with a median household income below what the Obamas will pay per child in tuition costs this coming year) one of the state’s top gubernatorial prospects, James E. Smith, also chooses to send his children to a prestigious private academy.

Again, that’s his choice – and based on South Carolina’s worst-in-the-nation graduation rate, it’s hard to fault him for it.

In Oregon, where the graduation rate is much higher, House Speaker Jeff Merkley and his wife recently attempted to enroll two of their children in a newly-formed charter school. In this case, it wasn’t that their public schools were all that bad, they simply wanted something better.

Yet when reporters first asked Speaker Merkley about his children’s applications, he denied having ever submitted them.

How come?

Well, as it turned out, Merkley had voted against Oregon’s charter school legislation just a few years earlier.

Likewise, South Carolina’s Rep. Smith has been one of the most vocal opponents of parental choice in South Carolina – including choice for those eight counties with household incomes below what the Obamas will pay to send just one of their children to private school this coming year.

And then there’s Obama himself, who is following in the footsteps of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and his Illinois colleague Jesse Jackson, Jr., in ardently opposing academic scholarships and tuition tax credits which in most cases add up to less than half what public schools are spending.

“We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them,” Obama says, a clever sound bite that ignores the billions in new taxpayer dollars we pour into public education year after year in an unsuccessful effort to do just that.

Sadly, politicians like Obama, the Clintons, Kennedy, Jackson, Smith and Merkley are hardly unique in availing themselves of the very choices they refuse to make more accessible to the vast majority of American parents.

According to a 2007 report by the Heritage Foundation, 37 percent of U.S. Representatives and 45 percent of U.S. Senators enroll their children in private schools – a rate four times higher than that of the general population.

Simply put, choice is a good thing – but only for those rich or powerful enough to enjoy it.
So what is Obama’s solution for the rest of America’s parents?

For all his talk of “change we need,” and “change we can believe in,” Obama’s plan is all too familiar – keep throwing more money into the same old failed bureaucracies while branding anyone who wants to empower parents as being “anti-public education.”

Yet as our nation falls further behind its industrialized peers in standardized test scores, we desperately need an education system focused on achieving results, not accommodating a status quo that has proven utterly incapable at adapting to a changing world.

More money and expensive new “accountability” measures have clearly failed to move us forward.

We must now provide change that parents can believe in, a process which begins, ironically, with providing them the same choices currently enjoyed by their leaders.

The author is Chairman of Americans for Limited Government.

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