Monthly Archives: June 2020

SCHOOL CHOICE – A PATH TO A BETTER EDUCATION

According to U.S. News & World Report, “National tests show little to no gains in math or reading for US students.”  The state of American education is in complete disarray.

You might think I’m talking about the fallout from the coronavirus crisis—schools canceled, parents being forced to teach and work at the same time, confusion everywhere.  But it’s not just that.  I’m writing to you about something that goes much deeper than that.

Whether you are single or married, whether you are a parent or a grandparent, you and every American have a giant stake in how well our nation educates the next generation of our citizens.

If you accept that premise, then I urge you to read my letter, because it details the serious decline in American educational achievement—and what that decline portends for our nation.

But, importantly, the educational disruption caused by COVID-19 also offers a remarkable opportunity.  It lays bare both the problems of the present and new ways of doing things.  It also describes the exciting movement to expand school choice opportunities for American families, a movement that is already bringing about positive reform in education.

The biggest threat confronting school choice for our children is the constant, aggressive legal attacks launched against popular school choice programs by defenders of the failed educational status quo.  And even before the global pandemic forced schools to remote, teachers’ unions were walking off the job, leaving our children to fend for themselves.

The express purpose of these lawsuits and walkouts is to deny children the chance to access an education that meets their individual learning needs.  What millions of parents are seeing, right now, in their own homes, is how many schools are failing to meet those needs.

As support for school choice grows from the public and lawmakers—both Democrat and Republican alike—the pushback from unions and special interest groups is the same: lawsuits and intimidation, their only weapons for slowing the expansion of school choice.

We must fight off these opponents to school choice—and ensure that our nation’s students have the freedom they need to flourish?

As I am sure you know, every year, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars—federal, state and local—are poured into America’s public-school systems.  The best estimate we have is a staggering $621 billion!  That works out to an average of more than $12,000 per student.

Yet despite this enormous investment, we see consistent underperformance on standardized tests and other performance metrics.

For example, in April 2016 the results of the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress for high schoolers were released.

  1. Scores on the 2015 reading test for high school seniors showed a five-point drop since 1992 (the earliest year with comparable scores).
  2. High school math scores remain unchanged during the past decade.
  3. While 82% of high school seniors graduated on time, the report suggests that only 37% of them are academically prepared for college coursework in reading and math.

Troubling statistics like these are nothing new.

One recent survey of 15-year-old students in 34 countries showed that Americans ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics.

And 25 of the nations surveyed also had higher graduation rates than the United States.  We are falling behind the rest of the world.

Money is certainly not the problem.

Because even as the measurable “outputs” of American public education consistently decline, the per-student cost burdens of American public education consistently increase, putting enormous financial strain on already stretched state and local finances.

Why are the costs of a declining public education system continuing to increase?

One reason can be found here: the U.S. Department of Education has reported that since 1950 the number of K-12public school students in the United States increased by 96%.

At the same time, the number of public-school teachers increased by 252%…

And the number of “full-time equivalent” public school employees (meaning administrators and other employees who are not classroom teachers) literally exploded…increasing by a whopping 386%.

In fact, the underlying problem with American K-12 education today is our antiquated system of harnessing the funding of education to the administration of education in our public-school system.  Fold an unanticipated nationwide shutdown into the mix, and the organizational inefficiency and curricular failures just become that much more obvious.

Now that I’ve gotten the bad news out of the way, I want you to know that we are optimistic that our work to advance educational choice is counteracting administrative waste—and achieving real and significant opportunities for students.

Contrary to the frequently hysterical assertions of defenders of the educational status quo, the founders of EdChoice strongly supported America’s historical commitment to using public funds (taxes) to support education.

But EdChoice parted company with the current system of public education when it came to the public administration of schools.

Instead of requiring that tax dollars, and students, follow a single path to public schools, EdChoice believed that the funds earmarked for education and generated by taxes should be directed by parents to the schools of their choice.

“Vouchers” is the word used as shorthand to describe this means of letting parents direct the public funds designated for their children’s education.

Centralized government, with its big bureaucracies and its inherent predisposition to stagnation, is not good at providing the diversity of educational opportunities and choices that a nation as big and diverse as America needs and that American children deserve.

Government monopolies in public funded education—which is what our public-school systems are—operate like nearly all other government monopolies: poorly.

When the Friedman Foundation came into being twenty-three years ago, there were only a total of 6 school choice programs in the United States.

Today, despite bitter and unyielding opposition from defenders of the failing educational status quo, 65 school choice programs are on the books in 29 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

A more important statistic is that today approximately 1.5 million American children are making use of a variety of private school choice programs to choose a school that meets their learning needs!

Over the course of the past twenty-three years, EdChoice has become the acknowledged national leader in the school choice movement, and the go-to resource center for parents and activists who want to learn how to make educational opportunity a reality.

We carry out our mission with the following activities:

  • Research and Thought Leadership—EdChoice is a national leader in school choice research. We publish dozens of studies, surveys, legislative analyses and blog posts each year to help the public, the media and key stakeholders understand how school choice is affecting families and students across the United States and internationally.  Our premise is simple: The more people know about and understand educational choice, the more they can help advance the movement.
  • Training and Outreach—For too long, parents have been told to sit down, be quiet and let the professionals handle their kids. Policymakers have similarly been bullied by those who seek to protect and preserve an educational system that has chronically failed many of whose who most depend on it as their pathway to a successful life.  We offer a variety of trainings to help school choice supporters learn how to advocate for high-quality programs that put students first.
  • Focused State Advocacy—We know from experience that bringing new school choice programs to fruition takes a lot of hard work. We also know that educational decisions should be made by those closest to it: at the local level.  That’s why we’re focused on engaging at the state level where it makes the most sense while supporting school choice efforts more broadly with our research, outreach and trainings.

Since 2010, the number of school choice programs has more than doubled, from 27 to 65.  Today, with school choice programs now on the books in more than half the states, and a pro-school choice presidential administration directing federal education policy in Washington, D.C., I believe that breakthrough has occurred!

And let me make a bold prediction: as things get back to normal after the coronavirus crisis, there will be a groundswell nationwide for greater educational freedom.

Why do I say that?  Because millions of Americans are experiencing in real time, the failures of the current education system, and the need for greater choice and flexibility in their children’s education.

And another reason: While a great many public school systems have floundered and failed their students, in spite of their massive taxpayer-funded resources, other private and charter schools have responded to the crisis nimbly and creatively.

At EdChoice, we see firsthand how such schools—ranging from a group of Montessori preschools in Houston to a network of Catholic Partnership schools in Harlem and the South Bronx—have found innovative ways to keep their students (and parents) supported and engaged in the learning process.

But maybe most importantly of all, parents and students are realizing that the public school system doesn’t have a monopoly on education.  The “one size fits all” style just might not, in fact, fit them.

But this doesn’t mean everything will change overnight.

Historically, the greatest opposition to school choice has come from the leadership of public teacher unions.  Sadly, the union leaders are more committed to preserving their influence as funders of politicians who will dance to their tune when it comes to negotiating lucrative contracts for their members.  They believe that any redirection of public funds designated for education away from the public-school systems (to parents, for example), represents a threat to their power.

The union leadership has been helped over the years by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who believe that permitting parents to direct the funds set aside for their kids’ education to religiously-affiliated schools will be counterproductive.

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12 COMMANDMENTS FOR SENIORS

#1 – Talk to yourself. There are times you need expert advice.
#2 – “In Style” are the clothes that still fit.
#3 – You don’t need anger management. You need people to stop making you mad.
#4 – Your people skills are just fine. It’s your tolerance for idiots that needs work.
#5 – The biggest lie you tell yourself is, “I don’t need to write that down. I’ll remember it.”
#6 – “On time” is when you get there.
#7 – Even duct tape can’t fix stupid—but it sure does muffle the sound.
#8 – It would be wonderful if we could put ourselves in the dryer for ten minutes, then come out wrinkle-free and three sizes smaller!
#9 – Lately, you’ve noticed people your age are so much older than you.
#10 – Growing old should have taken longer.
#11 – Aging has slowed you down, but it hasn’t shut you up.
#12 – You still haven’t learned to act your age, and hope you never will.

And one more:

“One for the road means going to the bathroom before you leave the house.

Some Thoughts to Make You Crazy:

• Atheism is a non-profit organization.
• Where do forest rangers go to get away from it all?
• If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?
• I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, “Where’s the self-help section”? She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.
• If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages?
• Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?
• If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?
• How do they get deer to cross the road only at those yellow road signs?
• What was the best thing before sliced bread?
• How is it possible to have a civil war?
• If you ate both pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry?
• Is there another word for synonym?
• If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
• Don’t worry about old age, it doesn’t last that long.
• Life is sexually transmitted.
• Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.
• Men have two emotions: hungry and horny, and they can’t tell them apart. If you see a gleam in his eyes, make him a sandwich.
• Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet, and he won’t bother you for weeks, maybe months.
• Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.
• All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
• In the 60s, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.
• Life is like a jar of jalapeno peppers. What you do today may burn your ass tomorrow.
• Death is the number one killer in the world.

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AMAZING TOWN TO VISIT

I love Washington, D.C—no, not the government; not the politicians—I love the buildings, the history, the sense of purpose, and the pride it generates that we are a strong, knit-together democracy of tolerant factions.

One of the newest additions to the scene on the mall is the National Museum of the American Indian, a key part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Kevin Gover, the director, says: “Please consider joining us to help bridge the gap between misconception and truth, shatter stereotypes, and forge a path of healing and understanding for all people, Native and non-Native alike.”

Here are a few examples of the museum’s work on producing factual work about three Native American icons portrayed very inaccurately in many popular publications.

Pocahontas, 1595-1617 – Historic Figure

Pocahontas was the nickname of a young Powhatan woman, born Matoaka, who is a pivotal figure in world history. Her father was the leader of the powerful Powhatan Confederacy, which dominated the coastal Atlantic region when English colonists established the James Fort (later Jamestown, Virginia) in 1607. Pocahontas often accompanied her father’s men to the fort on what they considered peaceful missions. But English colonists abducted her in 1613 and held her hostage for a year.

Pocahontas later married the colonist John Rolfe. In 1616 she traveled to London with him, her infant son, and an entourage of Powhatan. There she was received in the court of King James as the daughter of a “Mighty Prince Emperor.” Within a few years of her death, Pocahontas was well known to literate Europeans. Associated with the success of Jamestown—and a reminder of the deeply entangled history that Americans and American Indians share—Pocahontas has remained an indelible part of the American national consciousness for more than four hundred years.

Geronimo, 1823-1909 – Apache Leader

A symbol of Native American resistance and warrior spirit, Geronimo acquired a reputation as a fearless fighter while wreaking vengeance on Mexican troops who had murdered his wife, children, and mother. When U.S. miners, settlers, and soldiers intruded on Chiricahua Apache lands in Arizona, Geronimo and his people resisted the newcomers, rejected U.S. efforts to settle his people on reservations, and were denounced as murderous renegades by angry whites. Hunted relentlessly by U.S. soldiers and Apache scouts, Geronimo was finally persuaded to surrender in 1886, and was shipped as a prisoner of war to internment camps in Florida, Alabama, and finally Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In his later years, Geronimo converted to Christianity, sold autographed photos of himself, and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade. Despite his notoriety, the old warrior was never allowed to return to his tribal homeland. He died a prisoner of war at Fort Sill in 1909. Yet Geronimo’s legend as a warrior survived. In 2011, the U.S. military operation that eliminated Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was code-named “Geronimo.”

Sitting Bull, 1831-1890 – Hunkpapa Military, Religious and Political Leader

Sitting Bull was a stalwart defender of his people’s lands and lifeways, which were threatened by the intrusion of white settlers and miners on treaty-guaranteed tribal territories, and by U.S. government efforts to concentrate Indians on reservations. These violations provoked war in 1876, in which Sitting Bull and other war leaders masterminded the defeat of U.S. troops at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Faced by a massive U.S. military counteroffensive, Sitting Bull and his 4,000 followers fled to Canada, but returned in 1881. After two years as a prisoner of war, Sitting Bull settled on the Standing Rock Reservation in present-day North Dakota, where he became a successful farmer, and later toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Yet he remained a staunch critic of U.S. Indian policy, and became an apostle of the Ghost Dance—an Indian religious revival movement, which spooked white officials at the Standing Rock Reservation. In 1890, Indian police stormed his cabin, sparking a bloody shootout in which Sitting Bull was killed. He was buried at Fort Yates in North Dakota.

The National Museum of the American Indian is one of the many outstanding sites to visit in Washington, D.C.

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GUIDE DOGS CREATE NEW WORLDS

May has long come to symbolize graduation and new beginnings. And you are helping us create new beginnings at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) with every guide dog team we graduate.

How? Your generous financial support makes everything we do here possible!

GDB graduations are joyful occasions, marking the beginning of new, life-changing partnerships that commemorate our graduates’ accomplishments after successfully finishing two weeks of intensive training.

In the past 78 years, GDB has graduated more than 15,000 guide dog teams. Watching the bond that is forged between our clients and their new guide dog is truly magical.

And today, as our country manages life with the coronavirus, I am sure our clients are particularly grateful to have their trusted guide dog by their side.

In addition to the enhanced mobility and independence our graduates experience, their dogs provide much needed companionship and emotional comfort in these challenging times.

Jane Fowler has enjoyed three graduation days since she graduated with her first guide dog, Ari. She recently described what the day feels like from a graduate’s point of view:

“Graduation day is such a unique experience. Family and friends are there to celebrate with you and you actually feel like a celebrity,” she says.
Jane was born legally blind and, at the age of eight, was diagnosed with a retinal degenerative eye disease.

How did a guide dog change her life?

“Someone once said that the dogs guide you back into society and that’s so true. I used to be very shy, but Ari brought people to me and helped me be more sociable. It brought me out of my shell.”

Now a self-described “extrovert,” Jane is enjoying life with her third guide dog, Pilaf. She tells us that, as her vision has declined, Pilaf has scented the need to be more helpful.

Recently, she wrote to us: “Thank you for all of your love and dedication to GDB. I am so blessed to have this sweet little girl who works so hard for me. She has never met a person or dog that she doesn’t love. And she is that guide that will walk through a movie theatre lobby and ignore all the popcorn on the floor. Good girl! She makes walking out the door every day more fun and a lot less stressful.”

You make all of this possible. As you know, we receive no government funding and all of our services, including room and board, veterinary financial assistance if needed, training, and ongoing support are provided to our clients free of charge.

Thank you for opening up a whole new world for our graduates today as well as our future graduates. I hope you will continue with us on this transformative journey by sending a generous gift today.

It is hard to imagine how limiting and hopeless it must feel to have eyes that work only in small ways…and then teaming up with a trained guide dog to open up a new world.
A friend and a companion indeed. Guide dogs are great!

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