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Nebraska Families Deserve School Choice

by Matthew Nielsen

School choice has been a hotly contested issue in Nebraska politics for several years. Special interest groups, politicians, and unions, all have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the state of education in Nebraska, but no one has more interest than parents and the students themselves—all 367,000 of them.

Nebraska’s lawmakers have managed to stop every effort to begin school choice programs for families. Private schools, with their various programs, curricula, and specializations, are not options for low-income families, regardless of interest or ability.

Education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships, charter schools, and school tuition organizations (STOs), are programs that give families a variety of educational choices for their children—options that many states have implemented with great success. For example, Arizona and Florida are widely considered to be two of the most progressive states when it comes to educational options. They tend to spend less per pupil, but their students outperform many other states that spend much more.

Creating more options for families has been opposed primarily by individuals and groups who argue that Nebraska’s district schools would suffer financially. Senator Linehan (R - Elkhorn) has pointed out that LB1202, rather than removing revenues from the state’s district schools, would simply provide a tax credit for taxpayers who choose to make that election. Further, it’s not clear that the school districts across the state would change course and direct current or future funds into the classroom, despite the union leadership’s continuous calls for more money to pay teachers. The state of Nebraska increased per-pupil spending by 40% between 1992 and 2014, but during that time, teachers only saw 7% of that go to their salaries. The rest went to administrators and other additional staff.

LB1202 hasn’t made any headway since it was first introduced in the Legislature. Nebraskans can expand opportunities for children that can make a meaningful difference in their lives for years to come. Voters should communicate to their legislators that they want true educational freedom for all children.

Too many elected officials argue and vote against measures that would allow low-income families to choose the educational options that best meet their needs. Legislators and other government officials have taken an active role in fighting against choice, even while they take advantage of school choice for their own children. Government officials who prevent school choice for everyone but those who can afford it are doing a disservice to the children of Nebraska.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Omaha World-Herald.

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Educational Freedom Institute Announces Governing Board Changes

For Immediate Release

January 24, 2020

Educational Freedom Institute Announces Governing Board Changes

Phoenix, Arizona— January 24, 2020The Educational Freedom Institute announced the addition of Dr. Jay P. Greene, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, to its governing board.

“EFI is honored to welcome Dr. Greene, a highly respected voice on education reform, to its Governing Board,” said Matthew Nielsen, Board President.

Dr. Burke, the board’s vice president, said, “Jay Greene is indisputably one of the greatest minds in the education policy debate. Saying we are lucky to have him on our board of directors is an understatement.”

Advisory Board

The organization has already benefitted greatly from the addition of several highly-respected and committed individuals to its Advisory Board, listed alphabetically: Jason Bedrick, Jonathan Butcher, Dr. Angela Dills, Robert Enlow, Dr. Matthew Ladner, Dr. Benjamin Scafidi, Inez Stepman, and Dr. Terry Stoops.

Founded in early 2019, Educational Freedom Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank that exists to research, document, and report the benefits that school choice provides to students, families, and communities. We support policies that protect and promote school choice, knowing that the free market, when allowed to flourish, will provide unparalleled education options of the highest quality to families from all walks of life. We pursue this mission using objective data and through publishing our findings.

###

For more information, press only:

Corey DeAngelis, Executive Director

corey@efinstitute.org

For more information on EFI:

EFInstitute.org

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EFI Announces New Executive Director

corey_deangelis
Educational Freedom Institute is pleased to announce that former Board Vice President Corey DeAngelis will continue his work with the organization as its new Executive Director.
Dr. DeAngelis is a prolific education policy researcher and an ardent supporter of educational freedom.
EFI is fortunate to have him lead its efforts to research, publish, and share the overwhelming evidence that school choice improves vital student outcomes.
Please join us in congratulating Corey on his new role.
EFI Board of Directors
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Executive Transition Announcement

The Educational Freedom Institute is very excited for Executive Director Justin Olson's new opportunity to serve as the Chief Financial Officer of a national nonprofit organization which will be announcing his new role in coming days. We are confident he'll find great success in this new role and EFI looks forward to continuing a professional relationship with Mr. Olson in the future. Please join us in congratulating Mr. Olson on this exciting opportunity.

He has been instrumental in the early success of EFI and the Board wishes to publicly express its gratitude for his significant contributions to the mission of the organization.

EFI will announce Mr. Olson's successor in the near future.

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Cyber Monday, Free-Market Friday and Educational Freedom alike Honor the Legacy of the Pilgrims

While some over the years have lamented the fact that the Thanksgiving holiday is encroached upon by “Black Friday” advertisements and the crowds that result from the busiest shopping days of the year, in critical ways this celebration of private enterprise is a tribute to the most important lessons from Plymouth.

As Tom Bethell of the Hoover Institution describes, it was a rejection of the communal economic system that had utterly failed the pilgrims for three consecutive years in favor of private property rights that led to the bountiful harvest of 1623. Financiers of the colony prohibited private ownership of homes and gardens out of fear that colonists with their own properties would neglect the collective effort to which the financiers were entitled a 50% share. With few options available to finance their voyage, the pilgrims accepted these unfavorable terms.

After much death and famine, the young colony recognized that a new economic order must be adopted to prevent further starvation. In Governor William Bradford’s own account Of Plymouth Plantation (see pages 162-164) he records how the colony assigned each family a parcel of land and empowered each family with the rights to enjoy the fruits of their own labors. Under this new system, Governor Bradford describes that far more corn was planted and the people were much more content, “for it made all hands very industrious.” He continues:

“The women now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them, to set corn, which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

“The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato and other ancients…that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happier and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

“For the young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and victuals, clothes etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.”

The virtues of private enterprise were recognized by America’s earliest European settlers and became an important part of America’s DNA. The respect for private property was subsequently enshrined in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights which states that “[no person shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” (Amendment V).

These free-market, limited-government principles that our country was founded upon led our country to be the most productive economy in the world and has done more to lift individuals out of poverty than any government program ever could.

Additionally, these principles of freedom have been exported across the globe and have benefitted the citizens of many different countries where governments have similarly adopted policies that respect private property and individual rights.

In contrast, every time communal systems have been tried, the result has been the same devastation as was seen in the pilgrims’first three years.

It is overwhelmingly disturbing to see the devastation ravaging the once wealthy and powerful country of Venezuela. Earlier this year, an article in The New York Times documented the horrors of the failed policies of the Nicolás Maduro and Hugo Cháves regimes that confiscated entire industries of private property to put in place a command economy.

“It’s really hard to think of a human tragedy of this scale outside civil war,” the New York Times quotes Kenneth Rogoff, of Harvard University, who was previously a chief economist forthe International Monetary Fund. “This will be a touchstone of disastrous policies for decades to come.”

The Heritage Foundation’s 2019 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Venezuela 179th in economic freedom right between the communist regimes of Cuba and North Korea—two countries whose devastation resulting from the lack of respect for private property has rivaled that of Venezuela.

North Korea provides particularly striking evidence that the country’s economic woes are the result of its communist policies. Much like the divided Berlin of a generation ago, the regions of North and South Korea had similar economies prior to the country’s post World War II division. But, with a Russia installed communist government in place in the north and a U.S. allied government to the south, significant divergences emerged in the standards of living, GDP, health and wellness, and even life expectancy among the Korean populations divided by the 38th parallel.

The chart below reported by the BBC shows the tremendous difference in production that results from a Korean economy that is liberated and respects private property and one that remains isolated under authoritarian communist control.

control.

As South Korea enacted free market policies, its economy flourished and grew to be the 12th largest in the world while communism continues to condemn Koreans in the north to perpetual poverty.

Perhaps the only image more compelling than the GDP comparison above is the view from space of the Korean  Peninsula at night. In the image below, South Korea is seen as a thriving metropolis brightly illuminating the night sky while the outlined North Korea is barely distinguishable from the ocean waters to its east and west.

west.

From Communist Russia to Cuba, from North Korea to Venezuela and every other nation state that has rejected the principles of free enterprise and private property, the results have been the same: poverty for all except the oppressive ruling class (note the small light emanating from the North Korean capital while the rest of the country remains in darkness).

With private enterprise being such an integral part of the American story and of America’s success, and with such stark examples of the very real harm that befalls all who live within economic systems that do not respect private property, I struggle to understand why some are so quick to condemn the successes of private entrepreneurs operating fairly in a free marketplace.

The Arizona Republic’s coverage of the private entities that provide public charter school educational services in Arizona is the latest example of this contradiction. Charter school laws were designed to harness the awesome power of the free marketplace to improve the quality of our public school education. And, for that reason, the laws were written to treat each charter holder as a private entity that would rise or fall on its own merits—on its ability to attract and retain students whose parents determined that the charter holder’s offering was the best fit for their children.

This model has proven to be a tremendous success for all public school students in Arizona. As a leader in the school choice movement, Arizona was the first state to reach the critical mass of competition that was necessary to realize all of the anticipated benefits of a robust marketplace for K-12 education.

As Robert Robb describes in his column focusing on Matt Ladner’s analysis of test results, Arizona students’ improvement on the National Assessment of Education Progress from 2005 to 2017 was double the national average because of the competitive marketplace for K-12 education. These increases in NAEP scores did not just occur at charter schools. The invisible hand of the free marketplace that Adam Smith described in 1776 is alive and well in Arizona’s K-12 education system. The competition for students resulted in increased learning at all schools. Just as Ronald Reagan characterized the competitive marketplace, educational freedom has created a rising tide that has lifted all boats.

This is an amazing success story that should be celebrated and replicated. Instead, the reporters at the Arizona Republic, astonishingly, imply that the state should reverse course from this tremendous success. Their reporting suggests that the state should not contract with private entities to provide these educational services. Article after article condemns standard business practices that are essential rights of a private enterprise. These condemned practices include earning a profit, establishing the private entity’s own procurement processes that protect its interests, and accumulating privately owned property.

The Republic reports these practices as somehow nefarious because they cannot occur at governmental entities, such as school districts. But this perspective ignores the fact that the state deliberately allowed for privately-held enterprises to compete with the government-provided services in an effort to improve all educational outcomes and that improvement has resulted. It ignores the fact that these traits make up the fundamental differences between the public sector and private enterprise. And, it ignores the fact that these traits are what make free enterprise so effective at creating value for customers and owners in addition to all other participants in the economy.

Additionally, the marketplace makes all private-sector actors accountable to their customers. Private-sector education providers are 100% accountable to parents for every state dollar that the private entity receives. If the parents of charter school students or private school students funded by taxpayer supported scholarships decide that the services provided at their school are insufficient then they enroll their students in a different school. If too few parents choose to enroll their students at a school then it closes. This is the complete accountability that makes the marketplace so powerful and effective. It rewards enterprises that successfully provide sought after goods and services while indifferently allowing those who do not to fail.

Twenty years ago, Arizona decided to open its K-12 public education services to the private sector to allow the competitive marketplace to work its magic. As the utilization of school choice has increased over two decades so have educational outcomes. Arizona applied the principle that William Bradford understood: private ownership over the means of production leads to innovations, efficiencies and increased productivity.The principle has held true everywhere it has been tested.

As Americans, we annually remember the important example of gratitude set by the surviving Mayflower passengers who finally achieved their much needed harvest. Let’s also remember their important turn towards privatizing their economy.

As private enterprise continues to benefit America’s economy and Arizona’s schools, let’s honor the pilgrims’ legacy with continued support for free markets. Let’s celebrate the fact that all Arizona schools have improved their educational results after the enactment of educational choice. Let’s celebrate the fact that the third best high school in the country is located in Arizona and was founded here due to Arizona’s free market for education. And, instead of treating the private entrepreneurs in educational services as some sort of robber barons for having earned a reasonable return after decades of building a business from scratch, let’s celebrate the fact that a wonderful variety of educational environments are available to Arizonans due to their efforts.

As expected, the marketplace aligned the interests of individuals with the broader interests of the community. Let’s celebrate this invisible hand that created a wonderful rising tide for all of Arizona’s public school students.

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Governing, Advisory Board Updates

For Immediate Release

November 12, 2019

Educational Freedom Institute Announces Governing, Advisory Board

 

Phoenix, Arizona— November 12, 2019The Educational Freedom Institute announced the completion of the formation of its Advisory Board, enabling the organization to more effectively pursue its mission.

“EFI is proud and honored to welcome Dr. Corey DeAngelis and Dr. Lindsey Burke to its Governing Board,” said Matthew Nielsen, Board President at Educational Freedom Institute. Dr. DeAngelis, the board’s vice president, said, “I'm excited to join an organization with a mission that everyone should be able to get behind: advancing educational freedom.”

Advisory Board

The organization has already benefitted greatly from the addition of several highly-respected and committed individuals to its Advisory Board, listed alphabetically: Jason Bedrick, Jonathan Butcher, Dr. Angela Dills, Robert Enlow, Dr. Matthew Ladner, Dr. Benjamin Scafidi, Inez Stepman, Dr. Terry Stoops. “These advisory board members bring decades of education policy expertise to EFI, along with their unwavering commitment to education choice, and the power of market-driven and family-based policies,” said Dr. Burke.

 

Founded in early 2019, Educational Freedom Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank that exists to research, document, and report the benefits that school choice provides to students, families, and communities. We support policies that protect and promote school choice, knowing that the free market, when allowed to flourish, will provide unparalleled education options of the highest quality to families from all walks of life. We pursue this mission using objective data and through publishing our findings.

###

For more information, press only:

Justin Olson, Executive Director

justin@efinstitute.org

For more information on EFI:

EFInstitute.org

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The Limits to Research on the Effectiveness of Unschooling

heidi-sandstrom-iy_l7I-sD_0-unsplash

by Dr. Corey DeAngelis

Note: This article originally appeared in Cato Unbound.

Kevin Currie-Knight points out that we should advocate unschooling because the research suggests it works—and that we should oppose unschooling if the evidence suggests otherwise. Scientific evidence is a potentially powerful tool that can help us learn about education policy. But research shouldn’t be the main factor determining whether society should support unschooling. Here’s why.

To my knowledge, no random assignment studies exist linking unschooling or homeschooling to student outcomes. Put differently, while the research base currently leans in favor of home education, none of the existing studies can overcome the problem of selection bias. At the moment, families choosing unschooling for their children are likely more advantaged than families sending their children to government-run schools. Students with access to unschooling likely have families with the resources and motivation it takes to pull them out of the ‘free’ government-run schools. In other words, the superior outcomes demonstrated by students educated at home might be explained by background rather than education type.

What if unschoolers become a relatively less advantaged group in the future? The research—limited by design—could very well swing “negative” because of the change in the student population rather than a change in the effectiveness of unschooling. In this scenario, the true effect of unschooling on student outcomes could be positive while the evidence appears negative. In other words, we would actually harm students if we decided to forbid unschooling based on limited evidence.

But let’s assume we had a rich body of random assignment studies with large samples (the gold standard of research design) to evaluate the effectiveness of unschooling. It would be more useful and more informative.

But we’d still have some serious problems.

Even studies using random assignment rely on the law of large numbers. In other words, the best scientific tool we have available still only allows us to calculate average effects for large groups—even with random assignment, we are not able to determine the effect of any program for an individual student. This limitation is important because, mathematically, individual students in the sample might have benefited from unschooling even if the overall average effect is negative. In other words, a uniform policy banning unschooling might harm individual students in the sample that were actually benefiting from unschooling.

Then comes the question of external validity. What we can learn—even from the best studies—is limited by the students in the sample and the program being evaluated. A rigorous study might reveal negative effects of a specific unschooling program for one cohort of students in a specific year. But student cohorts change over time. And program effectiveness changes over time. Government officials could decide to close down an unschooling community—based on historical evidence—that would improve over time and start working really well for newer sets of students.

And we’re still not done yet.

What outcomes will be used to determine whether to forbid unschooling—and who gets to pick the metric of success? My bet is that regulators would primarily focus on standardized test scores. It is, after all, the state’s preferred “accountability” metric for government-run schools and schools of choice. The main problem is that standardized test scores aren’t strong proxies for students’ long-term outcomes—and families want to do so much more for their children than simply maximize math and reading test scores. In other words, regulators could harm students’ long-term outcomes by shutting down their unschooling community based mostly on lackluster test scores.

What’s worse, I’m not confident that government officials would use random assignment methodology to determine which unschooling communities are permissible. School choice regulators, for example, have focused primarily on standardized test score levels, which do not account for differences in student backgrounds.

Even the best tools available to central planners are limited in important ways. Those limitations can lead to severe unintended consequences. But what should we do about the small set of parents who might make objectively bad education decisions for their kids? Where should we draw the line when it comes to educational freedom?

This is a very tough issue. The state should obviously intervene if other members of society report clear acts of abuse or negligence by the parents but that is much different than the government defining and enforcing what education quality means for everyone. I agree with Kerry McDonald’s argument that although “there will be instances when parents fail,” granting the government the power to regulate the education of all children is the bigger risk. Most families know much more about their children’s needs than bureaucrats sitting in offices hundreds of miles away.

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Education is About Children First

Recently, the largest teacher union in the United States held its annual meeting, referred to as a “representative assembly.” During this meeting, the more than 6,000 delegates submitted for review and approval over 160 “new business items.” These items amount to resolutions to be adopted as policy positions to be maintained by the union, its leaders, and its members.

Among these resolutions, the second of 161 in total, was an item that proposed the union “…re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.”

This measure was voted down. The proposed resolution failed. Of the 6,000 delegates, all NEA members, they sponsors of the “new business item” could not garner enough support for its passage, and so it was “defeated.”

At first glance (and second, and third…) this seems quite strange. How could the largest teacher union not have a majority of its delegates support a “recommitment” to student learning as a priority?

Well, if you consider the primary function of the union itself, the picture becomes much clearer. The teacher union exists for the teachers–and nobody else. If someone else is positively impacted by the work of the union as a byproduct of its normal course of business, so be it. But, the union exists to support and protect its dues-paying members. Full stop.

Unfortunately, the defeat of the so-called “RA NBI 2” in Houston, Texas is not really as surprising as it is disappointing.

Most teachers really do care about their students. Their labor union, on the other hand, doesn’t collect more revenues by caring about children. It collects more revenues by adding dues-paying members.