National Public Radio reported last week that Houston schools have been implicated in a cheating scandal after scores on the state's "high-stakes" graduation test in some Texas school districts made suspicious leaps.
The way NPR reported the story is worrisome enough. But perhaps as troublesome is the way the story was characterized by the Dallas Morning News reporter, who stated:
"The vast majority of teachers are honest people and wouldn't think of doctoring their students' results on standardized tests, but unfortunately in a high pressure, high stakes environment, some teachers are going to cross the ethical line."
Media bias is sometimes subtle. In this case, it's blatant. It's hard to imagine the same reporter writing about the Enron scandal that:
"The vast majority of executives of energy companies are honest people and wouldn't think of doctoring their companies' books, but unfortunately in a high pressure, highly-regulated environment, some executives are going to cross the ethical line."
"In 1950, 80 percent of jobs were classified as 'unskilled.' Now, an estimated 85 percent of jobs are classified as 'skilled,' requiring education beyond high school." Are today's students ready? Not according to the American Council on Education, which concluded, "60 percent of future jobs will require training that only 20 percent of today's workers possess."
This was just one of the sobering findings reported in ACT's "Crisis at the Core: Preparing All Students for College and Work." Other key findings include:
- Only 22 percent of the 1.2 million high school graduates who took the ACT assessment in 2004 achieved scores indicating they're ready for college level coursework in English, math, and science.
- Results from ACT's assessments for eighth and tenth graders indicate that students who graduate from high school in 2006 and 2008 will be no better prepared for college than this year's graduates.
ACT chief executive officer Richard L. Ferguson summed up by saying, "Our nation simply can't afford to keep producing high school graduates who are ill-prepared to succeed in college and the workforce if we want to maintain our economic competitiveness throughout the world."
Global competitiveness begins at home with our neighborhood schools. As recommended in the Goldwater Institute survey of private schools, Arizona policymakers should fully use private schools by expanding the existing individual tuition tax credit scholarship program, adopting a corporate tuition tax credit scholarship program, implementing a K-12 education grant program, and allowing parents to control their children's education dollars through tax-exempt education savings accounts. Not only would such policies help the thousands of children currently on waiting lists for scholarships, they would benefit public school students by introducing greater competition, inducing their schools to adopt more rigorous academic programs.
If you want to know why a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) is a good idea for Arizona, see this Goldwater Institute report released yesterday. In it, you'll find out how TABOR maintains a fiscally responsible limit on the state budget, could have put $4.5 billion back in Arizonans pockets, creates predictable and sustainable budget projections, and shifts power away from budget-siphoning special interests towards voters.
The study does this by looking at over 10 years of budget history for Arizona, determining what the budget situation would be had TABOR been in place since 1992 (when Colorado, from which TABOR is modeled, passed theirs). What you won't find in the report, however, are responses to the various cherry-picked rankings which purportedly show how TABOR has sapped Colorado of its quality of life, promulgated by opponents of fiscal limits.
For instance, the Children's Action Alliance claims "Colorado adopted this measure in 1992. Since then, they have fallen from being ranked in the middle on key indicators of child well-being to being in the bottom." Although it is not cited, this claim is presumably derived from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' claim that Colorado ranks 48th in prenatal care. While this is true, it's utterly misleading. That ranking is taken from a study by the United Health Foundation, which includes prenatal care as one of 18 sub-rankings, in the total health ranking - Colorado, in turns out, is 13th healthiest state overall. In fact, that one sub-ranking is the only one which is cited as needing improvement, since Colorado does sufficiently or very well in all other categories.
Others have claimed that Colorado's teachers are paid poorly, again due to TABOR. However, according to the American Federation of Teachers, the average teacher salary in 02-03 ranked 22nd nationally, up five percent form the year before. Moreover, according to the National Education Association, Colorado had the highest average instructional salary of any Mountain region state in 03-04.
The false claims about TABOR go on and on, and it behooves anyone who hears one to question both its source and its logic. Like the claims above, both of which turn out to be false and/or misleading, they ultimately play a bait-and-switch on the issue. TABOR provides an overall limit on government, which is adjusted every year for population growth and inflation. Any revenue above that limit is automatically refunded to taxpayers. Those same taxpayers may choose to increase spending above the cap, overall or for specific purposes, but ultimately it will be at their behest and not that of politicians and lobbyists.
Any inadequate spending within the budget is not the direct effect of TABOR, but of misplaced priorities during the budgeting process. Thus, anyone could find an area of spending where Colorado falls "woefully short," but that would instead be an indictment of the spenders, rather than what they are given to spend.
In a recent memo, the Arizona School Boards Association wrote, "WE NEED YOU TO CONTACT YOUR HOUSE MEMBERS NOW AND URGE THEM TO DEFEAT VOTERS."
We're pretty sure they meant to say "defeat vouchers," but the Freudian slip is telling.
The group is trying to defeat the aptly-titled Parental Education Choice Grant Program, which would give parents a $4,000 coupon to redeem at a school they select, public or private.
You can see where this is leading. Some education officials fear that when parents have a choice, they might choose something other than the local public school. Instead of trying to keep out competition by thwarting the will of the voters with backroom lobbying, why not race to the top?
Provide a better education, and you'll keep your students, the right way.
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