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Scholars at the Hoover Institution have now pinpointed the best and worst educational developments of the year, from growth in parental choice on one hand to the unruly union victory in Ohio, plus the Atlanta cheating scandal, on the other.
This annual Hoover Institution research helps to guide future educational reform. The analysis “evaluated hundreds of events, laws, programs and studies” in creating the list, explained Williamson M. Evers, Hoover research fellow and project coordinator of the education task force’s “Best and Worst” project.
The list of “five best” points to such positive events as increased parent choice of schools, greater transparency and teacher accountability. Heading the list was the reinvigoration of school choice through opportunity scholarships and vouchers. Result: Private school choice moved ahead in many parts of the U.S.
The worst development of the year, as graded by the task force of experts, was the misreporting of the Atlanta public schools cheating scandal. “When educators couldn’t successfully teach their students, they doctored the students’ test papers; but the news media let the cheating educators off the hook,” said Evers.
Regarding best developments, the study said, “Despite the attractive choice that private schools (especially Catholic schools) offer in many inner cities and not withstanding the Supreme Court’s resolution of issues of federal constitutionality, private school choice remained largely taboo politically until this year.”
In what history may see as a watershed, private school choice moved ahead, for example, in the District of Columbia “where the scholarship program was resuscitated in Congress by Speaker John Boehner; Indiana, where scholarships were made available” to about half the students in the state; and “Ohio, which lifted a too-tight cap on its program for kids exiting low performing schools.”
Second in best events: the rollback of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey, Idaho, and (temporarily) Ohio was marked progress.
Improving education is bogged down by union contracts that “impede sensible decisions about hiring, firing, deployment, and compensation of educators. CBAs also drive up costs. Moreover, many public sector workers are generously compensated–and enjoy relatively secure jobs—and their gold-plated benefit systems are bankrupting states and school systems. Voters and courageous state leaders finally put these issues on the table in 2011.” Five states made major reforms in the relevant statutes. (Ohio’s were undone in a November referendum.)
“Besides actual progress in modifying and limiting the scope of CBAs, states have now made CBAs into a normal area of reform.”
In the Atlanta cheating scandal, it was “truly harmful for standards-based education reform….What the public should have learned from the Atlanta fiasco is that cheating is easily preventable…by having a huge bank of publicly available questions of which a subset appears on each year’s test” proctoring rooms where tests are given and online test administration.
The public has been misled into thinking that testing is somehow bad because it “creates so much stress that well meaning educators are pushed to the limit and eventually succumb (for the child’s sake, of course,) to the temptation to cheat, lie, and break the law.”
The cynicism of educators and administrators in Atlanta was “appalling” and a systematic, system-wide effort to mislead parents, public officials and the community that they were doing a good job.
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