Educating our children must be our first priority

The sad reality

According to a recent news report, half a century of trying hasn’t closed one of schooling’s most vexing achievement gaps.

According to a new paper, the gap in educational achievement between public school students in the bottom 10th socioeconomic status (SES) percentile and those in the top 90th SES percentile has remained essentially unchanged over the last 50 years.

“In terms of learning, students at the 10th SES percentile remain some three to four years behind those in the 90th percentile,” report a team of researchers led by the Stanford economist Eric Hanushek in their disheartening new National Bureau of Economic Research study, “The Unwavering SES Achievement Gap.”

It would be one thing, the researchers note, that “if all achievement were rising, i.e., if a rising tide was lifting all boats.” But that’s not what’s happening. Young adolescents’ performance has risen over the past 50 years, but their scores drift downward once they reach high school. The upshot is that there has been no significant improvement in the overall education achievement scores of American high school student cohorts born since the 1950s.

Furthermore, they report:

. . . these disappointing results occurred despite the fact that “overall school funding increased dramatically on a per pupil basis, quadrupling in real dollars between 1960 and 2015.” In addition, pupil-teacher ratios declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 16.1 in 2014.

Having a choice matters!

I agree with these celebrities — we must do better to educate our children! We need to empower parents to do the best for their children. That means giving them the resources and the CHOICE of where and who and how their children are educated.

I love success stories!

We all know the horror stories of New Orleans during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But I’ll bet you’ve not heard the amazing success story of the education reforms that took place as part of the rebuilding of this wonderful city.

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ education system was a national embarrassment, one of the worst performing in the country. As tragic and devastating as the storm was, it gave leaders an opportunity to rebuild the school system from scratch. The worst performing schools were closed or taken over by the state-run Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD). The RSD launched a vigorous reform operation that turned failed schools into more curriculum-autonomous charter schools, with the RSD only relinquishing control after the schools sufficiently improved their achievement.

The RSD also practiced student-based budgeting, allowing school funding to follow each individual child, ensuring equal per-pupil funding levels and positive competitive forces between schools. An easy-to-understand “A” through “F” letter-grading system based on student achievement helped parents understand which schools were best-serving their children. And as the RSD let more and more schools return to local control, New Orleans instituted a common enrollment application, eliminating zip code restrictions so that parents weren’t stuck with the nearest school. Parents could choose the best school for their kids regardless of where it was or where they lived.

The results have been astounding. New Orleans’ achievement in core subjects like math and reading, along with less heavily-tested disciplines like science and social studies soared from well below average to above the state average in only 10 years.

Here’s another wonderful story of education innovation in a poor neighborhood of Atlanta. Meet the folks at the Ron Clark Academy!

Results matter

An estimated 37 percent of Washington state’s young people going to college need remedial classes in math and English before they are ready for college level work. And far too many of our youth don’t even graduate from high school. According to the Washington Policy Center, only 73% graduate from high school in one report, and 66% graduate according to a different report.  That is unacceptable.

Currently, only about 57 percent of the money we spend on K-12 education ends up in the classroom. Clearly we need to do better. We need the best quality teachers, and more resources in the classroom where our children are taught.

There are many possible ways to “fix” the problem of children not graduating, or not being prepared for college level studies. Simply spending “more” is not the wisest choice.

This is from a July Wall Street Journal story:

“From 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday the children learn math, interspersed with some reading, physical education and lunch. Each gets 120 hours of instruction during the three weeks, equivalent to what they would get in a year at a typical public school.”

“This is the fourth year that Mr. Chavis, a member of the Lumbee Indian tribe, has invited children from Robeson County in grades 5 to 9 to learn math for three weeks at his 200-acre cattle farm in a barn converted into five air-conditioned classrooms.”

Wouldn’t you love a “choice” like what is mentioned above, if your child needs help in math or reading or writing? (See

Parental involvement makes a huge difference.

In New York City, where Asian-Americans make up 13% of overall students, they win more than 50% of the coveted places each year at the city’s eight selective public high schools, such as Bronx Science and Stuyvesant.

What’s at work here? It’s not a difference in IQ. It’s parenting. That’s confirmed by sociologists from City University of New York and the University of Michigan. Their study showed that parental oversight enabled Asian-American students to far outperform the others.

No wonder many successful charter schools require parents to sign a contract that they will supervise their children’s homework and inculcate a work ethic.

How does that translate in terms of global academic performance ?

As a group, Americans need to take a page from the Asian parents’ playbook. American teens rank a dismal 28th in math and science knowledge, compared with teens in other countries, even poor countries.

Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are at the top. We’ve slumped. For the first time in 25 years, U.S. scores on the main test for elementary and middle school education (NAEP) fell. And SAT scores for college-bound students dropped significantly.

Read More At Investor’s Business Daily.

We must empower parents first and foremost.

What changed this teacher’s mind about home schooling

This former Chicago high school teacher spells it out.

When I was a high school English teacher in Chicago, I viewed home schooling the same way, as a kind of educational abuse, or, at best, neglect.

That is because keeping a child out of school deprives him of his essential right to a quality education, including access to tax-funded resources, highly trained teachers and specialists in each discipline, as well as intramural and extracurricular enrichment activities.

There is little oversight of home-schooled students in half of all states, including Illinois, where they never even have to take a standardized test.

I felt that the most important benefits missed by stay-at-home kids are socialization from peer group interaction, and the critical thinking and communication skills learned from small- and large-group dynamics in the classroom.


All that changed when I started teaching at the college level, on an evening when I came home from work, slipped off my shoes, collapsed into the recliner and announced to my wife that the best student in my college composition class had been home-schooled.

An 18-year-old only child, who had been educated by her parents for all 12 grades, chose a seat in the front row on the first day of class.

Other teachers know the experience, of feeling the entire weight of the class’ resistance to an activity or a concept, and often trying to stand and lift that weight and steer it in a positive direction. It can wear down a teacher’s sensibilities. But my home-schooler’s ebullience and sincerity erased the group’s negativity.

When I tried to will the class to be excited about author Raymond Carver, for whose story we were doing a critical analysis, she inferred my intent and mirrored it for the class first with body language and then a verbal barrage.

She was an ideal learner for, I assumed, the following reasons:

First, she had escaped the collateral damage from 12 years of conventional schooling. I’m thinking of my own lost years in elementary school, as a bored-out-of-my-gourd pupil in a classroom of 48 or more students doing busywork most of the day.

So the schoolroom was still a novelty for her.

Secondly, she applied her experience of one-on-one learning to the classroom format, as though she were the only one sitting in front of me. This led to plentiful and uninhibited conversation, and other students followed suit.

Third, having been the only person to be called on for 12 years, she did not use the group’s mass as camouflage, or a barrier, but accepted every question, suggestion, lesson and instruction as her own responsibility.

Fourth, in home school she had daily conversations with one parent or the other about a myriad of subjects, whereas her texting, video-gaming, ear-bud-wearing classmates too often skated, side-stepped or escaped adult interaction much of their short lives.

If every student in my classroom were a radio, my home-schooled student was the one whose switch was turned on.

We also must empower local principals and local school boards to hire and reward the best teachers. Top down, one size fits all solutions aren’t working.



Charter Schools

Washington state citizens approved Charter Schools via an Initiative. Sadly, the state Supreme Court ruled against the citizens. But how are Charter schools performing? Here’s a news report from two schools in the Tacoma area:

Summit reports that on the nationally norm-referenced Measures of Academic Progress test, Tacoma’s Summit Olympus students:

▪ More than doubled the national average growth in reading and more than tripled the national average growth in math.

▪ Placed in the top third of schools in the nation in terms of math growth.

The growth occurred even though nearly half of Summit Olympus students entered school in the fall an average of four years below grade-level in reading and math, Summit officials said.

At Destiny Charter Middle School, officials report:

▪ 80 percent of students started the school year reading below grade level. But in three months, more than a third of students grew a grade level or two on the nationally normed Scholastic Reading Inventory.

▪ 30 percent of students left the school’s math intervention program by the start of the second semester.

Charters also tout their commitment to diversity. Statewide, Franta said, more than 70 percent of charter kids are students of color, and at least 70 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a marker for poverty.

He said the positive test scores are “a result of what happens when a support structure is in place.”

Top down, one size fits all solutions aren’t working.


And that includes Common Core. Here is my response when asked if I would introduce legislation to STOP Common Core in Washington state.

JPL on Common Core

Only two candidates in the 18th Legislative District would oppose Common Core — Liz Pike in position 2, and me in position 1.

JPL only one on Common Core

Fighting for LOCAL control.

Education Funding

For 30 years, Washington democrats controlled the purse strings in the state legislature. In the 2013-14 biennium, a bipartisan coalition of 2 fiscally responsible democrats joined 23 republicans worked together. They made the single largest increase in education spending of $1.4 Billion.

Here’s how your legislature allocated spending in the 2013-14 biennium.

WA state budget 2013-14

As you can see, 45% of spending went to K-12 education. Another 9% to higher education.

In light of the McCleary decision, we must do better. Here’s a graph of what the democrat controlled legislature has done over the 30 years prior to McCleary.

30-year WA education spending

Clearly, education has not been their first priority.

In the two budget cycles since Senate Republican’s took control with the Majority Coalition Caucus, there has been an amazing turn around in education spending. And “yes”, the McCleary decision provided part of the motivation.

But results matter. Here’s the results of the MCC’s efforts — the largest increase in education spending is state history. The $4.5 Billion increase over two budget cycles represents over a 33 percent increase in K-12 education spending.

WA Education spending

As I said earlier, just over HALF of the money we spend on education actually gets into the classroom. That’s got to change. Too much bureaucracy & too much “top down” control from the state or federal government.

This graphic shows part of the problem — we’ve expanded “administration” and “other” education employees far beyond the growth in the number of students. What needs to be done is focus on the classroom and demand accountability. We’re not seeing improved learning outcomes in spite of spending billions and billions more on education.

Here’s a history of spending on Washington K-12 education over the years, from various sources. It shows how much the “local” burden increased.

In the final “fix” to the McCleary decision, the state legislature allocated 50% of the Washington state budget to K-12 education. Here’s a graphic from the Senate showing the final fours years proposed education spending. It’s hard to argue our schools are not “adequately funded” when the legislature has more than doubled K-12 education spending.

But what about “results”? Has student learning and achievement risen, with the increases in government spending on K-12 education? Sadly not.

Isn’t that what is most important? I think it is student achievement and learning that matters the most.

Here are my comments to the WA Senate Education Committee at their Vancouver hearing Sept. 30th.


We’ve got to give local parents, local school boards, local teachers and local principals control over their money, and then let local parents and taxpayers hold them accountable for the results.

Reducing class size

It is often stated that reducing class size is good for improving educational outcomes. The passage of the WEA-pushed I-1351 gives the legislature a new unfunded mandate from the voters. I opposed I-1351, in part because it put too few teachers and resources in the classroom, where it could do the most good. The Washington Policy Center reported:

Under Initiative 1351, only 29 percent of new staff positions would be classroom teachers. The majority (71 percent) of the 25,561 new positions would be nonteaching positions, including 17,081 additional support staff and 1,027 more administrators.

But does smaller class size truly help? “Maybe” is the best, most honest answer. It appears that smaller class size does help in kindergarten thru about 2nd grade. After that, there are mixed reviews.

From a KXLY news (Spokane) report:

Supporters of Initiative 1351 say, yes. That smaller classes lead to a better experience for kids.

Chris Cargill with the Washington Policy Center says evidence shows otherwise.

“There really are mixed outcomes in terms of these type of class size reduction measures across the country.” said Cargill.

Cargill references a recent study out of Stanford University. After looking into nearly 300 studies, researches only saw 15% of those studies show students benefited from smaller class size.

“If we’re going to spend 6 billion dollars on something, let’s spend it on something we know makes a difference. Every dollar we spend on something that doesn’t work, is a dollar that we can’t spend on something that we know does work,” said Cargill.

From a Seattle Times story:

The studies, based on classroom observations and interviews, have revealed some surprising insights:

• The most obvious explanation for why reducing class size works — that teachers give students better, more-tailored instruction in smaller classes — probably isn’t the reason why achievement goes up. Teachers for the most part don’t change their practices automatically when their classes have fewer students.

• Students behave better and pay more attention in smaller groups, and this may account at least initially for the gains. For example, it’s harder for a couple of troublemakers in the back of the room to derail the class when they can’t hide in a crowd.

• Reducing class sizes can have the potential to make a big difference for students only if teachers get the training and administrative support to take advantage of the situation by changing how they teach and how they interact with parents.

reducing class size -- 3 experiments

Improving the quality of teaching requires the best possible teachers, adequate resources “in the classroom”, supportive, responsible principals and administrators, and most of all, committed and involved parents. There is no one size fits all “solution” to delivering better education to our young people.

Liv Finne from the Washington Policy Center shared the following in a Columbian editorial:

Researchers at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the Brooking Institution and the left-leaning Center for American Progress found that reducing class size does not effectively improve student learning. They identified teacher quality, not class size, as the key factor in raising learning outcomes, and that reducing class sizes by even seven or eight students does not transform a bad teacher into a good one. It does, however, consume public money that could be used to improve teacher quality.

Simply spending money the way we have in the past won’t change educational outcomes. Smaller class size is no panacea. The state legislature has already committed to reducing class size in lower grade levels.

But it’s also appropriate to ask: “What is our current average class size?” Furthermore, “how does it affect student performance?” Here are the statewide statistics, and numbers from select school districts.

WA state student-teacher ratios & graduation rates

Clearly, smaller class size is not a panacea. As we commit more funds to K-12 education, we must focus on teacher quality, and getting more funds directly into the classroom. But first and foremost, we must empower local parents and local teachers and principals.

“Two people know what’s best for a child’s education — the child’s parents.” — John Ley.

An economic calculation & discussion of education.

From a well written article you can read here.

it becomes clear that despite any good intentions of the teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats that make up a public school system, the success of such an operation is (unlike a market system) essentially based on luck. Should we spend our money on textbooks or more teachers? Which textbooks are best? Should we build a new school, or expand the facilities we have? Spend more on arts or technology classes? Chalkboards or whiteboards? Replacing equipment for the physics labs or uniforms for the football team? Increase teacher salary, or hire more teachers for smaller class sizes? Buy cheap, low-quality desks, or spend a bit more on higher-quality desks?

All of these potential options (and more) depend on the conflicting use of scarce resources, and all have different pros and cons relating to the educational success of students. But the monopolized compulsory public school system, where students are forced to attend and money is obtained via taxation (instead of tuition payments), has no way to ferret out the best configurations in this regard. It is a private, market system that can do this. If one obtains revenue by selling educational services, the incentive is to provide the best possible education for the money that one can, so as to get the most students.

But it is the competition, rather than the incentive, that provides the ability to solve this economic calculation problem. It is the fact that many groups (not simply one) are trying different methods to reach that goal, and the ones that do the best will succeed more than the others. As a result, the market naturally configures and reconfigures the educational system to meet the needs of its students in ever better ways, despite the fact that those needs are always changing based on what is needed to be learned in order to become successful. Nor can this form of competition be replicated in the state school system. As the source of funding is not the consumer purchasing education, even a competition for funding initiated by a bureaucratic program would not solve this problem. The bureaucrat, then, is deciding what is most “successful,” rather than people noting previous levels of success from graduates and current students. As a result, the bureaucrat becomes the focal point for the calculation problem. Instead of dispersed information and desires congregating through the decisions of millions, just a few individuals are deciding what is best.

Education in the 21st Century.

Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects. He shows the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do “homework” in the classroom with the teacher available to help. There’s a great Q&A with Bill Gates at the end of the video.


And about college — here is a commencement speech everyone should hear.