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Morning Shots

Right Side? Wrong Reasons (Ben DeGrow)

Requiring school districts to spend more money in the classroom seems to offer a powerful solution to the problems of public education. But a closer look shows the approach won’t be as effective as some would hope.

Colorado voters this year are faced with dueling proposals to dictate local school spending: Amendment 39 and Referendum J. In the end, neither can be expected to make much of an impact. Yet the one that has the slightest potential to make a real effect has drawn fire from unions and school officials.

The national advocacy group First Class Education gathered more than 100,000 Coloradans’ signatures to put Amendment 39 on the ballot. Only 12 of the state’s 178 school districts already meet the proposal’s mandate that school districts spend 65 percent of their operating budgets on “classroom instruction”–including teachers and classroom aides, textbooks, instructional supplies, tutoring, libraries, field trips, athletics, and purchased instructional services.

If enforced, the measure would shift an estimated $278 million of current education spending into these areas. Yet little could stop most school districts from merely hiring another bureaucrat to reconfigure the chart of accounts or rename job titles to meet the mandate.

A reader who browses through the Colorado Department of Education’s thick chart of accounts can get an idea of how easily school budgets can be manipulated.

Of course, it is possible that some school boards actually would eliminate some administrative staff positions (many of which were created to comply with federal regulations) in order to hire more teachers. They also might offer salary bonuses to their existing faculty or buy more textbooks and classroom computers. Maybe they would cut non-instructional costs through competitive contracting for services like maintenance or trash removal.

Regardless of what a school board might do in response, no connection has been found between the

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Arrested Acceleration (Jennifer Buckingham)

The story of academically gifted Gracia Malaxetxebarria, who lives in the state of Queensland in Australia, is not an uncommon one–except that her mother went to uncommon lengths to see justice done. 

Gracia, with an IQ of 147 (the average is 100) wanted to move into a higher grade, where the work was more compatible with her intelligence level. When Gracia’s mother put this to her daughter’s public school, it denied the request, apparently for the reason that Gracia “needed more time to develop socially.”

So Gracia’s mother took her to a private school, where she went into Year 8 at the age of 9, three years ahead of her age peers. Despite the fact that she achieved high marks and received good reports from the private school, the public school system still refused to allow her to transfer back to a public school at the same grade level.

Gracia’s mother took the matter to court and won Gracia the right to grade acceleration in the public school system.

This is an important victory. In some public school systems in Australia there is still strong resistance to the idea that gifted children have special educational needs. When faced with this resistance many families withdraw from the system rather than fight it. For this reason, stories about high achieving children often involve home schooling families. For example, home schooled twins Edward and Katherine Alpert, also from Queensland, made the news this year for completing bachelor degrees at the age of 15.

University of New South Wales academic Miraca Gross is co-author of a 2004 report called A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, with University of Iowa researchers Nicholas Colangelo and Susan G. Assouline.

The report finds that acceleration — skipping grades — is positive for students in the short-term

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The Dismal Record on Parental Choice in NCLB (Dan Lips)

When he signed his signature education initiative into law, President George W. Bush stated that “Parents must be given real options in the face of failure in order to make sure reform is meaningful.” But four years later, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has provided few American families with real options. 

Under No Child Left Behind, students in low-performing schools are supposed to be able to seek out alternative educational opportunities. Specifically, public schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress over time must offer students the option to transfer to a better public school or choose an after-school tutoring program.  

But few students have benefited from these provisions. According to the Department of Education, less than one percent of the nearly four million eligible students transferred public schools in the 2003–04 school year. About 233,000 students, or 17 percent of those eligible, participated in the after-school tutoring program that year. 

For the students who were able to take advantage of choice under NCLB, these new options may have been a lifeline from an otherwise hopeless situation. But clearly these provisions have made far less of an impact than the law’s creators envisioned.  

For that shortcoming, blame the public education bureaucracy’s poor implementation and lack of cooperation. The Department of Education found that half of all public school districts notified parents of the transfer option after the school year had already begun, too late for most students to benefit from changing schools. And less than half of eligible families were aware of the after-school tutoring program, according to a Department of Education focus group. Tutoring providers report that school districts are often uncooperative, which leads to reduced student participation.  

Dr. Barbara Anderson of Knowledge Learning Corporation, a tutoring provider, highlighted the lack of awareness at a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing last

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