Lessons in Education from Gandalf the Grey

By Miranda Bonifield

Cascade Policy Institute has supported parental choice in K-12 education since 1991. In fact, it’s the issue that convinced founder Steve Buckstein of the need for a free-market think tank in Oregon. But would you have imagined that Gandalf, fictional hero of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, would be a voice for educational choice as well?

Yes, you read that right: Gandalf the Grey (delighter of hobbits, purveyor of fireworks, and instigator of disruptive adventures) would support school choice—giving parents the power to choose the educational setting that works best for their children. It’s all right if you need some tea to process that. I’m enjoying my second breakfast as I write this.

If you think Gandalf would never have any concern about education, consider the man who created the beloved character.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a celebrated philologist who studied and taught at Oxford. As a child, most of his initial education in languages, literature, botany, music, and art came from his widowed mother, whose creativity and passion for knowledge were passed on to her children. When her already meager allowance from her husband’s relatives was cut off upon her conversion to Catholicism, the Tolkien family moved to even harder circumstances and benefited from a local parish school. After his mother died, the young author persevered as a student.

Tolkien would later say, “True education is a kind of never-ending story—a matter of continual beginnings, of habitual fresh starts, of persistent newness.”

His character Gandalf regularly placed his faith in the character of everyday people, entrusting the most important task of Tolkien’s saga—the care and destruction of the One Ring—to an ordinary halfling. “Soft as butter as they can be,” the wizard said, “and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots.” Even comfortable, curmudgeonly Bilbo Baggins demonstrated how right he was—exchanging riddles to save his life from Gollum, rescuing his dwarven companions from giant spiders, and then risking the anger of the same friends to broker peace between gathering armies.

With such demonstrations of Bilbo’s merit, I think it’s safe to say Gandalf would trust ordinary people’s desire and ability to obtain a good education for their children.

Wisdom (and our favorite wizard) recognizes that life isn’t one-size-fits-all. One doesn’t reason with the evil possessing the king of Rohan—drive it out by whatever means necessary. One doesn’t send an impetuous, proud prince of Gondor into Mordor with a ring of unfathomable power. Instead, send an ordinary person whose heart is in the right place.

Likewise, parents don’t want to send their uniquely gifted child, who may have special needs, to a school that isn’t a good fit. Every parent wants to give their child the best education possible.

The most effective way to accomplish that is not by trying to force public schools to cover every eventuality and trapping students in schools that don’t meet their needs. Rather, we should return the power to parents by putting education funding in their hands to utilize resources that are already available for their children.

Last year, researchers at EdChoice combed through the highest-quality studies of school choice programs around the country. Did you know that 31 of the 33 studies on the competitive effects of school choice demonstrate a positive impact on public school test scores? Each of the three studies on the competitive effects of school choice programs found that participants in school choice programs graduate at a higher rate than their peers. School choice typically has a positive effect on racial and ethnic integration. Perhaps most importantly, parents who are able to take advantage of school choice are more satisfied with the quality of education their children receive and feel their children are safer at school.

It’s high time we brought some newness to Oregon’s education system. With good counsel from the wisest advisor of the Shire, I’m sure the excellent and commendable hobbits here in Oregon will agree: Each one of us should be a voice for school choice.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization. She is also the Program Assistant for the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon, a Cascade program that provides K-8 scholarships to low-income Oregon children.

Survey Shows Florida Scholarship Parents Are Overwhelmingly Satisfied with Their Children’s Schools

By Kathryn Hickok

Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program currently helps more than a hundred thousand of the state’s most disadvantaged students to get a better education through privately funded scholarships, making it the largest private school choice program in America. The program has been funded by voluntary corporate donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations. In return for these donations, companies receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits against their state income tax.

Last week, EdChoice released the largest-ever survey of the parents of Florida’s tax credit scholarship students, revealing these families’ educational priorities and experiences.

Analyzing the responses of more than fourteen thousand parents, EdChoice concluded:

  • “The vast majority of Florida scholarship parents expressed satisfaction with the tax-credit scholarship program.”
  • “Florida parents chose their children’s private schools because those schools offer what their public schools can’t/don’t.”
  • “Among respondents whose children were previously enrolled in a public district or charter school before using a scholarship to enroll in a private school, most parents reported engaging in a variety of education-related activities more often than before switching schools….”

Children have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet students’ learning needs is more diverse today than ever. For more information about school choice in Oregon, visit schoolchoicefororegon.com.

 

John Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

Click here for PDF version:

11-7-18-Survey_Shows_FL_Scholarship_Parents_Overwhelmingly_Satisfied_With_Children’s_SchoolsPDF

Can School Choice Change Lives?

By Steve Buckstein

Can School Choice Change Lives? Join Cascade Policy Institute and SchoolChoiceforOregon.com the evening of Tuesday, September 25th for a Live Stream Facebook event featuring two prominent national School Choice experts.

Find out how and why School Choice is indeed changing lives around the country, and how Oregon school children can benefit from much more school choice than they have today.

Each student has individual challenges and learning styles, and many factors can cause them to fall behind. Join this discussion to learn how School Choice can help.

Are you a parent? Are you an Oregon taxpayer? You won’t want to miss this fast-moving Q&A discussion with local and national school reform experts, in front of a live studio audience in Portland.

We invite you to submit questions in advance or during the Live Stream at Facebook.com/SchoolChoiceforOregon.

To be involved, go to SchoolChoiceforOregon.com/Events and enter your email address. You’ll be notified by email before the event goes live on Facebook at 6 pm on September 25th.

If you’ve ever wondered why Oregon’s public education system is so expensive, yet produces such poor results for so many children, you won’t want to miss this important event. Again, go to SchoolChoiceforOregon.com/Events and enter your email address.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for PDF version:

9-19-18-Can_School_Choice_Change_LivesPDF

National School Choice Week Celebrates Diversity in K-12 Education

By Kathryn Hickok

National School Choice Week is the world’s largest celebration of educational options for all children. Held nationwide every January, National School Choice Week raises awareness about the K-12 education options available to children and families, while spotlighting the benefits of school choice. This year’s celebration will be January 21-27.

Planned by a diverse coalition of individuals and organizations, School Choice Week features thousands of independent events and activities across the country. Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, explains, “More American families than ever before are actively choosing the best educational environments for their children, which has galvanized millions of additional parents―those without options―to demand greater choices for their own children.”

Children have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. Whether parents choose public, charter, private, online, or home schools—or some combination of all of them—the landscape of educational options to meet students’ learning needs is more diverse today than ever. It’s becoming increasingly evident that more choice in education is the way of the future. For more information about National School Choice Week, visit schoolchoiceweek.com.

Please join Cascade Policy Institute for our monthly Policy Picnic on Wednesday, January 24, at noon, celebrating National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of educational options for all children. This month’s speakers will be Cascade’s Senior Policy Analyst and Founder Steve Buckstein, School Choice Outreach Coordinator Bobbie Jager, and Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon Director Kathryn Hickok. Admission is free, but reservations are required due to space limitations. You are welcome to bring your own lunch; light refreshments will be served.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for the PDF version:

1-3-18-NSCW_Celebrates_Diversity_in_K-12_Education

 

 

Give Oregon Kids the Power of Educational Choice, Like Kids in Florida

By Kathryn Hickok

Denisha Merriweather failed third grade twice. Today, she is finishing her master’s degree, thanks to Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The key to Denisha’s success was her godmother’s ability to remove Denisha from a school that was failing her, and to send her to the school that provided her with the support she needed.

On December 13, a Florida appeals court reaffirmed the groundbreaking program’s constitutionality. This is a major victory for the 100,000 low-income Florida children and children with disabilities who are attending schools where they can thrive, thanks to scholarships.

A lawyer supportive of the court’s ruling said, “…[T]hese students will not be forced, against the will of their parents, to return to whichever public school their ZIP Code dictates….This court correctly recognized that school choice programs expand opportunity and achievement for students, and without doing so at the expense of the public school system.”

The one-size-fits-all, government-run school system isn’t meeting the learning needs of all kids today. Oregon continues to have the third-lowest graduation rate in the country. Handing more money to the same system won’t change anything. But giving parents the power of choice in their children’s education would change everything.

Oregon students should be able to find their own paths to success, just like kids in Florida.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for the PDF version:

12-27-17-Give_Oregon_Kids_the_Power_of_Educational_Choice

Taxpayers Aren’t at Fault for Oregon’s Abysmal Graduation Rate

By Kathryn Hickok

Willamette Week recently reported that, sadly, Oregon has the third-lowest graduation rate in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Oregon’s four-year adjusted public high school graduation rate was 74.8% in 2015-16. Only Nevada and New Mexico have lower graduation rates.

The Oregon Education Association, a teachers union, blames this abysmal news on “inadequate funding of public education.” But according to the National Education Association’s Rankings & Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, revenue per Oregon student in Average Daily Attendance is nearly $14,000, including local, state, and federal funding.

That puts Oregon more than four percent above the national average.

The truth is, Oregon already spends more than 33 other states; and Oregon public schools spend more than $396,000 per year for each 30-student classroom. Subtract the average teacher salary plus benefits of some $85,000, and Oregonians should ask where the additional $300,000 are going before even thinking about raising taxes to address the alleged “inadequate funding” of public schools.

Teachers unions routinely claim that taxpayers are “underfunding” public schools—and that’s why so many kids don’t make it to graduation. But the one-size-fits-all, government-run school system just isn’t meeting the learning needs of all kids today. Handing more money to the same system won’t change anything. But giving parents the power of choice in their children’s education would change everything.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for the PDF version:

12-20-17-Taxpayers_Aren’t_at_Fault_for_Graduation_Rate-2