Thorner: Key women educators discuss America’s learning climate at Heartland Institute

June 2, 2017

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By Nancy Thorner – 

Education is in need of strong and capable leaders. On Wednesday, May 24, the Heartland Institute presented a discussion with four such leaders in its Andrew Breitbart Freedom Center.

The event, Women in Education, featured four women who have succeeded in transforming education across the country to be more competitive, decentralized, accountable, and accessible. They are effective voices that believe education, first and foremost, should enrich the lives of students — not government — and parents should be able to choose the best education options for their children.

The panel consisted of

  • Joy Pullmann, a research fellow on education policy at The Heartland Institute, who discussed her new book, The Education Invasion, which tackles the issue of Common Core.
  • Vicki Alger, a fellow at the Independent Institute, who discussed her book Failure: The Federal Misedukation of American’s Children, which shows how federal government intervention has harmed the education of children across America.
  • Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy with The Heritage Foundation, who discussed the current state of education reform coming out of Washington, D.C.
  • Leslie Hiner, president of programs at EdChoice, who discussed what is happening in the states on educati

Joy Pullmann – Book: The Education Invasion

As her first time in Heartland’s new headquarters in Arlington Heights, Joy expressed her appreciation for Heartland in allowing her to be a mother and also to have a platform for advancing her hard work on Common Core.  Joy Pullman’s new book, The Education Invasion, tackles the issue of Common Core and how Common Core fights parents for control of American kids.

Pullmann presented a brief history of this nation’s warped educational system:  The 2002 No Child Left Behind law signed by President George W. Bush, also included a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The 1965 law is recognized as this nation’s national education law and shows a longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students.  Under President Bush’s 2002 law, states are required to test students in reading and math in grades 3–8 and once in high school. All students are expected to meet or exceed state standards in reading and math by 2014. The major focus of No Child Left Behind was to close student achievement gaps by providing all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.  Slated to expire in 2007, the House narrowly voted to extend the bill.

In 2011 the Obama administration starting issuing waivers to release states from No Child Left Behind in response to demands from governors and school districts who found that the standards set were too difficult to achieve; however, upon agreeing to the waiver, states had to sign on to Common Core standards in Math and Language Arts which had not yet been devised.

Not until December 2015 did Congress to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act to replace No Child Left Behind. According to Joy Pullmann, the ESSA requires states to align their standards to Common Core using college ready tests, but the only standards are Common Core standards. The upshot:  the ESSA didn’t get rid of Common Core, it’s just Common Core with a new name.

Joy Pullmann is somewhat concerned about Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  In referencing a speech Pullmann heard DeVos present on Monday, May 22, Pullmann is concerned that Betsy Devos might issue a reverse of a 1983 “Nation at Risk”report.  Pullmann is pleased with DeVos’ strong stance on vouchers.

Pullmann supports school choice as a major education reform initiative.  As Common Core poses a threat to school choice.  Common Core must be defeated from the ground up.

Vicki Alger – Book: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children

To the surprise of those in attendance, Dr. Alger spoke about a native Illinoisan going back to 1867, Rep. Samuel Molton, who laid out his idea of what education should be all about:

Now, sir, in order to make education universal, what do we want? What is the crying necessity of this nation today? Why, sir, we want a head. We want a pure fountain from which a pure stream can be poured upon all the States. We want a controlling head by which the various conflicting systems in the different States can be harmonized, by which there can be uniformity, by which all mischievous errors that have crept in may be pointed out and eradicated.

About the Department of Education, the Department:  It was established in 1980 and is now 37 years old.  Vicki further commented on three goals that the Department of Education was designed meet, but has failed to do.

1.  Improve student achievement.  We spend 1/3 more than top countries in education, but yet our student achievement is staying flat.

2.  Provide for a better partnership between states and government.  $80 million has been spent by states to implement Common Core, which came about when Obama offered states money to leave NCLB standards which, obligated states to sign on to common standards in Math and Language Arts, sight unseen.

3. Provide useful program for schools to adopt.  After 30 years 300 programs have been passed, but there still isn’t a definition of what a federal education program is.  Only 6% of the programs have been deemed successful.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., has introduced a simple a bill in the House stating: “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

The possibility to end the Department of Education is more a hope than a reality because of its size and its entrenchment in the federal bureaucracy, but we do know enough to get government out of education and make it a local issue.

Leslie Burke –  Education Reform at the Federal Level

Leslie began her presentation by comparing the advancement in computer technology to that of progress in education.  Fifty years ago computers were huge and filled an entire room.  A full time operating staff was needed. Leasing a computer could cost $200,000 a month.

The same improvement has not been seen in education.  Since 1970 the Education Department has nearly tripled in size, yet the outcome remains nearly flat.  Any business would have been shuttered with such a record, yet the response heard time and again from legislators and educators is that more money spent will produce better results.

In 1857 the education bureaucracy remained small with only four individuals and stayed the same for about 20 years.

In 1965 there was significant federal spending on education in conjunction with Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”  In 1965 both the Higher Ed Act and the Federal Headstart Program were approved.  Headstart is a $9 billion program, and it’s not even administered by the Department of Education!

The Department of Education became a cabinet agency in 1990.   With this status came new programs and more spending.  Through the 90’s there were no national standards until 2001 when the George W. Bush administration ushered in No Child Left Behind.   This educational program led to Common Core standards, when states, struggling to achieve the mandated standard of NCLB, were enticed by Obama administration money to sign on to Common Core standard not yet formulated, as a way to be released from NCLB mandates.

As explained by Leslie Burke, the cost of education could be greatly reduced if the teacher to non-teacher ratio in school districts were reduced. As it now stands, the ratio is one teacher to one non-teacher.  Chicago, with a school budget of $5.4 billion is bigger in size than the GDP of some governments.  Since 1992 Chicago has seen a 12% increase in students, yet staff has nearly tripled instead of keeping pace with the number of new students.

In regards to Trump’s budget for the Dept. of Education, Burke applauds the 13.5% decrease where programs deemed ineffective will be cut, but wonders whether Congress will have the backbone to go through with the roll backs?   Regarding the new choice program initiated by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Ms. Burke is encouraged it will start to reduce government intervention and restore state and local control.

Leslie HinerEducation at the state level

As the vice president of programs at EdChoice, Ms. Hiner directs the educational programs and state relations of the organization’s state programs team in educating parents.  She works in all the states educating parents about school choice programs. EdChoice was founded in 1996 by Nobel laureateMilton Friedman and his wife, economist Rose Director Friedman. The organization’s mission is to advance “school choice for all children” nationwide.  Parents can decide what is best, for they know their children far better than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.  Parents should also have control over funding.

Until 2011 there wasn’t much in the way of school choice programs. Then an epiphany occurred and 6 to 7 choice programs were established.  As more and more children come home from school expressing a dislike for school, parents are searching for education alternatives.

Ms. Hiner spoke of tremendous activity in 2017 about a new school choice venture — Tax Credit Scholarship Programs — as an alternative to vouchers.  The first program was in Arizona.  A Tax Credit Scholarship Program enables a parent to tailor education for a child that meets his or her needs, whether it be to pay for tuition, tutoring, on-line learning, etc.

Arizona has expanded its Tax Credit Scholarship program every year because it works.  In Illinois a $500 tax credit is available for educational expenses.  In that 285,000 have taken advantage of the tax credit, must mean that Illinois parents want better educational opportunities.  Ms. Hiner, through EdChoice, did offer to help Illinois when Illinois is ready. As Ms. Hiner remarked, “It could be life and death for children of low income parents.”

Lennie Jarratt, as Project Manager for Heartland’s Center for Transforming Education, welcomed attendees seated in the Breitbart Freedom Center and those watching on-line.   As explained by Mr. Jarratt: The Heartland Institute has long been a leading voice for school transformation – and school choice in particular. Since 1997, it has published the school choice movement’s national outreach publication, School Reform News. More than half of state elected officials surveyed say they read School Reform News, making it the movement’s most effective way to reach policymakers.  Heartland contacts over 1,000,000 elected officials with information promoting free market ideas.

Stephanie Trussell, a wife, grandmother, and unapologetic constitutional conservative, was on stage as moderator and introduced each panel member. The Stephanie Trussell Show can be heard every Sunday night from 9 p.m. to 12 midnight Central time. Stephanie, in 2012, won an American Idol-type contest on WLS 890.  From more than 100 contestants, Stephanie was chosen as the first Next Talk Star.

As a mother of 5 children from 12 to 31, education reform is very important to Stephanie.  Stephanie was taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic from nuns in a Catholic school, so she knows how to do things, even though she never attended college.  Because the only people to advocate for kids are their parents, Stephanie made the choice to move her family to west suburban Lisle, because she felt the schools were better there.


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