Monthly Archives: July 2006

Atlanta Prefers Government Control to Results

Achieve Academy could be shut down

But Achieve Academy may close, a move that would force Zicuria and the school’s 170 or so other students from grades five through seven back to the traditional public schools they left. Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall is recommending against approving Achieve Academy’s charter, citing a weak curriculum, a history of financial mismanagement, low enrollment and other problems. The board is scheduled to vote today on the charter.

David Morgan, principal at Achieve Academy, said Atlanta school officials have been “unyielding in their position,” that the charter school must close, despite test scores that met state standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Though Achieve met state testing goals, the school did not meet testing goals spelled out in its charter, district officials said. “The performance in fifth grade was particularly troubling, as 23 out of 41 students did not meet standards on one or both of reading or mathematics tests,” district official Sharron Pitts wrote in a letter to Achieve’s board chair, Dana Thomas.

Morgan said school officials point out weak scores while ignoring high scores. Seventh-graders performed well on the state’s Criterion Referenced Competency Test, with 87 percent passing math and reading. Achieve students generally outperformed schools such as Carson and Kennedy, where half the seventh-graders failed reading and where students will be sent back to if Achieve closes.

I realize that in their first year, fifth graders (who, invariably, were products of Atlanta Public Schools up until that point) were failing. But it certainly looks like they’ve gotten those same failing students up to an 87% pass rate by the time they hit 7th grade. That sounds like positive results.

So the students are happy, the parents are happy, and the kids are leaving with a higher pass rate than they came in. Even the fifth-graders, who didn’t meet the standards the school set for themselves, passed state and NCLB guidelines, which not all Atlanta Public Schools do.

It sounds like the school does have a bit of turmoil, between financial problems, moving every year, some leadership turnover, and losing out on one of their curriculum programs (due to a too-low enrollment number). But despite these problems, they’re getting it done.

And it appears that they’re on the right track, trying to buy a property while working with a new company, Imagine Schools. But apparently that’s not good enough for the local government:

Deputy Superintendent Kathy Augustine said the school had shown “pockets of improvement,” but she stopped short of calling Achieve a success.

She found the school’s plan for a partnership with the nonprofit Imagine Schools void of detail and full of conflicting information about such matters as whether the Saturday program would end at noon or 12:30 and whether students would be allowed a snack time. Augustine was not convinced teachers would cover the state curriculum, nor was she satisfied with the school’s plan to operate in a former church Imagine officials have said they intend to buy.

A half hour on Saturday? Snack time? These are reasons to refuse their charter? And the state curriculum hasn’t exactly made Atlanta Public Schools a success, so maybe they should stick with what actually works. I think Atlanta is searching for any reason to refuse the charter, not looking to determine if this school will actually educate children.

I think we can see through this. This school, despite its problems, is succeeding in its primary goal, educating children. If such a problematic charter school can succeed, I’ll bet the local government schools are quaking in their boots. How can they explain their failure in the face of success like this?

Hat Tip: Jason Pye

The Seen And The Unseen

More that 150 years ago, Fredrich Bastiat wrote a seminal treatise on economics discussing the seen and unseen costs of market regulation. Despite the passage of time, it’s clear that we have not learned Bastiat’s lesson. Government regulates the economy without any regard to what impact it is truly having on the market. Nonetheless, there are those who understand, most notable among them being George Mason University Economics Professor Walter Williams, who, as usual, puts Bastiat’s message in common sense language:

One of the great contributions of Nobel Laureate economist Friedrich Hayek was to admonish us to recognize the insurmountable limits to human knowledge. Why? Not even the brightest minds, and surely not the U.S. Congress, can ever have the knowledge to shape an economic system entirely to our liking. To think we can represents the height of arrogance and a pretense of knowledge. The billions upon billions of interrelationships between an economic system’s human and nonhuman elements defy human capacity to know.

Let’s examine just a few pretenses of knowledge. Under Social Security law, Congress forces workers to set aside a portion of their earnings for retirement. Take a 25-year-old — let’s call her “Mary” — who earns $40,000 a year. Her Social Security tax is about $2,500. Here’s my question to you: Was having $2,500 forcibly taken out of Mary’s pay for retirement her best possible use of that money? Mary might have saved and invested several years to open a small business. She might have put it toward private schooling or music lessons for her child, or any number of things that might have made her, and possibly the U.S., wealthier in the future.

How about Congress’ mandate for more fuel-efficient cars? According to a National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences 2002 report, delivered by Leonard Evans to the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards have contributed to between 1,300 and 2,600 traffic deaths a year.

Congress’ mandate for higher gasoline mileage leads to the production of lighter, smaller and less crashworthy cars, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Through technological innovation and natural market forces, cars were already becoming more fuel efficient before CAFE standards were mandated. More important, how does Congress know this loss of life is worth the amount of fuel saved? Do they even know or care about the tradeoff?

As usual, Williams speaks common sense to power. Well worth reading.

Are We Too Nice To Win ?

John Podhoretz has an excellent column in today’s New York Post that consists entirely of questions. He doesn’t give any answers, but I’m not sure there are any.

WHAT if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?

What if the universalist idea of liberal democracy – the idea that all people are created equal – has sunk in so deeply that we no longer assign special value to the lives and interests of our own people as opposed to those in other countries?

What if this triumph of universalism is demonstrated by the Left’s insistence that American and Israeli military actions marked by an extraordinary concern for preventing civilian casualties are in fact unacceptably brutal? And is also apparent in the Right’s claim that a war against a country has nothing to do with the people but only with that country’s leaders?

Can any war be won when this is the nature of the discussion in the countries fighting the war? Can any war be won when one of the combatants voluntarily limits itself in this manner?

And it just goes on from there.

The context, of course, is the Israeli War against Hezbollah in which, media reports to the contrary notwithstanding, Israel has been far more restrained than it is capable of being if it used all of its military might.

The question also has relevance to our own fight in the War on Terror. The response to the September 11th attack was overwhelming to be sure, but, again, far more restrained than the U.S. military could have been under the circumstances. And, arguably, far more restrained than we would have been if the same event had happened 60 years earler. Witness Pearl Harbor and the reaction that followed.

The memory of Pearl Harbor stayed alive throughout World War Two and even afterwards. By contrast, the reaction to September 11th has arguable lessened over time. Yes, we still cringe when we see the video, but even the fact that our television networks don’t play the video of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center anymore is, I think, an indication of the fact that some segment of our society has “moved beyond” the events of that day.

The problem with forgetting September 11th, though, is that it has an impact on the will to fight. American casualties in the Iraq War are historically low compared to any other major war we’ve fought, and yet the public has clearly turned against the war to the point where there is real pressure to bring the troops home. And, more importantly, an obvious reluctance on the part of the Bush Administration to commit American troops to deal with any other potential troublemakers, be it North Korea, Iran, or Hezbollah.

I’ve written before (here and here) that the Bush Administration made a big mistake in not getting the American public more directly invested in the War on Terror after September 11th. The point Podhoretz makes is broader, and more serious, because it effectively asks the question — do we have the will to fight:

Are we becoming unwitting participants in their victory and our defeat? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization – its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all – is endangering the future of our civilization as well?

I don’t know the answer to the question myself, but the signs don’t look good.

Linked with today’s Beltway Traffic Jam

“Fair Flat Tax” is Neither

Oregon Senator Wants to Take On the Burden of Fixing the Tax Code

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has made it his mission to force Congress to rewrite the entire tax code. If he succeeds, every interest in town would take one side or the other in what would be the biggest legislative battle in years.

Last November, a presidential advisory panel headed by former senators Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and John Breaux (D-La.) recommended that Congress lower tax rates, reduce paperwork, and pare back or eliminate most tax breaks, including popular deductions for home mortgage interest and employer-provided health insurance.

Wyden’s plan would also end many individual tax advantages but, in contrast to the panel’s proposal, would keep many of the code’s most popular preferences, including the home-mortgage and health-savings deductions. Wyden’s Fair Flat Tax Act would lower taxes for millions of middle-income families, in part by raising taxes on some corporations and also on wealthy people with significant investment income — which the president would likely oppose.

So Wyden wants to soak the rich, and his tax is far from flat. I think this is another failure of “truth in advertising” when it comes to congressional legislation.

Obviously to anyone who’s been here a while, I’m a big fan of the FairTax. That notwithstanding, though, it really sounds like Wyden is proposing a tax that has only the most popular exemptions included. While that may be politically expeidient, it’s not fair, nor is it flat. It’s probably a good proposal, and if he didn’t call it the “Fair Flat Tax”, jumping on the name recognition of the two most popular tax reform proposals before him, I might like it.

But the “Fair Flat Tax”. How’s the Holy Roman Empire doing these days?

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