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Here’s A Guaranteed Fix for Lawrence Schools: The Children of Lawrence Deserve Real Reform

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

SIMPLE MATH

Only 25 percent of Lawrence’s eighth grade students, based on MCAS test results, are proficient in mathematics. The percentage of proficient students increases to only 27 percent in tenth grade (winter 2011), but this can hardly be considered progress since there are roughly 12 percent fewer students remaining to take the 10th grade test. Since the dropouts are likely to be the least proficient students, the percentage should have risen substantially just due to attrition!

 

By: Dr. Charles Ormsby – April, 2012

Where is the outrage? Thousands of children’s lives are being destroyed by self-serving adults in the Lawrence school system and little notice is taken.

Nothing to see here. Just move along.

So, ex-Superintendent Laboy is being sent to jail for 90 days. Big deal.

If that is Laboy’s penalty for misdirecting several thousand taxpayer dollars to benefit himself or his friends/benefactors, what penalties are appropriate for the real crimes being committed in the Lawrence schools?

Wasting $166 million in education funding (Lawrence’s FY11 in-district budget) would be bad enough, but the real damage is much worse than that. By throwing away these resources, the Lawrence public schools are destroying the only opportunity these children have to gain the knowledge and skills required to succeed in a highly competitive world.

What do you think of the following penalty? Any adult who supports the government schools in Lawrence, from the governor and our legislators on down to the mayor, superintendent, and union bosses, should be half hung, disemboweled, and then drawn and quartered.

Of course, while that was the standard punishment for heretics under Henry VIII, no-one in their right mind would prescribe that punishment today. This is true despite the fact that those who run the Lawrence school system do more damage to their students every day than any heretic did in 16th Century England.

Lawrence High School should be servicing at least 4000 students (four times the 9th grade enrollment of 1000). And that nominal enrollment figure assumes there are no pre-high school dropouts. Lawrence’s current high school enrollment is approximately 3300. Where are the 700 missing students? By the 12th grade enrollment drops to 665, just 2/3rds the 9th grade enrollment!

Only 25 percent of Lawrence’s eighth grade students, based on MCAS test results, are proficient in mathematics. The percentage of proficient students increases to only 27 percent in tenth grade (winter 2011), but this can hardly be considered progress since there are roughly 12 percent fewer students remaining to take the 10th grade test. Since the dropouts are likely to be the least proficient students, the percentage should have risen substantially just due to attrition!

The fact that the Lawrence public school system is a basket case is old news. If criminal indictments are not forthcoming, maybe parents should march in and make citizens’ arrests.

Instead of offering additional screams of outrage, I will offer a REAL solution to Lawrence’s educational woes. Before you reject this solution out of hand, ask yourself: “Could the system described below possibly perform worse than the current system?”

Here is a top-level summary of what I propose:

First, turn Lawrence High School into six private, competing high schools. Then take the total annual cost of running the high school and divide it by the total number of eligible high school students and issue vouchers for that amount to the parents/guardians of every eligible student. Each voucher would provide admission to one of the six competing high schools for one academic year. Parents would choose their children’s school based on their children’s needs and the educational programs offered by the six competing schools. The schools would be reimbursed based on the number of students that chose to attend their school. Classroom space would be allocated to the schools proportionately based on enrollment.

Before trying to answer the myriad of questions such a proposal elicits, let’s reflect for just a moment on why such a proposal will ensure that REAL improvements will result for Lawrence’s students.

Restructuring Lawrence’s high school in this manner aligns the schools’ interests with the interests of the students. Failure of a school to serve its students’ interests will quickly result in a loss of enrollment and consequently a loss of revenue. The employees of the schools will be painfully aware that their career opportunities and financial rewards are contingent on student enrollment which, in turn will depend on student success and the degree to which the educational demands of students and their parents are met.

If fewer students enroll in a school, there will be less revenue and therefore fewer jobs. If a school has to down-size, it had better retain its best teachers or it will get even fewer students the following year. So, even if compulsory bargaining is retained (which it shouldn’t be), all of a school’s employees — from the administrators down to classroom teachers and custodians — are incentivized to operate efficiently and effectively.

No students, no jobs. It is as simple as that. The discipline of the marketplace will finally ensure that students’ needs are met. Finally!

Is any other alternative as likely to ensure that every dollar spent and every human action paid for by those dollars will be focused on meeting the educational needs of the students of Lawrence?

You already know that the government-administered, politically-controlled, union-dominated status quo will continue to fail the students every day of the year. If we want the children to win, we need to give the power to the parents.

The customers must be given the power of the purse and the institution must be forced to compete for their income. It is the only answer. As history has demonstrated, any approach that doesn’t empower the customer is destined to fail.

If this proposal is seriously considered, the current self-serving administrators and unions will scream bloody murder. Of course, this is the best indication that we are on the right path.

As soon as vouchers are put in the hands of parents and they see the face amount, they will embrace this system and they will fight any attempt to overturn it.

How much would the vouchers be worth? For FY2011 Lawrence’s in-district budget was over $166 million for 12,834 students implying a per-pupil expenditure of just under $13,000 per pupil. Note that this budget does NOT count the cost of the school buildings and associated capital costs.

Based on the percentage of students in the school system currently attending high school, the assigned voucher resources would total over $42.7 million. Each of the six private high schools would have an average enrollment of 550 students and would have to “make do” with a budget of over $12,900 per pupil (FY11). Using 2.5 percent inflation per year, the per-pupil budget would grow to more than $13,500 for 2012-13.

Note that the 2012-13 North Andover school budget is set at $38.3 million for 4569 K-12 students … a whopping $8,383 per student. So the Lawrence public schools are spending over $5,000 more per student (over 60% more) than North Andover to achieve their abysmal results.

What possible argument is there to maintain the current fiasco in the Lawrence public schools? Who in his right mind would be willing to stand up and defend this criminal enterprise? Certainly the current teachers should welcome the abolition of this travesty. They can’t possibly enjoy teaching in an institution that is designed to do anything except educate.

Parents and students should “Occupy Lawrence High School” and demand privatization.

The only alternative may be to resurrect Henry VIII. He would know how to deal with this heretical enterprise!

 

Dr. Charles Ormsby

Dr. Charles Ormsby

Dr. Charles Ormsby served two terms on the North Andover School Committee, co-founded of the North Andover Taxpayers Association, is a a co-founder of and columnist for The Valley Patriot, broadcasts weekly opinion pieces for WCAP (980 AM) in Lowell, and is a faculty member in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Dr. Ormsby is a graduate of Cornell and has a doctorate degree from MIT. You can email him at ccormsby@verizon.net

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