June 26, 2015

Don't Accept Excuses — Your Child Can Learn to Read

Can't read it, and weep
Every year, thousands of Oklahoma children fall victim to a debilitating condition: illiteracy.

More than a third of Oklahoma's public-school 4th graders cannot read at even a basic level. The numbers are even worse for minority students. Many of these children, thinking there's something wrong with them, will go through life with unspeakable distress. As their frustration mounts, many will slide into delinquent behavior. Many are destined for welfare or prison.

Illiterate children grow up to become illiterate adults. "More than 400,000 Oklahoma adults do not have the reading skills they need," according to the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. "That is one of every five adults."

After reviewing the most recent literacy data produced by the federal government, Martha Gregory, a researcher for the Tulsa City-County Library System, concluded that "the record for the nation is abysmal and we [Oklahoma] are for the most part in step." Fully 43 percent of Oklahoma's adult population reads at a 7th-grade level or lower. Appallingly, more than half of Oklahoma’s high-school graduates — and fully 13 percent of Oklahoma's college graduates — read at at a 7th-grade level or lower.

This massive failure is as unnecessary as it is heartbreaking. "To teach a child to read properly is not difficult," says education author Douglas Wilson. "Local education professionals have made it seem difficult, and the entire process has been shrouded with arcane professional terminology. But the only term that concerned parents need to know and understand is phonics."

"It's almost a sin what we're doing to our children," says phonics tutor Sylvia Brown, a former public school speech pathologist, assistant principal, and principal in Tulsa. "In my 30-some years of teaching, I have not met a child who couldn't read when we go to the basics and teach him his alphabet then teach him his sounds. I haven't met one yet. Maybe there is one out there on this planet, but I don't believe there is."

Your child needs a strong foundation in phonics. He or she needs to be taught — in a direct, systematic, and intensive manner — how to match sounds with the letters that spell them.

In the words of world-renowned reading expert Siegfried Engelmann, professor emeritus of education at the University of Oregon: "If your child is not reading by the end of the first grade and is not retarded (IQ below 75), do not accept excuses that blame your child."

Do not allow your child to be a victim of a teachin' deficit disorder. He or she can learn to read. Excuses — such as "your child has a learning disability," "your child has emotional problems," "your child is dyslexic," or "your child just isn't ready" — are not acceptable.

What to Do

To find out how well your child can read, use this reading competency test.

If your child is in a public school and is not learning to read, you must ask the school to give your child a firm foundation in phonics.

Another option is to seek out a private school (though you'll want to make sure it's one that provides a firm foundation in phonics). If you can't afford the tuition, help is available:
  1. If your child is a special-education student — if he or she is on an individualized education program (IEP) — he or she is eligible to receive a Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship to attend a private school. 
  2. Whether or not your child is in special education, you can apply for a private-school scholarship from philanthropic organizations such as the Opportunity Scholarship FundGO for Catholic Schools, the Catholic Schools Opportunity Scholarship Fund, or the Oklahoma Scholarship Fund.
Or, you can do it yourself. Susie and I recommend the book below. As she will be quick to tell you, teaching your child to read may turn out to be the most fulfilling thing you'll ever do.

[Cross-posted at Choice Remarks]

UPDATE: A high school English teacher at a top-ranked "Blue Ribbon School of Excellence" informs us that her high school juniors can't read.

June 17, 2015

Let's Use School Choice to Get Tax Cuts (and Vice Versa)

I’ve long argued that Oklahoma should phase out its personal income tax and replace it with nothing. Simply use some growth revenue each year to buy down the tax rate little by little over 15 years or so. And though I do believe we will see movement in that direction, progress to date has been slow.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to cut my own taxes.

“Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible,” Judge Learned Hand famously declared. “He is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury.”

An Oklahoma law enacted in 2011 allows businesses and individuals to donate to K-12 scholarship-granting organizations (full disclosure: I’m on the board of one such nonprofit, the Opportunity Scholarship Fund). Scholarship recipients get much-needed help paying private-school tuition costs, while donors get not merely federal and state tax deductions but also a 50 percent state tax credit.

So, for example, if an Oklahoma taxpayer in the 15 percent federal tax bracket donates $1,000 to a scholarship fund, his or her out-of-pocket cost could be less than $300.

That's good news—and it just got better. Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation this month locking in that tax credit at 75 percent for donors who make a two-year commitment.

In other words, rather than sending your money to the gaping maw at 23rd and Lincoln, you can redirect some of it to rescue kids who are trapped in bad schools.

A 2011 SoonerPoll found that nearly 9 in 10 Oklahoma voters think state government wastes “a lot” or “some” of the money we pay in taxes. (A full 51 percent said “a lot.”)

Remember, we’re talking about a state government that funds golf courses and rodeos.

A government that gives unemployment benefits to people who aren’t entitled to them.

A government that bribes mothers not to marry the fathers of their children.

A government that gives food stamps to people who promptly sell them on Craigslist and use the money to buy marijuana.

A government that annually takes thousands of normal children and makes lifelong illiterates out of them.

A government that pays six-figure salaries to more than 2,000 Oklahomans employed in the higher education system. (As another famed jurist said somewhere, taxes are the price we pay for ex-politicians to land cushy jobs in higher ed.)

It's all just adorable! No wonder people want their taxes to be as low as possible.

Now, of course, our fellow citizens who think their taxes are too low are free to inflate their tax liabilities (don’t claim dependents, don’t itemize, and so forth). If that’s not enough, Oklahoma law actually allows citizens to make voluntary gifts of cash to the state government. But for those Oklahomans who want to send the government less money rather than more money, they can use this school-choice law to cut their taxes.

In addition to using school choice for tax relief, we should also use tax relief to get more school choice.

Let’s enact individual tax credits. Allow Oklahoma parents to receive state income tax relief for private school tuition, online learning, tutoring, and other educational expenses. In Alabama, for example, the value of the refundable tax credit is the tuition cost or 80 percent of per-pupil funding, whichever is less.

At the very least, let's enact an income-tax deduction for individuals who pay private school tuition, as Scott Walker's Wisconsin has done.

More than 150,000 students nationwide are benefiting from educational tax credits. Oklahoma policymakers should do everything possible to boost that number. Rescuing a child from a bad school will completely alter the course of his or her life.

June 01, 2015

High on the Hogs

Well, the Razorbacks swept the Stillwater Regional over the weekend, and James Teague was the winning pitcher against OSU and also against St. John's. Here's Lincoln (left) with his cousin.

A photo posted by Lincoln Dutcher (@lincolnd) on

May 02, 2015

These Moms Deserve Our Appreciation

Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to celebrate the 3.5 million schoolteachers in this country. But there are hundred of thousands more teachers who also deserve our gratitude, including one I highlight today in the Tulsa World. I invite you to read about her here.

McGuigan Inducted into Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame

My friend Pat McGuigan was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame on Thursday, and Susie and I had the pleasure of sitting with Pat and his family at their table for the ceremony. Pat's brief remarks from the podium ("This Journalist's Creed: In Love, Meeting Jesus, Along The Way") are worth your time.