Month: August 2011

Austin City Council Needs a Lesson in Statistics

  Austin needs public officials who can understand and base their decisions upon statistics. Austin also needs money, lots of money. Austin City Council planned to generate $3 million by extending parking meters downtown until midnight Monday through Saturday. Currently, parking is free after 5:30 pm on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday. The Urban Transportation Committee, a committee appointed by the city council, conducted a survey regarding extending the paid parking hours, posting the survey on the city Web site. Eight thousand Austinites took the survey. 76 percent said they choose free parking over convenient parking and 81 percent of this group of respondents said they would be less likely to visit downtown if parking meters were extended. Of the 24 percent responding that they choose convenient parking over free parking, 42 percent responded that they would be less likely to come downtown with extended parking hours. Musicians and bar owners have been outspoken against the extension, arguing that extending the meters would deter people from coming downtown and enjoying the live music that makes Austin famous. It would also endanger service employees returning to dimly-lit parking garages carrying wads of cash. When told that over 70 percent of the total respondents opposed the parking meter extension and would be less likely to go downtown, Mayor Leffingwell seemed confused about the significance of these findings. He told Fox News...

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Texas’ Charter School Movement Shows Growing Pains

  Charter schools are quickly becoming an important piece of both national and state-level education reform efforts. They’ve been praised in movies like “Waiting For Superman” as one of the few hopes for improving inner-city education. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made boosting charter school enrollment on criteria for the Race to the Top grant program. And Texas is right in the thick of it. KIPP, a poster child for this movement, started in Houston, and has since expanded to a network of over 100 schools. Harmony, another popular charter organization, educates more than 16,000 students at 36 campuses across the state. In 2010, Texas ranked 4th in the number of students enrolled in charter schools, and another 56,000 students are currently on waiting lists. Though Texas may be a leader in charter expansion, the narrative of charters’ exceptionalism is beginning to be undermined by the most recent generations of charter schools. A recently released report conducted by the Texas Center for Educational Research (TCER) found some alarming things about the most recent rounds of charter schools authorized by the Texas Education Agency (full disclosure: I was employed at TCER for several months while this study was being conducted, though I only had a very minor role in this project). They concluded that, of the open-enrollment charter schools (i.e. not district-affiliated) that launched over the past four school years, many...

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