Unstructured Musings on Choice

I had a brief twitter talk with Neal McCluskey about Jay Greene’s article arguing that charter schools shouldn’t have to take state tests.

Best line: “So, the state only pays for its own vision of a good education but you have to pay extra if you want to pursue something else. “. Um. Yeah. Similarly, the state only pays for its own vision of law enforcement, its own vision of unemployment funds if people don’t have jobs, and so on. Why should education be any different?

This sort of proposal seems, at first glance, to be breathtakingly full of horseshit chutzpah. Like, so let me get this straight. You base your whole argument for choice on the fact that public schools are cesspits of failure and incompetence. Give parents a choice! you say, don’t force them into terrible public schools. Don’t force black kids to go public just because of race, let them choose! Give them vouchers! Create charters! But then, when it comes to proving that choice actually results in increased learning, heavens, no! These schools are different. Parents chose them because they wanted something other than the state’s idea of education. Don’t make them take those pesky tests!

Huh? The entire impetus for choice, the entire rationale that won the day for vouchers, the reason the Supreme Court finally approved vouchers even for religious schools, was not “Hey, parents should get a choice for their children” but “parents without economic means need a way to escape failing public schools”. Choice advocates think the rationale is broader than that, of course, but time and again they lost that fight. In fact, even now, choice people are pushing “tax credits” over “vouchers” because, I think, they realize how untenable choice is without the spectre of poor kids with few options.

So the whole basis for choice is failing public schools! If you weren’t convinced they were incompetent cesspits, what the hell? What’s your basis for choice?

To which Neal McCluskey says hello? See who I work for? We never wanted state-run schools! Choice all the way down the line.

At which point I feel like Henry Clay arguing with western farmers about killing the bank. Wait. You’re for soft money. Jackson’s a hard money freak. Why the hell are you on his side?

Snicker. Hey, whatever works! sez Neal.

Kidding. Kind of.

So this used to puzzle me, but then I read an old review by James Q. Wilson of a Checker Finn book, in which he spelled out three different reform remedies. The first is to reform pedagogy/methods/curriculum—fix what and how the schools teach. The second remedy is choice, which will improve schools through competition. The final remedy involves the belief that schools are failing because the rules are flawed. Change the rules and measure the schools by those rules, and they’ll improve through accountability.

This was very enlightening because Wilson, an advocate for choice, delineates the difference between accountability and his own preference, which aligns fairly well with the distinction between Jay Greene and the folks at Fordham, to pick one at random, or the libertarians at Cato with Michelle Rhee. (The third pedagogy et. al is a much broader group, including constructivism and content knowledge, for example, and we’ll leave that alone for now.)

The Common Core argument you see among reformers is in part a split between these two groups. Accountability advocates want the Common Core—more federal control! Choice advocates see the federal control as intolerable. This doesn’t cover all of it—progressives and teachers mostly don’t like common core, and Tea Party folks like public schools, I believe, but want local control. Still, it explains the big split at the wonk level that is playing out as I write this.

No Child Left Behind was also accountability, not choice. But I think it caused less of a split because first, the law left testing up to the states, and second, the law allowed choice when schools failed to live up to the standards, and everyone knew that schools wouldn’t live up to standards. Many reformers thought NCLB was a failure because parents didn’t exercise choice.

I really shouldn’t be the person explaining this, hence the title of this essay. But it’s interesting to consider the differences. Half the accountability people and all the choice people hate the political power that teacher unions represent. The accountability Republicans seem to just want Republicans to be in power, or at least reasonably represented. The choice people don’t really want anyone to be in power educationally speaking, but also hate the political power of unions because they see them as, oh, I dunno, more committed to increased federal power. No, that can’t be right. But something along those lines. ( The other half of accountability folks, the Andrew Rotherhams, the Dems who want to reform schools with unions, them I don’t get, so leave them out for now.)

(Wait, Ed, you don’t understand. All that political stuff might be true, but you forget these people are working for good schools. Yes, yes, reform opponents want good schools, too, but these guys actually want results. Why are you laughing, Ed?)

So the accountability people just want more voices for charters to help destabilize public schools and unions. In return, accountability people give lip service to vouchers, but their hearts aren’t really in it.

It seems to me that choice people themselves understand that this might be the best they can get, which is why they’ve mostly hitched their wagon to the accountability star, getting more choice around the edges and corners. They can’t get it outright for the reasons I described early on. The public is not going to give parents money to send their kid wherever. Consequently, Jay Greene’s article makes no sense, strategically, because it completely undercuts their admittedly opportunistic basis for pushing choice. Hence my surprise.

Accountability advocates have a stronger position, but then, it’s a bit fuzzy what their position is. There’s a reason Michael Petrilli calls to mind the mutant dogs in Up. (“Squirrel!”)

Besides, public schools are held accountable in all sorts of ways that the officially designated accountability advocates ignore entirely. For example, public schools are held accountable if they suspend too many black or Hispanic students. They are held accountable if they group kids by ability and the racial demographics are unrepresentative of the school community. They are held accountable if girls can’t play football, or LBQT students are referred to by the wrong gender. They are held accountable if their students use social media to torment each other about events that occurred off-campus, on the weekend, with no school involvement.

This sort of accountability goes by another name: lawsuits. Lawsuits or the threat thereof are highly effective accountability measures, and are much scarier than Mike Petrilli and Andrew Rotherham. Or even Michelle Rhee. Unfortunately, giving in to these accountability measures does nothing to improve public education and often, in fact, does much to harm it. Not that this matters to lawsuits. Or schools fearing them.

So what, exactly, is accountability as Fordham and Bellwether envision it, separate from choice? Beyond the scope of this essay. Back to choice.

Going back to Neal’s “hey, don’t look at me! I don’t want accountability” wave-off, I just want to ask: do pure choice people really want an education system with no state control? An open marketplace? I realize that we’re supposed to pretend that all parents value school and be insulted at the implication that they wouldn’t want what’s best for their kids, but reality, alas, intervenes, which is why truancy officers are a major profit center for urban schools.

So suppose we just let the kids whose parents didn’t care go to terrible schools or just not go to school at all. Would we get nothing more than unhappy kids on street corners, or would we get something like the scenario portrayed in this comment, during the CTU strike? Any takers?

Teachers are cheaper than cops and prisons and by this I do not mean “uneducated kids will end up in prison” or whatever pious do-gooders might say about the value of education. I mean it literally: some substantial chunk of kids who are now forced to stay in school will get out onto the streets three to eight years earlier and crime will increase. That seems quite obvious.

Someone will undoubtedly say “Wow, Ed, you don’t see yourself as anything more than a glorified babysitter?”

It’s this sort of response that causes most teachers to realize how little the outside world gets it. Because hell yes. That’s what public schools are, sometimes. And have always been. Babysitters. Education will fail to reach a significant portion of the kids who are both low income and low ability. That’s a fact. We do it anyway, in part because, as I said, it’s cheaper than jails and cops. But in part because some number, and it’s not a small number, will be reached, will be persuaded to keep in the game, play by the rules, and eventually get something approximating a paying job in this new economy. That’s what we work for, to increase the number of the kids who do more than mark time until jail.

So don’t think you’re insulting me by calling me a glorified babysitter, and get back to the issue I raised: can you prove that all parents will react responsibly to unfettered educational choices for their kids? Remember, mind you, that a good number of those parents should still be in school themselves, and clearly demonstrated their utter contempt for the value of that institution by getting knocked up or doing the knocking. Many parents make dreadful choices and it’s unpopular to give them tax dollars to screw up any more than we already have to.

Another question: if you’re against public schools, why advocate for charters? As any Cato wonk knows, charters are killing private schools. Increasing charters increases public school spending. More charters will increase the number of kids under government oversight, give even more control to the states and ultimately the federal government. So why are choice people pro-charters? Charter schools purport to give choices but actually just drive up public education costs for the express benefit of a lucky few underrepresented minorities or suburban whites and Asians too cheap to send their kids to private school. As long as I’m ordering the world, choice folks, can’t you go back to pushing tax deductions for private schools? Then let Bill Gates pay tuition scholarships for URMs rather than fund meaningless and usually unsuccessful initiatives in his public school sandbox.

Finally, this: eventually, all three reform positions will realize that they can’t have what they want, that our schools aren’t failing, that their expectations are ludicrous. I just hope, when that happy day arrives, we will take a look at what we can do to convince more low ability kids to leave off marking time in order to work towards adulthood and responsibility. Higher standards, no. Better jobs, yes.

Instead, liberals are getting all excited about a brave new world in which super-rich employers are teaching their Wisconsin nannies about quinoa. Because it’s Wisconsin nannies who will cause all the trouble when we’ve got an entire generation of disaffected youth in a society that didn’t worry about jobs for people who read at a sixth grade level and pretended instead that more choice or tougher standards would give them the intellectual skills for college.

About educationrealist

80 responses to “Unstructured Musings on Choice

  • JayMan

    Great post. Did you see my tweet that I mention you in?

  • Thea Nelson

    Wow, if every adult could read at a 6th grade level we would be doing a lot better than we are right now.

    • educationrealist

      But sixth grade level is achievable for pretty much everyone, if we stopped pretending that everyone can reach it at the same time. If we stopped making kids with poor reading skills read classic literature instead of news and the occasional fun fiction at their level.

      • Thea Nelson

        Agree. We rush too many children through the basics in math and reading. Schools expect 5 year-olds to start reading when many of them have never had a story read to them.

        Standards are too high for some children and too low for others. There are many students in high school and in college who can’t read at a 6th grade level. There also are many working and non-working adults who haven’t managed to make that level.

        I think parents should have a choice on how their child is educated. I am not sure they will always make (in my opinion) the right choices, but schools and teachers don’t always make the right choices. The only way to have real choice is to have a multitude of options.

      • Shannon Smith Beltran

        Classic literature teaches more than literary analysis…it teaches about LIFE and provides MODELS. If all poor kids get are articles from the government, what are they actually going to learn ABOUT?
        HOWEVER, a local school district knows their students and their needs far better (or they should) than some bureaucrat in Washington.

      • educationrealist

        This is a generally incoherent post. First, classic literature only teachers you about LIFE if you have the acumen and intellectual bent to analyze and apply. Very few people do. Second, it does not provide MODELS unless we’re all supposed to kill our dads, our wives, and our kings. Finally, we aren’t getting articles from the government but if we did, there would be plenty to learn ABOUT.

        Come back and tell that to me when you’ve got an all Islamist school teaching jihad, or Hispanics learning about how Texas is THEIR country.

  • Jefferson

    The status quo doesn’t strike you as at least mildly insane, though? Maybe the police and prisons don’t want to have to deal with all the 12-16 year old criminals who are still in school, but a) dealing with criminals is their job description and b) letting the miscreants have relatively free reign before they reach “adulthood” almost certainly reinforces bad behavior.

    Maybe I’m not really a choice advocate, but the curriculum I was taught (graduated HS in the late 90s) was heavy on the indoctrination and light on a lot of subjects (like history). When my kids start hitting their school years, I’d like some choice in what sort or topics they’re taught. Is that even possible under the current system?

    • educationrealist

      The public school system could allow for a lot of local choice. It’s constrained from doing so by the accountability I mentioned–specifically, lawsuits. If we were allowed to track, we’d have a lot more options.

      And the police and prisons are incredibly expensive. Seriously. Cops work on average 20 years, get paid overtime, and are far more likely to go out on disability. Ditto prison guards. And both groups get paid more, on average, than teachers I think? Or about the same, but then overtime jacks it up. Teachers work, on average, 30 years, can’t really work overtime or spike their pensions.

      And then, in one case we’re writing them off. In another, we’re giving them a chance. If we did it right, it’d be a better chance. As it is, it’s still pretty good.

      • Jefferson

        So tort reform and bringing back the gallows? How do you do right by those who are not inclined towards rightness? The school system I grew up in was very mixed, and the constant threat of physical violence was absolutely soul-crushing (looking back on it) There were two particular kids I knew (one was a friend of a friend) ended up in prison, who absolutely should have been taken out of genpop by 10th grade at the latest. The indoctrination didn’t help either, but my parents paid for tutors, though I suspect they were in a minority.

        Ed, if you were school Czar (or King of the local school system, if we’re taking it that way), would you make any changes? I probably missed a post or two somewhere, but the impression I get is that you think the current system is pretty solid, and that attempts to change it will do more harm than good.

      • educationrealist

        Tort reform would be nice, but not for education. The issue is disparate impact, not tort reform.

        And no, I don’t think the current system is pretty solid. I think we need to bring back tracking and ability grouping. I also think we need to swap the populations charter schools deal with—keep the motivated and mild troublemakers in big schools, put the incorrigibles in charters. Those two changes would enable many more.

    • Shannon Smith Beltran

      OOps…….. I was under the impression from previous posts that you are in favor of a less centralized Soviet-style education system–looking at things from a realistic position… Again, it all comes down to what the purpose of government-funded education is…and at this point that seems to be Career and College and non-fiction articles.

  • Isegoria

    I wouldn’t argue that charter schools shouldn’t have to take state tests, but the idea isn’t nonsense, because the state test might be a terrible measure of what parents want out of a school — if only because there’s one test for a multitude of families whose goals aren’t identical.

    • educationrealist

      But the whole premise is flawed, which I think I’ll do in the next post. Parents aren’t really the customer. The public is.

      • Isegoria

        What does the public want out of a school that the parents do not want?

        Only the tiniest fraction of parents don’t care whether their child becomes a criminal nuisance or actively want their child to hold truly anti-social views.

        We can address that without a one-size-fits-all, bureaucratic, state-run system.

      • educationrealist

        What does the public want out of a school that the parents do not want?

        I doubt the public wants to pay for the shocking excesses of special ed. I doubt the public wants to pay for largely illiterate kids to take AP English tests.

        I particularly, and especially, doubt that the public wants to pay MORE–and charter schools are *increasing* public education costs–simply to allow some parents to siphon off a lottery chosen group for smaller schools that can ignore the law. They would tell those parents to pay for private school–with sympathy, of course.

        Alternatively, they’d ask why public schools don’t allow tracking.

      • neocameralist

        I don’t disagree with what you’ve said here — but you haven’t answered the question I asked: What does the public want out of a school that the parents do not want?

        That is, if you allow parents to choose which school to attend, what might parents choose that the public would be upset about? In what ways do you expect parents to make bad choices?

        I don’t think many parents want their children to attend a school that other parents would consider awful and a threat to public safety. The greatest concern would likely be inculcation of political beliefs — which does raise an interesting question about the current beliefs being inculcated.

      • educationrealist

        That is, if you allow parents to choose which school to attend, what might parents choose that the public would be upset about?

        Well, to pick obvious examples, they might pick schools dedicated to cultural or political values America rejects: sharia law, reclaiming America for Mexico, women exist to serve men, whatever.

        I don’t think many parents want their children to attend a school that other parents would consider awful and a threat to public safety.

        You probably also don’t think that many parents don’t send their kids to school at all, that many parents don’t or can’t get their kids to school because the kids refuse. You probably don’t think that many parents have no interest in doing anything other than getting the state off their backs. You probably don’t think there are parents who keep their kids home to watch their siblings or wait for the cable TV guy, or make them get up at 3:00 am to pick them up at work, or leave them with their strung out girlfriend all night. Which merely shows, as Steve Sailer said, your restriction of range.

      • neocameralist

        This notion of “cultural or political values America rejects” is fascinating, because, as I noted before, we tacitly accept that the public school system will teach an ideology most Americans don’t share. It won’t be Islamist, or pro-la raza, or patriarchal, of course.

        But it’s not hard to restrict charter schools to non-religious schools. Most states already do that, don’t they?

        As for your list of dysfunctional parenting choices, no, none of those surprise me, but what kind of charter school are you imagining that would cater to that kind of parent?

      • educationrealist

        They don’t cater to that type of parent. In fact, they throw the kids of those parents out, back to the public schools. But public schools must take all comers. Charters use public dollars but are allowed to reject kids.

        You might note that you began by denying the existence of these parents, which pretty much invalidates any further attempt at argument.

  • Hattie

    Could you make a case for charters, independent of raising IQ/closing the gap? (Let’s play pretend world here, okay?) As in, maybe it’s a good thing to just let parents choose?

    Frankly, I’d be worried about giving vast swathes of immigrants have that kind of freedom, especially the non Western ones (yeah, I said it) and especially at taxpayer expense. And I get the impression that you don’t believe that all poor parents would immediately behave like the saintly strivers in The Beautiful Tree. But it would be less snort inducing than the idea that everyone can be a rocket scientist, and might actually create some interesting discussions.

    • Hattie

      I suppose that my ultimate question is just what percentage of low income Americans are, well, feckless – to that either their children would poison whatever schools they moved to with bad attitudes, or they simply wouldn’t care anough to exercise any choice. (I’m not talking about cognitive ability, for the moment.)

      It’s just that an awful lot of rhetoric about choice depends on an image of the poor being all strivers, just trying so damn hard and needing a break. Independent of its truth, and independent of how much it matters if very low ability try hard, the fact remains that lots of people, whether or not they articulate it, don’t think it’s true, and eduformers need to tackle that if they want any of their ideas enacted.

    • educationrealist

      I do worry about giving any group of immigrants huge chunks of freedom AND money. That’s a big concern of mine. Assimilation on cultural values isn’t happening that quickly any more, and the whole reason immigrants assimilated in the past was heavily linked to public schools. So why would we assume they would still assimilate? And yes, poor parents are the other part. However, I’m also pretty clear that the rich would do what they could to take their state funds and shut everyone out. Leaving the middle and working class, as usual, screwed the most by everyone else getting what they want.

      Charters don’t scale. That’s my objection, more than anything. They should be done with private funds.

      • Shannon Smith Beltran

        Charters would be nice IF they were as intended (at least my intention)–to provide SOMETHING DIFFERENT for WHATEVER group WITHIN a local geographic area. For instance: a charter school for kids who are significantly working below grade level but do not qualify for special education (not behavior problems). They could work at their own level all day long learning all the things they need to at their own reading level (because the reading level kills math, social studies, science, etc.). This could even include ELLs. Or a school for the behavior challenged. There could be intensive counseling, “big brother/big sister” type of programs, stories can be geared toward teaching about heroes and modeling good behavior, academics could be secondary–because we know that they aren’t learning anything anyway because their behavior gets in the way.

    • John

      The movement for vouchers will abruptly end as soon as they make a big deal about the fact that it would apply to Madrasas. Even without considering that, the SWPLs, the atheists, and the Jewish organizations would never allow it.

      • educationrealist

        Once people realize that most private schools won’t take more than a few voucher students, and that vouchers will be used primarily to fund new private schools, with all sorts of interests, there will be much less support for vouchers. And support is already soft.

  • Roger Sweeny

    Wow. Even when I disagree (or think I disagree), it’s good to read you. Most of what gets written about education seems like a prepared speech read by some organization’s higher-up. Your stuff is like talking to the people actually doing the work, when they don’t have to toe the company line and can speak what they think is the truth.

  • Jim

    Approved public discussion on education and many other issues in our society is based on fantasy. Our policies in these areas are also based to a great extent on fantasy. Unfortunately when societies are in the grip of powerful delusions the continued failure of the policies based on such delusions leads to ever greater irrationality.

  • Troy

    Perhaps I’m a free market idealist, but I suppose I would hope that if a private school repeatedly did better in educating lower-ability students — even if in non-PC ways, such as separating students by ability and using harsher discipline — many or most parents of such students would eventually take notice and send their kids there, if they could do so for free. No doubt this wouldn’t happen immediately, and many parents would, e.g., have to get over their resentment of any teacher who disciplines their child, but I suppose I have more faith in parents ultimately wanting what’s best for their children than the government wanting what’s best for them.

    I do see the worry about parents who ultimately don’t care about their children sending them to terrible schools. But why do you think that this would end in children wreaking havoc on the streets? Is the idea that the schools will be so bad that the students don’t even have to show up, or can spend their school days roaming around and stealing stuff?

    • educationrealist

      Perhaps I’m a free market idealist, but I suppose I would hope that if a private school repeatedly did better in educating lower-ability students — even if in non-PC ways, such as separating students by ability and using harsher discipline — many or most parents of such students would eventually take notice and send their kids there, if they could do so for free

      Well, the performance data isn’t all that great. But even so, the existing private schools, the excellent ones that are held up as the desirables, won’t take too many voucher kids, if any. They know full well that their paying parents pay for environment.

      So what you get instead are lots of private schools set up to take voucher money. A scam, without government oversight.

      • Hattie

        “But even so, the existing private schools, the excellent ones that are held up as the desirables, won’t take too many voucher kids, if any. They know full well that their paying parents pay for environment.”

        Might the voucher advocates sue them, for disparate impact or whatnot? I mean, it’s not like the schools can openly state what everyone knows makes them desirable.

      • Audrey

        The reason private schools are good is in good part because of the environment. If you start letting in students who are very disruptive with parents who are not engaged in their education, the private schools will start going down the tubes. Disruptive students + disengaged parents = crummy schools.

      • Shannon Smith Beltran

        What a motivation it would be for those middle class parents who think their kid does not wrong to be told that unless their kid stops with the disruptions and bullying, they will be moved to the special charter school for behavior issues. Maybe they’d think twice before they blame every other kid and the teacher and whoever else……

      • Lagertha

        here, here!

  • Joseph

    There is a reason “libertarian” sounds a lot like “liberal.”* They accept the liberals premise that all people are inherently smart, and inherently moral, people who are demonstrably unintelligent or immoral are victims of some bogeyman, be it “racism” or teacher’s unions. To the libertarian(It’s possible to be a libertarian without these attitudes, but most, at least most powerful libertarians have them), if only we gave the parents “choice” they would all choose the objectively best schools, and because they wouldn’t directly involve government, the achievement gap would disappear. And arguing with libertarians is like arguing with liberals, it is a religious belief, unnameable to reason.

    The whole idea isn’t inherently any more libertarian than ordinary public schools, in both cases, the taxpayer’s money is being used for schooling, it’s just a matter of the type. But CHOICE! It’s the same ‘logic’ these libertarians use to oppose drug testing welfare recipients.

    • Isegoria

      I think it would be more accurate to say that most libertarians see the world as full of very different people — some smart, some not, some moral, some not — who will do very different things with their own lives — and that’s OK.

      The libertarian position would be that families should choose what school their own children go to rather than having that decision made for them by some distant bureaucrat who likely does not know or care about their situation — just a families make their own choices about where to live, where to buy their groceries, what car to drive, etc.

      • Mark

        No, that’s the liberal position, that people should be able to do whatever they want with their lives, with someone else’s money.

  • Mountain

    The public schools are getting worse, they weren’t that great when I was a kid. I don’t see them getting better, particularly in California. Charters are simply a work-around for those who don’t want to subject their children to public schools and can’t afford or access private schools. Rats off a sinking ship.

    • educationrealist

      And there’s no reason to use public funds to give some, but not all, parents a workaround. Better to use tracking and allow public schools more ability to expel problem kids.

      • Mountain

        It’s not going to happen, tracking and discipline. The politicians and the educrats won’t allow it. I live in a blue state. It is a war between parents and the school system. Same as it was in the 70’s when my parents’ generation fought the schools on new math. Charter schools are a new way to fight that war. I do what I can for left of the bell curve kids in another venue.

      • neocameralist

        I think most charter school proponents would be delighted to see public schools given the freedom to track and to expel problem kids, but they don’t see any way to elicit such meaningful change in the monolithic educational bureaucracy.

        You see the charters as taking needed resources away from the public school system. Charter proponents see the public funding, without parental choice, enabling the public system’s many dysfunctions.

      • educationrealist

        Well, then, charter proponents should not skim their little piece of money off, since it makes education more expensive for the public. What they should do is challenge the many rules, imposed by governments and courts, that make public schools dysfunctional. Public schools didn’t invent the nonsense. It was imposed upon them.

        It’s like an urban black family saying “Hey, we think cops are doing a bad job at keeping the peace. Give us a small chunk of money and we’ll hire our own protection.”

      • neocameralist

        You seem to be ignoring the huge difference between market forces and democratic politics. The charter proponents can make a difference by introducing new schools that avoid red tape, but they can’t find a way to remove the red tape from the one-size-fits-all public system.

        And once they’ve demonstrated what’s possible outside The System, then The System might change — or be replaced by something that does work.

      • Adam

        And once they’ve demonstrated what’s possible outside The System

        But they don’t. They pretend the red tape on the publics don’t exist and instead claim their schools are better because of “teacher’s unions” or better “curriculum” or some other PC drat.

  • Jim

    In a society where open discussion of some issues is not possible people will find all kinds of devious ways around the official ideology. I’ve read that by the time of Brezhnov the illegal underground economy in the Soviet Union was 40% of the total economy. Having an illegal economy that size is not in itself a good thing but without people conniving to evade the official Socialist ideology life would hardly have been possible at all.

    Since the official ideology has created unworkable institutions people will pervert them to achieve their goals. The resulting solutions may not be optimal but perversion of the existing system is inevitable since the official basis of these systems is fantasy.

  • Tina

    How about stopping the out-of-control immigration that brings in most of the shit-heads?

    There, fixed it for ya.

    • Roger Sweeny

      Maybe I live on a different planet than you but most of my shit-head students have been native born.

      • educationrealist

        As you know, I think immigration should be curtailed or outright stopped for a while. And it’s not so much a different planet but a different part of the country. The vast majority of students in my hometown are Asian and at least half not native born, and at my last school the majority of students were Hispanic, at least half not native born. And in both my hometown and my last school, the kids who weren’t native born but were either Hispanic or Asian had immigrant parents–and in the Hispanic case, they were illegal immigrant parents in many, if not most, cases.

        A substantial number of progressive charters are started to get away from Hispanic students. And white flight from Asians is well known.

        The out of control immigration doesn’t cause the shithead problem, but it sure doesn’t help.

  • Φ

    Neocameralist called it: parents, and political conservatives, have fought back against the bad policies spawned by “disparate impact” — and lost. And our prospects have not improved — even the Republican Party has stopped paying even so much as lip-service to rolling it back, and those of us who argue against it are now mostly driven to pseudonomous postings on the internet.

    Whatever else can be said about them, charters are happening. They’re not some pie-in-the-sky, wouldn’t-it-be-great-if kind of proposal anymore.

  • Φ

    Ed: your objections to school choice proposals as such (as opposed to objections about the dishonesty with which they are often advocated, which I will stipulate) seem to fall into two categories:

    1. Parents will make bad and/or unpopular choices.

    Many will. But libertarian fantasists to the contrary, I don’t predict an outcome where charters/vouchers are more than an escape valve for the children of high-functioning parents. The public schools will still be there as the default option for the parents too stupid and/or uninvolved to make use of the alternatives. So I’m not especially bothered by the fact that they don’t “scale”.

    As far as “unpopularity” goes, obviously this depends. If the primary effect of choice programs turn out to be madrassas and reconqista schools, then yes, I would turn from a supporter to an opponent. But I don’t predict that will happen. Muslims, thank God, aren’t that numerous, and Mexicans by and large aren’t that motivated. Most of the “unpopular” choices will be made by Christians and conservatives seeking to escape public school PC twaddle (in which the evil of white Christians figures prominently). Political leftists understand this, which is why they fight vouchers so vociferously.

    Concerns about assimilation miss the fact that the existing public schools have abandoned assimilation as a goal. “Diversity” is the order of the day, and residential segregation means that most Mexican students have too few white classmates to even assimilate by accident. It is possible that school choice will make this worse, but I’d be surprised.

    My iPad battery is about to die, so I’m going to leave objection #2 for the next comment.

    • educationrealist

      No. That’s not my objection to school choice. That is my objection to doing away with public schools.

      • Φ

        Thank you for the clarification. I should say, however, that this distiction is not one that, to my reading of your posts and comments, leaps off the page. Reading most (if not all) of the choice advocates you link to, I was unable to find one that projected the outright elimination of public schools, and it is not otherwise a necessary outcome of the choice programs we are seeing.

      • educationrealist

        Of course not. Choice folks want the public schools to take the undesirable kids. That way, they can get private schools on the public dime.

        Look, it’s best to stop thinking I’m arguing *for* anything. The status quo is both morally and financially superior to what choice offers, and educationally indifferent. While I don’t particularly like the status quo, it’s preferable to what they want.

      • Φ

        Obviously we disagree about the definition of “moral”, at a minimum. While I am not a libertarian, and do not believe that “choice” is the last word of all arguments, I do believe that choice is a positive good that deserves consideration wherever possible. I respect your preference for tracking when you can get it, but if you can’t, then I’m not sure what morality is served by throwing good kids into classrooms with violent, disruptive and otherwise dysfunctional kids when feasible policies can abet alternatives.

  • Mountain

    Just to remind you of one of many reasons why us parents aren’t happy about unionized public school teachers.


    • educationrealist

      Many districts have restrictions written into the contract to prevent teachers from taking time off around holidays, so it’s clearly preventable. SF is a very badly run city. And with all that, it’s just 10% of teachers. I worked in corporate America for years, you want to argue they were there working their tail off on Wednesday? Please.

      Finally, I wrote about sick leave here: https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/teachers-and-sick-leave-a-proposal/

      • Mountain

        I don’t do business with those who don’t deliver on their committments, but I can’t with the public schools. When I ran my own business I fired employees who didn’t do their jobs.

      • educationrealist

        You do business with cops whether they do their job or not. You do business with the IRS whether they do their jobs or not. You engage with the government every day, whether it does its job or not. So why you think it looks all dramatic to single out teachers is more than I can figure, because to me, it just makes you look a bit simple.

      • Roger Sweeny

        Ed, I think this goes to some really basic questions of political philosophy: should there be something, called a government, that has the power to force people to do what they don’t want to do? And if so, what should that government (which, of course, works through its agents) be able to do? Most people (myself included) answer “yes” to the first but that leaves the very important question of just what power the entity should have.

        Should a police officer be able to search your home because you seem suspicious to her? Should a police officer be able to search your home because she has been able to convince a judge that there is evidence of a crime there? American law says “no” to the first and “yes” to the second.

        Police and tax seem to most people like basic government jobs. You can’t opt out of obeying the law or paying taxes without seriously undermining what makes a government useful. Many people don’t see owning and operating a school system as a basic government job and want the ability to opt out.

        Of course, most of them don’t want to have to pay directly for schooling. They think that providing the opportunity for an education is a legitimate government function but requiring all kids to go the government-operated school is not. Many also think it is legitimate for the government to require that all kids below a certain age or skill level go to school and that all schools meet certain standards.

        Ironically, this is similar to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). The government declares that everyone has a right–and obligation–to have “health insurance.” It requires all “health insurance” to meet certain standards, and it provides money so everyone can afford it. It is like a voucher plan for “health insurance.”

      • educationrealist

        Roger, I just had a long and impassioned discussion with a friend on Wednesday about the insane levels of control put upon us by state and federal governments. I do not approve.

        Police and tax seem to most people like basic government jobs.

        In this country, public education was given more attention by the founding fathers than either police or taxes. Jefferson was incensed by taxes, but supported public education, for example. So while “most people” might not think public school is a particular function of government, they are, in fact, wrong. From our country’s earliest history, the federal government was encouraging public schools—a history that is a few years longer than the Constitution.

        I’m not using that as a rationale for any particular action. I’m simply pointing out that public education has a far longer history in our country than either police or income taxes, and whether “most people” think it’s reasonable to pay for police but not school is irrelevant to the ahistorical nature of their beliefs.

        Many people don’t see owning and operating a school system as a basic government job and want the ability to opt out.

        You are conflating “people” with “parents”. “People” have been paying for public education since the beginning of our country’s history, and there is absolutely no movement I’ve seen for taxpayers to “opt out” of public education.

        So if “parents” want to “opt out”, the real issue is why should they be given additional money that we don’t give taxpayers? Again, it’s the public, not the parent, who is the customer.

      • Roger Sweeny

        You are absolutely right that concern with education extends back to the founding. However, at the time of the founding (Declaration of Independence 1776, Constitution 1787), there were virtually no public schools. The first public school system of any size does not occur until the 1850s in Massachusetts.

        At the time of the founding, all American governments collected taxes, the federal government on imports (tariffs) and distilled liquor (which led to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791), the state and local governments on property and various other things. All states had court systems and sheriffs to make sure laws were enforced, though modern police forces were as uncommon as modern public schools.

        But I wasn’t really talking about history. If you told someone that there was a country where the government collected no taxes, that person would almost certainly think you were joking, that governments can’t exist without taxes. Similarly, if you told someone that there was a country where the government had no way of making sure that laws were obeyed, the person would find it hard to believe. However, if you told someone that there was a country where there were no public schools, they would find it strange but not impossible to imagine. And if you told them that the government gave parents “scholarships” to take to approved schools, they would have no trouble believing it at all.

      • educationrealist

        I am well aware of American history, thankyewverymuch. I specifically said income tax, didn’t you notice? The point I was making was simpler: whatever the public thinks, public education has a very long history.

        However, if you told someone that there was a country where there were no public schools, they would find it strange but not impossible to imagine. And if you told them that the government gave parents “scholarships” to take to approved schools, they would have no trouble believing it at all.

        This is simply untrue, unless you are giving someone an example of a repressive country. No one would accept that a functioning country didn’t at least pretend to have public education today. And in the past, when it was true, it was far less true in America.

      • educationrealist

        It’s pretty simple, by the way: you’re trying to convince me that public schools have an additional burden to pass in convincing people to pay for it. You’re wrong both historically and currently. You are also wrong, as I said, in that the people arguing about the “customer service” aspect are parents, not the public.

      • Roger Sweeny

        Perhaps you have me confused with someone else because I haven’t argued either of those things.

        I have argued that, “Police and tax seem to most people like basic government jobs. You can’t opt out of obeying the law or paying taxes without seriously undermining what makes a government useful.” I very specifically didn’t say income tax. I stand by that.

        I also argued, “Many people don’t see owning and operating a school system as a basic government job and want the ability to opt out.” I probably should have added that just about everyone nowadays sees “assuring that kids get an education” to be a basic government job. But a lot, certainly not everyone or even a majority, believe that this doesn’t mean a governmental entity has to own and run the schools.

        In fact, it has been settled Constitutional Law since Pierce v, Society of Sisters (1925) that children cannot be forced to attend a government owned and operated school. In that case, Oregon had forbidden Pierce from attending a school owned and operated by the Catholic Church. Perhaps my opinion about what people believe is overly influenced by living in an area with a large number of Catholic schools.

      • educationrealist

        Again, what does this have to do with anything?

  • Φ

    My iPad battery is charged again, so . . .

    2. Choice programs siphon money from the public schools to fund charters and vouchers for middle class parents who should be paying for private school out of pocket.

    I can’t help feeling like the unstated premise behind this objection is that the middle class somehow doesn’t count as real parents, realtaxpayers, real members of “the public”. What is stated, with more or less explicitness, is that the public schools’ entire business model relies on taking tax-payer money disproportionately from the middle class up and then offering them a product so unpalatable that a significant fraction of them won’t take it at a price of zero.

    This isn’t as morally compelling a funding plan as charter and voucher opponents seem to think. On the contrary, the request by middle-class parents to have some fraction of their districts’ per-pupil expenditures used to defray the costs of alternatives, be they charters or private school, strikes me as eminently reasonable, and it only reduces the funding for public school students to the extent you assume that the parents of choice students were never putting them in public school anyway. And in that case, you’re only highlighting the extent to which parents who like the public schools were benefitting themselves off the backs of parents who don’t.

    • educationrealist

      Yeah, you might want to stop assuming you know what I mean, because you’ve spent an awful lot of time rebutting positions I don’t hold.

      • Φ

        Ed: We seem to have that problem with each other! 😉

        From your post:

        Charter schools purport to give choices but actually just drive up public education costs for the express benefit of a lucky few underrepresented minorities or suburban whites and Asians too cheap to send their kids to private school.

        From your comment at Nov 21, 4:10pm:

        However, I’m also pretty clear that the rich would do what they could to take their state funds and shut everyone out. Leaving the middle and working class, as usual, screwed the most by everyone else getting what they want.

        From your comment at Nov 25, 3:57pm:

        I particularly, and especially, doubt that the public wants to pay MORE–and charter schools are *increasing* public education costs–simply to allow some parents to siphon off a lottery chosen group for smaller schools that can ignore the law. They would tell those parents to pay for private school–with sympathy, of course.

        If all this is materially different than what I wrote in #2 above, I don’t see it.

      • educationrealist

        Yeah, I don’t know what to tell you apart from it’s kind of tedious rebutting you. For starters, the fact that you quote me defending the middle class as support for your belief that I think the middle class doesn’t really is pretty absurd. No, no, don’t come back and explain. Just accept that you don’t understand, and won’t, and we’re good.

      • Φ

        As pleasurable as it may be, snark isn’t actually argument. Your “defending the middle class” seems to assume that Of COURSE they would NEVER want a charter or a voucher. I can assure you that the opposite is true.

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