The new school choice debate (a child is more than just a test score)

by on December 3, 2016 at 1:13 am in Current Affairs, Education, Uncategorized | Permalink

Since Donald Trump has picked Betsy DeVos to be education secretary, many commentators have been pulling out their anti-school choice arguments from the closet, and for the most part it isn’t a pretty sight.  To insist on a single government-run school and trash school choice, while out of the other side of one’s mouth criticizing Trump for “authoritarianism,” and other times proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” is from my point of view a pretty poor mix.

To be sure, we’re still not sure how well vouchers work, and I would suggest continuing experimentation rather than full-on commitment.  Frankly, I find a lot of the voucher advocates unconvincing, but let’s not forget the single most overwhelming (yet neglected) empirical fact about vouchers: they improve parent satisfaction.

That result is not much contested.  For instance:

Universally, school choice parents are highly satisfied with choice schools, reporting greater discipline, more responsive staff and better educational environments than the public schools they left. That parents are satisfied with their choice schools is a valuable indicator that school choice delivers real benefits. As University of Wisconsin professor John Witte, the official evaluator of the Milwaukee choice program, recently commented on school choice research: “There’s one very consistent finding: Parental involvement is very positive, and parental satisfaction is very positive…parents are happier. The people using vouchers are mostly black and Hispanic and very poor…they deserve the same kind of options that middle-class white people have.”

Patrick J. Wolf’s survey of twelve voucher programs (pdf) supports this interpretation.  And here are strongly positive results on parental satisfaction Indiana.  I could go on, but I don’t think there is much need.

Of course parents may like school choice for reasons other than test scores.  To draw from the first link above, parents may like the academic programs, teacher skills, school discipline, safety, student respect for teachers, moral values, class size, teacher-parent relations, parental involvement, and freedom to observe religious traditions, among other facets of school choice.

Perhaps now is the time to remind you that how the buyers like the product is the fundamental standard used by economists for judging public policy?  That is not to say it is the final standard all things considered, but surely economists should at least start here and report positive parental satisfaction as a major feature of school choice programs.  In fact, I’ll say this: if you’re reading a critique of vouchers and the critic isn’t willing to tell you up front that parents typically like this form of school choice, I suspect the critic isn’t really trying to inform you.

To be sure, you still might not favor school vouchers.  You might think they cost too much, you might think they will politicize private schools too much, or you might think they weaken national unity too much, to cite a few possibilities.  (Although please, on that latter matter you can’t just say something silly like “public schools and the army made America what it is today.”  You need some actual evidence.  Won’t parents who are happy with the schooling of their children also contribute to national unity and push us away from polarization?  That effect might outweigh whatever more negative mechanism you have in mind.  Evidence please, not just sentiment.)

And as for test scores, the evidence there is still unclear.  Here are a few earlier MR posts, no cherry- or lemon-picking, please.

Scott Alexander has some excellent comments on vouchers and school choice.

1 Steve Sailer December 3, 2016 at 1:48 am

One distinction I seldom see made is between a start-up choice school that goes and finds its own facilities and a deal where an entire existing public school plant gets turned over to a charter organization. For example, a 60 acre public high school in the middle of the San Fernando Valley went charter a few years ago in a dispute with the school board over how to split the money from all the TV and movie filming on campus (the school has long employed to full time staffers to market and arrange shoots on its campus). I would imagine that the replacement cost for the school property is well into the nine-figure range. Maybe they’ve got a sure-fire system for these charters to make sure there is no possible financial abuse, but if so, it’s never seem to have been mentioned.

2 Careless December 3, 2016 at 4:10 am

How many schools in the entire country have that as a possible problem?

3 Greg December 3, 2016 at 11:17 am

Your comment started off strong, but if your statement about some specific issue can be generalized to anything, that’s usually a bad sign. “Maybe they’ve got a sure-fire system for to make sure there is no possible financial abuse, but if so, it’s never seem to have been mentioned.” See what I mean?

Why do you want to see this distinction made? Is it just a concern about fixed costs or financial abuse? Personally, I’m more curious about performance. You could make plausible arguments for both start-up and existing campuses being correlated with better charter school performance, but I would venture to guess in the end that it’s a wash.

It seems like a couple of bigs concern raised by anti-voucher folks are 1) the children remaining in failing schools after the parents motivated to pull their kids out do so and 2) the ailing schools themselves once adverse selection sets in. Maybe these could both be addressed by setting a baseline vote of no confidence benchmark for schools? If X% of parents opt to pull their kids out of a bad school, the overall school is shut down, and a whole new administrative and teaching team is brought in to start it back up as a charter? I’m not an expert on charter schools, but it seems like finding facilities is often one of the biggest hurdles. A school shutdown provision would address that and ensure turnover among schools rather than just resulting in a school desert if the current options in an area are bad but stick around indefinitely.

4 David December 3, 2016 at 11:50 am

I’ve always liked the model that was used in Milwaukee, where they in effect created a citywide open enrollment system…but the money followed the child. So, no vouchers and no private or Catholic schools, but a de facto voucher system within the confines of the public school system.

Obviously this created a downward spiral for bad schools. But it also created an upward spiral for good ones. Market forces at work…who knew?

When I was living in Belgium as a child, they had an essentially similar system: parents could send their kids to any school they liked–including religious schools–but they were responsible for getting their kids to and from. This being the 1960s and early 1970s, most kids–including myself–used public transportation.

I had it easy: I had a five-minute walk to the bus stop, a 15-20 minute bus ride, and a ten-minute walk from the bus stop at the other end to the school. One kid I went to school with lived in the Ardennes and it took him two hours to get back and forth.

Given the substantially greater amount of transportation resources we have nowadays–from family cars to regional transportation systems–a similar system ought to be possible. To the extent this would put strain on some families in some areas, well, presumably all those yellow schoolbuses would still be around as required.

5 Troll me December 3, 2016 at 1:10 pm

It’s not obvious whether bringing in new administration of a failed school as a private charter option or as a public school would lead to better outcomes.

The answer is extremely obvious to some people (in either direction). My position is that it’s not obvious.

I strongly agree with TC’s point that this is somewhat experimental and poorly informed decisions are the only ones that can be made, which suggests that smaller-scale experiments and more study are needed.

Damned scientists, always agitating for “more study”. Must be a conspiracy to get more grants and funds. We have two and a half studies already on the question, so chop chop, make that trillion dollar decision already!

6 Greg December 3, 2016 at 1:20 pm

I agree, it’s obviously not obvious based on general principles. However, in practice, we do have some data to go on in many of these situations. First, the existing school is failing. The odds are that it will continue to fail without a meaningful intervention. Second, some charter school groups do have very strong and consistent track records of success. Nothing’s a given, but in that situation it seems very reasonable to take the school away from the failing team and give another, qualified team a try.

Similarly, it’s not obvious that electing a different candidate will improve the situation if the existing one is doing a bad job. And yet that’s considered an uncontroversial idea in politics. I don’t see why education should be such a special case.

Finally, it’s not like none of this has ever been tried. We have 20+ years of data on charter schools. While we shouldn’t necessarily make wholesale changes, I think some conclusions are warranted.

7 Larry Siegel December 4, 2016 at 6:22 pm

I don’t need “more study” to know whether we get better food outcomes by allowing people to shop at more than one grocery store (including with food stamps). We just allow it because it’s a free country. I won’t go on and draw the analogy to education because y’all can do it yourself. And food is even more necessary than schooling.

8 The Objective Historain December 4, 2016 at 12:09 am

Here is the most important thing about school choice … freedom/opportunity. Let’s say, on average, so far student performance is about the same. That’s only a part of the consideration and I’d say the smaller part. The main thing is that a student and their parents have the chance to go someplace better suited to their talents … someplace safer with better teachers and classmates. The alternative, would be to deny that individual student options BECAUSE statistically most students do about the same. That would be horribly wrong. It’s like denying an individual the freedom to leave the lord’s estate because as a whole on average they are more efficient as serfs.

9 Kevin Erdmann December 3, 2016 at 1:53 am

Another blind spot in the argument that public schools strengthen national unity is their centrality in Jim Crow. This seems to rarely come up in debates, which I find very odd, given that some of the most iconic images to the Civil Rights era involve public schools as the villains.

10 Steve Sailer December 3, 2016 at 1:54 am

It strikes me as suspicious that the Gulen Cult / Turkish Government-in-Waiting of the Poconos finds it financially advantageous to run something like 140 charter schools in America. A few years ago the FBI was raiding Gulen charters across the country on suspicion of skimming and immigration fraud, but then the story seemed to go dark. Perhaps the CIA had the kind of sit-down with the FBI about why Gulen is allowed to do that that Nixon wanted the CIA to have with the FBI over Watergate? I don’t know, but the idea that Gulenites find running US charters to be a great idea seems to raise concerns about just how much money somebody could make off a charter school.

11 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 2:13 am

Seriously, which sinister things — he is not American, so obviously he is a sinister figure — he can be doing with his schools? If he has a immigration scam going on, he probably needs more in place than simply schools. He is also an enemy of an ISIS-supporting regime — I know, given America’s strange foreign policy, it is score two against him. Hey, his schools may even be any good. It is score three, he must get the electric chair under the “three strikes” rula.

12 tjamesjones December 3, 2016 at 3:52 am

I was going to say “why do you bother?”. But you clearly don’t.

13 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 4:00 am

Are you saying I don’t worry enough about those swarthy foreigners lurking (swarthy guys always lurk around, it is our thing, you know) through American streets ready to use their schools, pencils number two and the most recent edition of Saxon Math to conquer America from whithin? Come on, be fair.

14 Art Deco December 3, 2016 at 10:11 am

You can avoid those problems (for the most part) by requiring the following:

1. That corporations which aspire to run schools be chartered philanthropies.

2. That the foundational trustees be citizens of the United States with a minimum of 5 years as palpable residents and a mean of at least 8 years as palpable residents of the state issuing the corporate charter.

3. That to qualify for a seat on a self-regenerating board, you have to have at least 5 years under your belt as a palpable resident of the state in question.

4. That after a period of 20 years, the votes on the board are partitioned 6/1, with 1 vote going to a trustee elected by locally-resident alumni in a postal ballot conducted by the Secretary of State or board of elections. You’d have candidates register with a monetary deposit and the agency would send out a prospectus and a ballot to the electorate in question, the prospectus consisting of statements from the candidates.

5. That over the period running from 20 years to 60 years after school’s foundation, a self-regenerator vote would be replace by a trustee elected by resident alumni.

6. That any alternative modes of corporate governance assume an episcopal mode institutional organization, wherein you have a local metropolitan as the trustee of the school.

Imam Gulen could run some schools around Scranton-Wilkes Barre for his own clientele, not 140 schools across the country.

15 The Anti-Gnostic December 3, 2016 at 9:59 pm

Racist. Bigot. Xenophobe.

16 Massimo mazzone December 3, 2016 at 2:08 am

Accountability, Mr Cowen, just accountability. What Friedman used to say? Nobody ever washed a rented car?

Even better would be the State completely out of education and parents paying. The more you pay, the more you make people accountable. What Rothbard used to say? Nobody ever walked out from Berlitz?

Check the work of James Tooley.

17 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 2:16 am

“What Friedman used to say? Nobody ever washed a rented car?”
The Japanese soccer fans cleaned the stands before going back to the hotels during the 2014 World Cup.

18 Silas Barta December 5, 2016 at 6:09 pm

I’ve never understood the appeal of that argument. You could equally say “nobody ever refilled the gas tank of a rented car”. Oh … except that they do.

Lenders of capital goods most certainly *can* put rules on the lease/rental that require the renter to do things that only help its value *beyond* the end of the rental.

The reason they don’t require you to clean it while they do require you to refill it, is that:

1) It’s much easier to get objective measures of “car refilled?” than “car cleaned?”, and

2) it’s much less expensive to have onsite-washing than onsite gas tanks.

It has nothing to do with the assumed (and incorrect) moral of the quote, about renters being immune from consequences for long-term devaluation. /rant

19 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 2:09 am

“The new school choice debate (a child is more than just a test score)”
No, it is not.

20 Joan December 3, 2016 at 3:07 am

Why should school choice be a federal issue?

21 dearieme December 3, 2016 at 8:27 am

Why should schools be a federal issue at all? Clearly unconstitutional I’d say.

22 Alain December 3, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Good try. You lost. You have no say in anything.

Try making that argument when, god forbid, your crappy party is in power.

23 HA2 December 3, 2016 at 3:09 am

Are parents really the “buyers” of education? It’s the children that are the key piece.

24 Keith December 3, 2016 at 8:47 am

Kids would prefer not to go to school. I think we can all agree on that. That is why we have the parents.

25 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 9:05 am

I thought we had parents because of birds and bees.

26 AlanW December 3, 2016 at 3:52 am

I’m not automatically opposed to vouchers and broadly support charters, but, as others have said, I’m suspicious that their biggest advocates often oppose rigorous accountability. It’s nice, I suppose, that vouchers let parents buy schooling that aligns with their beliefs, but if the children aren’t getting a good education, it’s a poor investment for our society. Vouchers mostly seem like a tax break for the well-to-do, with some small but not meaningless opportunities for motivated lower income parents.

27 Adam December 3, 2016 at 9:11 am

That’s probably because accountability can easily be used as an excuse to micromanage schools, see No Child Left Behind, and avoiding government micromanagement is a major point of vouchers.

28 David December 3, 2016 at 11:58 am

Well, private schools have accountability: they have trustees, and generally belong to some local or regional association of private schools, who in turn have standards and accreditation as signaling mechanisms.

Are you saying there’s no such mechanism possible for charter schools?

For that matter, let’s compare public and private universities. Are you suggesting that private universities suffer from lower accountability and standards than public ones? Because that would just be funny.

Higher ed has vouchers now, though they don’t call them that: take a look at how many financial-aid programs there are that are not loans where the money follows the student. Is that a problem for you as well?

29 BC December 3, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Which is more accountable: a school that students are required to attend, no matter how bad it is, or a school that can only get students that choose to attend voluntarily? Accountability is a strange argument to make against choice.

30 Anon7 December 3, 2016 at 4:58 am

The opponents of vouchers are not very interested in national unity per se but rather doctrinal uniformity (with voucher opponents in charge of the doctrine). That’s why Protestants in the 19th century who wanted to combat Catholicism pushed for public schools. Today it’s the secular left (who would not be nearly as devoted to public schools if they were dominated by Christian conservatives).

31 Dean December 5, 2016 at 8:28 am

And, indeed, many of the supporters of vouchers take the opposite stance.

As someone highly concerned about Christian Conservative educational approaches, I am saddened that we cannot adequately pursue school choice due to the frequency with which people choose to deny their children an education which might create a challenge to the view they, their parents, and their parent’s parents grew up with.

32 Thomas December 3, 2016 at 6:19 am

Folks, today we lost one of our MR leftists. I am starting a gofundme to raise bail. Here is picture of Nathan, and an article about what transpired. MR won’t be the same until Nate is back

http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/12/02/pa-police-hillary-fan-bashed-elderly-womans-head-with-chair-during-election-argument/

33 Ron Jeremias December 3, 2016 at 6:22 am

If we gave private and parochial school students vouchers equal to 60 or 70 percent of what we pay per student for public schools, isn’t it possible that this would actually save taxpayers money? We would save 30 or 40 percent for every student that leaves the public schools, and this might more than offset the cost of vouchers for students who are already in private schools.

Vouchers might also encourage experimentation by private schools. Why must schools close for two or three months in the summer? Why not year-round schooling?

Vouchers might also make it possible to offer boarding schools for K-12 students. I know a child in Beijing, China, who attended an elementary school boarding school. He would go to school each Monday morning wearing his school uniform and carrying a bag of clean clothes. He slept in the school dormitory on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, and went home each Friday afternoon for the weekend. The school was run with military discipline. Would it really cost that much to operate such a school in the United States? I think this type of school would be great for inner-city children who would undoubtably benefit from more time in school. They might also benefit from the more nutritious food that the school could provide.

34 gab December 3, 2016 at 5:17 pm

I don’t want my tax money spent at a school over which I have no influence. Some parent wants their kid to go to a Catholic school? No problem, as long as they pay the full freight.

But if I’m not voting on a school board to which the school is accountable, then I don’t want my tax money funding that school.

35 Daniel Weber December 5, 2016 at 12:16 pm

I don’t want my tax money spent at a school over which I have no influence.

What if your Medicare money goes to a Catholic hospital? What if someone gives their Social Security payment to their local synagogue?

There is a whole of special pleading when the topic is schools. But the government buys lots of things from private producers. Why can’t it buy schooling?

36 Urso December 5, 2016 at 1:27 pm

What influence do you have over public schools? “I can vote on the school board! Well, one of the seven members anyway.” Oh right. Very meaningful, that.

37 Careless December 3, 2016 at 10:22 pm

Would it really cost that much to operate such a school in the United States?

hahaha yes

38 Urso December 5, 2016 at 1:32 pm

A voucher for 60% of the local public school per-capita funding would cover roughly 120% of my kid’s Catholic school tuition + fees. So I would take that deal in a heartbeat.

39 rayward December 3, 2016 at 7:29 am

Vouchers, like so many policy issues facing government, is premised not so much on choice but rewarding the exceptional rather than the average. As Cowen says, average is over. Well, it’s over in the sense that public attitudes have come around to favor the exceptional rather than the average, but average is still average: even Cowen can’t defy the laws of mathematics. My Godson, an exceptional student (and human being) who graduated from an exceptional (and expensive) private school this past summer and is now a freshman at an exceptional private college, is the case for rewarding the exceptional. He will make this a better world. His parents could afford the exceptional private school, the condition for attendance except for the very few awarded scholarships. Some of his classmates came from as far away as China just to attend this exceptional school, their presence enhancing the exceptional experience of all the students. Vouchers might, just might, make it possible for exceptional students from less affluent families to attend this exceptional school. But make no mistake, their (and our) gain will be public (average) schools’ loss. I may or may not have been an above average student, but I attended a public school, a public university, and a public law school, all average, yet I had lots of exceptional job offers and have enjoyed a rewarding career. By contrast, students today who attend public (average) schools can’t expect what I have experienced, for only the exceptional students graduating from the exceptional schools are offered the exceptional jobs. Vouchers might, just might, make it possible for exceptional students from less affluent families to get those exceptional jobs. For the average, not so much. If rising inequality is not a problem, then neither is public policy that rewards the exceptional few at the expense of the average; if rising inequality is a problem, then so is public policy that rewards the exceptional few at the expense of the average.

40 AlanG December 3, 2016 at 8:35 am

A lot of what you say is true but it’s also dependent on parental attitude towards education and the quality of the public schools that includes both teachers and resources. Certainly in Montgomery County MD our public school system is outstanding and lots of kids get into the top private and public universities in this country. We have magnet programs in several high schools. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax VA is another good example. If there is a local commitment to creating good schools, private schools of the type you mention are really not needed. Given good teachers and adequate resources, kids will excel

41 Ak Mike December 3, 2016 at 1:23 pm

Re Montgomery County schools: Arnold Kling says: “I have remarked before how the Montgomery County School system is always described as having an “excellent reputation,” when the only thing that is excellent about it is the pay and benefits lavished on the employees, most of whom are not classroom teachers. The outcomes, which the Post never looks at, but which are readily available on the state department of education web site, are mediocre.” Maybe private schools are needed after all?

42 Henway December 3, 2016 at 8:58 pm

I went to Montgomery County public schools and am immensely happy with the education I got there. As Cowen says, if the customer is satisfied, isn’t that evidence the system is providing value?

(And it’s not just me — people LOVE MCPS, pay huge premiums for their kids to go to school there, etc. If the schools actually fooled me and are bad, it’s a truly spectacular market failure.)

43 Careless December 3, 2016 at 10:26 pm

Looks like there’s a huge range http://www.greatschools.org/maryland/rockville/montgomery-county-public-schools/schools/?gradeLevels=h

Living in Cook County, I find the idea of judging the quality of schools on a county level bizarre, of course.

44 Greg December 3, 2016 at 11:35 am

I also agree with a lot of this, but I think there’s too much zero sum thinking in it. It’s fairly obvious that currently a lot of smart students going to poor schools end up with poor outcomes. This is especially true for the poor and for some minorities. If there’s more school competition, you end up with a better average school and less wasted potential overall. I agree there’s an adverse selection problem, but I believe that the overall improvement in schools would dwarf the adverse selection problem. Just look at our current examples of successful charter schools. There was a recent NYT article called schools that work. The evidence seems clear that top-tier charter schools can dramatically raise student achievement without changing the economic or demographic mix of students in the school.

Adverse selection can also be addressed separately. I don’t think you can raise the average and raise the floor very effectively with a single policy change.

Imagine making a similar argument in another sector. Should we prevent exceptional doctors from going to exceptional hospitals, or exceptional lawyers from going to exceptional law firms? Probably not. I get that there are stronger public good and equity arguments to be made in the case of education, but our current system already has horrible equity. The bottom 10-20% of schools at least are awful, and many others aren’t very good either.

I used to be against school choice on general principle, but the more I think about it, the more I think the lack of a good mechanism for school competition is our single biggest public policy failing at the moment.

45 education realist December 3, 2016 at 12:03 pm

“It’s fairly obvious that currently a lot of smart students going to poor schools end up with poor outcomes. ”

Wrong. It’s not obvious at all. In fact, most research shows the opposite.

46 Greg December 3, 2016 at 1:33 pm

I’m not an expert, so I’d be curious to see which research you’re referring to.

My argument isn’t so much from research as from basic educational outcomes. There are also plenty of examples of math and reading achievement going up or down significantly depending on which schools kids go to, within a specific community. The kids going to schools with poor achievement rates didn’t get intrinsically dumber, so the effect must come from the school. I would call that a poor outcome.

47 Hwite December 3, 2016 at 12:01 pm

“Exceptional” students not going to public schools hurts average students in public schools, so you did the obvious moral thing and sent your exceptional child to a public high school. Not surprising at all.

About Exceptional Colleges, I’ve been told that sending your kid to an expensive private school will do little to improve his chances. The admissions people know that for 99% of kids, its rich parents, not smarts, that get you into those schools. I believe the effect of “school choice” will be: nothing. TAANSTAFL.

48 Careless December 3, 2016 at 10:29 pm

There is research that suggests that the best college you’re accepted to is more indicative of your future results than which college you go to, but “for 99% of kids, its rich parents, not smarts, that get you into those schools. ” is ludicrous bullshit

49 BenK December 3, 2016 at 7:37 am

He who pays the piper calls the tune. Not the ultimate payer, but the proximate one; the one who makes the relevant decisions on the relevant timeline.

In short, just because the money came from the taxpayer doesn’t make them powerful. If the federal officials set the tax rate and disburse the money to
the union-authorized educators, then the federal government officials are the ones who get to call the tune. It is only their satisfaction that matters.

50 Tyler Fan December 3, 2016 at 7:50 am

Why are the preferences of the parents paramount over the children’s preferences, especially where so many of those parents are not paying property taxes? By Tyler’s criterion, I think we should be evaluating schools by whether the children are satisfied with them. Surely the schools most preferred by children are the best schools? Public,private,charter, nothing is going to change about inner schools until inner city populations start to realize an inherent value in learning and strive to promote curiosity and inquiry.

51 Keith December 3, 2016 at 8:56 am

Do you really want to trust the evaluation from a seven year old? Really? They don’t know what is going on, that is why they are called children.

52 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 9:09 am

To be frank, I wouldn’t trust their parents’ evaluations either. They don’t know what is going on, that is why they are called taxpayers.

53 Tyler Fan December 3, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Of course I don’t think we should be evaluating schools on children’s preferences; it was a reductio of Tyler’s argument about evaluating them on the preferences of parents.

54 NPW December 3, 2016 at 9:26 am

How many parents aren’t paying property taxes either directly or indirectly through rent?

55 chuck martel December 3, 2016 at 8:22 am

Assuming that the goal of education is to create informed citizens capable of making logical evaluations and reasoned decisions there is little impetus for someone to seriously devote years to the process when there is no evidence that failing to do so results in a truly negative outcome. There just aren’t enough panhandlers on freeway exits with cardboard signs advertising homelessness to encourage the average adolescent to study whatever it is that public schools teach them these days.

56 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 9:10 am

“Assuming that the goal of education is to create informed citizens capable of making logical evaluations and reasoned decisions.”
It may be assuming too much.

57 AlanG December 3, 2016 at 8:29 am

Do we need to do the experiment at all? In areas where good public schools exist and student achievement is high, school choice other than parochial schools and small schools that have athletic programs is a non-issue. Look at the suburban counties outside Washington DC. I don’t know if Tyler lives in Arlington or Fairfax but are their charter schools in those areas? Are school vouchers an issue? Certainly in my area (Montgomery County MD) it’s a non issue.

My wife has been teaching educational psychology at a local university for the past 15 years and boils things down pretty simply: adequate resources, good teacher, and small classes. this really is not and has never been rocket science.

Tyler Fan hits a home run in saying, “Public,private,charter, nothing is going to change about inner schools until inner city populations start to realize an inherent value in learning and strive to promote curiosity and inquiry…” though this can be extended to any school urban or rural.

58 Keith December 3, 2016 at 9:08 am

Did you really miss the point of the post this badly? The whole post is about how vouchers increase parental involvement so that inner city parents begin to value learning.

59 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 9:12 am

Are we really to believe that “increasing parental involvement” (i.e. giving parents other people’s money) will make them begin to value learning? Seriously?

60 Keith December 3, 2016 at 9:29 am

Yes! An involved parent will value the service more.

61 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 10:09 am

They should value their involvement because they value the service (education), not the other way round.

62 Greg December 3, 2016 at 11:40 am

Do we really need to worry about company profitability? Look at Google and Exxon. They’re highly profitable. I’ve been studying business for 20 years, and the secret is simple: access to differentiated intellectual property, barriers to entry, exceptional management, and high-quality employees. It’s not rocket science. All companies should be worth at least $300 billion in market cap. No need for competition.

63 Tyler Fan December 3, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Thank you. And I think AlanG’s argument is the best way of framing it. Quality of education has virtually nothing to do with the efficiency of private markets vs. public sector or anything else. Good quality suburban public schools, as AlanG points out, turn out top-quality students who go on to elite universities, notwithstanding the fact that the public schools they attended are not subject to competitive market forces, etc. A handful of elite prep schools might offer superior educations to the best public schools in MD/VA/NY/MA but they do so simply by virtue of being able to pour $50,000-$70,000 of resources per student into the educational mix, which is not a formula we can copy for improving poor public schools. And, as AlanG corrected me, inner city populations are not the only ones who undervalue educational attainment; the same is true of many rural areas and many suburbs. It’s really more of a family-by-family variable than a geographic one.

64 Greg December 3, 2016 at 1:37 pm

My point is that the existence of a relatively small number of excellent public schools doesn’t mean that the overall educational system can’t be improved. Pointing at Montgomery County and saying just do what they do isn’t very helpful given that most public schools don’t have access to the same resources and culture that the Montgomery County schools do.

65 BC December 3, 2016 at 4:17 pm

My understanding is that parents in high-achieving public school districts tend to have given much thought into school quality when choosing a place to live. School choice through housing choice, for those that can afford it, seems to be a crucial ingredient in those schools’ success. Why shouldn’t lower income parents that can’t afford housing choice also have school choice, especially if it’s not going to cost taxpayers any more than government-assigned schools?

66 Matthew Young December 3, 2016 at 8:34 am

The student generally lives with the parent, we would like them both happy.

67 Doug December 3, 2016 at 8:50 am

Decades of evidence demonstrate that fluid intelligence is genetically pre-determined, and that no amount of education of any type will have a long term-impact on adult intelligence. The only thing that education can achieve is the teaching of very specific skills which are regularly used by adults. Beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, virtually nothing taught in US public schools falls into this category. 95%+ of time spent in the education system is devoted to subjects with no relevant market or practical applications for the vast majority of citizens. E.g. algebra, social studies, foreign language, world history, earth science, literature, civics, and on and on.

It’s all a farce. We pretend that we’re teaching students “critical thinking” or that they’re “learning how to learn”. Consensus view in psychological research is that there is zero evidence that this can be done. The whole thing’s only slightly more rational than just deciding we’re gong to send all our children to Hogwarts to learn wizardry. We’re flushing nearly 10%+ of our society’s economic resources (not to mention time and effort), and just stick our fingers in our ears when anybody tries to say that the whole thing’s absurd.

The goal of educational policy should be first figuring out the cheapest way to deliver baby-sitting services with some modicum of feel-good psycho-babble to satisfy parents.

68 Keith December 3, 2016 at 9:11 am

You bring up some good points but I support vouchers with the idea that they will encourage experimentation and more vocational training will result.

69 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 9:33 am

“The whole thing’s only slightly more rational than just deciding we’re gong to send all our children to Hogwarts to learn wizardry.”
I don’t think so. Wikipedia says and I quote: “The wizarding world exists parallel to the Muggle world [i.e. ours], albeit hidden and in secrecy. His magical ability is inborn and children with such abilities are invited to attend exclusive magic schools that teach the necessary skills to succeed in the wizarding world” “Inborn”, I must stress. It would make no good at all to offer a voucher to an hypothetic non-magical sister of Hermione Granger’s (again according to Wikipedia, “the most prominent Muggle-born in the Harry Potter series is Hermione Granger, who had two Muggles of unspecified names as parents.”). It would only set her for a painful failure. Children, however, are known on occasion to have learned their multiplication tables and the capitals of states even if they are not actually able to cast a Patronus Charm (a Patronus Charm, according to Wikipedia, “conjures an incarnation of the caster’s innermost positive feelings, such as joy or hope, known as a Patronus”). So, to sum things up, it seems fair to say that the real world is not the same as the iconic “series of fantasy novels written by British author J. K. Rowling”, which chronicle “the life of a young wizard, Harry Potter, and his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Potter )

70 Greg December 3, 2016 at 11:43 am

This is the worst comment I’ve read on the internet in recent memory.

Please run this experiment on your closest relatives and let us know how it goes.

71 Tyler Fan December 3, 2016 at 1:39 pm

Doug, I pity you if you never took a course or courses in your educational career that you felt honed your critical thinking skills. Go back and take some non-vocational classes. Formal education can improve critical thinking skills, logical thinking skills, etc.

And you know it’s false that, “Decades of evidence [sic] demonstrate that fluid intelligence is genetically pre-determined…” Let’s grant fluid intelligence is 70% genetically determined. That’s leaves 30% subject to environmental effects.

There are tons of interventions lying around that may improve IQ longitudinally, from breastfeeding to music lessons.

If education or various interventions can boost long-term IQ by 30 points, a couple of standard deviations at a populational level, what do you think the social return on that investment would be?

72 Art Deco December 3, 2016 at 2:56 pm

I think some of his assertions might have pole-axed Arthur Jensen. I’d wager you that for every 100 uses of the character string ‘decades of research’ you’ll find less than one person who ever put together a bibliography on the subject.

Discussions of this subject have turned into that party game of rumors, where ‘uncle John has a limp’ turns into ‘uncle John is a pimp’.

73 whatever December 3, 2016 at 7:21 pm

And you know it’s false that, “Decades of evidence [sic] demonstrate that fluid intelligence is genetically pre-determined…” Let’s grant fluid intelligence is 70% genetically determined. That’s leaves 30% subject to environmental effects.

About 80% of the variance in IQ (measured around 25 years of age) is explained by genes. That leaves 20% from the environment. So far so good. Unfortunately, no factor has ever been found in the environment to have more than a tiny effect (less than 1%). Certain factors seem important at first, but they quickly disappear when confounding variables are taking into account (confounding variables that are genetic).

Even better, the 20% from the environment seem to have nothing to do with the shared environment, i.e. with the parents (other than genes), or school, etc.

And yeah, this has been known to those who pay attention to these things for about 4 decades, and it has become more obvious with time and with the accumulation of data. But so much depends on it not being true that we prefer to ignore it.

74 Theo Clifford December 3, 2016 at 8:52 am

Looking forward to a Tyler post entitled “The O-Ring Model of Education.”

75 buddyglass December 3, 2016 at 8:53 am

In general, I’m sympathetic to the idea of vouchers. That said, I can see how they might turn out poorly for the least advantaged students. You have to rely on the market to provide better choices within the constraints of the voucher size, and I’m not convinced it would always do so. Then there’s the issue of who gets a voucher (or how big). If they’re means tested then they create another disincentive (loss of voucher) to increasing one’s income. If they’re not means tested then they represent a windfall for people of means who were already paying for their children to attend private schools.

I could also see an many rural markets developing into effective monopolies if they’re such that they can’t realistically support more than one school. In that case we just swapped a non-profit government monopoly for a for-profit private sector monopoly subject to less regulation.

In any voucher system, I’d want to see a feature where a parent’s voucher is automatically increased if there are less than two schools within a given radius of where they live. Bigger voucher creates an incentive for someone to open up a second (or first) school in order to achieve true “choice”.

76 Keith December 3, 2016 at 9:14 am

Why is the voucher size a limitation? The voucher can be augmented with personal money.

77 buddyglass December 3, 2016 at 9:24 am

Those of little means will be relying on the voucher alone, so I think it behooves us to consider what their situation would be under a voucher system.

78 Keith December 3, 2016 at 9:30 am

Yeah good point

79 chuck martel December 3, 2016 at 11:27 am

“I could also see an many rural markets developing into effective monopolies if they’re such that they can’t realistically support more than one school. In that case we just swapped a non-profit government monopoly for a for-profit private sector monopoly subject to less regulation.”

There is no such thing as a “non-profit monopoly”, be it government or private sector.There is a difference, however. Private sector monopolies can be terminated, government ones never are. One example is the Selective Service (Orwellian newspeak). Despite no person having been drafted since 1972 the agency still exists and there’s now talk of requiring females to register for a non-existent conscription. http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2014/01/you-must-register.html

80 buddyglass December 3, 2016 at 12:04 pm

In the case of a single government-run school in a rural community, the community can (to some extent) exert control over it. So, while individual parents don’t have any choice of where to send their kids (assuming no private schools), the community as a whole can at least make changes. In the case of a rural community with a single for-profit school and a voucher system, they’re more or less at the mercy of the school’s owners.

So, under a voucher system, I’d want to rig the voucher size such that no individuals (or, very few) find themselves in a situation where they *still* don’t have school choice (i.e. only one, or zero, schools available).

81 Cd December 3, 2016 at 9:02 am

So I don’t know a whole lot about school choice, but isn’t the fact that parents love them possibly indicative of something very concerning? Along the lines that resources are now being used to appeal to parents (the buyers) rather than students?

82 Keith December 3, 2016 at 9:20 am

Besides “more candy” and “less work” what kind of response do you expect from a six year old? Don’t you think the parents know their children and what makes them happy after spending five whole years getting them to school age? How does your argument even make sense?

83 Adam December 3, 2016 at 11:32 am

I’d rather a system that appeals to parents than one that appeals to teachers and politicians, which is the system we have.

84 buddyglass December 3, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Plenty of parents prefer the current system to a pure voucher based alternative.

85 Bill December 3, 2016 at 9:04 am

The problem I have with charter schools and vouchers is government rip-off.

Let’s assume that a school district has an obligation to educate students in the district.

Within the district there is a distribution of students with different needs, intelligence, language abilities, disabilities, etc., and each of those attributes result in different costs of education and likely different outcomes.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you target the least costly segment to serve, and leave the remainder in the public system, you will make a lot of money if you are paid the average cost of educating all students in the district. Your outcomes will also be better.

Finally, education has externalities. Students learn from each other. To the extent you alter the composition of mix by siphoning off some categories you also alter the outcomes.

Finally, finally, there should be some discussion of contractual terms of charter schools: too often what I have seen is a real estate developer sponsoring a school, for example, to use an old warehouse; if the charter fails, parents are unwilling to have their kids go to a different location, and the landlord sponsor, divested of the charter, still rents to the new charter school. Sweet deal.

86 The Free Market Is Not God December 3, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Excellent points all, Bill.

87 babar December 3, 2016 at 2:11 pm

+1

88 BC December 3, 2016 at 5:35 pm

“Within the district there is a distribution of students with different needs, intelligence, language abilities, disabilities, etc., and each of those attributes result in different costs of education and likely different outcomes.”

That’s an argument for varying voucher size based on cost of educating student, not for assigning students to schools based on neighborhood. We are already spending different amounts on different students in government-assigned schools. Either there is political support for that or there isn’t. If there is political support, then there should also be support for different sized vouchers. If there isn’t such support, then the argument reduces to saying that government-assigned schools allow one to subvert democracy. That would be a defensible argument, but one should make that argument explicitly if one is relying on it.

89 Bill December 3, 2016 at 7:46 pm

BC, In insurance markets insurance carriers, who are supposed to take all comers, market to exclude, so I am not hopeful. Also, how would you like to be told, as a parent, that your kid needs a bigger voucher. Also, vouchers have been existence for awhile, and I haven’t seen any differentiation in amounts, even though we know kids are differentiated. Now, if you do random assignment of kids to charter schools, then maybe you overcome that, so long as the school remains liable for the child’s educational costs, so they have no ability to offload the kid on the public system.

90 Ted December 3, 2016 at 9:24 am

This is a not-so-good take for a few reasons:

1. Yes, satisfaction can be a good metric for outcomes if our main goal is to make people happy. For instance, if the public school system existed to make adults feel better, vouchers would be a roaring success! However, that’s not why we educate our kids. From a medical viewpoint, for instance, you can make the same argument for placebos, “traditional medicine,” and homeopathy. “Well, we don’t know if it works, but it sure as hell makes people happy!” There’s an argument to be made here that satisfied parents are involved parents, and involved parents improve outcomes, but we’d see that elsewhere. Satisfaction is a great metric if you want to retain customers, but any outcomes-based impact it has should be apparent in other metrics.

2. Parental satisfaction would also seem to be the wrong metric if we’re trying to measure consumer satisfaction. Rather, we’d want to know how satisfied kids are with their education (or were, if we accept that 7-year-olds may not have a great perspective on this). Asking parents what their satisfaction was with their child’s education is like asking an insurance company what their satisfaction was with a treatment course, to use another medical analogy. Parental and child satisfaction I’d argue are not as aligned as often as we’d want, e.g. you can imagine a religious parent sending their gay child to parochial school. Parent is *very* satisfied, child is not so much.

91 Keith December 3, 2016 at 9:40 am

1. Good argument but we do have ways to measure outcomes such as test scores. I think the majority of parents just like the majority of patients want a real outcome that will then contribute to their satisfaction level. In other words, high satisfaction levels and dumb kids aren’t a common situation. Give the parents some credit here.
2. yeah but leave that to the family to work out. What other mechanism do you have in mind?

92 Ted December 3, 2016 at 8:48 pm

1. If there was data that showed improved outcomes, I’d be with you. But as even Tyler alludes to, there largely isn’t. In fact, if you look at Michigan (where de Vos style privatization is implemented), income-matched charters tend to underperform on performance metrics. Again, as Tyler mentions, it seems as if parents are satisfied with other aspects of charters, not academic performance.

2. If we’re looking for the appropriate metric for consumer satisfaction, it would probably be to assess graduate satisfaction after some delay. Largely what is done for higher education. You’d be hard pressed to find a university that benchmarks on parent satisfaction over graduate satisfaction, even though the general incentive structure is the same. Tough for lower grades, but we’d at least be measuring the right thing.

93 Urso December 5, 2016 at 1:40 pm

It’s not clear to me that the only possible purpose of elementary schooling is to ratchet up standardized test scores as high as they will go.

94 Keith December 3, 2016 at 9:26 am

I support vouchers. if the government is going to provide educational services then they should provide high quality services even in poor neighborhoods. Vouchers don’t always do that but the experimentation that will result should get us closer to that goal. I guess I want vouchers plus experimentation plus some kind of evaluation mechanism to shut down scams and poorly performing schools.

95 Brian Donohue December 3, 2016 at 9:56 am

Very good post.

Alexander does economics better than a lot of economists.

96 The Free Market Is Not God December 3, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Well, he does the standard things that Right Wing economists do– like quote Cato Institute, which does very one-sided “research.” 100% of their research, stats, and data always support Right Wing economics and Libertarian crony capitalist views. I know. Libertarians think that they don’t like crony capitalism. And perhaps some do not. But, like Ayn Randism, the primary influence of Libertarianism in the U.S. political system (despite writers’ wishes to the contrary) is to support and justify crony capitalism.

He does make a few good points though, in his post about vouchers. For example,

“To all these downsides we would have to add one very big upside – it destroys the incentive to overspend on/segregate housing in order to get into a “good school district”. Elizabeth Warren has argued this is primarily behind the secular rise in real estate prices that has undermined the economic position of the middle class for the past fifty years. This factor could easily be more important than everything else combined and might make school vouchers a plus even if they seriously worsened the quality of education.”

True. It’s a reasonable goal to stop overspending on/segregation of, the housing market. But if that is your goal, there must be other ways to do it, without risking seriously worsening education, while draining the taxpayer and starving the public school system of funds.

“Overall my thoughts on school vouchers are the same as my thoughts on pretty much everything in this category: let’s experiment. Figure out a window of acceptable possibilities that are reversible and don’t have too much risk, and let different states and areas try different ones. As we start to understand things better, extend the window of possibilities in the relevant direction. Check results. Rinse. Repeat. Then figure something out.”

That actually does sound reasonable. If we’re going to be possibly draining the taxpayers and possibly leaving public school buildings either destroyed in various ways or empty and unused, while not necessarily increasing the quality of schools, and maybe supporting crony capitalist welfare queen charter school companies– if we’re going to do all that, we can at least do it a little bit at a time, and check to see the results, rather than go whole hog and destroy the entire educational system of the U.S. all at once.

Alexander cherry picks a single positive example of some kind of independent non-profit high school with great services and low cost, at the very end of his post. So his post– even if shorter– wouldn’t have qualified to be in the comments section here, because i notice that Tyler has made a “no cherry picking and no lemon picking” rule.

97 Alan December 3, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Education stamps, just like food stamps. Seems so simple.

98 anon December 3, 2016 at 10:25 am

Well, you know you are talking to a libertarian when you hear that 13,506 separate and community directed school districts are “authoritarian.”

Me, I think the “authoritarian” solution would be to have just one, with one choice of books, iPad or Chromebook, soccer or football, whether to have Cinco de Mayo, and all the rest.

99 Careless December 3, 2016 at 11:14 pm

Yeah, what would we call that with schools? I can’t imagine.

100 anon December 3, 2016 at 10:32 am

I do agree that vouchers can be dabbled with. We have 13,506 paths available as it is. But I think that they are higher risk than is commonly accepted.

I would advise parents to improve their schools through community action, and to be suspicious of start-ups. They may be good, but they may be bad.

101 GoneWithTheWind December 3, 2016 at 10:51 am

The problem is who controls the schools. The tax payers and parents should control schools at the lowest levels. Get the federal government out of K-12 schools. Allow the individual cities to control their schools and allow the parents and taxpayers in each schools district to control that school. The principal of each school should report to the parents/tax payers and no one else and the principal should have total control of teachers and the school. Local control.

102 The Free Market Is Not God December 3, 2016 at 11:59 am

By local control, are you including the control by charter school companies? After all, this is a crony capitalist system we are in. Which means that crony capitalist welfare queen companies, including charter school companies, are to be always trusted, and given big blank checks from the taxpayers. Whereas government itself is to be always assumed to be evil, and bashed at every opportunity.

That’s the problem with Ayn Rand believers. She’s kind of like the Bible or the Koran for capitalists. People like her books, because they have a burning desire to interpret them in ways that justify their corruption. And they find that they can appear to be intellectual and moral while misinterpreting such books. Although Rand herself hated crony capitalists, the most common function of her books in the U.S. today, is to justify crony capitalist welfare queenism.

103 GoneWithTheWind December 3, 2016 at 7:11 pm

With control at the lowest level, i.e. the individual community school, it wouldn’t/shouldn’t matter if the school were a traditional government school or a charter school. The parents/tax payers could make their own choices about the school and who better for that job?

104 Careless December 3, 2016 at 11:16 pm

You ignore or mock the trolls. You do not attempt to engage.

105 Urso December 5, 2016 at 1:42 pm

You’re the only person in this thread who has mentioned Ayn Rand, and you’ve mentioned her twice.

106 The Free Market Is Not God December 3, 2016 at 11:51 am

Well, we’re in a capitalist society. And so what matters is that companies involved with charter schools make a killing, and that they buy state legislators or Congress members on the “free market” of legislators, through political donations. And that they get a good ROI there. And the customers, the parents of the kids, are quite satisfied, as customers of scams often are, until they figure out what the score is. What’s not to like?

Speaking of scores, apparently, kids’ test scores don’t get any better, or at least there’s no evidence they do. But lots of money gets drained out of the public school system, and the taxpayers get bilked, as usual, to support our crony capitalist welfare queen system, in the charter school business sector. So it’s business as usual then. Carry on.

107 education realist December 3, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Scott Alexander’s post is absurd–as I said on Twitter, the man and his followers suffer from a severe restriction of range.

Education is not a consumer based product. The kids don’t necessarily want to go to school, or they want to go to school but don’t want to learn. Other kids can’t learn at the pace demanded by policy. Still others can’t learn anything past 8th grade, but we aren’t allowed to say this. None of this will be addressed by vouchers.

There are two forms of vouchers: those for everyone, and those for only poor kids. Those for everyone–give parents who can afford private school a tax deduction instead. They will have to get their kids into private school, and will be deeply suspicious of new private schools. Those for poor only: either all private schools will be require to accept vouchers–haha!–or most poor kids will not be able to get into existing private schools, unless the schools are terrible and desperate for any tuition. More likely, as happened in Milwaukee, a bunch of new private schools will be set up for the sole purpose of hoovering up voucher cash. And those schools will be terrible.

The entire education reform discussion is premised on a false belief. Our schools don’t, in fact, suck. Until people can grasp that reality, can grasp that voucher mills are a terrible idea, that charters set up just to collect money are also terrible ideas, that the “best” charters are dumping the uneducable back on the public schools, then all education reform ideas will continue to be absurd jokes suggested by know nothings.

Hrmph.

108 The Free Market Is Not God December 3, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Some excellent points, Education realist.

Alexander and his followers do indeed suffer from a very severe restriction of range. It’s a regular Right Wing economic and political echo chamber in there, with very few people Left of Center being willing to post. The very few people Left of Center who do post, get banned from the site more often than Right Wingers, for longer, and for smaller offenses.

In contrast, this web site here has a lot greater variety of opinions expressed. Overall, this site here does still lean Right, but the Left of Center just isn’t blocked so much. It’s funny to me that some people here are so Right Wing that they consider Tyler a Leftist, I guess because his positions are to the Left of Attila the Hun.

I agree mostly with your points about education. I myself am not against all education reform. But I am against all education reform that bilks taxpayers to support crony capitalist welfare queen charter school companies. And, since we are a crony capitalist system, with our current president elect being a crony capitalist himself, those seem to be the only kind of reforms that are getting pursued in the modern USA. If we could ever see past the goal of enriching crony capitalists, and pay attention to the needs of students and how best to address those effectively and efficiently, that would be fine by me.

109 Troll me December 3, 2016 at 1:25 pm

I left a handful of comments on the site once and they got deleted.

I think there’s better balance there than in a lot of places, but the victim culture among the Trumpistas seems to know no bounds when it comes to facing their own untruths and biases.

110 The Free Market Is Not God December 3, 2016 at 8:38 pm

You might have gotten banned for a time. It’s real easy to have happen– especially if you are Left of Center. The people Alexander bans are the ones that are complained about most. And the people that most commenters complain about are usually Left Wing commentres, because most commenters/complainers are Right Wing.

If you are really interested in commenting there, you could try again, and see whether you are still banned.

111 Daniel Weber December 5, 2016 at 12:24 pm

You forgot to mention Ayn Rand.

112 Careless December 3, 2016 at 11:20 pm

hahahaha oh god, SSC Trumpistas? You are deranged if you’ve spent time there and believe that.

113 Greg December 3, 2016 at 1:51 pm

I don’t really understand your second paragraph, to be honest. I think you’re skipping too many steps for me. Also, many of those arguments seem like arguments against bad implementations, not the idea of vouchers in general. Or am I wrong?

As far as schools not sucking, how about if we say our schools could be better? If you’re opposed to all this stuff, what would you want to see done instead to improve our school system?

114 Art Deco December 3, 2016 at 2:40 pm

Education is not a consumer based product.

Rubbish. It incorporates none of the elements of non-excludability and non-rivalry which mark a public good or common property resource. The utility of common schooling is that it addresses a posited problem with distribution. Vouchers redeemable by private philanthropies can do that as well.

115 Art Deco December 3, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Our schools don’t, in fact, suck.

Yes they do, as do their defenders on the payroll. If the schools did not suck, we would not have school calendars derived from agricultural seasons, wouldn’t have school teachers trained at LeMoyne College or by the likes of Rachel Lotan and subject to requirements that they have such training, would not have elementary education littered with distractions, would not have social promotion, would not have secondary schooling dominated by half-assed efforts at liberal education, would not be making use of tertiary schooling to supply the defects of secondary schooling, would not feature slum schools which are blackboard jungles (a problem which has been manifest for 60 year; see Thomas Sowell about how his high school changed between his years there and his niece’s years there), would not be subject to inane complaints about ‘teaching to the test’, would not be infested with teachers and administrators who thought their job was to teach students that their parents are moral lunkheads, would not feature compensation and work rules determined by union mafias, would not have the judiciary and public interest bar exacerbating every problem therein, and would not have actuarially unsound fringe and retirement programs.

116 The Free Market Is Not God December 3, 2016 at 8:42 pm

And, as Tyler mentioned, test scores don’t show any evidence that charter schools suck any less. So, if we assume that all the things you mention above are actually true (though this is not likely), then charter schools must have all of the problems you mentioned, or other equally problems, because there is no evidence that they improve student performance.

117 The Free Market Is Not God December 3, 2016 at 8:42 pm

or other equally bad problems, I meant to type.

118 education realist December 3, 2016 at 10:21 pm

The school calendar is not derived from agricultural seasons. And since you don’t know that much (google. I can’t be bothered), it stands to reason that all your other assertions are either equally incorrect or irrelevant.

119 Art Deco December 4, 2016 at 2:52 pm

The school calendar is not derived from agricultural seasons.

Yes it is. Evasions and bluffing I expect from you.

120 ChrisA December 3, 2016 at 1:22 pm

As can be seen in the above comments, leftists will do anything to keep control of the poor. Meanwhile rich people will continue to be able to send their children to schools of their choice. Ironic doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I say, give everyone the same choice that rich people get – to choose what school and what type of schooling their kids get.

121 Troll me December 3, 2016 at 1:34 pm

I like to control people by anonymously giving money to them with non strings attached.

Access to student loans at a university of my choice and food stamps to spend at a grocery store of my choice on products of my choice is basically tantamount to stamping people into the ground and crushing their ability to forge ahead on their own.

Because hungry uneducated people are better at pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. It even happened in a famous case or two, therefore public policy should assume it as universal truth …

122 Careless December 3, 2016 at 11:54 pm

Ok, nate, you just violently agreed with him by accident.

123 Greg December 4, 2016 at 11:32 am

You failed reading comprehension, Careless.

The whole conservative “liberals are trying to control the poor” argument doesn’t really convince me. I think the idea is that a safety net for the poor disincents them to succeed, due to higher implied marginal taxes on additional income. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of another mechanism. An alternate framing is, “let’s make being poor as miserable as possible so that people get themselves out of poverty.” Before welfare reform in the 90’s, the poverty rate was trending down. Since welfare reform, it’s gone up. There’s lots of noise like the financial crisis, so it’s hard to tell what’s going on in general. But if there were a strong effect of people being more motivated to get out of poverty, we should see it. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence of it. So yeah, I don’t really get the Randian “control” complaints.

124 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 3:36 pm

We should send the poor to the same schools Trump children go.

125 Ilverin Curunethir December 3, 2016 at 3:24 pm

A voucher introduces a market mechanism to schooling, where there previously wasn’t. This should be a good thing.

However, who is the customer? If it is the parent, what do the parents want? Maybe they want ‘good grades’ rather than a good education.

Maybe universities will revamp their admittance protocols such that ‘good grades’ from bad schools will not help admittance?

In any case, I think discussion of possible reforms should take into account experiments in other countries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_voucher#Implementations (of which some voucher experiments have not gone well).

126 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2016 at 3:37 pm

“Maybe universities will revamp their admittance protocols such that ‘good grades’ from bad schools will not help admittance?”

You mean they don’t do it now?

127 Careless December 3, 2016 at 11:55 pm

Well, very exclusive universities put a limit on the number they’ll take from any one school, which does push down the school level where they’ll take the top student(s)

128 BC December 3, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Questions that seem to be rarely asked about Betsy DeVos. During the campaign, Hillary Clinton of course received much opposition for her handling of emails. While on the surface at least such opposition seemed gender-neutral, some people insisted that such opposition, at least in part, was driven by sexism. See here for example: [http://time.com/4551711/hillary-clinton-emailgate/]. Now, Betsy DeVos’s nomination is drawing opposition, again for reasons that superficially seem unrelated to gender, in this case her support for school choice. For those of us interested in elevating the status of women, how should we assess the amount of opposition to DeVos that is attributable to sexism relative to the opposition to Clinton?

It would seem strange to think that Trump’s election somehow has decreased the amount of sexism in the world. Yet, that would seem to be the implication if one attributed to sexism significantly more of the pre-Trump opposition to Clinton than the post-Trump opposition to DeVos. Going back even further in history, how much of the superficially gender-neutral opposition to Margaret Thatcher could be attributed to sexism? Is it generally the case that electing the candidate from the conservative party tends to help women by decreasing sexism? I wouldn’t think so, but avoiding that conclusion would seem to require attributing just as little to sexism of the superficially gender-neutral opposition to Clinton as to the opposition to DeVos (and Thatcher). Does that align with feminist thinking now?

129 Keller Scholl December 3, 2016 at 6:59 pm

Tyler, I would expect to see higher parental satisfaction with charters even if the null hypothesis of no difference from public schools was true. People are more satisfied when they feel that they have a choice, and less satisfied when they feel forced into something. Therefore higher parental satisfaction is not necessarily affirmation of increased effectiveness of charters, and more importantly doesn’t imply that they’re actually doing better by their students.

130 Rob December 3, 2016 at 8:39 pm

I live in Australia, where we have a state-run education system that provides public schools to anyone who wants them for free. We also federally fund non-government schools (by enrollments most are Catholic schools run by diocese education departments). Roughly 40% of all school students go to non-government schools, and the parents can choose that and pay small fees (usually about $1000 a year for primary and $3-4000 a year for high school). The reason the gov hands the money over stems from a dispute in the 1970s when a state education department brought in new standards of facilities needed in non-gov schools, resulting in a Catholic bishop closing all of the schools in his diocese and sending them to the local public schools. They collapsed under the weight of the enrollments, and the federal gov stepped in and gave interest free loans and it has grown from there. It is an interesting point that home schooling hardly happens at all in Australia, as good choices are available to everyone. These schools get much less taxpayers money than public schools when you combine state and fed money. By having a lot of kids in these schools it saves the gov a mint.

131 Thomas Sewell December 3, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Yeah, it’s amazing how many people come to this debate with no understanding of how much it’s already been done around the world and even in significant portions of the United States. Even some of the countries people use to argue for European-style socialism have fully functioning school choice where the money follows the child, but apparently that’s not noticed by those who are willfully blind to foreign examples.

Will vouchers solve _all_ school problems? Not in the short term, for sure. In the long term, lousy schools are eventually forced to close as the students move to better run schools.

Will they give parents and their children a way out of horrible district schools currently based on their geographic location? Yes. For that reason alone, they are a great idea. They aren’t going to damage the district schools who are successful, but they will provide an incentive to improve the poor ones or close them.

We started the first public K-8 charter school in a mostly rural district. At first, the district was fairly hostile. After a couple of years, even they had to admit that the fact of having even a single choice for parents to move their kids to forced the district schools to all improve and suddenly start adding music and arts programs, allowing parents to choose their child’s teacher, etc… in an attempt to compete and not lose students to our charter school.

In the equilibrium, all the schools got better from the competition. The Charter school is currently 2 students under it’s legal cap and it has a much higher percentage of both gifted and special needs children than the district schools, likely because it’s based around individualized education and those are the children who fit the standard district school’s one-size-fits-all the worst. One school providing competition improved the whole district’s outcomes.

132 Deserttrek December 4, 2016 at 12:43 am

vouchers are not an issue unless they cause taxes to rise to support the public schools, as a single person I am long past tired of having more of my money stolen to support parental choice. how about they pay their own way

133 Jeff SIlva-Brown December 4, 2016 at 2:08 am

Public School Teacher here so I’m sure I’ll take the hits. But hey, I do teach Economics so that should count for something.

It’s been brought up a few times already but I would like to reinforce the issue that if the issue is satisfying the parents then the issue is not the high school education of the child for the most part; it’s getting to college. That means an expectation of excellent grades mixed in with some relevant material and a high school social experience that matches up with or exceeds that of what the parents experienced. But the number one issue is getting to college. Parents of higher level students see much of high school as more social interaction anyway (look at the focus on sports) and see the teacher as an impediment to admissions to post-secondary institutions if the grades are not satisfactory. Low income parents see college as a method of their children acquiring a greater standard of living and, yet again, the preparation of high school gets in the way of that. If you want evidence of this I guess I could provide years of parent meetings plus a reminder that the most stressful time of year for Seniors at my school are college acceptance letter time.

The other part we are not discussing is related to most the parents of the students in my 1,600 population school; most don’t care very much about Education. While the returns on an education are clear the actual value on education from society is actually very low and continues to drop. Look at the schools, both college and high schools. Grade inflation is rampant, accountability is negligible, and there are entire systems that omit homework while insisting that students can take quizzes and tests over and over and over again until completion. Some districts even require that no F’s are given to student progress! What I’m seeing is consumer not being the student. The consumer is society and society wants greatest utility at the lowest cost and the school is an easy target for that mission.

I’m not entirely against vouchers mostly because I believe I’m a pretty good teacher and I think the market would respond to that. My problem is that if education is supposed to raise the entire system then it should work harder to implement charter policies in public schools, not silo students into exclusive institutions. Charters have advantages (our local one included) that include academic expulsion. Public schools don’t expel students with two semesters of bad grades. Our local charter has no Native Americas (10% of local population), 24% Latino (half of the local population) and almost no students with special needs. Their grades are fantastic but they can be selective. That hardly meets the educational needs of the population as a whole.

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135 Lee December 6, 2016 at 7:54 am

I have a problem with taking the parent satisfaction point at face value because it’s caught up in the choice itself. I would think parents who are able to choose schools would be incentivized to report (and feel) high satisfaction – otherwise, it means they made a bad choice for their kids, which they’re not likely to want to admit to themselves or others.

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