Consumer sovereignty is a postulate, not a given

by Henry on December 3, 2016

Tyler Cowen on school vouchers:

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.

… 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. [emphasis in original]

…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. … You need some actual evidence.

This criticism seems to me to be wrongheaded (I don’t know which ‘commentators’ Tyler is going after – very possibly they are as annoying as he presents them as being, but even if so, I don’t think this is the right way to go after them). Specifically, I think it’s wrongheaded on two counts.

First, it loads the requirement for evidence asymmetrically on one side of the debate and not the other. I think it is perfectly fine to demand evidence for theories of broader plausible-but-unproven consequences of school choice – but one should also then provide evidence to support one’s own broader plausible-but-unproven postulated consequences regarding how parents’ preferences likely reflect benefits in terms of moral values, teacher-parent relations and so on.

Second, it makes what looks to me like an unwarranted claim – that one can reasonably suspect that any critic who doesn’t put parental satisfaction “up front … isn’t really trying to inform you.” This implies that people who don’t emphasize Tyler’s particular metric are engaged in some kind of suppressio veri.

To see why this is wrong, consider the analogy of drug testing. People trying to establish the efficacy, or non-efficacy, of a drug, usually focus on measurables like time to recovery, additional months of life or similar. One could make a plausible argument that there are important benefits which aren’t captured by these metrics, but that are reflected in broad levels of patient satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the drug. Patients have experience of the consequences that may be hard to measure readily, but that may provide valuable knowledge. However, they may also be misguided by the placebo effect, overestimate the true benefits of drugs, or underestimate them and so on.

All this certainly means someone could fairly argue that we need to pay more attention to patient satisfaction than we do. What it does not mean is that someone could fairly argue that anyone who doesn’t talk about patient satisfaction “up front” is probably not interested in informing you about the truth. There’s a reasonable case for focusing on hard metrics, even if they often aren’t as hard as they seem, and even if they don’t encapsulate all of the available evidence. The same is true, pari passu of debates about school vouchers and the like.

Of course, there are broad arguments for school choice that have weaker evidentiary requirements. For example, Harry, if I remember rightly, has suggested that in the absence of strong evidence about the benefits or defects of school choice in general, one ought to defer towards choice as a default, in order to respect people’s autonomy. Respect for the autonomous right to make choices doesn’t require as much evidence as claims based on consumer sovereignty (I would think that all one needs is an absence of strong evidence that choosing is a bad thing to support it). But this critique would start from a quite different place and would treat the underlying disagreement over politics and values as a starting point, rather than suggesting without strong evidence that some commentators are not trying to inform the public. The latter seems to me to be more likely to shut down useful debate than to start or continue it.

NB that in the spirit of the last sentence, I’ll not be publishing comments of the ‘why do you keep on engaging with Tyler Cowen – he’s a [fill in the blank]’ variety. The reason I engage is because I think it’s intellectually useful – people are at liberty to disagree but I would ask them to bring their disagreement elsewhere (if they have specific and substantive disagreements with me or with Cowen that they are prepared to articulate, that’s a different matter).

{ 300 comments }

1

Jerry Vinokurov 12.03.16 at 6:37 pm

You’ve got a broken blockquote going on here.

2

Chip Daniels 12.03.16 at 6:58 pm

I call this the “everything is a toaster” theory of public policy.
Where the metrics of consumer products get applied to everything from schools to hospitals to prisons.
If schools are a consumer item, then the entire concept of why we need universal schooling is pointless. Its not like anybody is suggesting a voucher system for Iphones.

Which is where I suspect Tyler wants to drive the discussion in the first place, or to be more charitable, the position he is coming from.

3

some lurker 12.03.16 at 7:29 pm

Are there examples of school choice, as modeled by the conservatarian/free marketeers, that work, that deliver a quality education for all vs threadbare universal schools and much better (better facilities, lower teacher/student ratios, more enrichment) choice schools? Everytime I hear this come up, it seems like a stalking horse for the elimination of universal public education by slow starvation locally or by removing all support for it at the federal level.

And how do we define parent satisfaction? Good grades? Admission to better-known universities? Test scores? Cost per student? Infrequency of phone calls about little Johnny’s shenanigans?

I think a lot of people, from across the political spectrum, would be surprised how much control parents already have over the classroom environment, how little control teacher and administrators have over student (and by extension parental) attitudes toward public education.

4

Bob Zannelli 12.03.16 at 7:57 pm

“School Choice” is a Trojan horse to end public education and eventually to almost completely eliminate tax supported education. That’s the Koch brother dream plan. The tract record of these “charter” for profit schools has been awful, but they are almost never held accountable, while the public schools are held to impossible standards as they are being de- funded by tax cut after tax cut. The last thing the right wants is an educated population, though they do desire a well trained population. This election bares the fruit , so far of these efforts.

5

Asteele 12.03.16 at 7:58 pm

There would be all sorts of ways to have a choice of schools in the exaisting public system. That wouldn’t be the choice to send tax-payer money to a rich asshole who lives in another state, and that’s the only choice they care about. Personally I can’t wait till all schools spend 20% of their operating costs on advertising. Finally it’s not the parents that are the customers, it’s either the kids(who receive the education) or the public at large(who pay for it).

6

Brett 12.03.16 at 7:59 pm

Cowen’s is a similar standard of evidence I’ve seen from advocates of public education and opponents of testing: “if the parents are unhappy with the quality of education, they’d let us know”. Something to think about.

7

Watson Ladd 12.03.16 at 8:00 pm

Toothbrushing is a universal human need. So why not government toothpaste companies, that only offer one option, financed by property taxes? I think it’s clear that we recognize the benefits of choice generally, but for some reason don’t expect that students will benefit from being able to access options that might be better for them, or are capable of assessing the benefits. Both of these are fairly strong assumptions.

8

JHW 12.03.16 at 8:00 pm

This argument seems even weaker as applied to education than as applied to drugs, because at least with drugs, we’re concerned about the well-being of the consumer (the patient). With education, we’re (at least primarily) concerned about the third-party beneficiary, the child. And there are lots of things a school might do to promote parental satisfaction that might have no or even negative impact on the well-being of the children educated there.

9

Steve Roach 12.03.16 at 8:04 pm

Seems very difficult to separate out selection bias when discussing parent satisfaction in school choice. Those that choose vouchers are probably those most likely to be satisfied by them. My biggest concern about vouchers is that I see education as a public good that likely will not be well provided by the market.

10

Jerry Vinokurov 12.03.16 at 8:05 pm

I posted too soon, and now the blockquote has been fixed, and now I look foolish. My bad.

11

Mark Engleson 12.03.16 at 8:30 pm

I have one quibble, something that I think Cowen could trip you up on. You suggest that hard metrics should determine our judgments, as opposed to parent satisfaction. But unlike the drug-testing case, in the voucher case satisfaction IS a hard metric.

But I think the problem may be even deeper. You suggest that satisfaction is not explanatory, and I’m skeptical about this. The same explanatory problems can bedevil hard performance metrics. The problem as I see it, is that satisfaction only points to deeper explanations.

But take test performance. That’s a hard metric. As hard as you get really. But all test performance reveals is how many questions test takers get right. There are all kinds of deeper causal forces at work that are what we want.

The problem can’t be that satisfaction isn’t a hard metric; it can and has been measured. And for the reasons above, I don’t think it’s an explanatory problem either.

I can think of one move you could make that I’m pretty sure you won’t want to. The patient in the school case isn’t the parents. It’s the kids. But this leads to saying that parent satisfaction isn’t relevant. Student satisfaction would be, but they’re kids. I don’t think you want to go so far as to say that whether parents are satisfied with their children’s education doesn’t matter.

And that is another, different problem here. I don’t think anyone would completely dismiss parent satisfaction as relevant. But what you’re saying is that the reasons parents might be more satisfied can be morally suspect. And that’s also true.

But go back to test performance. Test performance can track along patterns of segregated student bodies rather than school quality. And parent satisfaction might track it, too. There are morally suspect causes at work in both, some of the same causes.

12

Harry 12.03.16 at 8:30 pm

I’m not sure I would presume in favour of choice exactly. But upper-middle and upper-class parents do get to choose their children’s schools, through the housing market (and by choosing, or by not choosing private schools), and even if they live in a working class neighbourhood and send their kids to the local school, they have choice available. This fact about them, for me, puts them in a strange situation when they claim without evidence that choice is a bad idea — and in particular when they say that its a bad idea for working class and poor families. And, living in Wisconsin, and having paid close attention to the voucher program in Milwaukee since it started, I am struck how rarely I come across regular voucher opponents who have bothered to find out anything about either the details of the program design or the evidence about the effects.

For the record, I have been a reluctant and unenthusiastic endorser (so reluctant and unenthusiastic that I wouldn’t use the word “supporter” of the Milwaukee program, but I opposed the recent changes in the design of the program, and if I had to take a position now I’d oppose it (though anyone who wanted to scrap it should do so slowly and carefully). And my read of the evidence is that it would be a serious mistake to think that widespread use of vouchers or charters will do much (if anything) to improve the quality of education overall, and the quality of education for lower-income students in particular. Which is not to say that we cannot learn valuable lessons from particular types of charter and voucher school.

I agree with your post fully. But parental satisfaction is a significant consideration, not because it matters in itself but because unless you think parents are either idiots or don’t care about their children, it is a signal that something good is going on. But then that something good may not have much or anything to do with academic benefits. (Eg, in suburban schools, parental dissatisfaction can reflect the quality of the athletics program, and although my guess is that in general a ramshackle athletics program probably is connected to poor management of the school, if you ever got really great managers of a school they would figure out ways of downsizing athletics programs and diverting resources to more worthwhile school activities, thus provoking a fair bit of dissatisfaction). A good bet in Milwaukee (as anyone who has spent time in the schools will tell you) is that parents are getting schools where their children feel safe. I could get you a lot of horror stories about voucher schools, but the tellers of those horror stories say they think the kids feel safe. Which is something I’d want for my kids if I thought they weren’t going to learn much anyway.

So what Tyler should have said is this:

“Look, vouchers seem to improve parental satisfaction, although there’s no evidence they improve anything else.. So economists should try to figure out what the increased parental satisfaction is a response to”.

13

Mark Engleson 12.03.16 at 8:35 pm

Some Lurker: measuring satisfaction isn’t that complicated. You’re overlooking the obvious. You just ask parents if they’re happy with their child’s school. And you can you do a simple yes/no, rate satisfaction on a numerical scale, etc.

14

Bob Zannelli 12.03.16 at 8:40 pm

15

Asteele 12.03.16 at 8:49 pm

Also of the three links in Tyler’s post: one is a 2 page 12 year old document hosted at a libertarian think tank, one is a poll run by and reported by a school-choice foundation, and one is a Bringam Young University law review article, by a professor who sits in a endowed chair for school choice. (Which makes much more modest claims). So, this all seems disinterested and trustworthy.

16

Peter Westwood 12.03.16 at 8:55 pm

As an ex teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I was struck by how much the text books of different publishers followed the West’s ‘party line’ in a number of areas, for example “Golbal Warming” (which morphed into “Climate Change”), this is books intended to teach language to c.10-12 year olds.
When briefly teaching history in the U.K. I was struck by the deliberate overloading of teachers with endless record keeping and lesson planning and homework marking, which sad state of affairs was worsened by endless changes to the curriculum which seemed intent upon disenchanting teachers and preventing them from educating their charges. Rather, the goal seemed to be the teaching of a set (a questionable set) of ‘facts’ in order to pass ‘exams’.
Most teachers are conscious that much of what is taught is of no further use once school is over, except for pub quizzes. Most kids forget most of what they are taught.
The US system is no doubt predicated on the same principles, which seem to be that whatever happens Government must prevent the advent of a population capable of critical thinking and instead produce a population of ‘left-brained’ fact repeaters suitable for today’s zombie employment opportunities.
That said, this is, of course, a computer game we are living in, so I guess that kids’ facility in that area will at least lead to a better understanding of reality…….

17

Alan White 12.03.16 at 9:08 pm

I can’t improve on Harry’s thoughtful comments so I’ll endorse them.

But I’m posting just to say that for my part It burns me up that my tax dollars are partially funding schools with religious–sometimes quite radically religious–agendas. I know what the courts have said about this, but the fact that my taxes support schools that teach that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and evolution never happened is anathema to me as an educator.

18

Howard Frant 12.03.16 at 9:26 pm

Harry@10

Possible response of Cowen: “Why? We don’t (usually) try to figure out what increased consumer satisfaction of anything else is a response to. We just take it as a fact.” (Though it would be interesting to see a regression for parent satisfaction.)

There seem to be many unspoken questions buzzing around here. For example:

What is the aim of public education?
Is education (basically) a private good?
To what extent should parents be treated as reliable agents for their children?

Not very deep questions, but ones that need to be more explicit.

19

Tom West 12.03.16 at 9:28 pm

Everything is a toaster toothpaste!

Sorry, but Mr. Ladd’s perfect timing was too good to resist.

20

anymouse 12.03.16 at 9:50 pm

There is no real proof that voucher programs improve student’s academic outcomes.

Also there is zero reason to believe that anything like any of the concerns brought up by your patient analogy might apply. Really zero. Nilch. Nada. None.

21

kidneystones 12.03.16 at 10:13 pm

Henry’s critique of the weak article is solid. I’m reluctantly in favor of choice based on what I’ve read of positive results in select cases, on accounts from peers I respect regarding their experiences with charter schools, but principally because the current system in select demographics is failing, has been failing, and will continue to fail children and parents.

We don’t live in the US and our son attends a private high-school in Japan. Our greatest fear when we send him to school is that he will get sidetracked after school and end up emptying his wallet in a bookstore, karaoke box, or fast-food restaurant. He was, in the wake of the US elections, to discover that parents in many American communities have a very different set of fears.

Americans want to feel safe again. This is the great failure of the current system and the single most potent driver towards the loss of liberties and rights. I happen to know people who grew up in dictatorships and who look back fondly on their childhoods – raised in communities where people did not lock their doors. That’s how we grew up in Canada.

Public schools in America are not safe in many cases. The measures taken to provide baseline security in schools: metal detectors, random searches, guards do little in my opinion to reduce the fear and anxiety.

We need to think about what kind of world we want to provide for our kids and we lack both the time and the money, not to mention the data, for informed top-down across the board solutions. In the interim, Democrats will do far better to support school choice in communities that have expressed a strong interest in school choice.

Years ago I suggested somewhat in jest that we stop drug-testing students and start drug-testing parents, teachers, and administrators. The children are on the receiving end of our own cultural short-comings. The chickens are coming home to roost. Drug use is going to be an important theme, I suspect, of the new administration in their efforts? to rebuild America’s inner cities. Many here may feel relatively relaxed about the presence of drugs in schools, and the work-place. Many others are terrified.

Leave it to Beaver land may never have existed, but that doesn’t mean trying to build some level of stability and safety into local communities and schools isn’t a bad idea.

22

engels 12.03.16 at 10:17 pm

A modest proposal: perhaps it is possible to put together Cowen’s contention that the correct yardstick for judging education is ‘how the buyers [i.e. parents] like the product [i.e. their children’s education]’, with Harry’s view that parents have rights (iirc similar in certain respects to property rights) over their children? Perhaps it would simplify things were we to conceive of children as productive assets owned by their parents, who naturally aim to get the best return on investment by turning them towards the most profitable use? Oh wait!

23

Jake Gibson 12.03.16 at 10:42 pm

I will admit a basic prejudice. I don’t want my tax money going to private schools, particularly religion based ones.
I am willing to fund public schools that are available to everyone.

24

Harry 12.03.16 at 10:46 pm

“Harry’s view that parents have rights (iirc similar in certain respects to property rights) over their children”

My immediate response to this was that the rights parents have with respect to children are entirely unlike property rights, and that your misremembering is pretty spectacular. But then I thought about what I think about property rights, and I think they, too, are pretty limited and conditional. So — the rights I think parents have with respect to children are very un-similar to the way most people think of property right.

25

J-D 12.03.16 at 10:56 pm

My daughter (now 20 and a university student) exercised her choice (I repeat, her choice, not her parents’ choice) when she was in her final year of primary education (at a government school) not to attempt the test for competitive entry to a (government) selective secondary school (she was the only student in her class not to take the test) and to apply (in the event, successfully) for entry to the specialist art and design stream at a (government) secondary school which also functioned as a generalist area school.

I am glad these choices were available to her. No vouchers were involved.

When the real question is ‘How (if at all) should public funds be used to subsidise choice of school?’, it is fraudulent to frame the question as ‘Is choice of school a good thing?’ I’m not opposed to the concept of choice of school, but when the question is how to allocate public funds, making sure that everybody has at least one good choice available to them is far more important than offering people more than one choice.

Also, when evaluating education, students are highly important, but parents are of little importance. I thought that as a student and I still think it as a parent.

Another point about framing: the substantive content of ‘we’re still not sure how well vouchers work’ is the same as the substantive content of ‘we’re still not sure how badly vouchers work’ or perhaps even ‘we’re still not sure how badly vouchers fail to work’.

26

Harry 12.03.16 at 10:58 pm

“I don’t want my tax money going to private schools, particularly religion based ones.
I am willing to fund public schools that are available to everyone.”

That might be fair enough, But in the US most public schools are not available to everyone but only to the people who live within the catchment area. So — the schools in the districts round Milwaukee are well funded and have very low poverty rates and for the most part are just not available to kids growing up in the city. And that is a matter of deliberate design — good luck getting a democratic majority supporting a “greater Milwaukee unified school district”. Racine Unified is facing dismantlement as we speak.

On private religious schools: how principled is your opposition. Suppose that we had evidence that religious private schools in Milwaukee resulted in poor and minority kids getting 2 years more education on average than the schools that they would otherwise attend. Would you be willing to fund them then?

I hasten to add that we have no such evidence (and I am 100% confident they have no such effect). But for me the issue is how to improve the quality of the education disadvantaged kids get, and I would support religious schools if I thought they would help with that (and didn’t have unduly bad other effects).

27

Lynne 12.03.16 at 10:59 pm

There isn’t much choice of schools here in Canada unless you can afford to send your children to a very expensive private school, apart from the ability to move to a new catchment area. I agree with some of the comments above that I don’t want my taxes supporting religious schools—I want a strong, good public system. But here in Ontario there are two govt-funded systems, the public and the Catholic, which is stupid and expensive—the school bus costs alone mean that the idea of cancelling the Catholic school funding comes up regularly, but no politician will touch it. It is annoying to other religious groups who naturally would like their schools funded.

I actually have no opinion about parent choice because I have been so frustrated by the quality of Canadian schools—okay to good but never great—and yet more or less glad we don’t have the problem the States have of some terrific schools and some bad and dangerous and poor. It seems to me that the States has both the best education available and the worst, as I have said of its health care, and up here we have more uniformity but also more mediocrity.

I guess my question for Americans is, if there is parental choice available in schools, what is to ensure that the least desirable schools don’t get worse and worse, and the poorest people don’t get stuck with the worst education because they can’t afford to send their kids anywhere but the local school?

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J-D 12.03.16 at 11:01 pm

kidneystones

Americans want to feel safe again.

If the priority is to make people feel safer, perhaps anxiolytics in the water supply will do the trick.

29

engels 12.03.16 at 11:18 pm

When the real question is ‘How (if at all) should public funds be used to subsidise choice of school?’, it is fraudulent to frame the question as ‘Is choice of school a good thing?

+1 (And since personal attacks on Prof. Cowen have been proscribed I shall merely say that while I’m not at all surprised that he should frame the issue in this way I am rather surprised to see that framing uncritically adopted by his liberal interlocutors.)

30

some lurker 12.03.16 at 11:23 pm

Americans want to feel safe again.

@20, safe from what?

We had a steady diet of fear mongering (remember the color-coded terror index in the ’00s and how quickly it sent away in 2009?) where we were expected to be on edge. Things are better now, no?

My childen have never gone to a school (large urban district, 50,000 students) with a metal detector or security apparatus beyond vigilant staff, not have I worked in a building that had more than that. In my own day (different state, different century), we had a police officer in my high school with his own office.

Where I live, school preference comes down to kids going to school with kids like themselves, which is a shorthand for “parents like me,” ie educated, well-off, able to volunteer, contribute to auctions and school fundraisers. Families with slack, in other words. I see parent volunteers in the halls of my school daily, for most of the school day, working on assessing kids or building reading fluency or math skills, all unpaid. I was one of them myself once. But I know there are schools where that is not the case, where one income doesn’t cover that. To me, that’s parental choice, with the added benefit of seeing how it all works. That and buying a home in a neighborhood with better schools. Our best performing schools are all at one end of town, while the other end has much lower academic performance, and the socioeconomics are just as divergent.

It’s hard to see a lot of school choice arguments as anything thinly disguised racism/tribalism, where those who can’t quite afford private school (upwards of USD20,000 a year) will try to carve out a semi-private/choice school at taxpayer expense.

31

Cranky Observer 12.03.16 at 11:32 pm

= = = Cowen’s is a similar standard of evidence I’ve seen from advocates of public education = = =

Free universal public education in government-operated (or, where contracted, with tight government oversight) had an excellent track record in North America from 1600 – 1980. Self-styled “charter schools” (most of which are actually for-profit money grabs) have an absolutely disastrous track record since 2000 with upwards of 80% failure rates. Nether Tyler Cowen nor Matthew Yglesias (another big proponent of for-profit K-12 schools) will ever discuss the colossal failure that was the Big Corporate – Imagine Schools charter experiment in St. Louis, for example, but that was a classic failure of the type. Why should people who advocate continuing a _highly successful system_ be required to ‘prove their case’ against he said/she said/opinions differ eristic arguements?

32

Alex SL 12.03.16 at 11:34 pm

The use of parental satisfaction as a major metric for judging school systems rests on at least three assumptions:

1. Parents are the “customers” of schools. As others have pointed out, they aren’t, except to the degree that schools are financed by fees, in which case there are obvious inequality issues with the system. Mostly the government (= the public) is the “customer”.

2. Parental satisfaction is correlated with their perception of school performance in areas that really matter, in particular educational outcomes. As others have pointed out, that is not a given.

3. Parents are capable of judging educational outcomes. That is not a given.

At a more general level, I find it frustrating when school is discussed in market terms (#2, “everything is a toaster” made me smile), because it quite simply cannot possibly work that way. If the toaster doesn’t work, you can demand your money back, you can buy a new one. If you find your daughter’s school doesn’t work, she will most likely already have lost two years of progress at a critical age. If the toaster company fails, you buy a different brand. If your son’s school fails on the market, hundreds of children have to scramble to find a new school half way through a school year. These are human lives we are talking about.

There are quite simply some things that shouldn’t be market-shaped, and armies, healthcare, courts and schools are right up there.

Finally, two aspects of the discussion that need to be kept separate (but aren’t always) are: Given the state of education in my area, should I personally send my children to a private school if I can afford it? And, from the perspective of equality, fairness, and good social outcomes, what should the public policy on the school system be? It is quite possible that the answer to the first is yes in some cases even as the answer to the second is “in an ideal system private schools would be outlawed”.

33

Sentient AI from the Future 12.03.16 at 11:51 pm

Having delved into satisfaction as metric in the context of the ACA, I think there’s plenty of suggestive evidence, though not by any means conclusive, that patient satisfaction does not track well with other outcomes. There’s some actuarial literature that fleshes things out a bit more, and the highest patient satisfaction scores are inversely correlated with institutions that have the best mortality/morbidity outcomes, as well as those with the worst. High satisfaction is essentially a phenomenon of the mushy middle, outcome-wise. And certainly, when there’s little else to differentiate care, that’s a fine metric to have. But it’s certainly not first in my mind when thinking about trying to build an institution intended to serve as a public good. Neither should it be for education, unless one thinks that an educated populace is not, in itself, a public good.

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kidneystones 12.04.16 at 12:24 am

Henry is right to place the question of choice within the new political environment. Certainly a great many educators, and parents, and people who voted for Obama may feel that the status quo works just fine, or at least is better than the alternatives. I suggest, however, that part of the reason Henry leads with the quote: “Since Donald Trump has picked Betsy DeVos to be education secretary” is to remind us that Democrats no longer control the executive and legislative arms of government. No further specifics should be necessary regarding the tilt to Republicans at the State and local level.

So, the discussion of choice is going to go forward within an environment where key players support school choice at both the national and the local level. That’s part of the consequence of the decision making at the top.

Democrats and educators (essentially the same group) need to understand that Trump is very likely to (try to) run the government the same way, he ran his campaign, and his companies. As in: ‘you’re fired.’ Case in point, Trump changed key advisors three times when he stopped getting the results ‘winning’ demanded. We can expect similar changes at the cabinet level, although I concede the differences.

Plouffe and the more savvy noted the mercurial nature of the Trump strategy. Betsy may be the person to usher in the vouchers, but she’s as unlikely as any to still hold her job in two, or four years. As one who listened to a great deal of Trump I can assure you that his populist spiel is largely free of the requisite GOP boilerplate – I never once heard him refer to students, or parents as ‘consumers.’

My point: Democrats and educators will have two choices: fight and sulk; or recognize that Trump may succeed. If Trump does succeed in pushing through his education ‘reforms,’ (and other changes), will the interests of students and schools be well-served by refusing to participate.

I don’t recall Trump ever pushing for ‘national standards’ like Bush, but that doesn’t mean Trump won’t roll out that line o’ crap. His approval ratings will never rise within a particular demographic. Others hungry for change are going to get on board. Democrats need to ask themselves how well their close ties to the teachers’ unions serve education, and the interests of the community.

One way or the other change certainly appears to be coming.

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Main Street Muse 12.04.16 at 12:35 am

From Tyler Cohen: “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.”

Isn’t NOLA a case study in the failure of vouchers? As I understand it, there is NO proof vouchers help STUDENTS. Charter & private schools are no better – and in some cases – significantly worse – than public schools.

Vouchers are being used to funnel public money to private (religious) schools. That’s disgusting. And wrong.

36

Donald A. Coffin 12.04.16 at 12:39 am

I will add a couple of things. First, Cowen goes on about parents preferring choice. I will note that this substitutes the preferences of the parents for the preferences of the people who actually go to school.

Second, there are a broad range of activities for which we do not defer to individual preferences, because the outcomes of the activities affect people other than those engaging in the activity (positive spillovers, or external benefits; negative spillovers, or external costs). Suppose, as I suspect is the case, that there are external benefits not simply from school attendance/education, but from school attendance in schools where there are people different from you. Then there may be a societal interest in the make-up of school student bodies as well as a societal and individual interest in educational outcomes. (Frankly, I suspect that my attitudes toward different people and cultures might have changed had I not gone to an elementary school and a high school that were both almost entirely middle class whites; it took me a while to get over that impoverishment of my school background.)

37

Donald A. Coffin 12.04.16 at 12:45 am

Re Harry @#25. When Indianapolis adopted a county-wide local government structure, that new structure carefully did not unify three services–two of which have since become unified (police & fire). The remaining service was, of course, public education. There continue to be at least 9 separate school systems in Indianapolis–the Indianapolis Public School system and 8 township public school systems. I leave it to the imagination of the commentariat to guess what the racial/ethnic makeup of the township school systems looked like in 1970.

38

Manta 12.04.16 at 12:52 am

Isn’t a fundamental task of (public) school to indoctrinate the students? (if “indoctrination” is a too loaded word, replace it with “educate” or “instill civic virtues in”, or “make them good citizens of”).
How is that compatible with school choice?

39

Jake Gibson 12.04.16 at 1:10 am

I don’t give money to religious organizations.
They cannot be trusted not to evangelize.

My biggest concern is defunding the public schools. I went to a public school. Despite my bad attitude toward school. I consider those years a major factor in my egalitarian outlook on the world. I got along with the doctors’ and lawyers’ kids as well as the farmers’ and factory workers’ kids. Which I suspect was due to a unified school district. There was, and still is, one high school for the entire county.
So we did not have choice, but we had an adequate school.

40

Ebenezer Scrooge 12.04.16 at 1:10 am

“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?”

Uhhh, not so. I’m sure that Murder, Inc. had satisfied customers.

As Herbert Simon pointed out a long time ago, any reasonable Martian observer of the economy would see that most economic activity occurs outside of markets: within firms, households, and government functions. Markets are an essential interface between these various forms of hierarchically-organized activities. But by that token, the parathyroids are an essential interface in the human body. That observation only takes the significance of parathyroidology so far.

41

Faustusnotes 12.04.16 at 1:14 am

What happens if everyone uses their voucher to go to the same public school? Presumably most of them get declined, but on what grounds?

More fundamentally, the chief beneficiary of public education is not the child or the parent but society – everyone is ensured that everyone around them has the same minimum standard of education. I don’t care what any parent thinks of the importance of topic x vs topic y, I insist that their child be taught to read and write and that’s what the public school system gets me. Framing education as a benefit for children or something parents should be satisfied with misses the real purpose of universal education. In this topic parents and children’s rights are and should be secondary to our shared social interests, and any choice they have should never be broad enough to enable them to undermine those interests. Most libertarian and republican education policy doesn’t get this, which is why it’s stupid and wrong.

42

oldster 12.04.16 at 1:25 am

D w hv t prtnd tht th mvmnt fr “schl chc” n th S s bt nythng thr thn th dsr t brng bck rclly sgrgtd schls?

dn’t mn tht vry spprtr f schl chc ncssrly hs tht s thr mtvtn. mn tht mst f thm d, nd th thrs r rspndng t strctr f bd chcs tht s cnstrnd by ntcdnt sgrgtnst plcy.

mn: wht xctly r th pltcl rlts tht crt th sttn n whch Hrry cn sy, trthflly, “gd lck gttng dmcrtc mjrty spprtng “grtr Mlwk nfd schl dstrct”? Why s thr n dmcrtc mjrty fr fndng schls n blck rs t th sm lvl s schls n wht rs? Why s th cntry bsssd wth “lcl cntrl,” whch s phmsm fr “sgrgt th nghbrhds, nd th schls wll sgrgt thmslvs”? Why xctly r ll f ths prnts s “stsfd” wth thr vchrs, nly thy cn’t qt pt nt wrds wht s s stsfyng bt thm?

Yh, yh, knw–rc s nt th sl ss n mrcn pltcs. Yh, thr r thr fctrs. Bt w’r 25 cmmnts nt ths thrd nd n n hs mntnd rc t ll? s thgh th hstry f pblc dctn n th S s nt th hstry f rc rltns?

Rltdly–d w hv t prtnd tht Tylr Cwn *vr* rgs n gd fth, bt nythng?

43

Sebastian H 12.04.16 at 2:16 am

“making sure that everybody has at least one good choice available to them is far more important than offering people more than one choice.”

But apparently we have problems doing that. Lots of inner city children aren’t currently offered even one good choice which is why black people are so overwhelmingly for vouchers. (Like 60-75% in favor).

This is true even in places where Democrats have been in charge for decades–see California and New York City. And spending per pupil is well above almost any large Western country.

The debate has been going round and round forever, and at the very least I don’t see evidence that voucher schools tend to be any worse on average than public schools. (There have been voucher disasters, but there have been larger public school disasters as well).

The parental satisfaction thing is interesting because the rest of the stats don’t show much difference and don’t show much if any damage to the public schools. So either the parents are on to something we aren’t capturing in the formal statistics (which is highly possible), or they are just unreasonably happy about it while doing no serious harm.

[Sidenote, One thing I find fascinating is the function of ‘high stakes’ testing in the debate. If a voucher school does worse on the tests, it is proof that the school sucks. If a voucher school does well on the tests, it is proof that it is hoarding the good students. If no voucher school exists in the district, suddenly teachers argue that high stakes testing is useless and can’t measure anything.]

44

J-D 12.04.16 at 2:21 am

My point: Democrats and educators will have two choices: fight and sulk; or recognize that Trump may succeed.

Apparently kidneystone thinks: (a) that fighting and sulking are linked components of a single strategy, or at least compatible with each other; and (b) that recognising that something may succeed is incompatible with fighting against it.

These opinions are symptomatic of somebody whose view is that one should always side with whoever seems to be winning.

45

Howard Frant 12.04.16 at 2:33 am

Cranky Observer@31

“Free universal public education in government-operated (or, where contracted, with tight government oversight) had an excellent track record in North America from 1600 – 1980.”

You forgot two words: “for whites.” Important words, though.

I don’t believe most charter schools in the US are for-profit, though I could be wrong. Boston, with a large minority population, has shown dramatically better results for (nonprofit) charter schools than public schools, not just on state tests, but on SATs, AP courses, and the proportion who go to four-year rather than two-year colleges. This undoubtedly wouldn’t be true in the wealthy suburbs, which have outstanding schools. But, though I myself am a public school grad (from one of those suburbs), before we get all dewy-eyed about public schools let’s just recall how many decades Boston spent giving systematically worse education to minority students.

http://www.academia.edu/28319737/Stand_and_Deliver_Effects_of_Bostons_Charter_High_Schools_on_College_Preparation_Entry_and_Choice

Donald A. Coffin

Really?? You really think that the preferences of six-year-olds should have a greater weight than the preferences of parents? This ultimately has to fit into the governance of schools, and unless there’s a lot of faith in elites (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) parents’ preferences are going to play a role, particularly in a very decentralized system like the US.

46

Leo Casey 12.04.16 at 2:47 am

It is reasonable to expect that “consumer satisfaction” should drive markets where individuals are purchasing private goods, be it toothpaste or a night out on the town. But we invest public funds, raised through taxes over which individuals are compelled by the state to pay, because we see education (especially K-12 education) as — in very significant measure — a public good, essential for the functioning of the common weal. There are a number of different ways in which education is a public good, but above else it is essential for the education into the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy. Without certain skills and knowledge that education provides, citizens will be unprepared to function in ways that are indispensable for democratic governance. It follows, therefore, that what should determine decisions about the ways in which public funds are used to deliver education (traditional neighborhood public schools, a system of public school choice, private schools) is how well those various vehicles fulfill the public ends of education. Note that Tyler Cowan chooses to make no argument on education as a public good. The most charitable interpretation that can be given to this argument is that he assumes a version of the “invisible hand” argument — that the public good will be best served by individuals pursuing their own private, selfish ends. Certainly, the ultra-libertarian contention of Cowen that a publicly delivery of a public good is authoritarian would support such a position. There are, of course, a whole series of objections to this general argument that laissez-faire markets are the best way to deliver public goods that do not need to be rehearsed for Crooked Timber readers.

47

John Quiggin 12.04.16 at 2:50 am

The focus on “choice” implies that parents’ preferences regarding schools, and patients regarding hospitals. differ in important respects (for example, regarding the subject offerings). I don’t think that’s right. Parents want their kids to go to a “good” school, and patients want to get well. For any given set of schools and hospitals, these are essentially positional goods. The problems is how to increase the supply of good schools and hospitals, not (primarily) to reshuffle the assignment of students/patients to slots.

Harry @26: Isn’t the correct response here to get rid of local funding of schools?

48

Dr. Hilarius 12.04.16 at 3:02 am

Alex SL @ 32 raises good points about school customer satisfaction. My spouse teaches in the sciences at a major US university. What she reports to me does not support the assumption that student/customer satisfaction tracks educational value (i.e., actual learning). I doubt that parents are much better than their children in assessing educational product.

Not so long ago, parents were a vocal constituency for academic testing. No more social promotion, no more illiterate graduates. The hidden assumption was that their kids were bright and would ace all the tests. When lots of kids failed standardized testing there was a rebellion against standardized testing as failing to capture actual learning. I don’t have a brief for or against any particular standardized testing but the public perception of its value seemed to depend on whether it validated parental expectations, whether or not those expectations tracked reality.

49

Tom Hurka 12.04.16 at 3:03 am

1) Here in Toronto, Ontario our son had any number of choices of high school within the public system, and not just in our catchment area. There were art-focussed schools, enriched science and math schools (he picked one and loved it), IB schools, and many others. As others have said, school choice can be available within a fully public system. (Actually, one thing driving this in Toronto seems to be the decline in the school-age population, which has led high schools that used to be full with local kids to add special programs to attract students from farther away and avoid being half empty.)

2) A question: quite apart from what it’s a response to, might parental satisfaction with a school not have good effects, e.g. by getting parents more involved with the school and with their kids’ education? As I recall, Robert Putnam thinks that’s one factor that promotes educational success and is more characteristic of upper-income vs. lower-income families.

50

J-D 12.04.16 at 3:04 am

Sebastian H

“making sure that everybody has at least one good choice available to them is far more important than offering people more than one choice.”

But apparently we have problems doing that. Lots of inner city children aren’t currently offered even one good choice

Perhaps so; but no support has been demonstrated for the conclusion that vouchers will improve the situation.

51

Omega Centauri 12.04.16 at 3:06 am

What I fear about school choice, is the same thing that I am observing about news-supplier choice, which came about because of cable TV, and has been accelerated by the internet. The later has given us two countries, each with their own incompatible set of assumptions and even things that are accepted as facts. So we risk bifurcating the country along the worldview fault-line. Now we want to start hammering another wedge, based upon the different package of things we were taught in school. We could soon end up with an extremely tribal society, with our politics resembling that of some African countries, where whatever tribe happens to prevail in the last election lords if over the losing tribe (our time). That’s already what Trumpism feels like to the liberal tribe. We can only be so different and still remain viable as a country.

52

Harry 12.04.16 at 3:16 am

Harry @26: Isn’t the correct response here to get rid of local funding of schools?

Yes.

But we’re not going to do that. Midwestern Republican Governors tried to off-set the effects of local funding with State funding in the 90s and in most states it had a shortish lifespan. And ironically, lots of the educational left (here, in the US), although willing to get rid of local funding, obsesses about local control, which…. well, that goes hand in hand with local funding.

And its complicated. As long as Brookfield has a 5% child poverty rate, and MPS has a 60% child poverty rate, Brookfield will be a much more appealing place to teach, even at a lower salary, than MPS, so, given the local character of teacher labor markets, Brookfield would have a big advantage for hiring skilled teachers and administrators over MPS. A former, wonderful, student of mine just spent 2 years teaching in a voucher school (100% poor, and she was just about the only white person in the whole school) but she got her certification, and she wants to have a life, and opportunities to succeed, and she is working in a suburban district. You’d have to spend a lot more in urban districts than in suburban to have a chance of getting the same effective resources to the students. (This, incidentally, is why looking at NYC and saying that it spends more per student than anywhere else is misleading — given the realities of the labor market, spending a lot more money may still buy you much less effective educational inputs).

FautusNotes: All oversubscribed charter schools select by lottery. So do all the voucher schools in Wisconsin (but not everywhere else).

Can I sound a note of caution about the debate. Truth is nobody really has much of a clue how to provide high quality schooling at scale to children who grow up in the kind of disadvantage that 20 or so per cent of American school students inhabit. Its right and good — and morally urgent — that we try to figure out how to provide better schooling than we currently do for those students. But i) the ‘voucher/choice’ versus ‘traditional public schools with more money’ debate is not where that action is, it is in figuring out what the best practices would be in whatever schools are available and figuring out how to induce schools and teachers to adopt those practices, ii) as far as we know early childhood interventions are a better use of our time energy and effort and iii) we should recognise that improvements are going to be marginal (very important, but marginal) compared with, for example, cutting child poverty in half, or eliminating it altogether.

Now, iii) is something I do not expect the new administration to want to talk about, or to have any clue about, and I am all for arguing with them about what they do, but rather than — or maybe just in addition to — banging on about their betrayal of the traditional public school ideal I would like people to bang on about poverty and deprivation, which may well get worse in the coming few years, and the schools will get the blame.

53

Mike Furlan 12.04.16 at 3:16 am

The “parent satisfaction” assertion is the Simpsons Paradox wine in a new bottle. Having failed to prove that charter schools are better TC repeats the same statistical fallacy with an almost identical set of data.

Shameless.

54

J-D 12.04.16 at 3:19 am

Howard Frant

Really?? You really think that the preferences of six-year-olds should have a greater weight than the preferences of parents?

Yes, I really think (no matter how many question marks you use to express your incredulity) that the preferences of six-year-olds about what should happen to them in their own lives should have a greater weight than the preferences of parents about what should happen to the six-year-olds. I am well aware that mostly they don’t; but they still should.

This ultimately has to fit into the governance of schools

Some schools have found ways of applying that logic which produce results that don’t seem to be any worse than those of other schools:
http://democraticeducation.org/index.php/features/what-is-democratic-education/
http://alternativestoschool.com/articles/democratic-schools/

55

Peter T 12.04.16 at 3:38 am

Electricity and water and much else have been done. Now it’s education. Then…policing, maybe? I recall a very senior Australian bureaucrat musing about the virtues of mercenary armies. As in “let’s see what the magic of the market can do to defence”. This is what an ideology looks like as it consumes itself.

56

kidneystones 12.04.16 at 4:25 am

@52 Harry very clearly outlines the problem. I’ve taught in K-12 and the level of stress good teachers are willing to endure over time varies. This also applies to tolerance as parents. Our first child went to a fabulous Buddhist kindergarten run by a very fine temple in central Tokyo – so that’s one kind of private, religious school. With the arrival of our second child we moved out to the periphery and moved into public housing. The schools in our new area are famously sub-optimal, but my wife and I subscribe to the notion that experience is the best teacher and that our kids would benefit in ways other than higher test scores, etc. This experiment lasted several years.

My wife participated fully in the PTA and volunteered at the local primary school. Eventually, she determined that the generally excellent teachers had no/little time to teach because controlling difficult children consumed most of their attention and energy.

Then there are the conferences with the parents of these children that often keep teachers and vice-principals at the school until late at night.

Prioritizing social interactions at the school is important, but the family is normally where behaviors are learned and encoded. Difficult children normally bring family problems into the classroom. 4-5 such children in one class are often enough to derail the learning experiences for others.

Charter schools and private schools are all about exclusion, like it or not. The reasons why people want their kids in private schools vary, but given that admission to private schools normally involves interviews with parents it’s fairly easy to connect those dots. Parents want a large level of control over the content of the curriculum, teacher selection, and pedagogies – often far greater levels than public schools allow, or can deliver.

When public school systems are failing students across the board, families should not be denied the freedom to seek out/organize an alternative. We already see this developing with home-schooling.

From the purely political point of view, there are real risks to the Democratic party if the party continues to deliver so little to inner-city residents, and to those in rural communities. This change is coming.

57

J-D 12.04.16 at 5:15 am

kidneystones

When public school systems are failing students across the board, families should not be denied the freedom to seek out/organize an alternative. We already see this developing with home-schooling.

That’s a red herring. What is at issue here is not any denial to families of the freedom to organise alternatives; there is no such denial. What is at issue here is the allocation of public funds.

From the purely political point of view, there are real risks to the Democratic party if the party continues to deliver so little to inner-city residents, and to those in rural communities.

There’s no more (and no less truth) in that than there would be in saying there are real risks to the Republican Party if it continues to deliver so little to inner-city residents and to rural communities. The Republicans are not (or, have not been) delivering any more to inner-city residents and rural communities than the Democrats are (or have been).

And navigating back to the original topic, no support has been demonstrated for the conclusion that school vouchers will result in delivering more to inner-city residents and to rural communities.

58

Gareth Wilson 12.04.16 at 6:34 am

“in an ideal system private schools would be outlawed”

I was educated entirely at public schools and was completely satisfied with my education. But making it illegal to teach a child without being a state employee is tyranny. Try that, and I’ll… grab my musket, let’s say.

59

efcdons 12.04.16 at 6:39 am

I know it’s a while back, but Watson Ladd @7, it’s called water fluoridation.

Anyway. I find it kind of interesting with the choice argument that while for education certain conservative/libertarian thinkers are gung ho about letting parents have as much choice as possible under the assumption they necessarily make the best, most informed choices. Especially low income parents. Yet when the subject is food stamps for example there is a lot of talk about the sub optimal choices recipients make (e.g. chips and soda) such that we need to greatly limit and regulate the choices available to food “voucher” users regardless of how “satisfied” the consumers may be with their choices.

The idea parent satisfaction can be meaningful for a product which doesn’t necessarily show how effective it was until years after it was used seems circumspect. How Timmy likes/does well in math class during the 3rd grade might not be so important or meaningful until we see how he does in math class in the 9th grade. But at that point it is impossible to retroactively go back and redo 3rd grade math with a different provider.

A good point raised elsewhere in the comments is choice and voucherizing education serves to reinforce ideological polarization which we have seen increasingly in media and other areas or institutions which used to provide a common or shared experience. Though arguably the increase in residential segregation by ideology might make the local public school less of a unifying experience than maybe it was in the past. It’s difficult trade off. Choice will always increase segregation as people’s choices might be similar to the choices made by people who share a race/political ideology/religion/etc. If we want to provide common experiences or decrease segregation of any sort it requires limiting choice and at least in the context of racial segregation limiting choice (forced bussing for example) turned out to be very unpopular for certain groups.

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Collin Street 12.04.16 at 9:10 am

The “parent satisfaction” assertion is the Simpsons Paradox wine in a new bottle. Having failed to prove that charter schools are better TC repeats the same statistical fallacy with an almost identical set of data.

Shameless.

See, the charitable assumption isn’t that they’re liars, which means the charitable assumption has to be that they really do believe what they write. The charitable assumption, then, has to be that they really are that stupid.

61

Phil 12.04.16 at 1:46 pm

First, I would want to distinguish very carefully between parental satisfaction and parental preference. Saying that you’ve lived with the effects of a voucher system – i.e. that you’ve put a child through school in an area with vouchers in operation – and you like the results: that’s parental satisfaction. Parents saying they’d like to be able to choose tells us nothing – ceteris paribus, who wouldn’t prefer “have a choice” to “have no choice”? Apart from anything else, parents are likely to assume the choice would work out well for them. We’re seeing a particularly glaring example of this thought process in the UK at the moment, with calls for the return of grammar schools. Grammar schools were selective, and by their nature guaranteed that 75% of the school population would receive a non-grammar-school education. Since nobody on the pro-grammar side of the debate is arguing for a separate-but-equal system – in which grammars cream off the brainiacs while the rest of the school system gives the normal kids just as good an education – the inference has to be that everybody on that side assumes their kid would be in the top 25%.

Second, any introduction of choice in the system needs to look at its effects on the system as a whole. Again, schools with a strong academic orientation would be good for all those weirdoes who write in paragraphs and think in subordinate clauses, but if introducing (more of) those schools is likely to reduce the quality of schooling for the much larger number of kids who don’t go to them, the trade-off isn’t worth it.

These seem like really basic points, but I don’t see much sign that the advocates of parental choice have answers to them.

62

Henry 12.04.16 at 2:24 pm

Can I sound a note of caution about the debate. Truth is nobody really has much of a clue how to provide high quality schooling at scale to children who grow up in the kind of disadvantage that 20 or so per cent of American school students inhabit. Its right and good — and morally urgent — that we try to figure out how to provide better schooling than we currently do for those students. But i) the ‘voucher/choice’ versus ‘traditional public schools with more money’ debate is not where that action is, it is in figuring out what the best practices would be in whatever schools are available and figuring out how to induce schools and teachers to adopt those practices, ii) as far as we know early childhood interventions are a better use of our time energy and effort and iii) we should recognise that improvements are going to be marginal (very important, but marginal) compared with, for example, cutting child poverty in half, or eliminating it altogether.

This. My sense of the current debate is that it is very much like the debate that Kieran identified in his book on blood and organ donations – where there were two stylized positions on left (Gift Exchange!) and right (Market Freedom!) and not nearly enough attention to the less easily moralized and complicated organizational practices where the plausible improvements are. This seems to me to be a near universal of political debates (maybe we can dub it Healy’s Law).

63

Manta 12.04.16 at 2:34 pm

@59 efcdons 12.04.16 at 6:39 am

“certain conservative/libertarian thinkers are gung ho about letting parents have as much choice as possible under the assumption they necessarily make the best, most informed choices. “

This, of course, is a straw man.
The assumption is not that the parents will make the best choice: it is that they will do a better choice than the State bureaucrats, since they a) have a more compelling interest than the state and b) know their kid better.
(On the other hand, they probably don’t know much about best practices in teaching…).

64

engels 12.04.16 at 3:06 pm

Eliminating child poverty in America is complicated and not easily moralised and doesn’t fit into the ‘stylised’ tribal demands of either Left or Right?

65

rea 12.04.16 at 3:21 pm

. . . the mercurial nature of the Trump strategy. Betsy may be the person to usher in the vouchers, but she’s as unlikely as any to still hold her job in two, or four years.

Some of Trump’s appointments may be easily replaceable, but some represent alliances with power groups in the Republican Party, and so can’t be fired without consequences. Mrs. DeVos’ ties to the Michigan Republican Party, and the evangelical right, not to mention billions of dollars (Amway) and even a private army (Blackwater) probably protect her from being converted into a scapegoat and fired.

66

some lurker 12.04.16 at 4:40 pm

@52

Truth is nobody really has much of a clue how to provide high quality schooling at scale to children who grow up in the kind of disadvantage that 20 or so per cent of American school students inhabit. Its right and good — and morally urgent — that we try to figure out how to provide better schooling than we currently do for those students.

Let’s unpack that a bit. I think we know how to provide quality schooling to all students but not all of them are ready to receive it. Take a step back and see those 20% or so as members of households, many of them struggling to get by. You can’t effectively teach hungry or tired children and we are seeing more of those every year. Through no fault of their own, they are being relegated to a second-class existence from which they will never escape. The social mobility for which the USA is famous no longer works as it once did.

And to be honest, this debate comes a bit too late. We are worried about educating children but we haven’t sorted out what we are educating them for, what kinds of work or careers will be available in our increasingly mechanized/automated world. In the post-fact era, maybe we could use more critical thinkers but we can’t expect a recent high school grad to take on six figures of debt to become a “well-rounded” person.

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John Garrett 12.04.16 at 5:20 pm

The elephant in the room: why are most schools in the US so mediocre at best, so focused on preparation for exams which measure lifetime useless skills and information, so tough on kids at any extreme of anything, so laden with homework and anxiety? For the people I know, support for school vouchers results from these frustrations, which nobody wants to deal with. I supported more charters on the ballot, not because I want the money to go there (I don’t) but because I have no evidence that the public schools have a clue of how to get better, and I hope that competition will change things. In our town the charter school has the least $$ and is by far the best around, including the private schools, and they don’t even notice when the exams are coming. They just perform.

68

Chip Daniels 12.04.16 at 5:35 pm

@63
[The assumption] it is that [parents] will do a better choice than the State bureaucrats, since they a) have a more compelling interest than the state…”

Do they, though?

Doesn’t the State (AKA us taxpayers) have a compelling interest in education, which is why is is publicly funded to all in the first place?

69

Donald A. Coffin 12.04.16 at 5:45 pm

Howard @45:
“Really?? You really think that the preferences of six-year-olds should have a greater weight than the preferences of parents? This ultimately has to fit into the governance of schools, and unless there’s a lot of faith in elites (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) parents’ preferences are going to play a role, particularly in a very decentralized system like the US.”

My point is that Cowen is inconsistent in his argument. If it’s consumer preferences that are supposed to be so important, then we should be paying attention to consumer preferences. Cowen does a bait-and-w=switch here, that’s all.

70

Brett Dunbar 12.04.16 at 6:08 pm

The idea that introducing competition between schools will improve quality is a fairly simple consequence of market theory. Provided to assume that what motivates parents is the quality of education provided. Basically the schools compete to attract pupils so want to be better than the local competition, this leads to a virtuous circle ending with only good schools. Whereas a monopoly leads to complacency and schools avoiding doing difficult things like sacking incompetent teachers.

It goes like this:

You have two schools one bad one terrible. Parents chose the least worst option. The bad school is oversubscribed and the terrible school has vacancies. The terrible school is then forced make difficult changes to be better than the bad school and improves so that it is now mediocre.

You have two schools one bad one mediocre. Parents chose the least worst option. The mediocre school is oversubscribed and the bad school has vacancies. The bad school is then forced make difficult changes to be better than the mediocre school and improves so that it is now acceptable.

Repeat until the schools have maxed-out their potential for improvement.

It may be easier to pro0vide two good schools than one good school. Most people live in areas with a high enough population density to support multiple schools within a reasonable travel distance.

71

Watson Ladd 12.04.16 at 6:08 pm

No, parents do want different schools. Some parents want schools that teach lots of languages. Others want schools that are less pressure cookery and focus more on art, etc. But even if we assume all parents want similar things, public education might not provide them as well as market-based alternatives. Some charters like KPP have delivered. Others have not. Parents will pick those that deliver, and not the ones that don’t, and this in theory should lead to the bad ones failing. By contrast public schools continue to fail for decades in some cities, with no evident force to improve them. And no, it isn’t the spending so much as management failures.

I’m skeptical outcomes can’t be measured quickly for education. Tests tend to measure what students know, and are given fairly soon after classes.

As for resources, that’s an orthogonal question. Society can pump more resources into education regardless of how it is delivered. However, charter schools and vouchers could threaten to hurt integration of children with disabilities. Section 504 and the IDEA don’t apply to private schools, and I don’t think most parents would send normally developing children to a school that educates a more diverse population without a strong commitment to integration.

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Leo Casey 12.04.16 at 7:31 pm

Engels @64:
Eliminating child poverty in America is complicated and not easily moralised and doesn’t fit into the ‘stylised’ tribal demands of either Left or Right?

Not so. In fact, we have evidence in recent American history of how to make significant reductions in child poverty and improvement in education outcomes and life chances for children living in poverty, if we have the political will to do so. Working with colleagues, Rucker Johnson at UC Berkeley has done some powerful research (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27pBEG4YNx0) on the synergistic effects of Great Society programs, such as Title One funding and Head Start, school finance reform and desegregation of schools and health care in the 1960s and 1970s. He shows that together they had a dramatic effect on the educational and life outcomes of significant numbers of children of color and poor children, and led to a significant narrowing of black-white achievement gap. This momentum is reversed during the Reagan years with the resegregation, both racial and economic, of American schools, the cuts in social welfare safety net spending and setbacks in education funding.

The question, then, is not what to do, but whether we have the collective political will to do what needs to be done. “Not easily moralised?” What is the moral argument that children in poverty should be harmed by conditions over which they clearly have no control?

The underlying premise of school choice movement has been that childhood poverty is immaterial to the educational outcomes and life trajectories of poor children and children of color, and that resources dedicated to that goal are wasted and can be eliminated. All one needs to do to improve educational outcomes and life trajectories is to introduce unregulated markets into education, using public funds, and all will be right. Hence, Trump has promised to put $20 billion into school choice programs, to be taken no doubt from programs such as Title One (which directs federal funds to the education of students living in poverty) and Head Start (with news that he would seek to eliminate it).

This flies in the face of what we know about child development. While common sense should be sufficient here, there is research that demonstrates that insofar as children do not have their basic physical and health needs, from food to clothing to untreated problems in their vision and hearing to poorly managed chronic health conditions such as asthma (which is much more prevalent among children living in poverty), their education will suffer. Chronic absenteeism (being absent from school for many days) is largely a problem of schools with high concentrations of poverty (http://www.newschool.edu/pressroom/pressreleases/2014/CNYCA201411.htm), and clearly connected to the conditions of poverty. It is axiomatic that no matter how effective they might be, schools can’t teach students who are not present. And even when students are in attendance, hunger, not feeling well, untreated vision and hearing problems, etc. are undeniable obstacles in the way of learning.

There is also powerful evidence out of brain science that toxic stress in childhood — again most heavily associated with conditions of poverty (think: homelessness, living in a succession of foster homes, abuse and violence, drug and alcohol addiction in family) — has a negative effect on brain development, and thus on a child’s intellectual ability and socio-emotional development. (http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/toxic-stress-derails-healthy-development/)

And somehow we are supposed to reconcile ourselves that an incoming Trump administration wants to drive us back to pre-civil rights movement days? Wants to destroy the public schools that teach and care for children living in poverty? Not me.

One last point: one of the reasons why Cowen is falling back to first principles of “customer satisfaction” in market driven system is that the most recent research, much of it done by scholars with conservative credentials, has shown that students attending private schools through voucher programs are experiencing inferior educational outcomes in various state programs.
Indiana: https://appam.confex.com/appam/2015/webprogram/
Louisiana: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-02-22/research-louisianas-school-voucher-program-harms-student-performance
Ohio: https://edexcellence.net/publications/evaluation-of-ohio%E2%80%99s-edchoice-scholarship-program-selection-competition-and-performance

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Marc 12.04.16 at 7:37 pm

The most severe issue with school choice in practice is the frequent lack of meaningful oversight. Here in Ohio, for instance, it appears that a large online school (ECOT) is going down in flames after many profitable years. Basically, the state eventually discovered that students could log in for an hour every few weeks and be treated as having full attendance.

Like surgery, the harm from outright scams and frauds isn’t fixed by the market God.

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Collin Street 12.04.16 at 8:17 pm

The assumption is not that the parents will make the best choice: it is that they will do a better choice than the State bureaucrats, since they a) have a more compelling interest than the state and b) know their kid better.

I would argue that both of these are false. Certainly the first is: children are not the property of parents, so the [inherent] interest of parents in “their” children is fundamentally indirect, mediated through society. Some parents actually do care, yes, but for the purposes of law and of public policy it’s a voluntary relationship, and secondary to the direct relationship that the state has with each of its members.

It’s that old “stern father” knot-of-nastiness, innit. “My” children, with the “my” of possession.

[the “know their children better” is false because of the greater understanding parents have with their own children is a lesser relationship with children-in-general: the state has a better view of how “your” children compare with others.]

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harry b 12.04.16 at 8:23 pm

“Eliminating child poverty in America is complicated and not easily moralised and doesn’t fit into the ‘stylised’ tribal demands of either Left or Right?”

No. What’s complicated and not easily moralised etc is what to do given the complete lack of political will for eliminating (or even significantly reducing) child poverty in America. A clue: Bernie’s signature issues were trade, bankers, and free college education, not eliminating child poverty.

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Manta 12.04.16 at 9:05 pm

Collin @74

“I would argue that both of these are false. Certainly the first is: children are not the property of parents, so the [inherent] interest of parents in “their” children is fundamentally indirect, mediated through society.”

This is backward: “society” is not some abstract thing, but the effect of interaction between people. And by “people” we mean adults: kids have no power in society, except through adults (their parents in primis).
Essentially, you are arguing that on average complete strangers care about kids welfare as much or more than their parents.

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Igor Belanov 12.04.16 at 9:27 pm

Education as an issue is an utter mess because there is no consensus as to what it is for. Business wants the education system to magically produce workers that satisfy its every need. Parents want schools to make sure their kids magically find a job at a level that avoids humiliation for the family name. Teachers want to make sure that kids magically achieve some sort of level of attainment that ensures that they don’t get sacked. The government wants to make sure that statistics demonstrate that children are just as qualified as those in China.

No one thinks of asking the kids about what they might want to know or achieve.

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engels 12.04.16 at 10:48 pm

I’m not an expert on Bernie but for the record these are the top five issues on his site.

INCOME AND WEALTH INEQUALITY
IT’S TIME TO MAKE COLLEGE TUITION FREE AND DEBT FREE
GETTING BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS AND RESTORING DEMOCRACY
CREATING DECENT PAYING JOBS
A LIVING WAGE

https://berniesanders.com/issues/

Leo, thanks a lot for links, which seem very persuasive to me. To be clear, my question was addressed to Henry’s comment suggesting that what is needed is technocratic fine-tuning of organisational details rather than political confrontation over basic principles and was intended to be sceptical.

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Harry 12.04.16 at 11:24 pm

Henry was not suggesting that tecnocratic fine tuning is needed instead of political confrontation. His comment was made in the context of approving my comment that eliminating child poverty is the only way we know of that might get large gains in educational achievement, and asking people not to lose sight of that when arguing about choice.

And of course we need political confrontation. But until that is successful schools need to be run, districts and state legislators need to make decisions, the Department of Education makes its decisions, unions at the school, district, state and national levels naturally want some input on those decisions. Some decisions are better, others are worse, its hard to judge which in many cases even with a lot of contextual knowledge, and it just is morally fraught because as a governor, legislator, administrator, teacher, etc your choices have real effects on vulnerable people. So, yes, organisational details really matter, whether we have a political confrontation or not.

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Harry 12.04.16 at 11:25 pm

And also, Leo, thanks for collecting all those links in one place, very helpful! Hope all is well with you.

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derrida derider 12.04.16 at 11:57 pm

J-D @25 nails it:
“making sure that everybody has at least one good choice available to them is far more important than offering people more than one choice”

The political economy of voucher systems is such that almost all such systems will ensure that a large minority of children, in time possibly even a majority, will be denied any good choice. Universal state-provided education is one political economy equilibrium, selective private provided education another.

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Kurt Schuler 12.05.16 at 12:10 am

I believe that every U.S. president in my lifetime other than Jimmy Carter has sent his children to private schools for most or all of their primary and secondary education. Barack Obama, for instance, himself graduated from a private high school and has sent his daughters exclusively to private schools in Chicago and Washington. Ditto Donald Trump and his son. They are representative of what people who can afford to opt out of public schools think of them.

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some lurker 12.05.16 at 12:18 am

Can you solve child poverty without addressing poverty, full stop? Children have no say in or control over their socio-economic status so I don’t see a lot of value in referring to child poverty as a separate issue. I see three of Bernie Sanders’ Top Five issues address this directly. Shame that none of those issues resonated with people.

As noted above, there is an argument that parents are capable of making good decisions about where to send their children to school but they cannot make good decisions about the food they buy. We’ll give poor people money to spend if it means they use it to weaken the public schools but we won’t give them money to feed themselves/their kids if we can’t control how they spend it. That kind of moralitarian thinking seems be baked into a lot of this stuff.

Were schools better in the 50s, 60s, and 70s? Objectively better, not just through our hazy memories? How did we know? What were the metrics? We had standardized tests in the 70s, I remember taking them, but they were not state-administered as they often are now. So why did we add that? Parental demand for accountability, no? Because bad teachers are the reason why schools are getting worse, right? Not less well-prepared or stressed out students, living in economic insecurity, with less parental involvement (two career households becoming more common).

Standardized testing is all about grading teachers and school districts, not about student achievement. The war on public education is more than 100 years old where I live. If public schools could get rid of kids who threatened to ruin their scores, as charter schools can do, things would be very different. Making parents accountable for their students and themselves would be a big improvement.

I see all this stuff everyday, the rise in anxiety in kids that probably can’t even spell it, the behaviors and attitudes and what they say about home life for kids. I don’t see Betsy DeVos doing much to change that. I don’t see the likes of Tyler Cowen offering any solutions either.

To Igor Belanov @ 77, public schools were intended to be academies of democracy, where students learned how we collectively got here and why it was important to continue that work. Here in Washington, we have enshrined what John Adams said in the state constitution:

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense and at the public expense of the people themselves.

But we never worked out how to pay for it.

Trouble is, as you say, no one remembers what the purpose of education is. Is it to make educated citizens or simply consumers at varying levels of affluence? We made white collar careers a priority but now how do we cope when those jobs are threatened? Do we really want our children to be in the trades?

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Suzanne 12.05.16 at 1:26 am

What Bob Zannelli said at #4. “School choice” is a scheme to undermine and eventually destroy one of the great democratic achievements, universal public school education, using public money to ruin public schools. Diabolical.

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BBA 12.05.16 at 1:57 am

@Kurt Schuler: That only says something about District of Columbia Public Schools, a degenerate case even among degenerate cases. A hell of a lot of the DC elite live in the suburbs and send their kids to Montgomery/Fairfax/Loudoun/etc. public schools.

86

Collin Street 12.05.16 at 3:44 am

Essentially, you are arguing that on average complete strangers care about kids welfare as much or more than their parents.

???

Yes, of course. This is well-established.

Remember, we design social structures to minimise the negative consequences of worst-case scenarios, and the worst-case scenario for “parental abuse” is, you know, pretty gods-damned vile. Turns out that average random strangers are vastly preferable to unfettered parental care.

[and there’s basically no real downside here, because random strangers defer their judgement to the parents in the case of better-than-vile parenting. By putting society’s wishes first and then setting society up so it will delegate authority back to the parents if they’re not-that-bad, we literally get the best of both worlds. There’s a couple of different ways of structuring this, but they all depend on the society having a claim over the interests of the children that can override the parents if society so choses: if you start from the basis of unfettered parental rights / “parents know best”, you’ve basically got no solution to the — rather big — problem of parental abuse.]

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Manta 12.05.16 at 10:26 am

“Well established”? Maybe in Sparta…

Seriously, the default assumption (at least in liberal societies) is that parents are quite capable and willing to take care of their kids, and have the right to choose the best way to educate them; but in exceptional circumstances the state can intervene.
In an analogous way as the default assumption is that a person is capable and willing of taking care of himself and not a danger to other people, but in exceptional circumstances the state can put him in an asylum.

88

dbk 12.05.16 at 10:44 am

I happened upon a couple of pieces about the nominee for Secretary of Education and her 20-year fight for charter and voucher schools in Michigan. The three largest “markets” for charters are Flint, Detroit, and Grand Rapids, all of which have seen standardized test scores fall (I know, this is only one metric, but it’s a widely-recognized one) in the wake of the chaos which has ensued over school choice, especially in Detroit.
In contrast to some other states, 80% of Michigan’s charter schools are for-profit – so, the public purse purchasing private services. Turnover (of both students and staff, even administration) is horrendous (like, 35% a year), and if it’s proved one thing, this experiment in the privatization of what has long been considered a public good has shown that too much choice can be as harmful and frustrating as too little for both parents and students.

Charters are subject to very little oversight/accountability in Michigan – another problem, of course, given education’s position as a (traditional) public good. Presumably they are accountable to their shareholders, but that’s quite different from being accountable to students, their parents, and the public at large (society).

I don’t think this is the discussion we should be having right now, either, although we’re going to have to have it. The core problems (the “wicked problem”) involve poverty, the nature of U.S. school funding by local districts, and the financial demographics of U.S. residential housing, among others (interrelated problems of course, but each with its own dynamic as well), none of which can be redressed easily or quickly.

But they can be addressed, at least to some degree, even in present circumstances. The question is whether there the political will can be found to address them at all. As Leo @46 very helpfully reminded us, early intervention programs introduced in the 1960s accomplished a lot. Nutritional support helps; a safe and stable and caring environment helps (the instability of Detroit’s charters is distressing); employed parents help.

My church back home has adopted an inner city grade school. Each week, food is packed for 6-11-year-olds who suffer from “food insecurity” (these euphemisms – who can’t we just say “for children who have no food at home”?) Nearly every child in the school qualifies for this “backpack”. What are two or three or thirteen charter schools going to do to address this, I wonder?

Charter schools and vouchers are not the way to address any of the core problems which haunt the U.S.’s very unequal primary and secondary education system. The explosion in for-profit charters (particularly in vulnerable inner-city districts whose tax base has been eroded) we must anticipate under the new Secretary of Education does not bode well for children, their parents, or the body politic – or at least, it hasn’t boded well for the children of Michigan.

89

Collin Street 12.05.16 at 12:40 pm

Seriously, the default assumption (at least in liberal societies) is that parents are quite capable and willing to take care of their kids, and have the right to choose the best way to educate them; but in exceptional circumstances the state can intervene.

“Conditional on an absence of state disapproval [beyond a certain level]” has exactly the same denotative meaning as “conditional on state approval [of a certain level]”.

90

kidneystones 12.05.16 at 1:26 pm

@ 88 Thanks for this. Agreed, almost, on all points. @ 65 also makes some good points about the specific baggage the appointment brings.

The ideal would be that all public schools function well. They don’t, so what is the solution? Tell the families in affected districts to ‘wait’ for Democrats to somehow get around to fixing inner-city schools, and those in rural America?

Perhaps if trained teachers were also willing/eager to organize their own charter schools, parents and families would have real choices in affected areas. I know a small number of very good teachers who run their own companies. I can personally wait for the rising tide to lift all boats, but I can very much understand the desire of parents who feel their own kids can’t afford to wait.

I’d frankly be shocked if anyone reading this thread would dream of gambling with the critical formative development of their own kids over any length of time. Good public schools are the ideal in communities free from poverty. Once we get there I agree there’s limited need for private schools, and certainly not state-supported private schools.

We’re not there, yet.

91

Collin Street 12.05.16 at 1:33 pm

Each week, food is packed for 6-11-year-olds who suffer from “food insecurity” (these euphemisms – who can’t we just say “for children who have no food at home”?)

No. Because, see, if you did some prize fucking arsehole will say, “but they have half a mouldy apple, so it’s not like they have no food”.

[which, yes: problems with linguistic implication, no?]

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Paul Davis 12.05.16 at 1:41 pm

Back sometime in the 1960s-1970s, before he settled into Unschooling, John Holt and others used to insist on the radical notion that what students thought of their schools, not what the parents and not “the public” thought, which should be paramount.

Just a thought.

93

Z 12.05.16 at 2:12 pm

I guess my question for Americans is, if there is parental choice available in schools, what is to ensure that the least desirable schools don’t get worse and worse, and the poorest people don’t get stuck with the worst education because they can’t afford to send their kids anywhere but the local school?

This is a feature, not a bug, of the proposed system. More generally, it is very important to keep in mind in such debates that the implicit assumption that everybody wants good education to be universally accessible is just unwarranted; on the contrary, generally speaking, élites have a direct personal interest in educational standards being relatively poor and unequal (because the lower the universal standard, the higher the advantages accrued by their birth will be for their own children and the more rigid social reproduction will be). In a world with inequalities as staggering as ours, the top 5 to 10% have a direct interest in the children of the bottom 30% receiving a subpar eduction as well as the mean to ensure that this happens. Then many choices suddenly make perfect sense, starting with the common disregard of child poverty noted by Harry.

94

John Garrett 12.05.16 at 2:48 pm

Last year I interviewed about ten kids after their first year in college, asking what they learned in our public high school that was especially useful in college. One or two mentioned an experience in a classroom: everyone else talked about the social, club, sports experiences. Generally they saw high school as something they had to survive with good grades and scores to get on with their lives.

95

Mike Furlan 12.05.16 at 3:57 pm

I’ll rephrase it.

TC says “satisfied people are satisfied”.

So what?

Finding that people playing slot machines at Los Vegas really like playing slot machines doesn’t mean that we should use public money to put slot machines on every street corner in the county.

96

Lynne 12.05.16 at 4:18 pm

Z, you need to control that wild-eyed, Polyanna optimism of yours.

More seriously, I hate that you might be right.

97

Howard Frant 12.05.16 at 5:56 pm

This discussion is taking place at a pretty high level of generality, as I’m sure the coming political discussion will. Here’s a pretty solid piece of research that concludes:

Massachusetts’ urban charter schools generate large achievement gains, while non-urban charters appear to be largely ineffective and appear to reduce achievement for some.

http://www.nber.org/papers/w17332.pdf

For “urban”, of course, read”inner city.”

And this, in turn, is a separate discussion from the one about vouchers.

J-D@54

I don’t have kids, but I though it was pretty widely accepted that parents sometimes have to override kids’ preferences in those kids’ interests. Perhaps this is applied more broadly than it should be. But we clearly don’t credit kids with full rationality in, for example, the criminal justice system. Personally, I wouldn’t want to change that.

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cs 12.05.16 at 6:31 pm

Notice that the charter school/school choice advocates are revealing their bias by focusing only on the outcomes or satisfaction of the students in the “choice” schools, as if the effect of the reforms on students who stay in their old schools are irrelevant.

In other words, if you take some students out of public schools and put them in charter schools or whatever, those students and their parents are happier (maybe). But that doesn’t mean that the overall situation has been improved. Anyone who is truly interested in improving public education would have to look at the satisfaction of all the students, including those remaining in the traditional public schools, in order to evaluate the success of the program.

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Harry 12.05.16 at 7:38 pm

Howard — I think its fair to say that as far as we can tell charter schools do well for poor kids compared to alternatives in some places (New Orleans), badly in others (Detroit), so-so in others (DC) and… so on. On average, charter schools do about as well as traditional publics across the country as far as we can tell, and maybe a little better for low-income children in particular from black and hispanic backgrounds. We have pretty good evidence concerning KIPP, that they do well for the kids when it comes to traditional measures of success.

cs: we know very little about the effects charters have on the traditional public schools with which they compete, or that vouchers have. A matter for further research. I completely agree, as do all serious researchers, that we cannot assume the effects are not negative, but we shouldn’t assume they are negative, either. Its an empirical matter, hard to decide. The whole debate is fogged by ideology, and its a good idea to attend to what evidence there is.

100

WLGR 12.05.16 at 7:43 pm

To my money, Z @ 93 makes the first truly important point in the thread, hinted at others like Harry @ 26 but without following through to the obvious general conclusion. The education system in the US as in any literally any other advanced human society isn’t designed to create widespread freedom and equality, foster a universally enlightened citizenry, solve our social and economic ills, “lift people out of poverty”, or any of that ideological pablum. On a purely practical material level, it’s designed to continually raise generations of children to take the places left by their elders in the existing arrangement of society, a stratified and unequal arrangement based on intractable class antagonisms. In many societies with some measure of formal legal equality, notably the US, it also takes on an ideological burden of obscuring this de facto stratification with a facade (however transparent and flimsy) of universal access to basic developmental ingredients for a stable middle- or upper-class existence, enabling the society to then turn around and blame those who can’t achieve such an existence for their own alleged failure. People in such societies might otherwise claim to harbor no illusions about elites’ willingness to support institutions explicitly designed to shatter their class hegemony, but then they treat it as bizarre or unexpected when the school system (which is after all an institution of the capitalist state and/or its ruling class) fails to foster a Lake Wobegon society where “all the children are above average” or whatever.

On that note maybe the best thing that can be said for the emancipatory potential of public education in the US is that the ruling class does seem to be trying to replace it with something more unequal and exploitative, even risking a degree of openness about the real establishment unity behind the illusion of meaningful opposition in two-party politics (just feel the fear oozing from center-left media flunky par excellence Jon Chait at the prospect of a prominent Democratic education reformer accepting a Cabinet appointment from Trump) in order to forestall organized electoral resistance to their agenda. On the other hand, it could be just as likely that this is entirely reducible to the overarching imperative of neoliberal capitalism — expanding the reach of markets into previously non-marketized domains, especially domains of social reproduction that can only be marketized with the extensive aid of state power — as opposed to any specific concern about the subversive potential of public schooling in particular. Nothing personal, teachers, it’s just business.

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J-D 12.05.16 at 8:13 pm

Howard Frant

J-D@54

I don’t have kids, but I though it was pretty widely accepted that parents sometimes have to override kids’ preferences in those kids’ interests.

I don’t know. Perhaps it is widely accepted (or not widely accepted but still ‘pretty widely accepted’, whatever that means), but what of that? Something can be widely accepted and utterly wrong.

However, if you pay as close attention to exactly what I wrote as I did myself, you will see that it is fully compatible with the view that parents sometimes have to override children’s preferences in their children’s interests. I did not write that children’s preferences should override all other considerations; I wrote that in relation to their own lives their preferences should carry greater weight than the preferences of their parents (and, I would add, the preferences of anybody else).

Perhaps this is applied more broadly than it should be.

There, plainly, we agree (except that I would change ‘perhaps’ to ‘certainly’.

But we clearly don’t credit kids with full rationality in, for example, the criminal justice system. Personally, I wouldn’t want to change that.

I don’t know what you’re referring to there.

102

Collin Street 12.05.16 at 8:25 pm

The whole debate is fogged by ideology, and its a good idea to attend to what evidence there is.

This actually isn’t the case: if your evidence is contaminated badly enough, you’re actually better off just ignoring it.

[because you don’t know how it’s contaminated: correcting for contamination means using your intuition… which means your actual policy decisions are guided ultimately not by “the evidence” but by what your intuition says the evidence is. Or in other words what’s really guiding your decisions is your intuition; the “evidence” is just stage dressing. Admitting that and going on gut feels alone gets you essentially the same results, but with a better awareness of exactly what they are. You don’t get the same “I’m following evidence so of course I’m right!” effect.]

103

J-D 12.05.16 at 8:26 pm

Brett Dunbar

How much evidence is there that what you describe as ‘a fairly simple consequence of market theory’ is generally reflected in what happens in actual markets?

104

engels 12.05.16 at 8:35 pm

Its an empirical matter, hard to decide. The whole debate is fogged by ideology, and its a good idea to attend to what evidence there is.

It seems to me that much of what you and Henry consider ‘ideology’ many, many other people (most of whom di not appear to be not particularly left-wing or theoretically minded) would consider to be deeply held ethical principles. It’s worth remembering that technocratic utilitarianism is an ideology too, and one which doesn’t seem to be doing very well right now.

105

engels 12.05.16 at 8:43 pm

Electricity and water and much else have been done. Now it’s education. Then…policing, maybe?

Trump advisors aim to privatize oil-rich Indian reservations

106

Harry 12.05.16 at 8:57 pm

Just to be clear, I wasn’t accusing anyone here of being ideological. But plenty of the debate is ideological, and I’m surprised anyone thinks otherwise — everyone on this thread seems to agree. Fwiw I agree that technocratic utilitarianism is an ideology too, and its one I reject.

107

WLGR 12.05.16 at 9:10 pm

Harry: “We have pretty good evidence concerning KIPP, that they do well for the kids when it comes to traditional measures of success.”

Be exceedingly careful with these kinds of claims. The easiest game in the world for these kinds of high-profile outfits is to play fast and loose with the representativeness and scalability of either their model (e.g. relying on Gates/Walton/Broad/etc. money to fund a level of services nobody but the starriest-eyed lefties would propose to provide systemically for impoverished students writ large) or their student body (e.g. by relying on high-effort opt-in screening and admissions procedures to ensure that their student body consists largely of the most motivated students and families in their target demographic). KIPP in particular is well known for its extreme reluctance to accept transfer students to replace those who move, drop out, or otherwise leave, meaning that by definition it drops the ball on one of the single most disruptive effects of systemic poverty — dislocation and migration — in a way that would be impossible for a public school system writ large to sweep under the rug. One can charitably call this an earnest effort to isolate a narrow and easily measurable student population of interest and experiment with solutions to their specific problems, or one can uncharitably call it a cynical and self-interested ideological ploy to pretend that their model offers some kind of solution to broader problems neither they nor the people who parrot their press releases are genuinely interested in actually solving… tomayto tomahto.

108

WLGR 12.05.16 at 9:29 pm

Harry, I don’t think anybody is objecting to the accusation of “being ideological”. I think we’re taking it as a given that there’s not a single person or argument that isn’t ideological, on this thread or otherwise, and we’re objecting to the idea that “not being ideological” in this context is possible at all. Not to go Full Slavoj on you or anything, but the very concept of a political argument “not being ideological” is ideology at its purest.

109

PatinIowa 12.05.16 at 9:33 pm

Mr. Coffin @ 37:

I was a high school student in Indianapolis in 1970. (Catholic school, my choice, my parents could pay the freight.)

In 1970, Indianapolis was, by a large margin, the most openly racist place I’ve ever been. The number and frequency of racist words–not just the n-word–among people of all ages was staggering and we had just moved from Houston. When I discovered how much influence the Klan had on Indiana politics, especially in the 20s and 30s, doing a social science project when I was junior at said HS, my reaction, was, “Yes. That makes sense.”

It hasn’t changed all that much, although some of the suburban schools are a little less pristine than they used to be.

110

J-D 12.05.16 at 9:58 pm

Manta

The assumption is not that the parents will make the best choice: it is that they will do a better choice than the State bureaucrats, since they a) have a more compelling interest than the state and b) know their kid better.

Same old red herring. The question is not ‘Who is best at judging what is in the interests of a child?’, the question is ‘What is the best mechanism for allocating public funding for education?’, and parents are not better equipped than anybody else to answer the question.

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LFC 12.05.16 at 10:09 pm

WLGR @100

The education system in the US as in any literally any other advanced human society isn’t designed to create widespread freedom and equality, foster a universally enlightened citizenry, solve our social and economic ills, “lift people out of poverty”, or any of that ideological pablum. On a purely practical material level, it’s designed to continually raise generations of children to take the places left by their elders in the existing arrangement of society, a stratified and unequal arrangement based on intractable class antagonisms. In many societies with some measure of formal legal equality, notably the US, it also takes on an ideological burden of obscuring this de facto stratification with a facade (however transparent and flimsy) of universal access to basic developmental ingredients

This ignores or at least fails to mention the fact that the reproduction of class stratification is imperfect, as a certain of number of students do not “take the place of their elders” in the class hierarchy, but move up it. (An example that comes to mind is B. Carson, whom Trump has just named to his Cabinet.) Conversely, some others go in the opposite direction.

That reproduction of hierarchy is imperfect means that the system is not achieving what WLGR says are its goals in an efficient manner, which in turn means that there are openings to make the reproduction of hierarchy still more imperfect, by pushing toward a system where the “facade” of “universal access to basic development ingredients” becomes progressively less of a facade and more a reality. Not that education in this kind of society will ever be able to be the *main* means of dealing with poverty and inequality, but since WLGR — given his doctrinaire, dogmatic brand of Leftism — believes that severe inequality is ineradicable in a capitalist society, he can, on the one hand, state that the point of education under capitalism is the reproduction of class stratification and, on the other, rest assured that no other mechanisms exist in a capitalist society to reduce inequality significantly.

This is akin to the mistake Marx made in Critique of the Gotha Program, where he asserted that no capitalist society could redistribute income to any significant degree, since, in Marx’s words, “the distribution of the means of consumption” depends on and stems from the underlying arrangement of the forces and relations of production, i.e., on the mode of production . That this particular proposition happens to be false — capitalist societies are in fact able to redistribute income — has not stopped people like WLGR from assuming that every institution in a capitalist society is devoted almost exclusively to reproducing hierarchy and stratification and further assuming, incorrectly, that the “flimsy” ideological facade is so flimsy that it can’t be used as a wedge to create real reforms.

If you approach these issues from the assumption that no meaningful reform is possible under capitalism, you’re going to conclude that, no matter the domain under discussion — education, health, foreign policy, economic policy, etc. — no meaningful reform is possible under capitalism. One starts from a premise and ends up with that same premise, and the intervening steps merely become an excuse to lecture supposedly gullible left-liberals and social democrats about their ostensible naivete and failure to grasp the all-encompassing Marxist truths.

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J-D 12.05.16 at 10:31 pm

Kurt Schuler

I believe that every U.S. president in my lifetime other than Jimmy Carter has sent his children to private schools for most or all of their primary and secondary education. Barack Obama, for instance, himself graduated from a private high school and has sent his daughters exclusively to private schools in Chicago and Washington. Ditto Donald Trump and his son. They are representative of what people who can afford to opt out of public schools think of them.

My parents did not send me to private schools, although they could have afforded to. I didn’t send my daughter to private schools, although I could have afforded to. But I don’t assume that my family is a representative sample, and I don’t see that you have any basis for concluding that US Presidents are a representative sample. They make interesting examples, but that’s not the same thing.

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herm 12.05.16 at 10:40 pm

“School choice” strikes me as merely the means of replacing democratic choice with consumer choice. To me, whether some (or many? Cowen simply doesn’t specify) parents would rather choose their child’s development in the same manor as they choose what color of jeans to buy, is simply beside the point. There is a lot to lose in removing public, democratic choice from our education system, and quite frankly no “school choice” advocate has even come close to making a decent case of why removing local control is of any benefit whatsoever to our communities.

And to be perfectly honest, I don’t even think there is a case to be made. Because why stop at limiting democratic control of our school systems? If consumer choice is so good, why have democratic control at all?

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Harry 12.05.16 at 11:01 pm

Harry: “We have pretty good evidence concerning KIPP, that they do well for the kids when it comes to traditional measures of success.”

Be exceedingly careful with these kinds of claims

I don’t really know how to be more careful than the way I said it, given the evidence (very high quality quasi-experimental evidence by researchers we have every reason to trust, using traditional measures that defenders of traditional public schools often use. Might be wrong, which is why I said it is ‘pretty good’).

On ideology. I was using the term loosely. I guess what I mean by what I say is that in my experience (which is very extensive — I wrote my first book about school choice 16 years ago and am still working on the issues) numerous people have false empirical beliefs that support the policy conclusions they are disposed to agree with. False empirical beliefs about the design of programs, eg, and about what has been uncovered by research. I find this from people on both sides of the debate, including people who are considerably invested in it. No doubt we all fall victim to this tendency from time to time, but its a tendency that I am exceedingly careful to avoid.

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Faustusnotes 12.05.16 at 11:45 pm

People in poor areas already have “food choice” – they can go anywhere to buy their food, unrestricted by catchment areas or state interference. Yet obesity and diabetes are concentrated in poor areas, because their free “choice” is restricted by what the free market offers to poor areas. If supermarkets can act to effectively constrain food choices in poor areas, why would anyone assume schools will be different? In reality the “choice” of school is still restricted by location and transport options, and no doubt there will be a premium applied to fees so that people in these areas get less for the same price just as they do when buying food. When analyzing this rhetoric of choice we need to consider how the choices are restricted.

before expanding choice, it seems to me that the state needs to simply put more money and effort into public schools and to alleviating child poverty. But no doubt once this program fails the republicans will find a way to blame it on certain people, and walk away unscathed as always…

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Manta 12.06.16 at 12:30 am

@110 J-D

“Same old red herring. The question is not ‘Who is best at judging what is in the interests of a child?’, the question is ‘What is the best mechanism for allocating public funding for education?’, and parents are not better equipped than anybody else to answer the question.”

Why not? Are you denying that parents know their kids better? Or that (in the greatest majoiryt of cases) they care about them than the state?
Said otherwise: you think (as an example “anybody else”) that your judgement on how to best educate (and use the allotted public fundings) Tim (whom you never met in your life) has the same value as the judgement of his parents?

Moreover, there is the idea that kids are not the property of the parents, but are the property of the state (see herm @113)
Moreover, claiming that the state defends children rights, (as Collin @86), doesn’t make more sense than claiming that slave-holders defend slave rights, or that an absolute king defends his subjects rights, and surely less than claiming that parents defend their children rights. In all those case, the supposed “defender” was not appointed by the ward, and has no particular interest in actually caring for it.

In other words: why the state should have more rights than the parents in deciding how to educate the kids?

However, I agree with the practical matter that parents often unable to decide which schools are best (in the same way as most people don’t have the time or ability to shop around for good health care), and that universal schooling *may* be the best solution.

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Cranky Observer 12.06.16 at 1:30 am


http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/shuttering-of-imagine-charter-schools-in-st-louis-is-daunting/article_ec4adf66-bde4-5e11-91d2-baca703df156.html
ST. LOUIS • As they move to close down a network of St. Louis charter schools over the next several weeks, state education officials face a task as monumental and complicated as dismantling an entire school district.

As many as 3,800 children — or about 11 percent of those attending public schools in the city — must find new schools. Their records must be properly preserved and transferred. The school buildings they attended have to be scoured for equipment and materials paid for with federal funds. The 288 teachers and staff who work at the schools must have a better idea of their remaining pay and benefits. And that’s not counting the thousands of questions by parents who demand answers.

Charter schools in Missouri have closed in the past. But never on this scale.= = =

It is worth the time to read the Post-Dispatch’s coverage of this charter school disaster (to get some links search for: stltoday imagine schools failure). An absolute failure of the sort that charter schools proponents claim won’t happen because markets. And anyway, parents can always change schools. [what happened to the 3,800 K-6 kids referenced in the quote? 90% of them were dumped back into the deeply troubled and struggling St. Louis Public School system, which (a) had already been badly damaged by the departure of those students 3 years earlier (b) had no choice but to to accept them and try to figure out what to do. ]

The for-profit division of Imagine, to which the corporate sponsors of these charters had turned when they realized that running a school for more than 1-2 years is very difficult, gave the money back when the experiment failed. Ha! I kid – they kept all the money for their executives and investors. That’s one aspect of a response to Howard Frant’s 2:33 am comment: many charters are founded as non-profits, but when the initial enthusiasm fades and the founding group of parents ages out the organization often finds there is no replacement group willing to make the school their life’s work for little remuneration, so they turn to for-profit “school management firms” such as Imagine to run the thing. That typically lasts 2-3 years; once the cash is extracted the contract is not renewed and the charter fails.

Running a school over a long period of time is hard, and people who work hard at making it successful tend to want to be paid. Which is where the UFT and CTU came in…

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Cranky Observer 12.06.16 at 1:36 am

= = = Manta@12:30 am Why not? Are you denying that parents know their kids better? Or that (in the greatest majoiryt of cases) they care about them than the state?
Said otherwise: you think (as an example “anybody else”) that your judgement on how to best educate (and use the allotted public fundings) Tim (whom you never met in your life) has the same value as the judgement of his parents?

Moreover, there is the idea that kids are not the property of the parents, but are the property of the state (see herm @113) = = =

Children are citizens and individual human beings, not anyone’s property (although the idea that children are parents’ property is very common among the breitbart.com set). And the history of the United States, immigration, assimilation, and its public school system (when it worked) shows pretty clearly that the long-term interests of pre-voting-age citizens (i.e. children) are often not well determined by their parents.

Or to put it in a more modern context: should children in Texas learn real science, with a full biology curriculum including evolution, a full history curriculum including thorough and honest comparative religions material, and real science including climatology? Or is their best interest to receive instruction in only Republican-approved, Christian-infused curricula?

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kidneystones 12.06.16 at 1:51 am

The given is that people of mobility and wealth can and do ‘choose’ the schools they prefer for their kids. Indeed, the ability to choose careers, places of employment, and places of residence are the three most reliable metrics by which we mark the differences between the wealthy and the poor. We, the wealthy, understand that different communities offer different benefits. A very few offer a diverse range of choices both in terms of quality and variety. We exercise our choices accordingly.

Harry makes clear what the evidence suggests. Inner-city and rural communities are ‘poor’ in the truest sense because the lack the means to exercise the same choices that we the wealthy exercise at will. A few have the temerity to deny the poor the right to exercise choice on the only level they can. This seems to me wrong, short-sighted, and even cruel.

Yes, charter schools should be monitored, and monitored carefully. But please do not tell the poor they will have to wait for the great age of equality before then can exercise the same rights we the wealthy appear to be taking for granted.

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Tracy Lightcap 12.06.16 at 1:52 am

The one thing that nobody here has addressed yet is that this is a one time proposition.

If you screw up a child’s education, you don’t get to re-run it. It’s screwed. Full Stop. That in turn argues for, at best, extensive and long term experimentation before we lay hasty hands on an institution – public education – that has served the country well. I’m pretty convinced that such experimentation would show that charter schools and vouchers don’t deliver results that would warrant changing the public school system. The reason I say this is that most of the evidence so far indicates that this would be the result. Rather then destroy – and don’t think that isn’t what’s behind this – a long standing and pretty effective institution, we should definitely think twice.

But, I hear someone say, things can’t get much worse for some of our school children. Of course they can. Cosma did a post not too long ago that pointed this out. Human beings are foolish, greedy, and selfish. There’s every reason to think that trying to dismantle long standing social institutions will create opportunities for these three infirmities to flourish to the detriment of society as a whole. This is especially the case when the chances for turning a child’s life into mush are so high and so unrecoverable. (It’s rather like the death penalty in that.) What we should do is experiment in different ways of educating children using both public and private solutions before we decide to allow our fellows to exercise their predilections on the next generation.

But we almost certainly won’t do that. The result will almost certainly be more comparative educational and, consequently, economic decline. Too bad.

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Harry 12.06.16 at 2:00 am

“An absolute failure of the sort that charter schools proponents claim won’t happen because markets.”

Not the charter advocates I know. They anticipate there will be such disasters, exactly because it is hard to run schools well, and many will fail. The upside of markets is supposed to be that when charter fail eventually they close, whereas public schools…

Picking out charter school (or voucher school) failures sheds no more light than cherry picking charter school (or voucher school) successes.

There are plenty of reasons for being skeptical that for-profits will be successful in providing quality schooling in rich countries. Only a small minority of charter schools are for-profits; in fact only a minority are run by CMOs.

And, to keep this in perspective, even now charter schools account for a much smaller proportion of school students than private schools do (6% ish)

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Cranky Observer 12.06.16 at 2:25 am

= = = Harry@2:00 am: Picking out charter school (or voucher school) failures sheds no more light than cherry picking charter school (or voucher school) successes. = = =

Again, where did the 3,600 children go when the charter schools announced in June – after application and transfer deadlines for other schools had passed – that they were closing? To the public schools. Bad as they were the public schools were there to take them in. Disruption of school life is often devastating for children of that age, yet the charter/corporate schools made no provision – and were not required to make any provision – for what would happen if they failed. And let’s be clear: a very large percentage of charters do fail; the vast majority of public schools do not. Demanding honest reporting of the percentage of charter schools that fail is not “cherry picking”: it is shining a spotlight on an area that the proponents are trying very hard to obscure.

[there is a long history of why City of St. Louis schools are bad, in which racism, classism, and white flight play a large role]

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Harry 12.06.16 at 2:58 am

Yes, I agree that moving between schools is really bad for kids (even when it is planned, and even when the move is between reasonably good schools!, let alone when it is from bad to bad). That’s one good reason against choice, and its a good reason for investing heavily in transition when school closures of any kind occur. Sorry — I see how the word ‘cherry picking’ came off; I agree, we need a full and honest reporting. The truth is that probably too few charter schools fail, but the thing about traditional public schools is that even when they fail they don’t close. In my experience many proponents of traditional public schools play up the problems with charters and downplay the problems with traditional public schools; and many charter/voucher advocates do the reverse. leading to both painting a distorted picture.

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faustusnotes 12.06.16 at 3:00 am

And Manta comes round to accepting that universal public education “may” be a good idea. So we see the progressive and forward-thinking nature of libertarian ideology.

Why on earth would parents be better at deciding how to fund public schools than administrators? Do they know how many librarians a school needs, how many cleaners are required, the correct balance of full- and part-time teachers, how to properly remunerate teachers for advanced tasks (vice principal, counsellor etc), what is a good set of contract conditions for relief teachers, how to properly remunerate teachers based on experience and skills? Should perhaps patients decide how hospitals are funded? Perhaps we could ask the residents of elderly care homes how much their carers should be paid, how many hours is safe for them to work, and what qualifications they should have in infection control? What a ludicrous idea.

Education managements is a complex and specialist task best kept out of the hands of parents.

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Ohio Mom 12.06.16 at 3:17 am

Harry@26: “catchment area”? I think you might mean “school district.”

Most school districts in the US are a form of independent local government, described and defined in their respective state’s constitution (some big cities have mayoral control). As a local government, they have legal jurisdictional boundaries — just like a city has “limits,” so does a school district.

The district is run by democratically-elected leadership, known as the “school board.”
All citizens living within the district, whether they have children in the schools or not, can vote in elections for the school board, and even run for office themselves.

Similarly, all who live in the district, whether or not they have children, must support it through taxes (as an analogy, I don’t use my city’s golf course but I help pay for it).

As a form of government, school districts must treat all alike. The district can not choose which students they will accept, they must accept all. (This by the way, is the basis for special ed law. Disabled children must be given the same civil right to a free, public schooling as their typically-developing peers.)

If a child has behavioral issues that may merit suspension or expulsion, due process must be followed. Private schools of course do not have any of these obligations when it comes to their student bodies.

Also, school districts must have open meetings and open records (with the exception of records on individual students which enjoy privacy protections). The financial books are public information.

All this is by way of saying this: to me, the most disturbing aspect of charters, vouchers and other efforts to privatize education is that it works to disappear an entire level of democratic government.

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Peter T 12.06.16 at 3:33 am

“even when they fail they don’t close”.

That’s true of lots of things – indeed most public goods (we don’t close the army when it fails, or the electricity supply, or the roads…). Which is why many and varied means have been devised to monitor for and fix failures in the public sector. So the question is – why does the US find it so hard to apply these means?

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herm 12.06.16 at 3:51 am

@116
Despite your ridiculously inflammatory mischaracterization of democratic control being synonymous with children “being owned by the state”, I think you are on to something that our system of universal schooling has proven to be the best answer.

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Alan White 12.06.16 at 4:07 am

Hi Harry–

First, I really appreciate the care with which you approach these issues. I’ve spent a good deal of the evening browsing the link to Charters in your latest post. Thanks so much for that.

Second, I take it that most everyone agrees that democratic/constitutional government has an interest requiring education even if what constitutes an educated citizen is open to broad interpretation. However, certainly not anything goes. That means that such a government must have interests in assuring that required education meets some broad standards of what it is to be adequately educated. I suppose this is the attitude behind the classic 3 Rs approach. But recent political shifts here in the US and the world tend to indicate that mere literacy is not enough to make a citizen well-equipped to deal with the vicissitudes of the media-and-money dominated world of the 21st century–in fact such ground-level literacy seems to be a necessary condition for also being swayed by the seismic ideological guile of social media (“Pizza-gate”? Really?). So an argument could be made that responsible government needs to assess required education for meeting standards of reflective rational personal conduct in the face of increasingly dis-factual media onslaught. Funding some schools that advocate purely ideological views–creationism, blind market capitalism, climate-change denialism, sexism, racism, theological purity, etc.–does not contribute to making for more informed citizens in that sense of becoming so reflective and rational.

Third, the data used to evaluate these issues results mostly in meta-analyses of studies that themselves have large variability of methodology and collectively only range over about one generation of students. Conclusions about what the future holds or how we should proceed are thus tightly constrained by worries about contingent recent political trends and an unstable (for many reasons) data-base.

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Harry 12.06.16 at 4:11 am

Ohio Mom — I really did mean catchment area. School districts find ingenious ways to treat children differently. So, for example, in a nearby district adjacent elementary schools have free-and-reduced-lunch rates of 20% and 80% respectively, and (as far as I can tell, judging by the seniority levels of the teaching staff in each school) the district spends more per student in the school with 20% free and reduced lunch. The district chooses not to redraw the boundaries in order to equalize the free and reduced lunch rates because the parents of the more privileged children would make a large fuss and many would probably defect to private schools or move to nearby districts with very low free and reduced lunch rates (where, incidentally, denizens pay lower real estate taxes, enjoying the benefits of a large pool of low wage labor in the city without having to pay for the services that population needs). If you can afford a house in one catchment area the government treats you much better than if you can’t. There is choice, and ample inequality, within the traditional public school system.

And just to say that charter schools in most states are bound by many of the same rules as traditional public schools. They are, indeed, under less direct control from school districts (though that varies enormously by state, but they are always authorized and regulated by authorities empowered by democratically elected bodies (state legislatures) which frankly enjoy more democratic legitimacy than most school boards do (much higher proportions of the electorate vote in state-level elections than in school board elections). They are all required to admit by lottery when oversubscribed. (Which is not to say there is no selection: they can skew the applicant pool in various ways and in places like NYC do so apparently with abandon!).

On the disappearing of an entire level of democratic government: this opens up a whole new can of worms but I have always wondered whether the spectacularly low voting rates in the US have anything to do with the spectacularly large number of levels of government (school board, county board, city council, mayoralty, local DA, sheriff, local judges; state assembly, state senate, AG, other state level offices, Governor, state judges, House of Reps, Senate, Presidency; and primaries for everything…). Losing just one level of government might not be such a disaster.

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J-D 12.06.16 at 4:13 am

Manta

“Same old red herring. The question is not ‘Who is best at judging what is in the interests of a child?’, the question is ‘What is the best mechanism for allocating public funding for education?’, and parents are not better equipped than anybody else to answer the question.”

Why not? Are you denying that parents know their kids better? Or that (in the greatest majoiryt of cases) they care about them than the state?

You have not explained what connection you perceive between those questions and the question of how public funds should be allocated. In the absence of such a connection, those questions remain red herrings.

Said otherwise: you think (as an example “anybody else”) that your judgement on how to best educate (and use the allotted public fundings) Tim (whom you never met in your life) has the same value as the judgement of his parents?

Your question presupposes that there is public funding allotted specifically to the education of Tim; in effect, you are assuming that voucherisation is automatic. But it isn’t.

Moreover, there is the idea that kids are not the property of the parents, but are the property of the state (see herm @113)

I don’t think anybody asserted that children are the property of the state; that is certainly not my position. Children are not property at all, of anybody (or they shouldn’t be).

In other words: why the state should have more rights than the parents in deciding how to educate the kids?

If the state has no right to make any decisions about how children are educated, then it seems to me to follow that the state has no right to decide that children should be educated at all, and therefore no right to allocate money specifically to the education of children.

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kidneystones 12.06.16 at 4:53 am

As an educator and one who very strongly agrees that universal public education is very much a public good, perhaps the most important, I’m slightly troubled by the level of disconnect in some circles. The most widely-read article at RCP is on the re-election of Nancy Pelosi and the catastrophic impact for Democrats in coming elections. Leaving that aside for the moment, here’s a snapshot of the current lay of the land:

“Democratic control in state legislative bodies is in its weakest spot since the Civil War; Republicans now hold control of a record 68 percent of the 98 state legislative chambers in the nation. In total they hold 4,100 of the 7,383 seats, more than they have held since 1920.”

If this seems like Democrats are ‘winning’ the public debates on the issues, I’d hate to see defeat. Yes, the GOP doesn’t play fair. But it was teachers themselves who elected to withdraw from teachers’ unions in Wisconsin. It’s possible everything flips and Democrats make record gains in 2018. That scenario is based far more on ‘hope’ than evidence. Advocates of universal health care where everyone gets great free health care and great public education make worthy arguments. Problem is people are looking for results, not higher health-care premiums and less choice.

Education is going to undergo a variety of changes, some of which I personally find horrifying. I’m unable to reverse many/any of these. There is a new marshal in town. Democratic arguments and candidates leave the electorate cold. Voters want some fresh thinking and fresh solutions. Some of these will come from outside the orthodoxies of the 20th century.

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J-D 12.06.16 at 5:15 am

kidneystones

Inner-city and rural communities are ‘poor’ in the truest sense because the lack the means to exercise the same choices that we the wealthy exercise at will. A few have the temerity to deny the poor the right to exercise choice on the only level they can.

That’s untrue. Nobody is doing that.

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John Quiggin 12.06.16 at 6:26 am

We have ample evidence (for example, from the University of Phoenix and similar firms) that for-profits do a very bad job in education and other human services, and there are obvious explanations – it’s much easier and more profitable to game a public financing system than it is to improve education.

So, the fact that the share of for-profit charters, including “non-profits” where most of the services are provided by for-profit “education management organizations”, is increasing steadily should be enough to signal that something is going badly wrong.

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Brett Dunbar 12.06.16 at 8:08 am

J-D @ 103

Some. One example is that when the airports were privatised most (around 60% of capacity) went to BAA a few were sold independently. The two main airports in the Northwest (Liverpool and Manchester) both went to independent providers as they are fairly close together and similar capacity there was competition. While all the airports in the southeast went to monopolist behemoth BAA. Passenger satisfaction in the Northwest was far higher. The airports were competing for custom by being efficient, cheap and reliable. BAA as a monopoly didn’t have to make an effort as the airlines had to use one or other of its airports. Having two providers attained much of the benefit of competition.

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Brett Dunbar 12.06.16 at 8:17 am

Faustusnotes @ 115

Food deserts are basically mythical. Poor areas are served by supermarkets which have a broad range of products. Healthy food is available to anyone who wants to buy it. What is true is there is less of it in the shops. That is simply a response to consumer preference. The urban poor choose to buy more processed food and cook from scratch less than richer people. Time skill and confidence are constraints not availability of ingredients.

136

Brett Dunbar 12.06.16 at 8:24 am

Faustusnotes @ 124

I don’t think anyone is arguing that the parents should micromanage the schools. The vouchers determine the overall budget, the school then manages itself. What you are raising is a strawman.

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Manta 12.06.16 at 10:33 am

faustusnotes @124 objections to parents meddling with education apply equally to any kind of consumer choice: exactly the same words can be applied to someone deciding in which hotel to stay.

As I said, there is a practical claim that in the case of education individuals don’t have enough information/time to pick up the good options among the bad ones: but that is a claim that needs to be backed up by evidence.
To make a comparison, the evidence in healthcare seems quite strong that universal health care is cheaper and better quality than the USA system.

@118 Cranky Observer 12.06.16 at 1:36 am
“Children are citizens and individual human beings, not anyone’s property”

Children are wards: the question is, ward of the state or of their parents? If you think that the state usually does a better job than the parents, I suppose that the idea of sending a kid to a foster house doesn’t sound so bad.

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Manta 12.06.16 at 10:35 am

herm @127:
“despite your ridiculously inflammatory mischaracterization of DEMOCRATIC control being synonymous with children “being owned by the state”

Children don’t vote.

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reason 12.06.16 at 11:06 am

“Respect for the autonomous right to make choices doesn’t require as much evidence as claims based on consumer sovereignty “

The problem is that it is the PARENTS making the choice, but in this case it is not clear that they are in fact the customer.

140

reason 12.06.16 at 11:10 am

I see Asteele said the same thing already so please treat this as a me too.

141

kidneystones 12.06.16 at 11:15 am

142

Paul Davis 12.06.16 at 11:43 am

BrettDunbar @136 … I’ve been inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt regarding many of your previous posts on CT that appear to get close to run of the mill racist stereotyping, but this one really goes over the line. The “urban poor” choose what to eat? Food deserts are “basically mythical”? Your desperate belief that these sorts of things are true doesn’t make them so. People with little money are forced to buy cheap food, and cheap food, thanks to our food production and distribution system, tends to mean processed food (hint: I am a rich foodie, but I can also buy cheap fresh ingredients and cook; I see prepared, processed food/meals that cost less than I could buy the ingredients for). Have you ever actually travelled through parts of any of the older cities that are lived in by mostly poor African-Americans? I could point you to several parts of Philadelphia that against all odds completely lack the same supermarkets that make the rest of the Delaware Valley such an absurdly competitive market for these businesses. I’d like to think you’re just being insensitive, but past evidence suggests probably not.

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Layman 12.06.16 at 12:13 pm

Kurt Schuler: “I believe that every U.S. president in my lifetime other than Jimmy Carter has sent his children to private schools for most or all of their primary and secondary education.”

Similarly, every U.S. president in your lifetime has been driven around in an armored car accompanied by armed guards. This could be because they don’t trust their own driving skills, or it could be for some other reason…

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Layman 12.06.16 at 12:28 pm

Private schools are by design exclusive. They (can) select for their students academically and financially, with predictable results for their performance. The idea of giving some or all public school students tuition assistance so they can choose a private school is muddled thinking. If you give only some students vouchers and the right to select the private school, the other public school students are being cheated. Even if you give all students vouchers and the right to select the private school, the private school is incapable of accommodating all the applicants. This means of course that the private school will again be selective about which voucher students it accepts, and that most students will be left holding worthless vouchers. The magic of the market will of course create another private school, but not quickly, and not of the same quality as the original; and a few years is a long time in the eductation of a child. And of course even this new school won’t mean all kids can be accommodated. Better schools will raise their tuition to be more selective. Repeat as necessary, and you revert to the original state, where poor kids only have access to poor schools.

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Collin Street 12.06.16 at 1:15 pm

The urban poor choose

Men make their own dinners, but they do not make them as they please.

Fuck sake.

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Harry 12.06.16 at 2:22 pm

Layman — The US has three kinds of private school:

i) regular elite schools which cost enough to exclude any but wealth kids. These never have anything to do with vouchers
ii) low cost religious and other schools, affordable for middle-income and even some low income families, with the mission of serving specific demographics (eg white, non-Catholic, Christians)
iii) Schools, many of them Catholic, with the mission of serving a wide range of demographics.

The vouchers go exclusively to the third category of schools, and most children receiving vouchers attend schools which serve exclusively or almost exclusively voucher recipients. In the oldest and largest system the schools select by lottery (as they are mandated to, and as all charter schools are mandated to).

The thing is there is no demand for vouchers from more affluent families, because the government has created well-funded schools for their kids to attend which contain few or no poor children and has ensured that they have plenty of other choices (via the housing market, and the system of highly localized school districts which compete with each other for affluent families).

On denying choice to the poor. Look, I live in a neighbourhood with a pretty good elementary school, an ok middle school, and an overrated high school. IN fact the high school is pretty diverse (in fact one of the most diverse in the US; it is very unusual in being neither high-poverty, nor low-poverty). Most of the families in my neighbourhood are white, and most with children chose to live in my neighbourhood at least partly because of the schools. Most can easily move if they are dissatisfied with the school, and most would do so if they had to. They almost all voted for Obama and for HRC, and a Bernie signs outnumbered HRC signs in the primary. I have had countless conversations with neighbours about the Milwaukee program (which is in the other large city in my state), and have yet to find any who do not oppose it, and have also yet to find any who know the most basic details about its design (targeting low-income children, lotteries for oversubscribed schools etc) or anything about the evaluations of its results. Most will say “we should just improve the public schools” — and I obviously agree with that, but its really much easier said than done.

So, yes, plenty of people oppose poor people getting the choice that they, themselves, enjoy. To be absolutely clear, I am not saying they are wrong to do so. I oppose most voucher proposals and am at best unenthused about charter schools, and I am convinced that the expansion of choice will not do much good and may do much harm. But when I oppose a voucher proposal that I am doing so from a position of extreme and unearned privilege, and when you are all-things-considered privileged, and you seek to deny some part of that privilege being extended to others who are unprivileged, you should at least feel a bit awkward about it.

Between them the opponents of charters and vouchers in this thread make numerous sensible and correct points that any public policy decision should take into account. Between them the (less numerous) supporters of charters and vouchers do the same thing.

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Layman 12.06.16 at 2:42 pm

@ Harry, the argument still applies: There will not be enough private schools to accommodate choice for all low-income students, so many low-income students will not have a choice. Voucher programs basically take tax revenues garnered outside the poor school district, and bring those funds into the poor school district, to the benefit of only some of the students in that poor school district. If that’s we’re going to do – have people who live in wealthier, better school districts pay for better schools in poorer school districts – why don’t we just get on with doing that? Why the complicated mechanism which by design can’t accommodate all the kids in those poor school districts anyway? I think the answer is ‘we can’t get wealthy people to agree to that’, or perhaps ‘we can’t get conservatives, who hate public education anyway, to agree to that’. If so, and if this is something we can get them to agree to, why do you think that is the case? Perhaps because it is consistent with their goal to eliminate public schools?

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Leo Casey 12.06.16 at 3:25 pm

The term ideology covers a vast multitude of sins. Yes, we all are afflicted with original sin — there is no “value free” science of education to guide policy choices. But there are those who go far beyond original sin, and use first principles (market are the best means of delivering goods) to answer all questions, without the slightest attention to what the actual evidence shows about using markets for the delivery of education. Yes, the evidence is contested and one is wise to be skeptical about postulates that begin “the evidence shows…” in education policy discussion. But we live in a world where climate change science is contested, and should understand by now the dangers of facile equivalencies. There is good evidence in education, and one can find it with some work –it does require sorting out “junk science” delivered on demand, just as one needs to do on climate science. To rely only upon first principles (the market is the best means for delivery) is ideological in the deepest sense of the term.

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Watson Ladd 12.06.16 at 4:09 pm

Layman, why do you assume that new private schools won’t start up in response to vouchers giving more students the means to access them?

Private markets work in food, and toothpaste, and transportation, and satisfy almost every other need we have universally. So if you are going to say that they won’t work in education, you need to say why, and I don’t think “we don’t have a big market because of the subsidized competitor” works.

Personally I’m worried vouchers will as a demand-side subsidy increase prices. Supply-side subsidies are better.

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Sebastian H 12.06.16 at 4:34 pm

” If that’s we’re going to do – have people who live in wealthier, better school districts pay for better schools in poorer school districts – why don’t we just get on with doing that? Why the complicated mechanism which by design can’t accommodate all the kids in those poor school districts anyway?”

Do you understand that in most of the large states we already do that? In California, where more than 1/6th of US students are taught, the money is already pooled and the reallocated by the state. Yet in California there are a very large number of very abysmal public schools and they have been so for decades–and through at least four rounds of public school reform.

So unless you have concrete other ideas, you are LITERALLY asking parents to wait another 10-20 years for effective reforms in their inner city schools in an environment where school reform has not been a serious Democratic Party push in more than a decade. Meanwhile rich parents simply pay to move better school districts, and then vote to restrict building in those areas to keep poor people out.

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efcdons 12.06.16 at 4:35 pm

Watson Ladd @147

“Private markets work in food, and toothpaste, and transportation, and satisfy almost every other need we have universally. So if you are going to say that they won’t work in education, you need to say why, and I don’t think “we don’t have a big market because of the subsidized competitor” works.”

The more than 100 responses below the OP point out a lot of reasons why education isn’t well suited to “the private market”. There is more than one consumers and they are not in the same position (child v. parent). The impact of the product may not become evident for years. Replacing the product is impossible (I can’t do 3rd grade again if it turned out to suck). The product isn’t scalable (My good school can’t teach a million kids) so some people will have no access to the good product. We don’t have a good way to ascertain the efficacy of the product at all. Especially when it comes to disentangling the effects of other factors which may impact the product’s value added.

Politically some people believe school is partially to inculcate all future citizens with a set of values and provide a common experience for everyone in society. While markets aren’t necessarily unable to do that (we could require certain standards be met by providers) the advocates for markets seem to be explicitly against standardizing the product as the whole point is to provide different experiences for different consumers.

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engels 12.06.16 at 4:38 pm

On this issue, accusing Right-wing think tankers etc of ideology means they have been twisting the evidence to fit a presumption (markets are best) which fits the interests of people like the Kochs. Accusing random people on the Left of it means they have principles (education should be free) or convictions based in their experience (bringing in business practices wrecks public services) that they’re not willing to quickly renounce, even in deference to your decades of professional interest in the research literature. These aren’t the same thing at all and equating them is imho a pretty bad example of the kind of ‘alt-centre’ faux even-handedness that got Western liberalism into the hole it is in.

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Leo Casey 12.06.16 at 4:38 pm

Kidneystones @131:
But it was teachers themselves who elected to withdraw from teachers’ unions in Wisconsin.

This is analogous to holding the targets of voter suppression responsible for not voting.

The law passed by Scott Walker & Tea Party dominated legislature was designed to eviscerate public employee unions so that their members would see no purpose to belonging and quit. It made collective bargaining impotent, either by prohibiting it outright or restricting it to the narrowest of issues. It rewrote health care benefits and pensions to the detriment of public sector workers so that they would conclude that their unions could not protect them. It imposed ‘right to work’ to create free rider issues for unions as they struggled to maintain themselves.

Even under difficult conditions, one should fight back. Voters should make extraordinary efforts to vote, despite the obstacles placed in their paths. Union members should maintain their allegiance to the principle of solidarity, and fight together for a better day when such laws can be undone. Those of us who believe that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice because we do the bending will do that, out of the conviction that it will make a difference. But is it surprising that a good number do not? That was the whole point of the law, after all.

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Ragweed 12.06.16 at 4:40 pm

“On private religious schools: how principled is your opposition. Suppose that we had evidence that religious private schools in Milwaukee resulted in poor and minority kids getting 2 years more education on average than the schools that they would otherwise attend. Would you be willing to fund them then?”

That is a good point, but I think the question would depend on just how religious those private schools are. Do they actively or passively discriminate on the basis of religion? Do they require participation in religious observances? In my town, a fairly sizable portion of the African-American population consists of recent immigrants from the Horn of Africa region, a group that is largely Muslim. Would a publicly funded religious school that successfully educated African-American Christians, but not African-American Muslims, 2 years ahead of other schools be just?

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Layman 12.06.16 at 4:47 pm

@ Watson Ladd, from my comment at 143: “The magic of the market will of course create another private school, but not quickly, and not of the same quality as the original; and a few years is a long time in the eductation of a child.”

If you assume some long enough period of time, of course you could have enough private schools to accommodate all the students; but lots of students will be left behind along the way, because you’ve chosen to fund benefits for some but not all of them. And if the end game is a network of better funded schools with sufficient density to accommodate all students, why not better funded public schools with sufficient density to accommodate all students?

“Private markets work in food, and toothpaste, and transportation, and satisfy almost every other need we have universally.”

This begs a good many questions. There is not a private market in food at all; what do you think the Farm Bill is if not public funding underwriting food production? Nor is there a private market in transportation – every aspect of modern transportation is subsidized with public funding. Ford does not make the roads, nor does Delta staff the airports and provide the air traffic control infrastructure. As to toothpaste, do you really think it is analogous to education?

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Stan 12.06.16 at 5:05 pm

“I am willing to fund public schools that are available to everyone.”

This sounds fair and I suspect most people would agree with it. Except they won’t. What I have seen in many years of involvement in urban public schools is:

* everyone has a theoretical commitment to this kind of equality
* but white people will oppose almost any specific change that might impact white families (e.g, allowing black kids into higher-level classes)
* white people will actively refuse to see that artificial jurisdictional boundaries are creating racist school systems.

Here in New York State, the home of the most segregated schools in the country, the racism is baked into the real estate market and phoney boundaries.

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engels 12.06.16 at 5:15 pm

Left-neoliberalism: find a genuine social problem. Tout markets as the solution. Accuse anyone who doesn’t like it and who isn’t actually poor of Not Caring. Rinse. Repeat. Been there, done that. Pas plus. Non merci.

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Stan 12.06.16 at 5:18 pm

“Some charters like KPP have delivered.”

Not so.

KIPP games the system very well. Their test scores are very high and their attrition rates are astronomical.

Anybody here could run a school that produces really high test scores. It’s really ,really easy. Just toss aside all the kids who can’t do well on tests. Those who are left (in my city, usually about a third of any given cohort) are the ones who do well, and so the average score is very high for that school.

But that is not *public* education, that’s just a scam.

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J-D 12.06.16 at 7:40 pm

Brett Dunbar
The case you are describing there might be evidence for a much more general conclusion, but it’s not evidence for the more specific claims you made earlier, and which were the subject of my question.

If you’ve got an instance (such as airports) where competition produced better results, it may do little or nothing to support a conclusion that competition will produce better results in another instance (such as schools), unless you have identified the series of events by which competition produces better results in the first instance, because that provides some basis for judging whether a similar series of events would be likely in the second instance. In your earlier comment, you described in detail the series of events you would expect on theoretical grounds, and that’s why I was asking for evidence of series of events of that kind in actual markets.

What you haven’t provided in the case of the two airports, Liverpool and Manchester, is evidence that: one was not as good as the other on the scores of cheapness, efficiency, and reliability; and the one that was not as good had slots for flights going begging while the other one had all its slots full and airlines begging for more; and the one that was not as good made difficult choices to improve its cheapness, efficiency, and reliability in order to attrace more custom from the airlines; and this cycle repeated itself until both airports attained the maximum possible cheapness, efficiency, and reliability. That’s the story you told about the consequences of market theory, so when I asked whether what you expected on theoretical grounds was reflected in actual markets, that’s the kind of story I was looking for.

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J-D 12.06.16 at 8:02 pm

kidneystones

A government decision not to operate or fund religious schools is not the same thing as a government decision to deny an existing opportunity of attendance at religious schools; a government decision not to operate or fund democratic schools is not the same thing as a government decision to deny an existing opportunity of attendance at democratic schools; in general, a decision not to create an opportunity is not the same thing as a decision to deny an existing opportunity. It is not physically possible for the government to arrange for everybody to receive exactly the kind of education they want, so it’s not reasonable to describe the (inescapable) situation where some people don’t have available to them exactly the kind of education they want as one in which the government is denying them the right to exercise the only kind of choice they can. There may be good arguments in favour of expansion of opportunities for charter schooling, but that isn’t one of them.

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Sebastian_H 12.06.16 at 9:22 pm

“of course you could have enough private schools to accommodate all the students; but lots of students will be left behind along the way, because you’ve chosen to fund benefits for some but not all of them. And if the end game is a network of better funded schools with sufficient density to accommodate all students, why not better funded public schools with sufficient density to accommodate all students?”

This kind of quote seems to deeply fail to wrestle with the reality that lots of students are getting left behind along the way *right now* and have been for the last 50 years at least under the current public system.

How many years before that becomes a pertinent enough fact that you are willing to risk 5 or 10 or 15 years trying something different?

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kidneystones 12.06.16 at 9:48 pm

@ 154 Thanks for this, Stan.

@ 151 Thanks, Leo. I cite the Wisconsin case to point to the larger malaise, only part of which involves unions. I’ve been involved in organizing unions in a small way. The teachers who elect not to join, or to withdraw are not demons, or pawns. They have reasons which make sense to them.

Those opposed to unions are going to do what they can to bust the unions, as they did in Wisconsin. The ‘fight back’ there did as much damage to union recruiting and retention as anything Scott Walker did.

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M Caswell 12.06.16 at 9:53 pm

It’s a small thing relative to many of these issues, but one thing I really hate about both voucher and charter systems is the choice and contingency they burden me with. Learning about the leadership and curriculum at dozens of schools, strategizing and filling out applications, scheduling visits and interviews, waiting for acceptance notifications, appealing and reapplying, not to mention the enrollment decision itself, all to do it again in a few years… I hate every minute of it, and resent having to do it. For those wealthy enough, there are private consultants in charter-dominated metro districts who will manage the whole rigamarole. Maybe it’s utopian, but I dream of living in a little-to-no-choice world when it comes to basic services.

Corey Robin wrote something similar about healthcare, I believe.

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Layman 12.06.16 at 10:58 pm

Sebastian H: “Do you understand that in most of the large states we already do that? In California, where more than 1/6th of US students are taught, the money is already pooled and the reallocated by the state. Yet in California there are a very large number of very abysmal public schools and they have been so for decades–and through at least four rounds of public school reform.”

Perhaps the problem here is that you really don’t understand how schools are funded in California? Or that the basic problem in California is that the schools are underfunded?

http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=1001

https://ed100.org/lessons/whopays

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Leo Casey 12.07.16 at 12:05 am

Stan @154:

Your fundamental point is correct, but I would amend it. The issue of school segregation today is one of race and class in combination, unlike Jim Crow segregation. Jim Crow schools were segregated by race, but not by class: children of professional African-American families went to school with children of working class African-Americans and poor African-Americans.

In New York, which is now the most segregated state in the nation, schools have a combined segregation of race and class, where schools entirely populated by students of color and also schools with the highest concentrations of the most dire poverty.

When white middle class parents object to school integration (and this is a complicated picture, there are some white middle class parents who are actually pushing for more integrated schools as cities invert), they do not object to middle class students of color but poor students of color.

My three daughters are African-American. When we sent them to a good elementary public school in the gentrifying community of lower Park Slope some 17 years ago, they were greeted with open arms. African-American students who came with considerable stores of family cultural and intellectual capital were more than welcome. African-American students from the nearby projects were an entirely different story.

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Leo Casey 12.07.16 at 12:06 am

That should have been:
where schools entirely populated by students of color ARE also schools with the highest concentrations of the most dire poverty.

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PatinIowa 12.07.16 at 12:19 am

Watson Ladd at 147:

I live in Iowa, of course, and I’m here to tell you that “private markets work in food,” is absolutely false in the US. 501 million dollars a year in direct subsidy (disproportionately going to the largest concerns, naturally) to the state of Iowa alone and tens, probably hundreds of millions in indirect subsidies as well. (I don’t know what you hear elsewhere, but even the most diehard libertarian Republican gets misty-eyed over the environmental benefits of corn ethanol during the primary season, and promises to keep the tax money flowing.)

I drive and take planes, and I can tell you the same about transportation.

Vouchers may or may not work. As people have suggested, the empirical evidence isn’t clear yet. But what a lot of people–especially teachers–recognize is that vouchers are part of a concerted, ideologically driven effort, part of a larger effort articulated very clearly, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

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Alan White 12.07.16 at 12:27 am

kidneystones–

“Those opposed to unions are going to do what they can to bust the unions, as they did in Wisconsin. The ‘fight back’ there did as much damage to union recruiting and retention as anything Scott Walker did.”

I suppose you’re referring to the backlash of the Trumpsters, but honestly this underestimates the damage that the legislation did. I literally had a union card in my hand–signed and ready to join–as permitted for the first time for UW employees by the previous Dem administration–until Walker: Taxes Ranger killed it once again. We may join AAUP, but that doesn’t give us negotiation rights as we would have had. There is no way I can see that the protests actually damaged workers’ rights more than the Walker administration.

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Layman 12.07.16 at 1:15 am

Sebastian H: “This kind of quote seems to deeply fail to wrestle with the reality that lots of students are getting left behind along the way *right now* and have been for the last 50 years at least under the current public system.”

Thank you! Since the point of my comment was to say that your proposed system – vouchers which land a small number of students in better schools while abandoning the rest to bad schools – does not actually solve the problem, which is that many students find themselves in bad schools, it seems we’ve reached agreement on that. Perhaps the *extra* taxpayer funds you’d like to spend on vouchers would be better spent on something that improves the lot of all students?

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Leo Casey 12.07.16 at 1:40 am

I want to push back on one continuing assumption that runs through a number of the comments: that it is self-evident that there are large numbers of “failing” public district schools, and that these failing schools are not closed.

This assumption relies upon a prevailing “common sense” that demands interrogation.

First, one needs to know what the criteria of success and failure are. Are we talking solely about scores on standardized tests? About graduation rates? Are there other measures that are relevant: School climate, including safety? School relationship to community and parents? Student socio-emotional development? Are the measures we use absolute, or do they consider what a school contributes to the growth — academic, socio-emotional, character — of the students for whom they are responsible?

Second, if failing is to be a meaningful descriptor, certainly it must mean that schools are not successful as a result of factors that are, at least for the most part, under their control.

The “common sense” assumption that large numbers of disrtrict public schools are failing is derived almost entirely from a small number of absolute measures, primarily standardized test scores and graduation rates, and it is done without any consideration of the obstacles that poverty places in the way of educational achievement. Compelling research shows that by age 3, before they enter school, children from professional class families have an oral vocabulary which is more than twice the size of children living in poverty. We know that oral literacy is the foundation of reading and writing literacy. https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/TheEarlyCatastrophe.pdf Thus, even before day one in a student’s education, schools with large concentrations of students living in poverty start at an extreme disadvantage vis-a-vis schools teaching students from professional backgrounds. Absolute measures of how students score on standardized tests are, it is clear, at least as much measures of socio-economic class status as they are of any learning that has gone in a school. When parents choose a school based on the absolute test scores of its students they are, as a practical matter, choosing a school based on the socio-economic class of the students’ families. A meaningful assessment of a school’s success/failure must be able to assess student growth, and must employ multiple measures of student development and school effectiveness.

Further, given the many obstacles that poverty places in the way of learning once a student has begun their formal education (a number of which have been discussed in this thread), the greater the concentration of students living in poverty in a school, the greater the challenge that a school faces in meeting the needs of its students and helping them overcome the effects of poverty. There are many more students with special needs and English language learners — the students with the greatest academic needs — among students living in poverty. For a school, smaller numbers of high poverty, high need are manageable, and with appropriate services such as supplementary academic services, guidance counselors, social workers, health clinics, etc., a school can be successful at educating them. There is a tipping point at which schools are simply overwhelmed with the unmet academic, social and health needs of their students.

When education researchers talk of “peer effects” of student learning, well-established in the research, what they are really describing is the cumulative effect of the socio-economic class of peers.

These are all factors, of course, that the school doesn’t control.

When one examines the NYC public district schools which were being closed at a rate of close to 40 a year under the Bloomberg-Klein administration, one finds that they have very large concentrations of poverty, as well as large concentrations of students with special needs and English language learners. I recall in particular one elementary school that was closed where over 40% of the students were homeless, most living in a shelter across the street from the school. What was needed was a massive infusion of supplementary academic supports and social services in the existing school, and a dispersion of the students among schools so the collective challenge was less daunting. What happened was that another school, with the very same concentration of high poverty, high need students, was created on the very same spot. Since it was a new school, it had a clean slate without student test scores and did not appear on NCLB and NYS report cards as failing, and Bloomberg-Klein could declare one less failing school. But nothing had been done to address the needs of the students: it was an educational shell game.

If one follows what has happened in major urban centers since onset of NCLB — NYC, Chicago, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Baltimore, and so on — what sees is the closure of massive numbers of district public schools — invariably schools serving high poverty, high need populations segregated by class and race. The national data also shows the closure of large numbers of public schools during this time period. Closure gave districts an accountability clean slate without actually having to address the problems struggling schools were having. The idea that district public schools are not closed is a myth. Moreover, decisions to close down charter schools for academic failure were less frequent than the closure of public schools.

This myth is propagated by charter school advocates, such as Eva Moskowiotz in NYC, who see the relationship between district public schools and charter schools as a zero sum competition. For charter schools to expand (and to get district school facilities free of charge), district public schools need to close. Under DiBlasio, the emphasis has been on providing academic supports and resources and social and health services to struggling district schools in an effort to improve the education. That has been fought bitterly by Moskowitz and NYC charter school chains who want district public schools closed for their own purposes.

I am not of the opinion that a school should never be closed. There are times that the culture of a school has been so damaged by many years of institutional neglect, of underfunding and underresourcing, of policies that create unmanageable concentrations of need, that it is no longer viable, and the only way to improve teaching and learning for the students is a fresh start. But this is a decision that should come after real efforts have been made to address the factors that are outside the school control.

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Alex K. 12.07.16 at 2:50 am

J-D:

“the question is ‘What is the best mechanism for allocating public funding for education?’, and parents are not better equipped than anybody else to answer the question.”

That’s some first grade obfuscation and red-herring. It equates the running of an enormous bureaucratic system with the decision that two or so parents make for their child. The later requires nothing more than the willingness and ability to read some reviews and educational results, and maybe talk to a few people — the former is an endeavor in an environment of information overload and full of perverse political incentives, more likely than not to lead to massive partial or total failures.

Another idea mentioned up-thread was that the real debate should be about *what* to teach to children, rather than how to fund education. This seems to miss that one important advantage of a voucher/choice based system is that it allows for experimentation, the result of which might be better ideas about how to educate various groups of children.

There are dangers here, the most important one to avoid being cronyism, the pillaging of state funds for nothing but sub-standard results. This does not seem to me like a very hard problem to solve: you put in some well thought-out standards (e.g. by including an allowance for the economic background of the children involved) and revoke the license or part of the ability to receive funds for the underperforming schools. Given that these are private schools, crocodile tears shed on behalf of substandard schools will largely be absent.

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J-D 12.07.16 at 3:27 am

Harry

So, yes, plenty of people oppose poor people getting the choice that they, themselves, enjoy.

That does not appear to be an accurate characterisation of the situation you have described in more detail in the rest of your comment.

You’ve mentioned people in Madison being opposed to a program in Milwaukee, but those people in Madison wouldn’t have access to a program in Milwaukee. Whatever the merit (or lack of them) of their reasons for opposing the Milwaukee program, that’s not an instance of their opposing poor people having a choice that they enjoy themselves.

You’ve also mentioned that the people in Madison have chosen to move there at least in part to get access to schools there. It’s obviously impossible for everybody in the US to move to Madison in order to get access to schools there, but it’s not apparent from what you’ve written that the people you’re referring to are opposing poor people making the same choice they did to move to Madison.

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Sebastian H 12.07.16 at 3:31 am

Layman, you’re being cryptic. Either you aren’t understanding your own links or I have no idea what you are trying to say. You links confirm exactly what I said–that the vast majority of education funds in California are collected at the state level and redistributed to the schools at the local level. I was responding to you when you said:

If that’s we’re going to do – have people who live in wealthier, better school districts pay for better schools in poorer school districts – why don’t we just get on with doing that? Why the complicated mechanism which by design can’t accommodate all the kids in those poor school districts anyway?

Again, that is exactly what California already does, and has done for decades. There are a very few (about 10% of schools) that can get funds larger than the state amount through various very arcane systems in the law, but 90% of the schools don’t get any significant money through those methods, and many of those are perfectly serviceably suburban schools. The inner city schools are still largely atrocious (except in places like SF where poor people literally cannot live nearby). The system you say you want instead of vouchers is the system California already has.

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J-D 12.07.16 at 3:34 am

Alex K.

“the question is ‘What is the best mechanism for allocating public funding for education?’, and parents are not better equipped than anybody else to answer the question.”

That’s some first grade obfuscation and red-herring. It equates the running of an enormous bureaucratic system with the decision that two or so parents make for their child. The later requires nothing more than the willingness and ability to read some reviews and educational results, and maybe talk to a few people — the former is an endeavor in an environment of information overload and full of perverse political incentives, more likely than not to lead to massive partial or total failures.

On the contrary; I am not equating those two things, I am objecting to their being equated. A decision about whether education funding should be voucherised is not synonymous with a decision parents make about which school to send their child to. ‘Parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school’ is not synonymous with ‘school funding shoud be on a voucher basis’. Where I live parents can and do make choices about which schools to send their children to (including within the government school system), but we don’t have (and don’t need to have) voucher funding for this purpose.

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Sebastian H 12.07.16 at 3:36 am

I’m wondering if you’re confusing local funding (i.e. the idea that local property taxes are earmarked for education through various byzantine laws in California) with California allocation control (the fact that California pools the vast majority of the money and doles it out to various schools at the state level).

176

Harry 12.07.16 at 4:09 am

You’re joking right?

177

kidneystones 12.07.16 at 4:28 am

@ 170 This is critical in my view. However, the schools that are failing have been failing for generations. It’s been some time since I had any/much direct contact with the victims of ‘great society’ failures, but the experts I knew then were quite clear about predicting teen pregnancies, drop-out rates, etc. as children were born into into inner-city families where the parents also suffered from failing schools. My (limited) understanding is that the same occurs too often among the rural poor.

It’s truly sad that the Democratic candidate did not even visit Wisconsin to at least pretend to care, whilst the Republican visited many of the rural communities ignored by Democrats. The truly messed-up part for me is that Democrats seem to have forgotten that raising up the down-trodden should be what politics is all about. If it’s not that, then it seems to be pure pork, which is what the corporate educators are too often offering as a ‘solution.’

If Democrats aren’t willing to roll-up their sleeves (remember that bygone expression?) and engage with working-class people as equals (yes, that!), I’m not sure the party will be able to avoid the abyss facing Labor.

178

J-D 12.07.16 at 4:43 am

Watson Ladd

Private markets work in food, and toothpaste, and transportation, and satisfy almost every other need we have universally.

Your faith is naïve: private markets fail to satisfy the need for food universally, and people go hungry.

179

Sebastian H 12.07.16 at 5:04 am

J-D I wonder if you’re missing Harry’s point. You need to make your abstractions a bit more concrete.

Rich people can move to rich neighborhoods and make sure their children only have to deal with other rich children.

Poor people can’t move to rich neighborhood to do those things because they can’t afford the rich neighborhood (often because of various zoning rules which make the housing there unaffordable).

“It’s obviously impossible for everybody in the US to move to Madison in order to get access to schools there, but it’s not apparent from what you’ve written that the people you’re referring to are opposing poor people making the same choice they did to move to Madison.” This sentence especially needs attention to appropriate levels of abstraction.

“same choice” is deflecting a lot of thinking. Poor people cannot make the choice to spend more money than they have available to move to rich neighborhoods for any purpose. The definition of poor lends itself to “can’t spend that much money”. Therefore they don’t actually have that choice. This is a much stronger case than the idea that poor people make bad choices about eating for example (though they may be pressed for preparation time). In the case of moving to expensive neighborhoods, they literally do not have that choice available because not being able to buy really expensive things is highly correlated with being poor.

180

J-D 12.07.16 at 6:39 am

kidneystones

It’s truly sad that the Democratic candidate did not even visit Wisconsin to at least pretend to care, whilst the Republican visited many of the rural communities ignored by Democrats. The truly messed-up part for me is that Democrats seem to have forgotten that raising up the down-trodden should be what politics is all about. If it’s not that, then it seems to be pure pork, which is what the corporate educators are too often offering as a ‘solution.’

If Democrats aren’t willing to roll-up their sleeves (remember that bygone expression?) and engage with working-class people as equals (yes, that!), I’m not sure the party will be able to avoid the abyss facing Labor.

Republicans are not doing any more than Democrats to raise up the down-trodden. If there is an abyss facing parties that fail to raise up the down-trodden, it faces the Republicans as much as the Democrats.

181

J-D 12.07.16 at 6:42 am

Sebastian H

I am aware that the inequality between the poor and the rich results in choices that are available to the rich not being available to the poor. This inequality in available choices would be eliminated if the rich agreed to an equalisation of wealth.

Is that the point you think I’m missing? If that’s not it, what is the difference?

182

dbk 12.07.16 at 7:39 am

Leo@ 170
Under DiBlasio, the emphasis has been on providing academic supports and resources and social and health services to struggling district schools in an effort to improve the education. That has been fought bitterly by Moskowitz and NYC charter school chains who want district public schools closed for their own purposes.

This seems to me to be a sound approach, and the younger the children given this type of support, the greater will be its effects down the line.

Inner-city public schools are failing (sometimes on most/all of the measures Leo lists as possible criteria for deeming a school failed) but their failure is ultimately attributable to poverty-related causes outside their control as Leo notes – that’s really the bottom line. And Leo is right in noting that it’s not just race – the salient factor is poverty itself. (Consider the case of schools in poor rural districts in the rust belt, many of whose students may be white.)

We can’t fix poverty under the current system, but we can attempt to remediate some of its negative effects – and if we start to do so when a child is 2, the money invested will show long(er)-term benefits.

This sort of remediation entails a lot of small-group and one-on-one, intensive work, and this is the sort of expense I have trouble believing charters (esp. for-profits) want to go to – we’ve seen, for example, that other high-cost-per-student populations (the disabled, EFL-ESL) tend to get shafted by charters, and there’s a reason for this – it cuts into profit margins.

For me, a “good” charter in a city like NY or NO or Detroit would start at 2, providing 10-12 hours a day of intensive care addressing every aspect of toddlers’ development in a more-or-less one-on-one environment, making it possible for some (though not all) of the effects of poverty to be overcome by the age of 6. Opening a charter school for 7th-graders seems like an exercise, if not in futility, then in more of the same old same old, and may be one of the reasons for the high attrition rates we witness.

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mclaren 12.07.16 at 9:34 am

Experience shows that whenever some pundit rhapsodizes about the magisterial magnificence of “choice,” scams ensue.
Milton Friedman’s war on market regulation went under the rubric of “Free To Choose.” Invariably this so-called “freedom” boils down to poor people “choosing” to starve and rich guys “choosing” to build enormous mansions with the privatized profits they make by socializing the costs of a deregulated economy and a shredded social safety net.
Parents’ “freedom” to “choose” in the context of school vouchers obviously means that the bottom 99% of parents will be ‘free’ to have uneducated children because they can’t afford the cost of privatized schooling once public schools have gotten shut down, and rich parents will be “free” to have the cost of their ritzy private academies subsidized by a public permanently shut out of sending their children there.
Why didn’t Tyler Cowen just cut to the chase, and write a paean to the marvelous benefits American society would enjoy if poor people were free to sell their children into slavery to the rich? An attractive nine-year-old girl would surely offer considerable marginal value to many types of rich people, and the parents would enhance their marginal utility immensely if they were able to sell her as a sex slave. Why stop at the bogus “choice” of school vouchers? After all, don’t we want parents to be able to be fully Free To Choose™?

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Paul Davis 12.07.16 at 10:31 am

J-D @ 181:

if you want to move away from the widely accepted US tenet of “equality of opportunity”, then you should say so. If not, acknowledge that spending on early childhood infrastructure has an enormous impact on “equality of opportunity” and should therefore be targetted appropriately toward that meta-goal.

In short: yes, the progressive agenda has always been that the rich should give up at least some of their wealth in order to increase the choices (and initial opportunity) for the poor. You’re free to disagree with that goal, but you should say so clearly if you do.

185

J-D 12.07.16 at 10:59 am

Paul Davis

if you want to move away from the widely accepted US tenet of “equality of opportunity”, then you should say so. If not, acknowledge that spending on early childhood infrastructure has an enormous impact on “equality of opportunity” and should therefore be targetted appropriately toward that meta-goal.

In short: yes, the progressive agenda has always been that the rich should give up at least some of their wealth in order to increase the choices (and initial opportunity) for the poor. You’re free to disagree with that goal, but you should say so clearly if you do.

It is not clear to me in what way this is intended to be a response to what I wrote. What is it you think I mean, and what makes you think so?

186

Paul Davis 12.07.16 at 11:39 am

J-D @ 185:

I am aware that the inequality between the poor and the rich results in choices that are available to the rich not being available to the poor. This inequality in available choices would be eliminated if the rich agreed to an equalisation of wealth.

Is that the point you think I’m missing?

It certainly did seem as if this was the point you were missing. You write as if the only way for there to be more equality of opportunity is for the rich to agree to it.

187

Layman 12.07.16 at 12:01 pm

Sebastian H: “You links confirm exactly what I said–that the vast majority of education funds in California are collected at the state level and redistributed to the schools at the local level.”

Indeed, just as they note that the basic problem in California is that the entire system is underfunded, with the result that California’s public schools are ranked in the bottom 20% in the nation. There isn’t enough money to go around, because relatively wealthy and powerful Californians in the 70s revolted against paying taxes for schools (among other things) and amended California’s constitution to constrain the state’s ability to raise revenue. If I’m suggesting that ‘raising enough revenue to fund all the schools equally and well’ is a better solution than ‘giving some kids vouchers’, offering up California as a counter-example misses the mark.

188

Collin Street 12.07.16 at 12:10 pm

It is not clear to me in what way this is intended to be a response to what I wrote.

To unpack, very very briefly: Paul Davis is communicating by implication. He is conveying to you his belief that what-he-writes is true and useful… and in so doing, he’s also communicating to you that he believes that facts exist such that what he writes is true and useful. People don’t make apropos-of-nothing statements — empirical conclusion, it’s been investigated — so apparently-purposeless statements are made for reasons and communicate those reasons.

The thing that makes the statement make sense is the thing that Paul is trying to communicate.

189

Sebastian H 12.07.16 at 4:59 pm

J-D “This inequality in available choices would be eliminated if the rich agreed to an equalisation of wealth.”

Oh is that all it takes? Why didn’t you just say so from the beginning? Doesn’t that sound just a little bit like pie in the sky libertarians for whom everything comes down to “we didn’t get rid of government yet, so I can’t talk about that”?

If you think we can’t address school failures until we’ve equalized enough wealth such that poor people can easily move into rich neighborhoods, you should be a lot clearer about that belief.

Layman, especially in a forum where we can’t respond easily to each other directly except over the space of days making clarification requests very difficult, it would be easier if you would explain what you think the point of your links are more clearly.

I responded to a point about local funding of schools by reminding that in most of the largest states (containing many of the very bad inner city schools) it isn’t done that way any more and hasn’t been for decades.

“Perhaps the problem here is that you really don’t understand how schools are funded in California? Or that the basic problem in California is that the schools are underfunded?”

With some basic links for authority. The problem is that those links showed EXACTLY what I said. Now if you wanted to agree with me, that local funding isn’t the big deal that it used to be in most of the larger states, and that we should focus on other areas like underfunding you could have said something like “You’re right, the local funding isn’t so much of an issue any more, I suspect it is underfunding”.

When we aren’t going to be able to get clarification for days, you need to be clear.

Per pupil California spending (adjusted for inflation) was up a bit more than 60% from 1970 to 2008. After the recession there was a small dip with a rebound in the last 2 years. But thumbnail sketch, 60% growth in per pupil spending after inflation, reflected in pretty much a straight line, so no one period seems to dominate. here . And to ward off another potential rabbit hole Bamoul’s ‘Cost Disease’ probably doesn’t explain that massive increase in funding, because it isn’t teacher’s salaries that are going up 60% in real terms over that time.

Now most of the statistics in your links show a huge drop in California rankings among the other states in per pupil spending as proof of underfunding. That is of course a positional arms race which can’t be won by all 50 states simultaneously, but even that aside, this fact suggests that other states have been increasing spending even more than California.

The problem with adding these facts to the analysis is that it strongly suggests that massive increases in per pupil spending over the last 40-50 years have not been paired with massive improvements in inner city schools.

This is a fact that your argument to spend more doesn’t deal with adequately, or really at all.

190

J-D 12.07.16 at 7:03 pm

Paul Davis

You use the word ‘only’. I did not use the word ‘only’.

191

Ogden Wernstrom 12.07.16 at 7:44 pm

@155 Layman 12.06.16 at 4:47 pm:

As to toothpaste, do you really think it is analogous to education?

Though your question was directed at Watson Ladd, one difference comes immediately to mind:
Toothpaste can openly advertise claims of achieving greater whiteness.

192

Layman 12.08.16 at 1:42 am

@ Ogden Wernstrom,

Golf claps! Bravo, sir.

193

mclaren 12.08.16 at 4:38 am

Collin Street in #188 says: “People don’t make apropos-of-nothing statements…”

You, sir, have not reckoned with the Era of Trump.

194

J-D 12.08.16 at 7:18 am

Sebastian H

If you think we can’t address school failures until we’ve equalized enough wealth such that poor people can easily move into rich neighborhoods, you should be a lot clearer about that belief.

The reason I did not state that belief clearly — or at all — is because it isn’t my belief. See my response above to Paul Davis.

195

Collin Street 12.08.16 at 7:36 am

You, sir, have not reckoned with the Era of Trump.

You joke, but it turns out that what I wrote doesn’t apply — inter alia — to people with narcissism.

196

casmilus 12.08.16 at 9:59 am

@188

“People don’t make apropos-of-nothing statements — empirical conclusion, it’s been investigated — so apparently-purposeless statements are made for reasons and communicate those reasons.”

Scientism and its delusions.

197

Layman 12.08.16 at 11:04 am

Sebastian H: “Now most of the statistics in your links show a huge drop in California rankings among the other states in per pupil spending as proof of underfunding.”

Yet private schools in California spend, on average, some 30% more per student than do public schools. School districts with residents having similar incomes, unemployment rates, and economic conditions differ in per-student funding by very large amounts, so much so that school districts have sued the state over the funding model. It is not demonstrably the case that California has achieved equity in the distribution of school funding, or that California schools are well-funded, or that private schools there produce better results at on average lower costs. California is not an argument for diverting tax revenues into a voucher program which can by design only benefit a fraction of the kids who need educating.

198

Sebastian H 12.08.16 at 4:34 pm

Layman, you are seriously underplaying how the changes in California have played out along exactly the dimensions you want, without changing the results.

You want to say that California is grossly underfunded, but you pointedly ignore that funding has gone up 100% after inflation between when it was considered a generally great system and now.

You want to say that local control of funding is a serious problem, but you pointedly ignore that in California it has gone from one of the most local systems in the country to one of the most centralized systems in the country.

You aren’t wrestling with the fact that California has already tried your stock solutions. It has been following your stock solutions for more than 40 years.

You don’t explain why anyone should believe that dumping MORE money at the problem or that centralizing MORE will have help. We are at the point where indiscriminately throwing money at the problem and preaching central control have got to be hitting marginal returns.

“Yet private schools in California spend, on average, some 30% more per student than do public schools.” Could you provide your source on this? My understanding is that the median private school spends about the same as public schools or a bit less. The average is heavily skewed by the private but fantastically expensive boarding schools which are not obviously part of this debate. However, I may be out of date.

This gets back to Tyler’s point. Parents of school age children aren’t really interested in letting your side of the debate try to fix things for an additional 40 years more than you already have without introducing some serious changes.

The biggest problem I have with the liberal side of the debate is that you want to just shoot things down without acknowledging that your solutions have been tried. You want to talk about the track record of charters and voucher schools without wrestling with the track record of the status quo.

“California is not an argument for diverting tax revenues into a voucher program which can by design only benefit a fraction of the kids who need educating.”

I don’t agree, but apply that to your side of the argument. We can stick with the status quo system where none of those additional kids are going to do better than now.

If your solution is just more money (the ‘underfunded despite increasing spending by 100%’ argument) you need to explain why more money now is going to fix the things that doubling the money has not.

If your solution is more centralized control, you need to explain why going from one of the least centralized to one of the most centralized systems hasn’t had much if any laudable effect in California for forty years. You seem to be asking poor people to wait and hope that their great-grandchildren might have a better school under your system.

Do you see why poor people might not be attracted to that answer?

199

Layman 12.08.16 at 9:38 pm

Sebastian H: “Could you provide your source on this?”

Good grief, Sebastian, you haven’t offered a single source for anything you’ve said.

Average private school tuition in California:

K-12 – $13,020
High School – $18,088
Elementary – $10,306

http://www.privateschoolreview.com/tuition-stats/private-school-cost-by-state

Average public school spending per student in California:

K-12 – $9,595

http://www.governing.com/gov-data/education-data/state-education-spending-per-pupil-data.html

“I don’t agree, but apply that to your side of the argument. We can stick with the status quo system where none of those additional kids are going to do better than now.”

Strawman alert.

200

Layman 12.08.16 at 9:47 pm

@Sebastian H:

Also, too, the variations in spending per student by school district are massive. This is dated, but since you’re claiming 40 years of spending equity you won’t mind a five-year-old data point.

http://schoolspending.apps.cironline.org

201

Paul Davis 12.08.16 at 11:19 pm

Layman @ 200: I think you’d do better when countering Sebastian H’s point by providing median data on spending (preferably with std deviations too). As he notes, the average/mean gets skewed by schools that everyone agrees shouldn’t be considered as part of the comparison. I don’t agree with his perspective, but I don’t think that mean spending comparisons do much to rebut it.

202

Layman 12.09.16 at 2:31 am

@ Paul Davis, I’m sure you’re right, but thus far my sense is that Sebastian has a point of view which is immune to contradictory data. I’m not really going to put much more effort into offering it up to him.

203

Brett Dunbar 12.09.16 at 7:28 am

The situation with the airports I was comparing the situation in the Northwest with two similar sized airports both independently owned and competing for custom. With the situation in the south-east where BAA had a near monopoly.

At the time of privatisation Manchester was a much better equipped larger capacity airport than Liverpool. Some years later Liverpool was bought by new management who built really nice new terminal and re named to Liverpool John Lennon airport (the only UK airport named after a person) It was able to grab traffic from Manchester and the two airports have been competing pretty fiercely for years now. It does show that you can have an effective market even if there are only two competitors.

What I was indicating was the basic line of reasoning by which competition might improve the quality of education given a few plausible. assumptions. It was a simple back of the envelope exercise.

204

Brett Dunbar 12.09.16 at 7:52 am

Paul Davis @ 142

I’m simply following the evidence and that’s what the evidence shows. If food deserts aren’t the problem then investing money in solving them is wating money that could be used to tackle the actual problem.

That is basically what the evidence shows. There has been research into the food desert hypothesis. It was a plausible idea to explain the differences in nutrition between poor and affluent areas. It did not turn out to be supported by the evidence. Which was a bit disappointing as if they had been real there are some obvious supply-side approaches to solving them, but it turns out the retailers had already implemented them, so they would be largely a waste of money. Urban areas generally have supermarkets stocking a wide range of foods. The proportions of different types vary, however this is due to consumer demand. It seems that poor nutrition is mostly a demand-side problem, which demands different solutions.

https://ij-healthgeographics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-072X-6-4

Is a study based on Montréal, which looked for, and failed to find, food deserts.

205

Igor Belanov 12.09.16 at 8:38 am

“At the time of privatisation Manchester was a much better equipped larger capacity airport than Liverpool. Some years later Liverpool was bought by new management who built really nice new terminal and re named to Liverpool John Lennon airport (the only UK airport named after a person) It was able to grab traffic from Manchester and the two airports have been competing pretty fiercely for years now. It does show that you can have an effective market even if there are only two competitors.”

I hadn’t realised that Liverpool and Manchester airports offer exactly the same routes at the same times, or that they were the only airports in the north of England. Add in the fact that pricing for seats on flights is essentially made up flight by flight, and your argument is effectively gibberish.

206

Paul Davis 12.09.16 at 9:20 am

Brett @ 204: Montréal … are you kidding me? “I knew the old industrial cities of the Northeast and Rust Belt, sir, and believe me, you’re not one of them”.

Compare this to the food environment in Philadelphia, where the highest income neighborhoods had 156% more supermarkets than the lowest income neighborhoods (Weinberg, 1995)

That’s from a trivial google search for “food deserts US cities”, specifically the top-cited paper, which is a review paper from 2009 that draws on at least a dozen other studies:

http://www.academia.edu/download/46024394/Disparities_and_access_to_healthy_food_i20160528-13737-hv9qn7.pdf

See in particular page 879.

Next up in the google search results:

The U.S. and U.K. literatures have discussed “food deserts,” reflecting populated, typically urban, low-income areas with limited access to full-service supermarkets. Less is known about supermarket accessibility within Canadian cities. This article uses the minimum distance and coverage methods to determine supermarket accessibility within the city of Edmonton, Canada, with a focus on high-need and inner-city neighborhoods. The results show that for 1999 both of these areas generally had higher accessibility than the remainder of the city, but six high-need neighborhoods had poor supermarket accessibility. We conclude by examining potential reasons for differences in supermarket accessibility between Canadian, U.S., and U.K. cities.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9272.2006.00570.x

I could go on and but luckily Google will do that for me.

Your claim “That is basically what the evidence shows.” is at best false, and at worse is a lie.

207

ZM 12.09.16 at 9:33 am

Brett Dunbar,

My understanding was that food deserts are related to spatial planning where malls replaced main streets and corner stores, making the journey longer to purchase healthy foods and less easily to be accessed by active transport.

In terms of the Charter Schools discussion, last week I attended an information session on how the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme will work. For people not from Australia, this is a program being funded by a levy to provide funding for people with a disability, and the person with a disability has their disability and needs assessed and are granted an annual budget that they can spend on various disability related expenses meeting the criteria of the program. This will replace some of the disability services that themselves were replacements for the institutionalisation of people with a disability.

The government NDIS spokesman who was giving the information (along with two people with a disability) said that initially the government expected that the market would mature in 5 years, but after trials of the NDIS have revised that and now think 10 years is a more realistic time frame.

I imagine this would be similar with Charter Schools, it might take up to 10 years to get enough feedback and improve the initial Charter School programs. The feedback system for the NDIS trials was designed with a methodology inspired by Action Research collaboratively getting input from the people using the NDIS. I don’t know how the government in America is getting feedback on the Charter Schools but it would be possible to develop similar sort of feedback systems.

208

J-D 12.09.16 at 12:01 pm

Brett Dunbar

I fear I may be repeating myself, but I didn’t put it in exactly these words before, so I shall do so now:

If your proposition is that sometimes competition makes things better, my response is to ask what makes you think that the situation under discussion is one of those times.

209

Sebastian H 12.09.16 at 5:49 pm

Layman, ““I don’t agree, but apply that to your side of the argument. We can stick with the status quo system where none of those additional kids are going to do better than now.”

Strawman alert.”

There hasn’t been any big push from your side of the debate for at least 10 years. And if you don’t count the No Child Left Behind Act (and with its focus on standardized testing which many on your side of the debate seem to hate I’m not sure you should but I don’t know where you personally come down on the issue) it has been more than 20 years. There is a reason why inner city parents go for vouchers and charters. They haven’t been seriously offered any hope of change other than that.

Regarding the other links. The private school average you provide is heavily weighted by the super-rich private schools (including boarding schools that are obviously going to have non standard expenses) that wouldn’t be served under vouchers or charters anyway. I can’t find a good median number anywhere. I will however note that in California charter schools spend about $1,000 less per pupil than standard California public schools so it clearly isn’t impossible. (California spending on education is byzantine. My understanding is that this is a comparison of ‘base funding’. ‘Categorical funding’ is where things like special needs comes in, which means that charges of charters screening out special needs students won’t cause that comparison to be off).

The other link is more interesting. First, you’re overdrawing my claim. I don’t claim perfectly equalized funding, I’m claiming highly centralized funding. It is well understood that there remain about 10% of schools who work the system really well or utilize various end runs to get better funding. But most of them don’t. Further, centralized spending definitely doesn’t imply equal spending. Certain schools will need more funding to succeed. I.e. some schools will have better funding per student BECAUSE of the low test scores in the school. This penetrates into even the top 10 schools of your link Taft, Klamath-Trinity, San Pasqual Valley, all show top spending per student because they have some of the lowest test scores. This shows up more clearly in the 10 lowest spending districts. They tend to be in more rural areas with lower costs of living for their teachers. 6/10 of them have test scores already in the top quarter. 9/10 of them are in the top half of test scores. Only one of them (Dixon Unified in Solano County) has both low spending and low test scores.

California is very much a system which is trying to distribute funding more based on need than the chance of location. The very richest 10% of school districts game the system, but there are whole tracts of middle class schools operating nearly entirely within the system that are doing well, and there a large number of inner city schools on the bottom (many of them getting more money than the middle class schools) that aren’t.

That’s the system we have. It already incorporates most of the features of the standard left-side critique of public education in the US. It doesn’t ELIMINATE the ability of the very richest districts to spend more money, but absolutely represents a huge centralization and attempt at aiming the money where it is needed.

It appears to work fine for the middle class. (The upper class as always makes sure the system works fine for them).

It doesn’t work well for the lower class, especially in cities.

Which again, is why the lower class and inner city parents are so dissatisfied with the status quo AND the current left-side answers.

210

Brett Dunbar 12.09.16 at 6:17 pm

J-D @ 208

I don’t recall that I did. I was giving the theoretical argument about how competition could improve standards given some plausible assumptions. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to assume that parents don’t generally want the best for their children and have at least a decent grasp of the relative quality of local schools.

211

Brett Dunbar 12.09.16 at 6:36 pm

Igor Belanov @205

The competition functions effectively even in a situation where the market would seem likely to be pretty illiquid. Airports sell to airlines, the airlines compete for customers on both price and service. So they can offer better service to their customers if the airports offer them good service. This led to notably higher passenger satisfaction than seen in areas where there was a monopoly.

The notable difference in passenger satisfaction and pricing was one of the reasons the competition commission report in 2009 recommended that BAA be forced to sell several airports.

212

Layman 12.09.16 at 6:56 pm

“There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to assume that parents don’t generally want the best for their children and have at least a decent grasp of the relative quality of local schools.”

How do parents assess the relative quality of local schools?

213

J-D 12.09.16 at 8:12 pm

Brett Dunbar

I don’t recall that I did.

Referential failure. You don’t recall that you did what?

I was giving the theoretical argument about how competition could improve standards given some plausible assumptions.

No, that’s not true, and it’s untrue in a way that is critical to the issue. You did not state the assumptions that must be true for the general theoretical analysis to be valid. Without a clear statement of what those assumptions are, it’s not possible to know whether they’re true in the particular case under discussion.

There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to assume that parents don’t generally want the best for their children and have at least a decent grasp of the relative quality of local schools.

There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to assume that parents have a decent grasp of the relative quality of local schools, whatever you mean (and I can’t guess) by ‘relative quality’ in this context.

214

bruce wilder 12.09.16 at 10:52 pm

There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to assume that parents don’t generally want the best for their children and have at least a decent grasp of the relative quality of local schools.

The problem would be that you cannot assume that parents would want the best for other people’s children.

[sarcasm] It is so sad, really, that the public schools cannot overcome their deficits, but at least parents who really care are able to do what they can for their own children using vouchers to vote with their feet and surely competition can only pour encourager les autres.

215

engels 12.09.16 at 11:18 pm

There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to assume that parents don’t generally want the best for their children

What’s the reason for thinking they do?

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engels 12.09.16 at 11:31 pm

And what does ‘best’ mean here?

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Sebastian H 12.09.16 at 11:47 pm

“How do parents assess the relative quality of local schools?”

Probably observation, personal interactions, reputation, and by knowing other people with kids in the school.

An equally interesting question is “how does anyone assess the relative quality of local schools?”. We’ve apparently totally given up on standardized tests. Perhaps it is completely unknowable?

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WLGR 12.10.16 at 1:42 am

Well without trying to speak for poor urban minority parents, we know very well the primary method by which middle- and upper-class white parents assess the relative quality of local schools, and it rhymes with “supercalifragilisticexpialidacialandeconomicsegregation”.

In all seriousness, it may be a cliche but check your privilege: to frame the issue in terms of parents’ ability to assess the relative quality of local schools is to throw the ostensible mission of universal public education completely out the window. When we talk about “failing schools”, the children we’re talking about pretty much by definition don’t have parents who can assess the relative quality of local schools, because they have parents who are working impossibly long hours or are addicts or are incarcerated or are afflicted with some smattering of the many other debilitating problems encompassed in the term “poverty”, including not having parents at all. I really can’t emphasize this strongly enough, the extent to which the word “parents” can be the quickest and easiest way for anybody talking about child poverty to broadcast their lack of basic attentiveness to the scope of the problem.

On a broader level, the same general species of technocratic neoliberal obliviousness embodied in “school choice” is also clearly evident in policies like the Affordable Care Act with its goddamn marketplaces. If an alleged social safety net is supposed to depend on the general public’s baseline ability to give significant time and consideration to the relative quality of a number of complex, privately managed, possibly for-profit options, then for most of the people who truly need it it’s not a real social safety net at all, regardless of whether or not Ezra Klein has to think of spreadsheets in order to climax.

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engels 12.10.16 at 2:04 am

We’ve apparently totally given up on standardized tests. Perhaps it is completely unknowable?

Don’t ever change, Sebastian

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Sebastian H 12.10.16 at 4:36 am

“Don’t ever change, Sebastian”

Nevertheless it is an interesting question. A number of commenters seem highly skeptical of parents’ ability to discern anything important about school quality. Standardized testing is very out of favor in judging school quality as far as governments are concerned. From the point of view of people skeptical about parents knowing, how do states know either?

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Howard Frant 12.10.16 at 5:56 am

WLGR@218

I think you may be selling poor parents short. Yes, the additional burden of getting information is significant, but to go back to my example of Boston, a lot of the charter schools are oversubscribed with applications from parents desperate to get their kids into better schools.

One thing about competition is that not everyone has to invest a lot of effort in finding things out. A lot of people free-ride. If there’s a neighborhood where parents talk to each other, information probably gets around pretty easily.

I think the case for the ACA over single-payer is a lot weaker, because you’re not starting with an unsuccessful system.

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J-D 12.10.16 at 6:10 am

Sebastian H

I have no greater faith in the ability of governments to assess the quality of schools than I do in the ability of parents to assess the quality of schools. Does that help to answer you question?

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Collin Street 12.10.16 at 8:02 am

From the point of view of people skeptical about parents knowing, how do states know either?

I can’t explain it to you, because:
+ it’s misconstrued on your part
+ your ability to comprehend disagreement — and thus to engage productively with attempts to correct you or even give you meaningful feedback — is severely limited by significant reading-comprehension problems: you have a problem with black-and-white thinking. You read a person’s attempt to communicate the basis of their disagreement far more broadly than it actually is intended to be [you think that people disagree more than they actually do], and then dismiss their concerns — or, rather, your exaggerated misunderstanding of their concerns — as obviously overblown.

As we see right here:
A number of commenters seem highly skeptical of parents’ ability to discern anything important about school quality.

It’s not true! It’s an exaggeration — a distortion, a misrepresentation — of real and reasonable positions. You’re dismissing what you read because it seems obviously wrong to you… but the obviousness of the wrongness exists solely as a result of the limits of your ability to actually understand what other people are telling you.

[… but that limited ability also applies to this, here, which… means you’re fucked, I guess. You ain’t getting better.]

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kidneystones 12.10.16 at 10:03 am

@221 We’re fortunate to have both Harry and Leo on this thread and others. I’m not the only here with direct experience working with poor people, and those from the wrong side of the tracks. Poor people know what a dirty building one looks like, broken doors, and poorly-maintained facilities. Many live in buildings such as these. They may in some/many cases being inured to their state.

All the poor people (and by all I mean all, not a percentile of any size) I’ve ever met in my life in North America, Asia, and Europe want better lives and better schools for their kids. Many/some trust the government to provide the education, safe schools, and safe streets to provide just these.

The only reason most poor parents would choose to opt out of schools in their communities is because they’ve been provided with clear evidence that government cannot provide these services. The parents of students who fail, or who are ‘socially-promoted, are normally informed directly of the real state of their children’s progress by well-meaning teachers and administrators in most cases. These parents have given up on the system and do not want anymore promises, studies, or conferences.

These parents/caregivers want something different inside the system, or out of it. They deserve the freedom and support to do better for themselves Expert advice, supervision, and understanding might help, too.

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novakant 12.10.16 at 1:44 pm

Remember, we design social structures to minimise the negative consequences of worst-case scenarios, and the worst-case scenario for “parental abuse” is, you know, pretty gods-damned vile. Turns out that average random strangers are vastly preferable to unfettered parental care.

You seem to have missed the myriad of child abuse cases that have come to light in the past decades affecting just about every institution dealing with children and young adults. This was abuse on a large scale, conducted and covered up in a systematic manner.

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Sebastian H 12.10.16 at 5:21 pm

Collin, I actually think it is endemic to internet comments that we don’t communicate well or enough the extent to which we agree. I certainly contribute to that dynamic and it isn’t a good thing. The point where we disagree is what we want to pin down, but we should all be much better at continuing to highlight the extent of our agreement. It is sort of the philosopher’s problem–focusing on ‘interesting’ edge cases can obscure the wealth of cases where we all agree.

I’m not sure where the zones of disagreement are in this discussion. They seem to range from “there really isn’t a problem with public schools” expressed on the other thread to “they are a disaster area”.

Here’s my framework, so you can see where we agree or disagree:

Public schools in the US have a big range of quality.

Rich people and middle class people identify (through whatever means) bad schools and move away from them, often intentionally making it difficult for poor people to follow.

For the most part poor people get stuck with the bad schools.

Identifying school quality in a rigorous way is normally done through standardized testing and long term outcome surveys. Standardized testing is going through a period of being in disfavor on the left largely because it was poorly used in NCLB. This leaves long term outcomes–which unfortunately tend to reveal how good schools were 10-20 years ago, and leave little guidance for what we really want to know which is how schools are now. This leaves the state in not much better position to assess school quality than parents.

Voucher programs and charters (which should probably be dealt with differently but in the interests of time I’ll lump them) tend to vary wildly in quality much like public schools. On average they still do about the same as public schools. But they have one clear advantage for poor people–they offer a dimension of school choice that isn’t available to poor people but is available to rich people. It isn’t AS good a version as is available to rich people, but it is much better than the “no choice”.

An underappreciated fact in the debate is that ALL of the supposed harms of school choice are already visited upon the poor people’s schools by rich people and middle class people moving away from the schools–with possible exception of school funding in the states that centralize that decision making.

A better solution might be to force all the middle class people to not move away from the bad schools, but unless we have a dictatorship, that won’t be happening.

So we have a bunch of bad schools, which have had all sorts of standard reform remedies thrown at them for 40-50 years–many of them in places like California or New York where those on the left have been in control of that process for a vast majority of the time with very little improvement in the bad schools.

Unless you can explain why California and NY have continued to fail despite an almost 100% inflation adjusted increase in spending, more of the same doesn’t seem likely to help.

In those circumstances it makes quite a bit of sense to let the poor people have a portion of the choice to opt away from the worst schools which the government has demonstrated it is not capable of improving over the last 40-50 years, just as the middle class and upper class already have done.

There are multiple places to quibble over that. My impression is most of the quibbling is an unjustified (from my perspective) belief that further standard reforms in the same vein as tried for the last 40-50 years are likely to fail. If you believe they are likely to succeed, vouchers and charters look like a diversion from that.

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Sebastian H 12.10.16 at 5:25 pm

As an example of the difficulty of seeing agreement/disagreement, J-D didn’t sound like someone who thought that the government had trouble discerning bad schools and good, but now makes it clear that he thinks governments and parents are about equally good (or bad) at it.

Re-reading his comments I can see how they fit with that framework, but it wasn’t clear that was the framework until he explicitly said so.

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Sebastian H 12.10.16 at 5:30 pm

“There are multiple places to quibble over that. My impression is most of the quibbling is an unjustified (from my perspective) belief that further standard reforms in the same vein as tried for the last 40-50 years are likely to fail.”

Ugh got caught in my mind between “…belief about the chances that further standard reforms are likely to fail” and “unjustified belief that further standard reforms in the same vein are likely to succeed.” and then expressed neither.

I think focusing on the chances is better. If you believe that standard reforms are likely to succeed, the more likely you think they are, the more vouchers and charters seem like a distraction.

I wish people who believe that standard reforms are likely to succeed would wrestle more openly with why they believe they have failed so far and how this time will be different. (Sometimes they talk about why they have failed so far, and make proposals that don’t seem different).

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engels 12.10.16 at 7:33 pm

unless we have a dictatorship

Like Finland?

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Sebastian H 12.10.16 at 9:25 pm

yes Engels , you win. We can totally get that through the US democracy. And apparently I’m not constructive…

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engels 12.11.16 at 2:16 am

‘Can get it through the US democracy’ is not really the same thing as ‘requires a dictatorship’. Otherwise we may have to conclude that abiding by the Paris accord requires a dictatorship.

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J-D 12.11.16 at 6:57 am

Seabastian H

Collin, I actually think it is endemic to internet comments that we don’t communicate well or enough the extent to which we agree. I certainly contribute to that dynamic and it isn’t a good thing. The point where we disagree is what we want to pin down, but we should all be much better at continuing to highlight the extent of our agreement. It is sort of the philosopher’s problem–focusing on ‘interesting’ edge cases can obscure the wealth of cases where we all agree.

I’m not sure where the zones of disagreement are in this discussion. They seem to range from “there really isn’t a problem with public schools” expressed on the other thread to “they are a disaster area”.

Here’s my framework, so you can see where we agree or disagree:

I could go through your framework line by line, discussing agreement and disagreement, but let me first try offering you an alternative analytical framework:

One major function of the formal educational system is to contribute to the maintenance, reinforcement, and framework, of a social hierarchy.

There is a strong tendency for people to remain at the level in the hierarchy where they start out; the children of the poor and low-status become the next generation of the poor and low-status, and so likewise for the rich and high-status. The formal education system is one of the main loci of this reproduction of the hierarchy from one generation to the next. It does also provide an avenue for some mobility within the hierarchy, but to a strictly limited extent; by performing this function it also provides an appearance of justification for the hierarchy–it helps people to believe that position in the hierarchy is earned, that the rich and high-status are so through their own merit and the poor and low-status through their lack of it.

The introduction of a voucher system of funding for public education and/or the introduction or expansion of charter schooling won’t change these aspects of the system as a whole. They will give some poor and low-status individuals opportunties to rise through the hierarchy that they might not otherwise have had, but ultimately only at the expense of other poor and low-status individuals; the proposed changes won’t increase aggregate mobility within the system, there’ll be no more poor and low-status winners in total than there were before, although the winners might be different poor and low-status individuals. Giving the metaphorical lottery barrel more shakes will, in a sense, give individual balls (or some of them) more chances of being drawn, but the total number of balls drawn won’t increase. However, the change will tend to reinforce the appearance of justification for social hierarchy: ‘Look, we shook the barrel again and again to give you more chances, it’s not out fault that your ball still didn’t get drawn.’ Also, people will demand payment for doing the work of giving the extra shakes to the barrel: that is, non-metaphorically, people will find, in voucher funding and/or the introduction or expansion of charter schooling, opportunities to be exploited for personal profit, even though no increase in total social benefit is provided.

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Gareth Wilson 12.11.16 at 7:59 am

It’s perfectly legal to run a private school in Finland, you just can’t charge tuition, or be more selective than the public schools.

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Collin Street 12.11.16 at 8:01 am

‘Can get it through the US democracy’ is not really the same thing as ‘requires a dictatorship’.

Black-n-white thinking, innit. If you disagree with him at all you must mean the complete opposite of what he thinks.

As you can probably guess, I can see only one plausible explanation for this behaviour, but even if you disagree with that the consistency of the symptoms of the problem is worthy of note, surely.

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Layman 12.11.16 at 12:30 pm

Sebastian H: ‘I’m not sure where the zones of disagreement are in this discussion. They seem to range from “there really isn’t a problem with public schools” expressed on the other thread to “they are a disaster area”.’

Can you point to the particular statement(s) of view on ‘the other thread’ which you summarize as ‘there really isn’t a problem with public schools’?

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engels 12.11.16 at 12:46 pm

My preferred solution is not to shut them down but nationalise them and turn them into
comprehensives.

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dbk 12.11.16 at 2:02 pm

Sebastian H @ 228
I wish people who believe that standard reforms are likely to succeed would wrestle more openly with why they believe they have failed so far and how this time will be different.

Here are a few possible reasons why they may have failed so far in CA, some of which were explicitly or implicitly addressed by commenters on this and the related threads:

(a) Reforms are being instituted too late in children’s lives to allow them to close the literacy and developmental gap which exists by age 5; I believe the ideal age for remediation/intervention to begin is 2 (maximum), which is pretty much supported by developmental psychology. Mayor de Blasio has spearheaded pre-K public programs for all in NYC; this is the right direction, I think, although I haven’t looked into details.

(b) Though large increases have been allotted to some districts through redistribution systems like California’s (this is, of course, one of the most centralized of the U.S. state systems), the increases to inner city schools do not close the gap between parental discretionary spending. Chapter I of Duncan and Murnane (Whither Opportunity?) cites discretionary spending by parents in the top/bottom quintiles – by 2006, it had reached a differential of ~ 6700 per year, per child. To match inner-city real dollars privately spent on children’s education and enrichment activities (music lessons, sports programs, summer camp, travel, etc.), the state would need to nearly double what it allots to inner city LA schools per child – say, 17,000 vs 10,000 or so.

(c) Large numbers of non-English speakers in LA schools, esp. primary schools; although Prop 227 was essentially repealed in 2014 by Prop 58, the results will not appear for a good many years. Prop 227 pretty much shattered the educational chances of an entire school generation (12-13 years) of non-native speakers.

(d) Continuing high rates of teacher and administrator burn-out, and concomitant high turnover in staff. A school attempting to reform itself needs several – sometimes many – years, and continuity in staffing is crucial during the introductory period.

(e) The switch to a different testing system as a result of the introduction of the Common Core may be skewing results; several cycles of testing will be needed before this possible effect is clarified.

Finally, perhaps we should consider that there is a problem extraneous though closely linked to the ongoing failure of inner-city schools, namely

(f) poverty
I searched “poorest LA County zip codes” and discovered 90 consecutive zip codes (90001-90), 44 of these in LA itself, with MHI of 32,000 or less. That’s a lot of poverty, across many neighborhoods – it’s too much for the schools to deal with.

Schools are being asked to make up for all the disadvantages poor children are subject to. They just can’t, and no amount of reform will make them capable of shouldering this burden. Schools reflect economic inequality, they do not create it.

That said, strategic reforms can address some of these issues. Reforms should, imho, target very young children (the younger the better); they should include long days (up to 12 hours); they should include extended and/or staggered school years to provide extra-curricular and enrichment activities, recreation, excursions (the things middle-class parents provide through discretionary spending) and address the “loss in knowledge” experienced by inner-city children in summers; teachers at inner-city schools should be given substantial incentives to commit to minimum tenures at their schools – to name just a few possible reforms which in various combinations might help some.

Needless to say, such reforms are costly, and it’s hard for me to imagine any actor other than the polity itself undertaking them – and even that would require almost superhuman political will.

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Sebastian H 12.11.16 at 5:25 pm

Layman, “Can you point to the particular statement(s) of view on ‘the other thread’ which you summarize as ‘there really isn’t a problem with public schools’?”

I can’t. I was horribly wrong. It is on this thread #170 by Leo Casey which begins with “I want to push back on one continuing assumption that runs through a number of the comments: that it is self-evident that there are large numbers of “failing” public district schools, and that these failing schools are not closed.” It represents a different direction the debate could take which is along the lines of poverty makes this all so broken that any school with these students is going to have the same serious problems. It is something akin to: the problem isn’t the school it is the poverty that the schools have to deal with. But look how that view should change the debate. If you believe these children can’t be helped by schools (or that they are damaged by their environment such that any school with them in it will look like a failure) a lot of charter school ‘failures’ vanish because they couldn’t have succeeded either. It also means that you could look at a lot of the charter school debate as harm reduction (letting those children who have a chance (despite being physically located in areas where most people are too damaged for schools to succeed) get to a better educational environment. (To be clear I’m in limited agreement with the argument, but it should certainly be further explored by those who do. I would tend to say that it explains why we shouldn’t expect inner city schools to reach attainment levels precisely the same as other schools–it also explains why so many parents focus on schools that don’t allow behavioral problems to spiral out of control in classes).

Collin Street: “Black-n-white thinking, innit. If you disagree with him at all you must mean the complete opposite of what he thinks.

As you can probably guess, I can see only one plausible explanation for this behaviour, but even if you disagree with that the consistency of the symptoms of the problem is worthy of note, surely.”

It really shouldn’t be considered shocking when on a 200+ comment thread about US school vouchers, when I’ve been discussing how it plays out in California (a US State) that non-black and white thinking about my statement “A better solution might be to force all the middle class people to not move away from the bad schools, but unless we have a dictatorship, that won’t be happening. ” might have the implicit understanding IN THE US built in. At least enough that a curt reply of “Like Finland?” (a country with about the same number of students as the LA Unified School District, which is a smaller subdivision of the State of California, which is a subdivision of the United States) isn’t contributing to the thought process much.

This is especially true as the link does NOT talk about keeping the middle class from moving which is the statement I made which engels is allegedly responding to. This looks to me like a case of ‘charity for people I agree with, none for those I hate’, a classic expression of the tribalist kind of thinking that is tearing this nation apart.

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engels 12.11.16 at 8:20 pm

This is especially true as the link does NOT talk about keeping the middle class from moving which is the statement I made which engels is allegedly responding to. This looks to me like a case of ‘charity for people I agree with, none for those I hate’, a classic expression of the tribalist kind of thinking that is tearing this nation apart.

Oh noes I’m responsible for Trump. Fwiw I’m not opposed to middle class people moving house, I’m opposed to private education and I want a fully free, public and comprehensive system under democratic control with city-wide lotteries and busing to prevent segregation (and I guess targeted funding to address any remaining/regional inequalities). I’m sure it won’t fix everything but it would be a step in the right direction, which is mych more than can be said for further neoliberal ‘choice’-based ‘reforms’ or attempts to fix the system that ignore the elephant in the room, that the people in charge of it aren’t even using it themselves. And no more standardised testing please.

School’s out.

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Howard Frant 12.12.16 at 1:22 am

Well, I don’t know nuthin’ about education like the people on this thread do. But I live and vote in Massachusetts (USA), and there’s very strong evidence that kids in Mass. inner cities (though not elsewhere in Mass.) learn a *lot* more in charter schools than in public schools. And I think, contra Engels, that this means they will do better in life without making someone else worse off. And so I think it is a damned shame that we voters just defeated a proposal to lift a cap on the number of charter schools– basically, the voters in the suburbs just condemned poor minority kids to remain trapped in bad schools.

BTW, the authors in this link (which I may have posted earlier) list some characteristics of the successful charter schools, so emulating them might be possible, theoretically if not politically, in the public schools. They’re mostly things that suburban students and parents would not be interested in, so we could end up with a two-track system– just like now, except that people in both tracks would be learning.

http://economics.mit.edu/files/6493

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J-D 12.12.16 at 6:22 am

Howard Frant

Well, I don’t know nuthin’ about education like the people on this thread do. But I live and vote in Massachusetts (USA), and there’s very strong evidence that kids in Mass. inner cities (though not elsewhere in Mass.) learn a *lot* more in charter schools than in public schools. And I think, contra Engels, that this means they will do better in life without making someone else worse off. And so I think it is a damned shame that we voters just defeated a proposal to lift a cap on the number of charter schools– basically, the voters in the suburbs just condemned poor minority kids to remain trapped in bad schools.

In that case, what would you think about a proposal to transfer all the kids from public schools to charter schools and close down all the public schools?

I mean, if charter schools are so much better than public schools, how do you justify condemning any kids to stay in public schools?

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Cranky Observer 12.12.16 at 12:03 pm

= = = But I live and vote in Massachusetts (USA), and there’s very strong evidence that kids in Mass. inner cities (though not elsewhere in Mass.) learn a *lot* more in charter schools than in public schools. = = =

There’s a lot of evidence that charter schools founded by hardworking, dedicated, and often selfless people can improve education for the underserved for 2-4 years, particularly if they are allowed to screen out the most difficult students and use the purportedly failed public school system as a backstop. There is less evidence that they can continue to do so after 5 years, when the original founding group burns out or just ages out, and no evidence at all that they can continue to do so for 10 years (not to even mention 150 years).

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Leo Casey 12.12.16 at 1:43 pm

For some reason (oh, for an editing function) only the first paragraph of Sebastian posts was placed in italics. It should be the first two paragraphs, or everything that follows make no sense:

Sebastian @238:
Layman, “Can you point to the particular statement(s) of view on ‘the other thread’ which you summarize as ‘there really isn’t a problem with public schools’?” I can’t. I was horribly wrong. It is on this thread #170 by Leo Casey which begins with “I want to push back on one continuing assumption that runs through a number of the comments: that it is self-evident that there are large numbers of “failing” public district schools, and that these failing schools are not closed.”… If you believe these children can’t be helped by schools.

This misrepresents my position, and egregiously so. I have spent my adult professional life working to provide kids living in poverty with the very best public schools possible, and I have been at it, through thick and thin, for over three decades. The notions that there “isn’t a problem” with public schools and that children living in poverty “can’t be helped by these schools” are anathema to me.

And even a cursory reading of what I have contributed to these threads would make that clear. The actual comment in question ends with my declaration that there are occasions when it is necessary to close a school that has been so damaged by institutional neglect, bureaucratic maladministration and the sheer weight of the problems imposed upon it that it cannot right itself, even with all of the right resources and supports. A fresh start may not only be needed, but actually do good — provided that one addresses the issues which led to the school’s collapse. And in inner city and poor rural schools, that means addressing the issues associated with concentrations of dire poverty.

I posted in these threads a link to a published article of mine — newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2015/01/17/the-charter-school-challenge/ — which provides an extensive critique of “actually existing” public district schools and charter schools. The thought processes that could transform that argument into the position that there is “no problem” with existing schools is beyond my comprehension.

This sort of misreading is not idiosyncratic: it is the standard response of “school choice” partisans to arguments that raise issues of childhood poverty in education. There is a now well established pattern of advocates such as Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, Heritage and Cato, declaring not simply that poverty is no obstacle to educational success, but even contending that it is the schools serving poor kids that are the cause of poverty, on the presupposition that the schools — and not decades of neglect and worse on childhood poverty — doom these children to continued lives of poverty. “You will never fix poverty in America,” Klein is fond of saying, “until you fix schools.” Indeed, the prime backers of the school choice movement, from Wall Street hedge funders to the Walton Foundation of Walmart, have something of a vested interest in a worldview which finds the source of poverty in public schools, rather than in market dominated government policy and their own economic activity. This is a voluntarism on the scale of Mao’s cultural revolution, and would be recognized as such if it emanated from the left. But right wing utopianism gets a pass.

The Manichean dualism of this thinking is such that it can not imagine that addressing issues of childhood poverty and improving schools that serve children living in poverty need to go on in tandem. Consequently, raising issues of childhood poverty is translated as statements that there are “no problems” in schools and children living in poverty “can’t be helped” by schools. The poverty of your imagination does not make me into a “defender of the status quo.” There are reform alternatives to your laissez-faire market utopias.

Two last points:
First, school choice programs — charter schools and voucher programs — have been in place across the United States for many years. They are part of the “status quo” and they have a record that must be evaluated and defended on grounds more substantial than first principles of customer satisfaction and consumer sovereignty. Among other things, one must address the fact that market mechanisms (and some very visible hands as well) sort students in ways that create distinct advantages for charters and voucher schools in terms of the concentrations of poverty in their student demographics. Just this week, the NYT published an article demonstrating that NYC charter schools enrolled many fewer homeless students than NYC district public schools. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/09/nyregion/new-york-charters-enroll-fewer-homeless-pupils-than-city-schools.html And homelessness is, of course, the most severe form of poverty, with the greatest impact on education. It is well-established in the research literature that charter schools enroll fewer English language learners and fewer students with special needs, and that those students with special needs that are enrolled have the least severe disabilities.

Second, the notion that there is some “standard” reform that has been tried and found wanting rests not on an actual investigation, but on lazy presuppositions. It has been at least three and half decades, since the start of Reaganism, since the direction in public policy on childhood poverty has been regressive. And the evidence for the period when it was taken seriously, during the Great Society and desegregation era, is that it makes a positive difference. Moreover, the primary reform for improving schools by abating the effects of childhood poverty through the provision of social and health services — community schools — is quite promising, and has been tried on a much smaller scale than school choice programs.

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engels 12.12.16 at 2:03 pm

I think, contra Engels, that this means they will do better in life without making someone else worse off

They will do ‘better’ in lift without appropriating a disproportionate share of resources (eg. land) that other people need, without competing with in zero-sum games for finite social roles (eg. uni places or jobs), without contributing disproportiontately to problems (eg. CO2 emissions) that harm others, without helping to sustain a system (eg. the US state) that victimises/tortures/imprisons/murders others, without exploiting the labour (eg. in third world sweatshops) of others. Let me guess: they’re hermits who live on a boat and grow their own iPods in an indoor micro-farm?

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Gareth Wilson 12.12.16 at 7:26 pm

” without competing with in zero-sum games for finite social roles (eg. uni places or jobs),”
If you think employment is a zero-sum game for finite social roles, then I really don’t want you in charge of education.

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engels 12.12.16 at 7:49 pm

PS. I would urge anyone coming to this thread who actually wants to learn something about the issues and evidence here (if such people exist) to read Leo Casey’s comments

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Sebastian H 12.12.16 at 8:04 pm

Leo, I’m confused, but I don’t want to misread you twice.

You seem to say: yes there is a problem with public schools, it is the poverty-stricken children who attend them.

But that isn’t a problem with *the public school*, that is a problem with the *environment in which some public schools inhabit*.

You seem to be saying something along the lines of: yes public schools have low test scores and other bad things that we can measure at the school output level, but it isn’t a problem with the schooling and the structure of the school administration or teaching. It is a problem with the poverty. (Which presumably is a big part of your explanation of why we can throw huge and increasing amounts of money to schools and not see a dent).

Second, the notion that there is some “standard” reform that has been tried and found wanting rests not on an actual investigation, but on lazy presuppositions. It has been at least three and half decades, since the start of Reaganism, since the direction in public policy on childhood poverty has been regressive.

Again, you don’t seem to be talking about the public schools at all here. (Which is good because most of education policy takes place at a much lower level than the federal government, so it wouldn’t make sense if you were talking about the schools themselves)

And the evidence for the period when it was taken seriously, during the Great Society and desegregation era, is that it makes a positive difference. Moreover, the primary reform for improving schools by abating the effects of childhood poverty through the provision of social and health services — community schools — is quite promising, and has been tried on a much smaller scale than school choice programs.

And a third time you are not talking about the public schools themselves and reforms to be taken to improve schooling, but rather attacking poverty.

Which is fine. It is certainly a useful point of view to say “look the problem isn’t the schools themselves, it is the poverty environment that the schools are in” and try to attack the problem that way.

But that is what I attributed to you, and what you strongly reacted against, so I’m not understanding what you are saying.

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John Quiggin 12.12.16 at 10:50 pm

Just repeating myself at this point, but all of these issues are third-order. The real problems are inequality and poverty, which work both through the problems of growing up in a poor family and through the effects of local school funding based on property taxes. It seems that neither of these can be fixed within the constraints of current political reality (if that concept is meaningful in the Trump era).

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engels 12.12.16 at 11:29 pm

Yes, Gareth, there is an infinite supply of jobs in a capitalist economy for anyone who truly wants them as all right-wingers know (except when they’re demanding we prostrate ourselves in gratitude before the Job Creators) Anyhoo I’m afraid I really must be going—do be careful where you point that musket of yours old chap I’m worried your eyesight may no longer be twenty-twenty…

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Gareth Wilson 12.12.16 at 11:41 pm

Here’s a question: Under what circumstances would you take money out of a public school, and put it into anti-poverty programs for the same neighbourhood?

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engels 12.12.16 at 11:55 pm

(And just for the record I mostly agree with what John’s saying too but I think that segregated schools are [a] a significant evil in themselves [b] a difficult to quantify but pretty important contributor to the current ‘political reality’.)

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J-D 12.12.16 at 11:56 pm

Sebastian H wrote:

Here’s my framework, so you can see where we agree or disagree:

To which I responded:

I could go through your framework line by line, discussing agreement and disagreement, but let me first try offering you an alternative analytical framework:

No reaction from Sebastian H to my alternative framework, so (what the hell!) I’m going to discuss at least the first part of his:

Public schools in the US have a big range of quality.

Rich people and middle class people identify (through whatever means) bad schools and move away from them, often intentionally making it difficult for poor people to follow.

For the most part poor people get stuck with the bad schools.

No matter how the ‘quality’ of schools is defined and measured, I am confident that US public schools would exhibit a wide range. So it would be strictly true to say, in any sense, that they have a wide range of quality. But it does not follow that there is one clear and uncontroversial sense of ‘quality’ that is applicable to US public schools. The results you get as you go along with your analysis are going to depend on how you define and measure the quality of schools.

Parents who are rich and otherwise socially advantaged have a greater ability (than parents who are poor and otherwise socially disadvantaged) to arrange for their children to avoid the schools which they (the parents) consider ‘low quality’ (however they, the parents, define that) and to attend, instead, the schools which they (the parents) consider ‘high quality’ (with the same qualification).

If there are schools which are widely (if not absolutely universally) considered to be ‘high quality’, they will wind up populated mostly by the children of the rich and socially advantaged; and if there are schools which are widely (if not absolutely universally) considered to be ‘low quality’, they will wind up populated mostly by the children of the poor and socially disdvantaged.

I hope that makes it clear in what sense I agree with your assertion that ‘for the most part poor people get stuck with the bad schools’; but I hope it’s equally clear why I consider that nothing you’re recommending is going to change that. So long as there continue to be ‘bad schools’ in the relevant sense, they are going to continue to be the domain of the poor.

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Howard Frant 12.13.16 at 1:42 am

Some people seem to misunderstand me as taking sides on the question of charter or public. On the contrary, I don’t think there’s a definite answer to this question. In the study I cited, which *only* covered Massachusetts, there were big gains to inner-city kids in charter schools. There weren’t to kids in suburban schools. I was asking, shouldn’t we at least let the inner-city charter schools expand to meet demand? Do we really want to condemn poor kids to bad education (and thus further poverty) for the sake of abstract principle, because they had a bad draw in the lottery for their school?

But there’s no particular reason why that should apply to suburban schools. In fact a lot of the characteristics of successful inner-city charters (strict discipline, uniforms) are things that there’s probably not much interest in in the suburbs. As I noted, this would give us a two-track educational system, but that’s what we have now, and at least this way kids in both tracks would get educated.

I don’t think we can draw any conclusions from this study about charters outside Massachusetts. It’s an empirical question.

Could Mass. public school imitate charter schools and have the same success? Possibly, and that would be great. I’m not looking at “choice” as an end in itself.

J-D

In that case, what would you think about a proposal to transfer all the kids from public schools to charter schools and close down all the public schools?

In the case of Boston or Fall River, that would probably be a net gain. In the case of Newton or Brookline, definitely not (and the parents would scream bloody murder).

But why bother doing this? Why not just lift the caps and let things sort themselves out?

I mean, if charter schools are so much better than public schools, how do you justify condemning any kids to stay in public schools?

Once again, I’m not making any sweeping claims about charter schools in general.

But that’s exactly the question, yes. How do you justify condemning kids to stay in inferior schools? Provisionally, I’m willing to leave it to parents’ choice. But that may not be right.

Cranky Observer

There’s a lot of evidence that charter schools founded by hardworking, dedicated, and often selfless people can improve education for the underserved for 2-4 years, particularly if they are allowed to screen out the most difficult students and use the purportedly failed public school system as a backstop. There is less evidence that they can continue to do so after 5 years, when the original founding group burns out or just ages out, and no evidence at all that they can continue to do so for 10 years (not to even mention 150 years)

Well then, we’ll just have to get more evidence, won’t we? I don’t think we need expect an particular institutional arrangement to last 150 year.

Engels

They will do ‘better’ in lift without appropriating a disproportionate share of resources (eg. land) that other people need, without competing with in zero-sum games for finite social roles (eg. uni places or jobs), without contributing disproportiontately to problems (eg. CO2 emissions) that harm others, without helping to sustain a system (eg. the US state) that victimises/tortures/imprisons/murders others, without exploiting the labour (eg. in third world sweatshops) of others. Let me guess: they’re hermits who live on a boat and grow their own iPods in an indoor micro-farm?

Yeah, you’re right. Let’s just leave them poor.

John Quiggin

OK, let’s do something about inequality and poverty. Meanwhile, let’s see if there are things we do to get them better education. Which of course is one thing we can do about poverty and inequality

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J-D 12.13.16 at 4:24 am

Howard Frant

But that’s exactly the question, yes. How do you justify condemning kids to stay in inferior schools?

I offer no justification for that, only the observation that the fundamental organising principles of institutional education guarantee that there will always be some schools which are, in the relevant sense (which is not straightforward) inferior, and that there will therefore always be some children condemned to stay in them.

Indeed, I perceive no justification for condemning any child to stay in any school. If it were up to me, it would never happen. But it’s not up to me, is it? and even mentioning the idea I am acutely conscious that I am leaving the realm of practical politics.

OK, let’s do something about inequality and poverty. Meanwhile, let’s see if there are things we do to get them better education.

However, given that children are going to continue to be condemned to schools (and some of them to ‘inferior’ ones), I choose to believe that it’s not utterly unrealistic to hope that there are possibilities of making the experience less harmful to them. I can’t find any reason to expect that an expansion of charter schooling will have this effect.

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Jerry Vinokurov 12.13.16 at 6:53 am

Actually it turns out that spending more money on education does in fact improve it. All the rest is down to political will; if we wanted to, we could make education better by, you guessed it, spending money on it. But that would require the upper middle class and the rich to pay more in taxes, which is why it won’t happen. Alas.

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Howard Frant 12.13.16 at 7:32 am

J-D@254

I offer no justification for that, only the observation that the fundamental organising principles of institutional education guarantee that there will always be some schools which are, in the relevant sense (which is not straightforward) inferior, and that there will therefore always be some children condemned to stay in them.

I’m not really sure what you’re saying here. That some schools will always be better than others? The question here is whether schools will provide kids with the basic skills they need to get by. For example, reading and writing. You have obviously mastered those at a pretty high level. Shouldn’t we give kids the chance to learn those at least at a moderate level?

However, given that children are going to continue to be condemned to schools (and some of them to ‘inferior’ ones), I choose to believe that it’s not utterly unrealistic to hope that there are possibilities of making the experience less harmful to them. I can’t find any reason to expect that an expansion of charter schooling will have this effect.

On the contrary. Given your views, you should be supporting diversity in school types and school philosophies. If you’re looking for Summerhill in Massachusetts, I think you’re far more likely to find it in a charter school than in a public one. At least in the suburbs—inner-city schools don’t have time for that stuff. They’re more worried about a kid being damaged by not being able to read.

But I’m curious—why do you say that about charter schools? Is it because they are neoliberal and therefore soul-crushing and evil?

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engels 12.13.16 at 7:39 am

Yeah, you’re right. Let’s just leave them poor.

I really don’t wanna get all Colin Street on your ass, Howard, but do you really think those are the only two options here?

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Collin Street 12.13.16 at 9:32 am

OK, let’s do something about inequality and poverty. Meanwhile, let’s see if there are things we do to get them better education. Which of course is one thing we can do about poverty and inequality

The thing about systemic problems is that they’re systemic, a consequence of the “system”-as-a-whole, not any part of it. Examination of any part of the “problem” will reveal that the bits you examine have causes beyond the scope of what you’re looking at, sure. But you chase the “causes” back and eventually you loop back to where you started from: the structure’s a self-sustaining ring, and if you want to fix it you’ll have to attack some point that has — possibly bleedingly-obvious — “causes”, because that’s all there is.

[none of this is stuff I haven’t written before, btw.]

You pick a point and you work from there. There might be tactically worse or better points to pick, but end-of-the-day there’s no categorical difference, no deep-and-perfect “true cause” that you have to be working from. And the criticism “this isn’t the true cause” sort of misses all that, no?

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J-D 12.13.16 at 10:10 am

Howard Frant

I’m not really sure what you’re saying here. That some schools will always be better than others?

More or less — subject to the qualifications ‘assuming the continuation of the basic structural features of institutional education’ and ‘for some value of the word “better” which merits investigation’.

The question here is whether schools will provide kids with the basic skills they need to get by.

Is that the question here or, rather, should it be? How can we even attempt to answer that question without first figuring out what are the basic skills kids need to get by, and if we want to ensure that all kids are provided with the basic skills they need to get by, why should we assume that schools are at the centre of the answer?

For example, reading and writing. You have obviously mastered those at a pretty high level. Shouldn’t we give kids the chance to learn those at least at a moderate level?

Yes, absolutely! Everybody should have the chance to learn to read and write. Does something make you think that not everybody does?

Given your views, you should be supporting diversity in school types and school philosophies.

Possibly, but not certainly not without qualification. Some school types and some school philosophies are harmful to children (more than others are). And, as I mentioned previously, giving everybody at least one good choice should be a higher priority (which is important when allocating finite public funding) than giving people multiple choices.

Also, I draw your attention to my first comment: I am grateful that my daughter had available to her, and took advantage of, some choice within our government school system — without voucher funding and without charter schools.

If you’re looking for Summerhill in Massachusetts, I think you’re far more likely to find it in a charter school than in a public one.

Well, I wouldn’t be looking for Summerhill in Massachusetts, because the Sudbury Valley School is already there, and has been since before charter schooling. Were you not aware of that?

But I’m curious—why do you say that about charter schools? Is it because they are neoliberal and therefore soul-crushing and evil?

No, not at all.

What I wrote was ‘I can’t find any reason to expect that an expansion of charter schooling will have this effect’, with ‘this effect’ referring back to my earlier description of making the experience of schooling less harmful to children, particularly children at ‘inferior’ schools. You want to know why I wrote that? I wrote that I can’t find any reason to expect it because I can’t find any reason to expect it. If you know of any such reason, please do draw my attention to it.

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Layman 12.13.16 at 11:01 am

Howard Frant:

“Some people seem to misunderstand me as taking sides on the question of charter or public.”

I wonder where they got that idea?

Howard Frant, three sentences later: “…shouldn’t we at least let the inner-city charter schools expand to meet demand?”

Oh. Never mind.

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kidneystones 12.13.16 at 11:23 am

@ 242 Thank you for this and other informed comments. I’m very interested in why these schools succeed, where public schools fail. I’m also willing to buy into the idea that the driver for success is the involvement of informed parents and educators. The energy and commitment these individuals are willing to bring to this project seems very likely to align with the presence of their own kids in these schools. In an ideal world there would be no need for such schools. All schools would provide quality education in a free and equal society where everyone prospers and nobody is poor. The arguments that we should not support schools such as those you describe is absurd. We can support public schools and public education and charter schools. As Leo and Harry state clearly, we should regard the promises of corporate K-12 education with a great deal of suspicion. Local folks organizing local charter schools deserve all our support for as long as they need it.

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engels 12.13.16 at 2:39 pm

…Like other advocates of school voucher programs, Ms. DeVos presents her plans as a way to improve public education and give families more choice. But the family foundations’ money supports a far more expansive effort. The evangelical pastor and broadcaster D. James Kennedy, whose Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a beneficiary of DeVos largess, said in a 1986 sermon that children in public education were being “brainwashed in Godless secularism.” More recently, in 2005, he told followers to “exercise godly dominion” over “every aspect and institution of human society,” including the government. Jerry Falwell Sr. outlined the goal in his 1979 book “America Can Be Saved!” He said he hoped to see the day when there wouldn’t be “any public schools — the churches will have taken them over and Christians will be running them.” Vouchers are part of the program. According to an educational scholar, they originally came into fashion among Southern conservatives seeking to support segregation in schools. But activists soon grasped that vouchers could be useful in a general assault on public education. As Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, which receives support from a DeVos-funded donor group, explained: “Complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now.”…

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/12/13/opinion/betsy-devos-and-gods-plan-for-schools.html

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Brett Dunbar 12.13.16 at 3:59 pm

Opponents of school choice seem to assume that the quality of education at a school is fixed and that all the schools are full (for example if the education authority adjusts the permitted class size so that the number of places provided matches the size of the age group) so all that varies is the distribution of pupils across schools. Therefore having choice means that the wealthy get to monopolise the good schools.

Supporters of choice tend to assume less bureaucratic control so that capacity is somewhat greater than the number of pupils in the age group so that parental choice means that the vacancies end up concentrated at the lowest quality schools. Which are then given a strong signal that they are doing badly. While popular oversubscribed schools can increase capacity. The school themselves have to determine how they improve quality. If they don’t they close.

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dbk 12.13.16 at 4:29 pm

engels@262

I was just about to post the same link. When this thread began, I imagined the new Secretary-designate of Education would form an important part of the discussion, given her deeply-held and well-documented views on charters and vouchers.

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Paul Davis 12.13.16 at 5:00 pm

Brett @ 263:

Supporters of choice tend to assume less bureaucratic control so that capacity is somewhat greater than the number of pupils in the age group…

… well, that certainly was how it worked out with airline deregulation, eh?

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Leo Casey 12.13.16 at 7:16 pm

Sebastian:

This is not a very productive exchange. The terms in which you characterize my position are not only wrong, but insulting to someone who has spent his professional life working to give children living in poverty the best possible possible education. The idea that I would see “poverty stricken children” as the problem that confronts schools runs contrary to everything I believe: the problem is the poverty to which we condemn such a large portion of our children, disproportionately black and brown, and the obstacles it places in the way of education. While there is certainly variation in how successful schools are in educating students living in poverty, the conditions of poverty — not the children, not the school — is the primary explanatory variable in the education of students living in poverty.

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Leo Casey 12.13.16 at 8:15 pm

One last intervention, and then I am done with this thread (I keep promising myself.) I want to take a moment deconstructing the study [http://www.nber.org/papers/w17332.pdf] Howard Frant cites @97 as strong evidence that urban Massachusetts charters (primarily from Boston) are outperforming district public schools. That exercise is worthwhile because it points to the importance of close, critical readings of all research claims on politically contentious questions such as charter/district school performance demonstrate.

In the case of this study, the following seemingly innocuous description of method is actually quite important. The authors write:
We attempted to collect lottery data for the set of Massachusetts charter schools serving middle and high school grades and meeting a set of pre-specified eligibility criteria… To be eligible for our analysis, schools had to accept students in the relevant entry grades (4th-7th grade for middle school and 9th grade for high school). We excluded closed schools and alternative schools serving non-traditional populations (usually students at risk of dropping out). We also excluded schools that opened after the 2009-2010 school year. The resulting set of eligible schools includes 27 of the 54 charters serving middle school grades and eight of 37 schools serving high school grades. Three eligible schools serve both middle and high school grades, so there are 32 eligible campuses. Some eligible schools are not included in the lottery analysis; some were under-subscribed, while others failed to keep sufficient lottery records. The final sample of over-subscribed schools with usable records includes 16 middle schools and six high schools.

1. Note that this study does not examine all urban charter schools, but less than 40% of them — 22 out of 54+. (The denominator is greater than 54, as the authors exclude charter schools serving at risk student populations and charter schools that were closed some time during the years covered by the study, but don’t tell us how many schools fell into this category.)

2. These 22 schools were selected simply on the basis of fitting the analytical design of the paper’s study. Massachusetts charter schools admit students based on lottery, and the paper studied those schools which had sufficient numbers of lottery applicants over the course of a number of years to compare the academic performance of lottery participants who were admitted to the charter school and and the academic performance of lottery participants who were not admitted and attended a district public school. This design, the authors argue, produces random selection.

3. No argument is made that these 22 schools were representative of the larger universe of urban charter schools in Massachusetts. In fact, they were not. By excluding from their sample schools which were “under-subscribed” (that is, did not have sufficient numbers of lottery applicants to allow for comparison), the authors left out the schools for which there was the least demand — which also were, not surprisingly, the lowest performing charter schools. By excluding schools that failed to keep “sufficient lottery records,” the authors left out the most poorly managed schools — which were also among the lowest performing charter schools. By excluding schools that closed, the authors left out the charter schools that had had such severe academic or financial issues that they had been shut down. And by excluding schools that served at risk populations, the authors left out the charter schools with the greatest concentration of students living in poverty, students with special needs and English Language Learners. The minority of all charter schools that were included in the study were the highest performing charter schools.

3. Given the design of the study, these schools were compared to the entire universe of district public schools, since there were no restrictions on the district public schools that unsuccessful lottery participants could attend.

4. If we grant for purposes of the argument that all else in the paper is sound research, what we have — at the very best — is a comparison between the highest performing urban Massachusetts charter schools and the entire universe of district public schools. That tells us nothing about the comparative performance of the urban charter school sector as a whole, any more than a comparison between the highest performing district schools and the entire universe of charter schools would tell us something about the comparative performance of all district schools.

No one should be basing education policy on such a research base.

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Howard Frant 12.14.16 at 12:39 am

Engels@257

I really don’t wanna get all Colin Street on your ass, Howard, but do you really think those are the only two options here?

You’ve completely lost me. I said we could make students better off without making other people worse off, and you came back with “What about their contribution to global warming? What about third-world oppression?” That doesn’t strike me as the way to do something about poverty, but I could be wrong.

Colin Street@258

From the tone it sounds as if you’re disagreeing with me, but from the words it sounds as if you’re agreeing with me.

J-D@259

For example, reading and writing. You have obviously mastered those at a pretty high level. Shouldn’t we give kids the chance to learn those at least at a moderate level?

Yes, absolutely! Everybody should have the chance to learn to read and write. Does something make you think that not everybody does?

At a moderate level? Yes, the test scores of inner-city kids.

Layman@260

Really? Because I say that urban charter schools in Massachusetts should be given a chance to expand to meet demand, I’ve now taken a position on public vs. charter schools? This is sounding like a very polarized debate, even by CT standards. I don’t even have a position on charter schools in Rhode Island or New Hampshire. And as I said, I view choice in this context as one possible means, not an end.

Engels @262

Yes, given the high level of abstraction of the discussion thus far, it’s worth remembering that there’s a huge practical and political difference between charter schools and vouchers.

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dbk 12.14.16 at 6:52 am

@268
Yes, given the high level of abstraction of the discussion thus far, it’s worth remembering that there’s a huge practical and political difference between charter schools and vouchers.

That’s not the takeaway from the excerpt engels@268 posted (with link). See the latest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/12/us/politics/betsy-devos-how-trumps-education-nominee-bent-detroit-to-her-will-on-charter-schools.html?mabReward=R2&recp=5&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine

What the nominee for Sec of Education supports is for-profit charters, and she has proposed shutting down Detroit’s public school system entirely and turning it over to charters. She is opposed to any form of oversight/accountability.

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Howard Frant 12.14.16 at 7:16 am

Leo Casey (in absentia)

Sorry, I strongly disagree. We see two classes of charter schools in Massachusetts, those where parents are clamoring to get their kids in, and those where they aren’t (or that went out of business). They find that (inner-city) students who get into the first class of schools do better than those who don’t get in.

Policy question: should we raise the ceiling on the number of charter schools in Mass.? Answer: Yes. This is not an abstraction–that question was on the ballot last month. (It failed.)

Another possible policy question: Can parents tell good schools from bad schools? Answer: Yes. This seems relevant if you’re having an argument about school choice (if, like me, you view choice as a means to an end rather than an end in itself).

Here’s a question we can’t answer from this study: Are charter schools as a whole better than public schools as a whole? But the argument of advocates has never been this, but rather that worse schools will fail and better ones succeed. And that seems to be what’s happening in urban Mass.

Again I note that this study is confined to Massachusetts. Undoubtedly details matter. I would never take this study to be strong evidence for what would happen under the new Dept. of Ed.

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J-D 12.14.16 at 7:16 am

Howard Frant

For example, reading and writing. You have obviously mastered those at a pretty high level. Shouldn’t we give kids the chance to learn those at least at a moderate level?

Yes, absolutely! Everybody should have the chance to learn to read and write. Does something make you think that not everybody does?

At a moderate level? Yes, the test scores of inner-city kids.

Did you give any thought to why I emphasised the word ‘chance’? (please note, however, that when I used it I was consciously quoting your use of it).
I am unable to ride a bicycle. This does not demonstrate that I have not had the chance to learn to ride a bicycle. My late father never learned to swim. That does not demonstrate that he never had the chance to learn to swim.
Likewise, the undisputed fact that some people are illiterate is not a demonstration that they did not have the chance to learn to read and write.

(I hope I haven’t messed up my use of tags; if I have this comment may prove hard to follow.)

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Collin Street 12.14.16 at 9:03 am

From the tone it sounds as if you’re disagreeing with me, but from the words it sounds as if you’re agreeing with me.

Eh?

“agree with howard” and “disagree with howard” are labels that only have meaning for howard. I think what I think; whether it’s agreement or disagreement with you isn’t actually a part of the thought-as-I-construct-it, and the space that in your head is occupied by “do they agree with me [howard]” instead contains “do they agree with me [collin]”.

Do I agree with you? You have to decide that. I can’t. If you want to ask me questions, you need to ground them in concepts and frameworks that exist for me.

[which, again: privileging the self’s experience as more valid/congent than the experience of others; asking questions of others that only make sense asked of the self.]

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Paul 12.14.16 at 9:50 am

Howard (@270):

there are “good” (i.e. successful) schools, some of these are charter schools, parents want their children to attend good schools.

even if the charter schools are better than average, it doesn’t follow from this that increasing the number of charter schools will increase the average quality of all schools. unless you can do this, “choice” is not a useful means to an end.

of course it’s prevailing market doctrine that individual choice drives improved provision, but this doesn’t always work. if good schools are good because of the intake they attract, and if non-standard schools are inherently more likely to be good because parents who care enough to jump through the hoops to get their children into them tend to be the kind of parents who will be able to provide a supportive learning environment, then increasing the number of said schools is likely to do nothing to improve education overall, particularly for those children whose parents can’t/won’t provide that environment.

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engels 12.14.16 at 10:39 am

You’ve completely lost me.

I’ll try to make it as simple as I can. I disagree with your opinion that children who go to ‘better’ schools ‘do better in life without making someone else worse off’ because many of the goods to be gotten that way in a country like America are in fact positional and so come at the expense of others. That doesn’t mean I’m against education or pro-poverty. Weird I know…

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Howard Frant 12.14.16 at 4:10 pm

J-D

Poor urban kids are less able to read and write well than middle-class suburban kids. I think this is because they have less opportunity to learn to read and write well. If I’m wrong, then please explain.

Colin Street

I’m not sure that’s worth responding to, but obviously “agree with me” means “agree with what I wrote.”

Paul

Right, but the study I cite addresses this by comparing kids who are randomly selected from those who apply to charter schools.

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J-D 12.14.16 at 6:54 pm

Howard Frant

Poor urban kids are less able to read and write well than middle-class suburban kids. If I’m wrong, then please explain.

I thought I already had.

‘Poor urban kids are less able to read and write well than middle-class suburban kids.’
I don’t dispute that this is true (in the US) — I admit I haven’t actually checked it, but I’m prepared to accept that it’s so.

‘I think this is because they have less opportunity to learn to read and write well.’ Yes, that’s what you think, but why do you think that? When somebody performs poorly, sometimes it’s the case that they perform poorly because they have never had the opportunity to learn better, but somtimes it’s because they have had the opportunity and (for any of a wide range of reasons) have not taken it.

Let me add another point, though. You referred earlier to my reading and writing ability. It’s indisputable that it’s at least partly a product of the opportunities I had as a child. Children who grow up in a home full of books, as I did, have more opportunities to learn to read well than do children who grow up with little or no access to books. What makes you think that expanding charter schooling would change that? If you want all children to have more access to books, what you need to do is simply put more books in places where all children have access to them.

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Collin Street 12.14.16 at 8:36 pm

I’m not sure that’s worth responding to, but obviously “agree with me” means “agree with what I wrote.”

In general I have to say I don’t agree with you 100%, which I guess means that I disagree with you. And that this is true of, well, everybody, no? So “do you agree with me” never tells you anything.

Fundamentally you’re asking the wrong question:
+ “agree with [you]” isn’t a category I work with, so it’s not a useful categorisation; this bit I think you’re clear on.
+ dividing the world into “agree with you” and “disagree with you” collapses all disagreement together: in particular it collapses “disagrees with you because they’re wrong” and “disagrees with you because you’re wrong” together. Spotting your own mistakes is hard enough at the best of times.

[the things I’m telling you are conceptual and approach errors you are making. It makes no sense to you, because it doesn’t fit in with the conceptual framework you have; once you’ve understood my point, though, your framework will change and it’ll all be trite and obvious.]

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engels 12.15.16 at 12:36 pm

Slightly OT but remember all those CT posts about how free university tuition and student grants had to be scrapped because they were unfair on the poor?

Record gap between rich and poor students winning university places

The gap between rich and poor students being granted university places has reached a record high, latest Ucas figures show, prompting fresh concerns over the “shameful” lack of social mobility within education. Students who received free school meals – a long-time indicator of poverty – are less than half as likely to enter higher education than their more affluent peers. Despite recent government efforts to improve access to education for disadvantaged young people, the gap between those being offered university places is now the widest ever recorded – a difference of 16.7 percentage points.

More 18-year-olds were offered university places this year than ever before, with entry levels among all social groups increasing overall over the past 10 years. But while the number of students from more affluent backgrounds has climbed steadily, places offered to those from the poorest percentile have stalled in the past year. The sudden halt in numbers follows a decision made by the Tory government last year to scrap student maintenance grants for pupils from lower income families.

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Harry 12.15.16 at 3:08 pm

I don’t remember anyone on CT arguing that maintenance grants for lower income families should be scrapped. Who was arguing for that?

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engels 12.15.16 at 3:59 pm

To be honest I can’t remember—apologies if not—but if the argument is ‘why should the dustman subsidise the doctor’ (which I understood to be the New Labour ‘egalitarian’ argument for students paying for uni, endorsed by CT) that logically seems to apply to grants as well as fees, and to poor students as well as rich ones (they’re all viewed as future doctors, not dustmen, are they not?)

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engels 12.15.16 at 4:10 pm

Scrapping the grants was recent whereas the debates about fees were about a decade ago but the CT position on the second (markets are the only fair arrangement because individuals [esp those who we expect to be relatively privileged] should foot the bill for developing their own human capital without recourse to public funds) seems to lead fairly naturally to the governments position in the first. I guess there was never a CT post specifically about grants one way or the other—apologies for suggesting otherwise.

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Harry 12.16.16 at 2:28 pm

For what its worth, and speaking only for myself. I’m strongly in favor of maintenance grants for students from low income families (and would be in favor of them, and free tuition for low income students in the US if anyone ever talked about them); exactly because I would predict that having them would induce more students from low income families to attend college and reduce the considerable barriers to their success.

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Brett Dunbar 12.17.16 at 4:25 am

The way that the higher education loan system in the UK works is that repayment is linked only to income and the existence of an outstanding balance. The size of the balance has no effect. As roughly 50% of graduates aren’t expected to pay off before the balance is automatically written off after thirty years they are totally unaffected. To actually pay the loan off at thirty years you are looking at an annual income of about £70,000, not a group who need a subsidy even if their parents were poor. For it to make much difference you are looking at an income of £100,000 or so then you repay significantly before thirty years.

Extending the higher education loan system to further education should improve low income access to financial support compared to grants. The grants were partly discretionary while the loans are a right. The Student Loan Company is obliged to provide the loans to any student on a qualifying course. While with grants the parents might be expected to meet some of the costs.

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engels 12.17.16 at 11:26 am

To actually pay the loan off at thirty years you are looking at an annual income of about £70,000, not a group who need a subsidy even if their parents were poor.

I’d be curious to know how specifically Harry or John disagree with this, given what I think are their general views of the injustice of the taxpayer subsidising the personal development of eventual high-earners.

Or put it as s NuLab soundbite: ‘why should the [socially immobile] dustman subsidise the doctor [of working class origins]’?

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Paul Davis 12.17.16 at 11:54 am

engels @ 284:

The original justification for “free” higher education that I am familiar with went something like this: society as a whole benefits when appropriately qualified people have the opportunity to get as much education as is either required or possible so that they can enter careers that benefit society.

It isn’t clear that the dustman is subsidizing the doctor; the dustman’s family has helped to subsidize the doctor, perhaps, but in a way that reflects the progressivity of the tax system in effect. And it might have gone the other way: it could have been the dustman’s sister that studied to become a doctor, while the doctor ended up as a janitor.

This sort of thing is just another example of how economic insecurity pushes people to pay too much attention to specific examples of “inequity” within a system designed to pay off globally and long term, rather than being free of cases that could be argued to be problematic. A well-functioning society is not going to try to micro-manage outcomes and destinies and payoffs. Make people feel insecure and they start noticing and complaining about small-scale and local-level details which really ought to be ignored because the system is designed to function whether they occur or not.

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novakant 12.17.16 at 1:04 pm

I find it really interesting and a bit scary how some otherwise very clever and generally socially minded people have come to drink the neoliberal cool-aid and rationalize tuition fees as improving rather than reducing social justice.

NB: university is free or very low-cost in countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Spain etc. …

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engels 12.17.16 at 1:54 pm

Paul, thanks, that’s how I see it too I think.

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Harry 12.17.16 at 3:44 pm

“And it might have gone the other way: it could have been the dustman’s sister that studied to become a doctor, while the doctor ended up as a janitor.”

The ‘it might have gone’ in this sentence means something like ‘there is a very slim possibility that it could have’. Let’s be realistic about everything that has happened prior to the point at which they applied to college and what that means for who gets to do what later.

In modern, unequal, societies, if you are making choices about where to invest limited public resources in education, it seems to me that it is better to invest more earlier and less later, and to invest the earlier resources unequally in favor of the more disadvantaged so that, whether or not they go to college, they have skills that enable them better to thrive and contribute. Whatever you invest in higher education, it seems to me better to invest unequally, subsidizing those who have fewer private resources behind them more than those with more private resources, and more in those who are header for low-paid but socially vital work than tho who are headed for higher paid work (whether socially valuable or not) — ambitions which happen to correlate with the social backgrounds of the students. So, I would be in favour of subsidizing teacher ed programs more than MD programs. (In the US teacher ed programs tend to be treated as cash cows which support other parts of the higher ed enterprise, in particular research — whereas I don’t believe that it is possible to educate teachers properly using just the resources that someone who was bound for teaching would sensibly spend on entering such a low paid profession — so that is a clear case where I think we should be subsidizing higher ed for the public good. Subsidizing students who end up on Wall Street seems less sensible, given that it makes perfect sense for them to spend considerable resources on their higher education). When mechanisms (eg, a graduate tax) are available to you that enable you to redistribute from the big (financial) winners from public investment in higher ed to others, I don’t see why you wouldn’t do that.

Just to ask — take Social Work, Teacher Education, and Nursing Education. These are all very expensive to do well. Whatever the subsidies to higher education, would you rather they be spread equally, or would you rather that Business gets less while Teacher Ed and Nursing get more?

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engels 12.17.16 at 5:19 pm

When mechanisms (eg, a graduate tax) are available to you that enable you to redistribute from the big (financial) winners from public investment in higher ed to others, I don’t see why you wouldn’t do that.

Imo This is what Paul Davis rightly calls micro-management above. Fairness demands that stock-brokers should be taxed more heavily than nurses. Does it demand that graduate-stock-brokers be taxed more heavily than equally filthy rich non-graduate-stock-brokers who pulled themselves up into stock-broking by their own braces as it were? I suspect most people would say fairness does not demand this and I also think it is petty and at a deep level buys into a neoliberal conceptualisation of education as an individual human capital purchase. (And to be clear pace Brett Dunbar I think the UK system if fees and loans differs greatly from a graduate tax, not least in its deterrent effect on poorer students.

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engels 12.17.16 at 6:09 pm

if you are making choices about where to invest limited public resources in education

It’s worth considering that the limitation is a political one and experience seems to indicate that dismantling universal entitlements in favour of means-testing tends to lower it. (For the record, I’m sympathetic to targeting resources in a redistributive direction within a universal system [e.g. extra funding for disadvantaged students at school or uni] but strongly against introducing fees for what used to be free public services on the pretext that it frees up ‘limited’ government resources for redistribution.)

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Paul Davis 12.17.16 at 6:10 pm

Harry @ 288:

I don’t have a clear answer to your final question because I’m conflicted between the view of higher ed that I grew up with in the UK and the system that I understand after 27 years living in the US.

In the former system, higher education was a more-or-less free thing made possible from local education authority taxes and limited to a small percentage of people believed (rightly or wrongly) to be the best candidates for jobs/careers that would benefit from the education.

In the current US system, higher education is viewed more as a universal thing, that ideally everyone should participate in to some level, with differentiation occuring via the types of colleges attended and types of awards conferred.

The (old) UK system legitimized the idea that, since society was (mostly) funding students, it could also decide what it would fund them to study (in reality it didn’t have to do this much, since such a small percentage of people actually attended university). The current US system echoes the usual blather about a “free market” system identifying what majors are required to be available at a given capacity, based on individuals’ own choices and preferences.

I can’t pick a single one of these systems as the one that we should be discussing, so I don’t have a single, coherent answer.

I’d like to know more about the ethos and principles behind, for example, the German system of “free” higher education (or the French one, for that matter)

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Harry 12.17.16 at 6:31 pm

The deterrent effect on poorer students may partly be a result of the scheme not being well understood. I know people who have knowlingly misrepresented it in political debate (and misrepresented it to their low-income constituents) in order to tar the Tories. A scheme being hard to understand is definitely a a count against it, mark you.

I don’t see why it is micro–management for voters to say they want to subsidize children from lower income families more, and future higher earners less (note this was the character of the old sliding scale means-tested maintenance grant, which, at full level one could live on). Maybe it is micro-management for them to demand that teacher ed programs get higher subsidies than programs preparing surgeons (at least in public institutions and in a society where surgeons have tremendous earning potential partly due to government restrictions on entry to the profession); but someone is going to be making decisions about what to subsidize and how to cross-subsidize within institutions, and there are better and worse, more and less unjust, ways of doing that. Is it micromanagement to subsidize teacher education more than business education? If so I’m all for it.

Worth noting that when tuition was free in the UK, the subsidies, which were direct, varied immensely — you got a much larger public subsidy at Oxford than at Salford, and for studying to be a doctor or a lawyer than for studying to be a teacher or a nurse. So, among college students, very roughly the lower your expected earning and the lower the social class you came from, the lower the subsidy you got.

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Harry 12.17.16 at 7:13 pm

experience seems to indicate that dismantling universal entitlements in favour of means-testing tends to lower it. (For the record, I’m sympathetic to targeting resources in a redistributive direction within a universal system [e.g. extra funding for disadvantaged students at school or uni] but strongly against introducing fees for what used to be free public services on the pretext that it frees up ‘limited’ government resources for redistribution.)

So this is not a matter of principle for you, but one of political trust? If you genuinely expected that the resources really would be shifted to early childhood education and concentrated on disadvantaged kids, and would be stable for a long period, you’d be ok with it?

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engels 12.17.16 at 7:55 pm

among college students, very roughly the lower your expected earning and the lower the social class you came from, the lower the subsidy you got

This does seem inequitable and I can think of at least three ways to address it:
1 reduce the earning differentials along grads
2 reduce the class-based inequalities in access to the system
3 make the system less hierarchical
Introducing fees, debt and market values while potentially leaving these problems untouched or making them worse… er not so much.

So this is not a matter of principle for you, but one of political trust?

The idea that education should be free and available to all regardless of ability or willingness to pay is close to a principle but if there were very strong consequentialist reasons to attenuate it or set it aside I’d consider that Afaics there are not.

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Collin Street 12.17.16 at 9:15 pm

End-of-the-day… on average, the people who will pay for their own education or pay for their children’s education… you’re going to get a less-competent cohort of graduates than you would if the resources were taken in taxes or whatever and given to scholarship kids.

Market-solutions beg the question of resource allocation and inequality, no?

[“if you have rich parents you will, as a practical matter, be subject to lower admission standards” is not something I can support under normal circumstances. I’m willing to tolerate it — you pick your battles — but any sort of positive words for the idea, that’s not passing my mouth.]

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engels 12.18.16 at 4:47 am

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Brett Dunbar 12.18.16 at 8:34 am

Although called a loan and having some legal structure of a loan the current UK system is for practical purposes a universal free system paid by bonds funded by a graduate tax. A free system which pretty much anyone with decent A levels can study pretty much any subject they want. It is far more socially inclusive than the old discretionary grants.

The SLC loans will pay the full tuition charged (there are price controls) and in most cases living expenses (unless the accommodation costs are very high). Repayment is based only on income not outstanding loan. The SLC sells the debt on at a fairly sharp discount. Around 70% of the debt is expected to be paid before the outstanding balance is written off. The risk is bourne by the bondholders and assumed at the time the bond is sold so the state has no incentive to alter the terms. Effectively the studies of those students who don’t have high in incomes are subsidised by those who do. With the bondholders taking the risk that the loans don’t pay off.

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engels 12.18.16 at 9:09 am

someone is going to be making decisions about what to subsidize and how to cross-subsidize within institutions, and there are better and worse, more and less unjust, ways of doing that. Is it micromanagement to subsidize teacher education more than business education?

To be clear, I’m fine with that, by ‘micromanagement’ I was referring to the tax system and the idea that fairness requires high-earning graduates contribute more than equally high-earning non-graduates.

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Brett Dunbar 12.18.16 at 12:51 pm

Engels @ 294

The UK loan system basically does 1, 2 and 3. The entitlement to the loans is universal while the repayment system is progressive across most incomes. Although it does become mildly regressive at very high incomes as the entire balance is paid off ending liability early.

The repayment is in practice a 9% income with a minimum threshold of £21,000 per annum. If you earn less than £21,000 then you pay nothing. If you earn £22,000 you pay 9% on £1,000 which is £90.

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engels 12.18.16 at 3:02 pm

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