Warning: School Choice Can be Hazardous to Your Community

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, recently wrote about the direction President-Elect Trump appears headed with education. “There are clear indications” she said, “that President Obama’s Race to the Top will be replaced with something that could be called ‘Race to the Bank’, as the movement to privatize education seems certain to accelerate.” Trump’s promise to redirect $20 billion in federal funds (most likely in Title I monies), is a good indication of that desire to accelerate. Of the redirect, Trump himself said, “Not only would this empower families, but it would create a massive education market that is competitive and produces better outcomes, and I mean far better outcomes.” Recent studies though, just don’t bear out those “far better outcomes” and although Congress previously considered redirecting Title I funds, they scrapped it with the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Nonetheless, Trump seems determined to press ahead as indicated today by his pick of Betsy DeVos, a forceful advocate for private school voucher programs nationwide, as his Secretary of Education.  And although his website claims that school choice is “the civil rights issue of our time”, the Nation’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch writes, “school choice is not the civil rights issue of our time, as its proponents claim; it is the predictable way to roll back civil rights in our time.” Her words are born out by the fact that segregation in the United States is now the highest it has been since the early 1960s. And to that point, the Arizona Republic writes that vouchers, tax credits and charters are used “by those who least need help”, “siphon money from traditional district schools”, and “are thinly disguised workarounds that wealthy parents can use to keep their kids out of the district schools where students of color are in the majority.” Jeff Bryant, on educationopportunitynetwork.org, writes, “it’s hard to see how a system based on school choice – that so easily accentuates the advantages of the privileged – is going to benefit the whole community, especially those who are the most chronically under-served.” After all, we all know there are plenty of disadvantaged families who will likely never be able to access school choice options, partially because it really is schools’ choice. This reality plays out every day when commercial schools either don’t admit those students they don’t want or, weed them out early on.  The desire to not call attention to that truth may be part of the reason we’ve begun to see the rebranding of “school choice” to “parental choice.”

The real problem though is much more than semantics, but what school choice is actually doing to not only our district schools, but our communities as well. Julie Vassilatos, on chicagonow.com, writes that “choice” “quietly diminishes the real power of our democratic voice while it upholds the promise of individual consumer preferences above all else.” (It’s all about me.)  The picture she paints of school choice is this: no schoolmates in neighborhoods, children traveling several hours a day to/from school, and “very little political and residential investment in the heart of neighborhood communities.” The school choice model she contends, is “fracturing and breaking down local bonds among families and within neighborhoods.” Could it be that “divide and conquer” is what this is really about? Vassilatos seems to think so contending that, “Democracies require stable communities with strong institutions that are of, by, and for the community. Democracies are built on strong, stable localities.” School choice she claims, is gutting our communities and robbing our voices.

Meanwhile, Carol Burris points out that our Vice President-Elect, Mike Pence, shepherded such a time of gutting and robbing while Governor of Indiana. His voucher program created $53 million in school spending deficits in the last school year alone and the damage continues to this day. If school choice proponents get their way she warns, we could be looking at the same sort of disastrous full-frontal school choice implementation both Chile and Sweden are now trying to dig themselves out of.

We, as a nation, Burris says, need to ask ourselves two important questions. First, do we want to “build our communities, or fracture them?” Second, do we believe “in a community of learners in which kids learn from and with others of different backgrounds”, or do we want to further segregate our schools by race, income and religion. She contends that we cannot have both and that “true community public schools cannot survive school choice.” I agree with Carol, but it isn’t because the district schools can’t compete. Rather, it is because the deck is stacked against them and politicians and profiteers continue to pile on.

Robin Lake, of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which supports many school choice initiatives, said she believe there needs to be a focus on quality: “My fear is [that] a big ideological push for choice as an end, not a means, is a dangerous prospect. It’s not only dangerous for getting schools started that may not be effective, but it’s also dangerous for long-term politics.” Noah Smith on bloomberg.net, basically agrees, if from a different angle. “The evidence is clear that vouchers are a policy with underwhelming potential” he writes, and “if the U.S. cares about academic success, policy makers should focus not on turning the school system into a marketplace, but on reforming existing schools to improve their quality.

As Arthur Camins points out on HuffingtonPost.com, “there are better choices than school choice to improve education.” Unfortunately, those choices are not the path of least resistance for our politicians and our short attention spans make expediency a winning strategy. Too bad those who have no voice are the ones who will ultimately suffer the most.

57 responses to “Warning: School Choice Can be Hazardous to Your Community

  1. ““choice” “quietly diminishes the real power of our democratic voice while it upholds the promise of individual consumer preferences above all else.”

    You can’t win an argument when it rests on self-contradictory statements like this.

  2. Frances Perkins

    Turns out Betsy and the Scamway family spent $1.5 million supporting legislative candidates who opposed making charter schools more accountable in Michigan. They are not accountable in the same manner they aren’t in Arizona. The Detroit Free Press did a series on all the insider trading, and lack of accountability for public funds, going on in the charter school industry. Bills were introduced to make charters more accountable, based on recommendations after the expose. Betsy made sure those who might vote for more accountability, even if Republican, were defeated in the primary. She is a full blown disaster for public schools.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      The Wikipedia page for Betsy DeVos has been updated a few hundred times over the last week, scrubbing mentions of Amway and most of her business career, and made to look like she’s nearly a liberal.

  3. For Sure Not Tom

    Betsy DeVos was a board member of The Acton Institute, a conservative group that advocates for the return of child labor.

    And she’s going to be in charge of education.

    Now the they’re getting some unexpected attention, The Acton Institute is scrambling to “explain” that they didn’t mean send children back into the mines.

    Except that they did advocate for sending children back into the mines.

    Trump’s “win” is shining light on some truly creepy people.

  4. John Huppenthal

    A powerful story but one lacking in empirical support. Charters represent an infinitesimal fraction of most states students. So, Arizona is the best representative for the charter case.

    Since charters began in Arizona:

    1. The number of murders by juveniles has plunged from 70 in 1993 to 7 in 2012 while the at risk student population has more than tripled.

    From this, I would say: “The lack of school choice can be very hazardous to your community.”

    2. African Americans have risen to number one in the nation in math scores (8th grade). Hispanic student rose from 35th to 11th and white students rose from 20th to 6th.

    Meanwhile, in 2015 the productivity of our nations schools (4th to 8th grade) dropped another 4.7% now down 14.6% since the year 2000. The ethnic achievement gap (NAEP) expanded from 2.8 academic years at 4th grade to 3.4 years at 8th grade. This expansion of this gap was significantly higher in 2015, not lower.

    3. Looking inside of individual school district metrics, the percentage of parents rating their child’s school excellent rose to 75% in CUSD, 64% in Mesa and over 80% in individual charter schools which are growing rapidly.

    Meanwhile, the opinions in all the states who don’t have choice plunged to 24%, the second lowest level in 47 years.

    School choice is incredibly beneficial to society. We need more of it in Arizona, not less.

    • All you have are anecdotal, correlative data. Do you have any empirical results which suggest a causal relation between the two, or is this just spurious correlation resulting from time-series data?

      In other words, I need evidence which suggests that these statistics are caused by charter schools, not happening in spite of them.

      “The number of murders by juveniles has plunged from 70 in 1993 to 7 in 2012 while the at risk student population has more than tripled.”

      The homicide rate has been cut by 50+% nationally over the same timespan. Some environmental economists speculate that removal of lead paint is the cause. At best, this proves a correlation. But it’s almost certainly spurious.

      “African Americans have risen to number one in the nation in math scores (8th grade). Hispanic student rose from 35th to 11th and white students rose from 20th to 6th.”

      Perhaps a plausible statistic to suggest an effect. Over what timespan, though? And over which grade levels?

      “Meanwhile, in 2015 the productivity of our nations schools (4th to 8th grade) dropped another 4.7% now down 14.6% since the year 2000. The ethnic achievement gap (NAEP) expanded from 2.8 academic years at 4th grade to 3.4 years at 8th grade. This expansion of this gap was significantly higher in 2015, not lower.”

      What does the productivity look like in K-3 and then 9-12? This seems like cherry-picking a grade range to support your case.

      It also only suggests a correlation on the basis of race / ethnicity. Unfortunately, most of the effect these days is on the basis of socioeconomic status and parental income. This is (imperfectly) correlated with race. And ‘since the year 2000’ is a funny number. Would the natural inclination not be to look at the effect of NCLB first-and-foremost? Perhaps overreliance on teaching to standardized tests is the cause. This explanation has theoretical evidence suggesting the same.

      “Looking inside of individual school district metrics, the percentage of parents rating their child’s school excellent rose to 75% in CUSD, 64% in Mesa and over 80% in individual charter schools which are growing rapidly.

      Meanwhile, the opinions in all the states who don’t have choice plunged to 24%, the second lowest level in 47 years.”

      Once again, a statistic where you’d need to see information about board governance and district policies in order to make an accurate causal interpretation. Also not necessarily the case that ‘parental satisfaction’ is the same as good educational outcomes. Grade inflation being one such example where the two might disconnect.

      • John Huppenthal

        1. NAEP, National Assessment of Educational Progress, is universally regarded as the gold standard for educational measurement. They spend $140 million a year gathering the data and sample 140,000 students at 4th and 8th grade level.

        2. 4th through 8th grade is the only range for which you can extract productivity data from NAEP. Only 12 states do 12th grade NAEP and NAEP does not measure k through 3. My comparison is 4th grade 2011 to 8th grade 2015. 4th graders in 2011 became 8th graders in 2015.

        3. You prove my case on murder rates. You say the national murder rate has gone down 50%. It went down over 90%, perhaps 97% among Arizona juveniles. The case is being made that school choice is bad for community health. Where is the evidence for that case other than anecdotal? This is a remarkable statistic from the number one state in school choice that suggests strongly otherwise.

        4. Correlation does not prove causality but causality starts with proving correlation. The first use of statistics in public policy showed a very strong correlation between cholera and the broad street pump where sewage was mixing with water below ground. John Snow’s 18th century opponents also denied causality – they bought into miasma theory. These correlations with school choice are very strong and also logical.

        Nationwide, 8% of parents rate their child’s school a “D” or “F” in quality (annual Gallup survey). These are the parents of 5 million children. Logically, their children are in some type of crisis, either academic or social.

        The argument is being made that trapping these parents in their current school is good for community health. This appears absurd on the face of it. When we look inside the metrics of individual school districts that are subject to intensive school choice, Mesa and Chandler Unified, we see less than 2% of parents rating “D” or “F”.

        5. When we look inside Native American school districts, subject to very little school choice in Arizona, we see major dysfunction. Ranked last in graduation rates, second to last in academic results. Relative to Native American students in other states.

        • OMG John.Now you are going to blame dysfunction in Native American schools on the lack of school choice? Really???? With all the intersecting challenges they face, you think school choice is the answer. Oh by the way, I guess now that students living on tribal lands are eligible for vouchers, we’ve seen a massive building of private schools on tribal lands or a mass exodus of students to private schools off the reservation? Yeah..,crickets!

          • John Huppenthal

            Very difficult, almost impossible, to create a charter or private school on tribal lands. Even when they exist, they are very difficult to access. The service area of the typical charter school in Maricopa county reaches 20,000 students. On tribal lands it is less than a 100. Thats why Native Americans make a good control group. When our African Americans who have the choice of 20 charters, 3 districts and 8 different district schools are number one in the nation in 8th grade math score and our Native Americans who have little choice are almost dead last among the 32 states with comparable records – that’s interesting.

            Native Americans are also the group most severely dislocated by standards for children, the most prominent cultural feature of district education.

          • Why then John, the ESA expansion to allow students on tribal lands? Maybe those within Phoenix can use them, but on the Navajo nation from where former Senator Begay hailed?

        • You know, John, I am not certain what to make of you and your relationship to this blog. I read what you post and most of it makes good sense to me. Yet you are universally attacked and called names and your data is tossed aside as of no value. I have been warned by one of the posters here – whose opinion I trust – not to fall for your line of goods. Despite that, I find the things you write often make sense. I know you had a conflict with some of the posters just before I started posting here, but I don’t know the details. I’m not asking what happened. I just can’t imagine what kind of flare up could result in such bitterness.

          Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I do read you posts and find what you write to be worth reading.

          • John Huppenthal

            Steve,
            I am a heretic, one of those people who gets burned at the stake.

            The posters on this blog are seeking to retail research from some universities and think tanks as truth and science which will produce a more prosperous and egalitarian society. But, in fact, it is almost all the religion of power. People who pretend to support equality can gain power and influence through that pretense.

            I’ve spent three decades reading those studies and studying the raw data. I know the corruptions. 1. The researcher speaks the truth and is defunded. 2. The abstract doesn’t agree with the underlying research study. 3. The research lacks proper controls. 4. The research just disappears from sight never to be talked about. 5. A daisy chain of researchers cite each other and reference other research without citing it, preventing it from rising in the rankings. 6. They just make it up.

            These corruptions are most prominent in education and economic research.

            These corruptions are so severe that when the national reading panel spent 10 million reviewing research, they found that 96 percent weren’t worth th the paper they were written on.

            The posters on this blog aren’t my audience but they check my facts and it has altered the course of debate. Thousands of opinion leaders stay in touch with this blog – as one of them noted – people listen to me because I bring good evidence.

            I should be more polite and elliptical, Benjamin Franklin said argument never gets you anywhere – I really appreciate your style.

    • Sorry John, don’t agree. School choice is incredibly beneficial to a small segment of our society. But then…that’s the one you care about, right?

    • Frances Perkins

      John, “non sequitur”, must be your middle name.

  5. Unfortunately, the MO seems to be along the lines of:

    Cripple public district school education with unnecessary testing / special accounting & legal standards / budgetary cutbacks due to the last downturn we were unequipped to deal with because politicians don’t save the surplus in good times -> Parents complain about poor quality of education and seek other educational sources -> politicians offer funding for alternative education at the expense of district schools -> educational quality in district schools gets worse (rinse and repeat)

    And that’s a damn shame. Integration of schools makes sure that everyone has some ‘skin in the game’ – an incentive to make sure district schools are successful, as well as to foster cooperation and understanding between different cultural groups being schooled together under one roof.

    And for those who go on the ‘my tax dollars’ rant, too damn bad. I don’t want my tax dollars going to modernize our nuclear weapons arsenal or building F-35’s or getting sent overseas to nations with major human rights violations, but I don’t have the right to demand my federal taxes instead be taken out of military programs and spent on dealing with pollution mitigation and lower-cost public higher education, so no, I don’t buy that line of argument. We all have to contribute even to things we may not personally want or use.

    • “…politicians don’t save the surplus in good times…”

      Politicians NEVER save a “surplus” when they overtax. That is why they should never be trusted with extra money. It is not limited to education funding…it is any money they can get their hands on.

      “And for those who go on the ‘my tax dollars’ rant, too damn bad.”

      Your comparison of how tax dollars are spent versus school choice is flawed. Parents not trying change how tax dollars are spent, they saying that the “per pupil” tax dollars spent on their student should follow their student and go to the school they actually attend. Those are two very different things.

      “Cripple public district school education with unnecessary testing / special accounting & legal standards…”

      I agree with you that bureacratic nonsense does get in the way of government schools doing a better job. Unfortunately, much of that is self inflicted and not caused by legislative mandate. One of the greatest complaints people have about government schools is the tremendous bureacratic overhead they have. So many superintendants of this, assistant superintendants of that, special liaisons, coordinators, etc., and THEY are the ones who create the requirements for reports, tests, special accounting, etc., that burden the schools. This bureacratic nonsense you describe jusifies their existence. It is rare to find similar bureacracies in private sector.

      • “So many superintendants of this, assistant superintendants of that, special liaisons, coordinators, etc., and THEY are the ones who create the requirements for reports, tests, special accounting, etc., that burden the schools. This bureacratic nonsense you describe jusifies their existence. It is rare to find similar bureacracies in private sector.”

        That is one place where I have to concede the point. For all the inefficiencies, perverse incentives, and market failures, the profit motive does at least encourage firm-level efficiency because cutting of costs increases profit. There may be general equilibrium considerations if that causes income to go down on a population-wide basis, but that’s a topic for another day. I am not immediately aware how many of these bureaucratic and logistical concerns result from required compliance with federal and state law / administrative rules vs. existing to perpetuate themselves, but I imagine the number is nonzero for each.

        “Your comparison of how tax dollars are spent versus school choice is flawed. Parents not trying change how tax dollars are spent, they saying that the “per pupil” tax dollars spent on their student should follow their student and go to the school they actually attend. Those are two very different things.”

        I wouldn’t be too concerned in the abstract with this; the problem I have is that there are economies of scale, and tearing those apart eventually raises the costs across the board. In addition, I am concerned that school vouchers are a transfer of wealth from the lower-middle class (who often cannot afford private school even with them) to the upper-middle class. Applying the same logic, would it not be the case that if I never have any children, I should be able to take my tax dollars out of the educational system altogether? At this point, the very idea of taxpayer-funded public education dies.

        And yeah, politicians generally don’t act in the best long-term interests of the people. In other equally surprising news, the sun is going to keep shining tomorrow and a majority of people living in the United States will be eating turkey at some point in the next 24 hours.

        • All indications are you are a good and thoughtful man, Edward. I actually wish I could vote for you, but we are generally on opposite sides of the issues. But that doesn’t mean I can’t think well of you…

          • You as well. We don’t have to agree on everything, but I appreciate that you’re willing to take time to come to a blog site with an admitted left-leaning bias, discuss in good-faith, and maybe come to some sort of agreement, or at least a mutual understanding and agreement to disagree.

            Of course, depending on how well (or poorly, depending on your point of view) things go, you might get your chance to do so in a couple of years.

          • And I do think, being a candidate who lost an election recently, that it is contingent upon me to better listen to the voices in the community. What parts of my message are being heard and are resonating with the people, and which are falling on flat ears.

            I think that goes for why voters and candidates on the left were so soundly rebuffed, particularly in rural parts of the country. I think it’s partially because the values of self-reliance and grit are more necessary, that government services are often biased toward the population centers, and also, that a lot of rural America has seen the rug pulled out from under them over the last 40 years from both sides of the aisle, in terms of the loss of good-paying jobs in small-scale agriculture, manufacturing, and so forth.

            I’m interested in hearing the thoughts of people who identify with the political right, that I might better understand for myself where my blind spots are.

        • Love your point Edward that maybe since you never had kids, you shouldn’t pay tax dollars for education. I know this was only illustrative, but it makes a great point. Your point about “encourage firm-level efficiency because cutting of costs increases profit” though, may have some truth to it, but I would argue that when it comes to the education of our children, efficiency and profit shouldn’t be our number one concern. We all know what can happen when a contract goes to the lowest bidder or, when a contractor cuts costs to increase profit…delivery of the product often suffers. Either we are committed to providing our kids the best education we can, or the cheapest. We can’t have it both ways.

          • “Either we are committed to providing our kids the best education we can, or the cheapest.”

            This is THE big argument in education. Does the expenditure of money corelate to the quality of education? Educators say it does. Studies demonstrate that is not necessarily the case.

      • Excuse me for being blunt Steve, but you are incredibly wrong about “government” schools (you know, those schools in your community, governed by locally elected school board members, not some corporation headquartered in New York City), self-inflict bureaucracy. You made me laugh this morning with your statement that the bureaucracy they must deal with is self-inflicted. This is ridiculous! Why would they do this? It is freakin’ hard enough to run a school or a school district without making it tougher on yourself. The bureaucracy they must contend with comes from the Feds and from the State, not from within. And, the state does not impose anywhere close to the same amount of bureaucracy on commercial schools.

        Having said this, I still appreciate your comments because they give me insight as to the scope of the battle we public education advocates must fight. I am continually astonished at the misinformation and it often makes me sad and almost hopeless. The propaganda of the corporate reformers has worked so well and our kids are the ones who are suffering so that they can make profit.

        • Well, that’s me, serving as measure of the misinformation you are facing. Every one needs a purpose in life and I guess that is mine. ;o)

          In all seriousness, though, my understanding is that the majority of the reports, etc., are requirements generated within the school districts and provided to someone within the bureacracy of the school district. When I looked at some school district organization charts over the years, I thought that they would do Bizantium proud with their intracacies. And I know for certain that the school bureacracies are a big point of contention for taxpayers when it comes to voting for funding overides. Most taxpayers don’t mind money for the classroom but bristle at money for administrators.

          • Just one note back Steve. on average charter schools in Arizona spend twice the amount on administration than do district schools.

          • @Linda:

            Can you point to any citations to back up the claim that charter schools are spending 2x as much as district schools on education? Perhaps the other important metric would be the percentage of per-dollar spending in the classroom; I know it was a campaign point for at least Ms. Sedgwick that TUSD was spending only 49 cents on the dollar in the classroom, lower than in comparable school districts.

    • A-freakin’-men Edward!

  6. Frances Perkins

    Betsy DeVos. An utter disgrace. I know Michigan very well. My undergraduate education degree is from Michigan. She has been trying to buy power, with pyramid Scamway fortune, for years. She is even worse than if Michelle Rhee got it.

    • Yeah, that’s what I was thinking…

    • Be honest now, Frances. If he had appointed Jesus Christ to the position, you would find fault with it, wouldn’t you? It doesn’t matter who he appoints to any position, you are going to find reasons why it is a disaster of an appointment. And that’s okay. One of the fun things about backing the losing candidate is you have at least four years of finding fault and complaining about everything the incumbent does. Lucky you…

      • People who support public education oppose Ms Voss’ appointment. She is unqualified to run an agency that creates policies for public schools, but supports none for charters. I’m sure you consider yourself well versed in your field, Steve, through your education and your experience. We educators are the same. I can think of several odious choices, who none the less, would have true education credentials; Rick Hess is one. Ms. DeVoss’ appointment is pure political patronage. Shouldn’t DT pick his battles instead of filling every post with a mega-rich far right conservative?

        • Sun Tsu wrote “The Art of War”, long considered a masterpeice of military strategy. One of his lesson was to find ways to confuse the enemy as to from where your attack will emerge. One method of that is to open so many possible avenues for attack that they are kept off balance.

          Perhaps Trump is laying the ground work so that his opponents have no idea what his priorities for his administration might be. Or, perhaps he is not that sophisticated and is letting everyone know where his priorities lie in regards to education. Either way, Trump is laying the ground work for an interesting 4 years.

          • Donald Trump is all about three things. 1. Donald Trump 2. Winning 3. Dealing. I bet his desire to spread school choice far and wide has more to do with these three priorities than it does the betterment of our kids.

          • Frances Perkins

            The tragedy is the majority of education policy discussions in the US have little to do with children’s achievement and lots to do with other agendas, including public schools as cash cow for the charter school industry. In Michigan, 80% of charter schools are run by for profit corporations. And practically everyone and his brother can charter a school. The Michigan legislature even tried a bill to allow PRIVATE schools to grant a charter for a school, at public expense of course.

  7. “if the U.S. cares about academic success, policy makers should focus not on turning the school system into a marketplace, but on reforming existing schools to improve their quality.”

    I agree with this completely, Linda. The problem is that experience demonstrates it won’t happen. The education industry had years to improve the quality of schools before the school choice issue began in earnest and things just continued to decline. We were bombarded with studies and stories about how our children were becoming less and less competitive with the rest of the world. Parents began looking for alternatives to the public schools and found their answers (whether legitimate answers or not) in home schooling, parochial schools, and private schools. Now it is extremely difficult for public schools to regain lost ground and to prove themselves to skeptical parents. I wish it weren’t so, because all those negatives you cited in your do exist. A good public school system could have a positive impact on society, but it will take a herculian effort to accomplish it.

    • Frances Perkins

      So the right wing solution, is education is a heck of a profit center. As Ed said, starve the public schools, destroy accountable, non discriminatory public schools, replace them with privately operated charters, unaccountable and unelected, Andrew were finally accountable private schools, unaccountable and unelected, plus religious indoctrination. Makes sense, let’s use the Apollo Geoup Model. When they wanted government insured loans, and were made accountable, suddenly they went under. The Scamway school of education business.

      • Frances Perkins

        Sorry, typos and self corrections I can’t catch fast enough.

        • That doesn’t bother me near as much as the cohesiveness of thought. You went in all different directions at once with this one.

      • I think, we need to get out of the mindset that private = good, public = bad, or, I think there are some on the left who hold the opposite view (though fewer in number).

        In general, neither private nor public goods provision is inherently good (or bad). Both are prone to various distortions from what is socially optimal. With private, you are going to get inefficiently low levels of education due to the externalities resulting from education provision (more education leads to higher tax bases, lower levels of crime, etc.) and there are distributional concerns because the people who benefit the most from education are likely those with inabilities to pay the market price. On the other hand, public provision always has to take into consideration the interests of the politicians (which often don’t mesh with the public) as well as incentive mismanagement and lack of accountability if government officials are poor at managing incentives correctly.

        In the case of education specifically, I think that public provision is on-net better. That’s not to say there’s no place for the private sector, but not at the public’s expense. That is what I think is wrong with this country economically as much as anything – corporatism and regulatory capture whereby the government is a conduit to route public $ to private entities.

      • Frances, you need to calm down a little. It is hard to understand what you are talking about in this last posting.

    • ” We were bombarded with studies and stories about how our children were becoming less and less competitive with the rest of the world.”

      Am curious how much of that is actually due to our educational system, and how much is attributable to child poverty, malnutrition, etc. Also, noting that in many countries such as Germany, not all children go into university-track schools, whereas secondary schooling is roughly uniform throughout the US. I suggest if both those things are taken into consideration, we would not be doing quite as badly as the first-pass topline statistics suggest.

      • District schools absolutely are not doing as badly as the corporate reformers would have us believe. When the “A Nation at Risk” report came out in 1983, it essentially was like Orson Welles, radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” It led to hysterical responses and an echo chamber of “the sky is falling.” In fact, the report said that U.S. students’ test scores were plummeting but the Sandia National Laboratory found that while the overall average score had gone down, scores had actually gone up in every demographic group. There were just way more disadvantaged (poor) students taking the tests which brought the average down. With Ronald Reagan preaching that government was the problem in multitude of areas, “our schools are failing” became the slogan for those wanting to use public-treasury vouchers to move money into private schools. The viscious cycle continues…overcrowd classrooms, mandate standardized tests sold by private sector firms that “prove” our district schools are failures, blame teachers and their unions for awful test scores, and ride the privatization train to the bank. In the words of Dean Paton in YES! magazine, “The problem with education is not bad teachers making little Johnny into a dolt. It’s about Johnny making big corporations a bundle—at the expense of the well-educated citizenry essential to democracy.”

        • In a real world, practical example, businesses found that the students they were getting for the work force from government schools were not academically prepared to enter the work force with the basic skills they needed to hold a job. They found they had to teach the employees basic math, reading and language skills so that they could train them to do the job. Universities also found that their incoming freshman were not equipped to handle University level course work and have had to set up remedial courses for them to take just so they could become competitive in math skills, reading skills and general comprehension skills.

          These examples are not confusion created by bad press or Reagan…these are real world issues showing that graduates of government schools are entering the world with basic educational skills that are sub-par.

          • Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that all of those examples are true. Why is that? Just throwing some possible explanations, without necessarily making claims as to their veracity:

            1) Some students just don’t give a damn and aren’t going to want to learn no matter what.

            2) Students are being bogged down by poor home life and lack of access to resources.

            3) Teachers, protected by tenure and lack of accountability, don’t give a damn and do a half-baked job in district schools.

            4) Our district educational system is teaching the wrong things, or in a way that students aren’t responsive to.

            If the reason is (1), no amount of education is going to make a difference. If it’s (2), then the failings can be addressed, but aren’t in the educational system.

            If it’s (3) or (4), perhaps school choice can be a good thing. (3) is probably not a full explanation, and is in large part because to the lay person, tenure is equivalent to ‘total immunity’. In fact, it refers to the right to have a fair hearing before being terminated. A far cry from the ‘at-will’ employment rules in most private firms, but not immunity. With that said, it probably does encourage more mediocrity as opposed to outright failure. Of course, even still, there are plenty of extremely hard-working teachers who aren’t getting paid anywhere close to their true value to society.

            If it’s (4), that’s probably the strongest argument in favor of school choice. We do know that people have different learning styles and that one size doesn’t fit all. However, I am unconvinced that the voucher system provides additional choice to those who need it most. Charter schools get a lot of leeway to ‘kick’ students back to the districts, and private schools’ tuition is typically far higher than the voucher covers. The end result is that only those families who can afford the difference in cost are actually able to benefit. Great boon to the upper-middle class, but I’m not sure that families with limited resources are the ones benefiting.

          • A very well thought out reply, Edward.

            “1) Some students just don’t give a damn and aren’t going to want to learn no matter what.”

            This is heresy in the education world. They are forbidden from even thinking it, much less acting on it. It is part of the self inflicted, politically correct blindness that inflicts education and keeps them from measuring up.

            “2) Students are being bogged down by poor home life and lack of access to resources.”

            This one is undoubtedly true and I wish I had an answer for it. It is one of the saddest facts of real life. I think that educators have tried to help this type of student, but there are limits on what they can do.

            “3) Teachers, protected by tenure and lack of accountability, don’t give a damn and do a half-baked job in district schools.

            This may be true in very limited cases, but I doubt it is true to any great extent. Most teachers I have known were pretty dedicated and did the best they could do with what they had. Tenure is a sensitive spot with the public because of the appearance that a teacher can’t be fired with tenure, but I don’t think most teachers retire on the job just because they have tenure. I do think some of them do outrageous things once they get tenure, but that is a different issue.

            “4) Our district educational system is teaching the wrong things, or in a way that students aren’t responsive to.”

            This could be true, but I do have any insight into how school districts run things so I don’t know. All I can judge is the product they produce after the fact.

            Your comments about Charter Schools not having to put up with low achieving students is true. That is one of the appeals of Charter Schools. Students who attend them do not have their educations stymied by other students disrupting the education process. They don’t have put up with disruptive students, low acheiving students, students who don’t want to be there, and students who hinder the process of learning. And why shouldn’t they take advantage of the superior education provided by the improved atmosphere? Why should they be forced into a school enivironment where teachers are forced to spend most of their time on a handful of problem students? On these pages it is always discussed how unfair it is to deprive students in the public schools of experiences and resources taken away when other students leave for charter and parochial shools, but where is the fairness in depriving the students who are leaving of a better education by leaving? And why is it fair that because they leave for a better education they should also leave behind the tax dollars being paid to educate them?

          • It isn’t. But why is it fair that many kids, already on the low end of the socioeconomic scale, get only what’s left?

          • There is always a conflict whenever fairness or rights are discussed because they inevitably clash. That is why there is a left and a right.

            Gosh! I sound sort of philosophical in a most shallow manner. ;o)

            Happy Thanksgiving, Linda!

          • To respond to the below comment, because BfA comments can only be five-deep, apparently.

            I think you’re exactly right about the underlying reasons why school-choice advocates are fleeing district schools – in order to segregate away from populations (usually minorities) with fewer resources, less ability to be involved, and so forth, that their child(-ren) might benefit from an educational system where teacher resources are not disproportionately spent toward students who have less resources and more disadvantages than them.

            A couple of days ago, I made the remark that what I see as the biggest difference between the American left and right is where an individual stands in the balance between individual rights & community good. I think this is a prime example of that dichotomy. But I think one of the most insidious things about it is that when upper-middle class parents no longer have their children in the district schools, they no longer care about the quality of education in the schools. Meaning that politicians care less about them, fewer resources are spent there, and we see the formation of a separate-and-unequal education system not unlike what we saw in the Jim Crow days, segregated on the basis of household income and ability to pay, rather than (or in addition to) race. This is what I fear as the inevitable outcome from an over-emphasis on school choice, and why I believe it is imperative for all to safeguard the integrity and prospects of district education. For all the same reasons why states created public educational systems back over 100 years ago, so too we must recognize their benefits and what the risks are should we head down this path.

          • “I think you’re exactly right about the underlying reasons why school-choice advocates are fleeing district schools – in order to segregate away from populations (usually minorities) with fewer resources…”

            I disagree with you on the minorities portion of your comment. I have no studies or imperical data to show you, but my anecdotal experience says different. My Grandchildren attend the Basis School in Scottsdale and observing the student population, I would estimate the percentages of whites is only about 25% of the total. About 50% is Sub-Continent Indian and the other 25% is made up of Asian and Hispanic culture children.

            Now the part about financial segregation is probably also correct. Again, I have no imperical evidence one way or the other, but on those occasions where I have picked them after school, my Mercedes did not stand out as unusual.

            But that has always been the case and I don’t know how much school choice affects it.

          • “For all the same reasons why states created public educational systems back over 100 years ago, so too we must recognize their benefits and what the risks are should we head down this path.”

            When I read your comment above, it struck a chord with. A hundred years ago the ides of publicly funded schools were a radical change that had to sold to the public as a good idea. Perhaps, after 100 years, it is time to look for something new. Perhaps public schools have outlived thier usefulness…or at least need to modify their methodology.

            Just a thought…

          • Maybe it’s time to consider seriously a new model of educational provision. I’m willing to entertain the thought.

            My concern is that the current model of school choice will unravel, rather than enhance, a system of education rooted in the idea that all children have the opportunity to get an education. I do not think that it is good for society to go down the path of education being only for those with the means to afford it, while ordinary children go to work in the fields at age 5.

            I would be open to at least entertaining the concept of an educational system which is more student-directed and open-ended rather than having a specific state-defined curriculum. I am not sure exactly what that would entail, and don’t claim to be an expert. I do think, though, that the current educational system, for all its focus on accountability and testing, is not doing our children justice. One of my campaign initiatives was to move away from standardized testing and, quite frankly, I think if we don’t have any standardized tests until high school (high school classes; I have no problem with middle schoolers taking classes for HS credit taking the tests), we’ll be better for it. How many days a year are we throwing away on testing and evaluation for the sake of the testing companies and politicians who think they know better than teachers? How many students are being instilled with a hatred of school because they associate it with doing work against their will which is exceptionally boring?

            Just my thoughts.

          • Absolutely spot-on Edward! If I remember correctly, Finland doesn’t test until high school.

        • “In fact, the report said that U.S. students’ test scores were plummeting but the Sandia National Laboratory found that while the overall average score had gone down, scores had actually gone up in every demographic group. There were just way more disadvantaged (poor) students taking the tests which brought the average down.”

          Simpson’s Paradox: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson%27s_paradox

          As Mark Twain is attributed as saying: “There are three types of falsehoods in the world: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

          • John Huppenthal

            Simpson’s paradox plays out most vividly here in Arizona. Compare us to Wisconsin – our Blacks score higher than their Blacks, our Whites score higher than their Whites and our Hispanics score higher than their Hispanics. Yet, the average score of their Blacks, Whites and Hispanics is higher than our average.

    • Steve, I recommend you read “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” by Diane Ravitch to understand how privitizers have worked tenaciously to discredit public schools.
      Massachusetts has the best school systems in the country. They’d be 9th in math and 4th in reading, IN THE WORLD, if state data was disaggregated on the PISA. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmarshallcrotty/2014/09/29/if-massachusetts-were-a-country-its-students-would-rank-9th-in-the-world/#17bbd8cb21b1
      Yet even Massachusetts has an achievement gap with students in urban areas. And there ARE public schools in low income areas that are doing well. The school principal leadership is conceivably the most important factor in having a quality school where achievement is made. Still, until children in low income homes, get the head start they need to enter Kinder on an equal basis, they are always playing catch up.