Tag: education

Matt Yglesias on School Choice in Sweden

Following up on Dana Goldstein’s American Prospect blog post, Matt Yglesias calls the Swedish system and U.S. charter schools better education policy models than education tax credits.

He doesn’t say why, and I’d be interested to hear his reasoning. As I documented on Cato-at-Liberty in response to Goldstein, the econometric evidence shows that the greatest margin of superiority over state-run schooling is enjoyed by truly market-like education systems. By that I mean systems that are minimally regulated with respect to content, staffing, prices, etc., and which are funded at least in part directly by the families they serve.

Yglesias also claims that choice supporters want to “eliminate public education.” On the contrary, choice supporters are fundamentally more committed to public education than anyone who refuses to consider the market alternative.

“Public Education” is a set of ideals. It is not a particular institution. It is the ideal that all children should have access to a good education, regardless of family income; that schools should prepare students not just for success in private life but for participation in public life; and that our schools should foster harmonious relations among the various groups making up our pluralistic society – or at the very least not create unnecessary tensions among them.

School choice advocates are more committed to those ideals than is anyone wedded to the current district-based school system, because that system is inferior in all of the above respects to a universally accessible education marketplace. This is documented in the literature review linked-to above, in my book Market Education: The Unknown History, and in the work of James Tooley, E.G. West, my Cato colleagues, and many others.

The education tax credit programs my colleagues and I have proposed would ensure universal access to the education marketplace, while leaving essentially intact the freedoms and incentives responsible for the market’s success. I know of no other policy capable of achieving this. Certainly charter schools and the Swedish system fail to do it.

American Prospect Strikes Mother Lode of Falsehood

Dana Goldstein of the American Prospect blogs that “research clearly shows that students using vouchers perform no better academically than their socio-economically similar peers in public schools.” This is flamboyantly false.

I recently reviewed the literature comparing public, private, and truly free market school systems, and an expanded version of that study is forthcoming in the Journal of School Choice. The JSC version tabulates the findings of 65 scientific studies (including every U.S. and foreign voucher study I am aware of), collectively reporting 156 comparisons of educational outcomes. What does the research “clearly show”? It shows this:

Summary of Findings Comparing Private and Government Schooling,
by Result and Outcome Category

 

Total

Ach

Eff

Sat

Ord

Fac

Ear

Att

Int

Sig Priv. Advantage

106

46

25

11

5

2

5

11

1

Insignificant

37

28

1

0

0

0

5

3

0

Sig. Gov’t Adv.

13

10

3

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

The above table summarizes the results of the scientific literature, showing the number of findings favoring the private sector by a statistically significant margin, the number that are insignificant, and the number favoring the public sector by a statistically significant margin. It does this for all eight available outcome measures: academic achievement, efficiency (achievement per dollar spent per pupil), parental satisfaction, the orderliness of classrooms, the condition in which facilities are maintained, the later earnings of graduates, the highest school grade or degree completed, and effect on measured intelligence. And it incontrovertably shows that private sector outperforms the public sector in education across all of those measures.

But there’s more. As I note in the conclusion: “It is in fact the least regulated market school systems that show the greatest margin of superiority over state schooling.” When the above results are winnowed down so that we compare only free markets of private schools that are funded at least in part directly by parents to public school monopolies like those of the United States, the findings are even more starkly divided:

Summary of Findings Comparing Market and Gov’t Monopoly Schooling,
by Result and Outcome Category

 

Total

Ach

Eff

Sat

Ord

Fac

Ear

Att

Sig Mkt Adv.

59

20

17

6

4

1

3

8

Insignificant

13

7

0

0

0

0

3

3

Sig. Gov’t Adv.

4

4

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

Note the staggering overall results. Findings favoring free market school systems outnumber contrary findings by a margin of 15 to 1. They also outnumber the combined insignificant findings and the findings favoring monopolies by more than 3 to 1. Most tellingly, when we look at efficiency we find that there are NO results in the literature that favor government schooling and NO results that are statistically insignificant. EVERY study that compares academic achievement per dollar spent per pupil between market school systems and public school systems finds a significant market advantage.

Goldstein and The American Prospect should obviously print a retraction. But if they are interested in the truth, they might want to do something more. They might want to ask themselves why they continue to cling to a monopoly system that has been overwhelmingly discredited in the scientific literature….

Ed. Dept. Advisor Wary of Politicizing the Curriculum

Mike Smith, a senior education advisor to Ed. Secretary Duncan, expressed concern yesterday about the possible ill effects of federal government standards. In a Library of Congress presentation, Smith told the crowd that if common national standards are funded by the federal government, “you can’t keep ideology or politics out of the ball game.”

This is a pearl of empirically validated wisdom. The problem is that it has been empirically validated at the state and district levels as well as the national level, as Neal McCluskey demonstrated in “Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict.” And the U.S. is not alone in finding that official government schools cause social conflict over what is taught.

What can we do about it? How about real educational freedom that gives choice to both parents and taxpayers, eliminating the source of the problem?

Why Vouchers?

Yesterday a universal voucher bill heavily promoted by state Sen. Eric Johnson died in the Georgia legislature.

I can’t understand why anyone continues to push for a brand-new voucher program when they already have a universal education tax credit.

Tax credits are more popular and pose less of a threat to private schools and homeschoolers than vouchers, and Georgia already has a tax credit program. All they need to do is lift the cap on available tax credits, which is set at $50 million.

School choice programs actually save money — billions of dollars in fact — so there is no sense in capping the program, especially during an economic downturn.

And there is no sense in pushing for a new, inferior policy when you can focus your efforts on increasing funding for an existing law.

Ed. Feds to Reinvent Wheel, Ignoring Pi

Education secretary Arne Duncan testified before Congress today on the president’s 2010 budget for the Department of Education. One of the first things he said was this:

We also plan to work very hard at scaling up success in our education system. Under our 2010 budget, the Department would continue to use the Innovation Fund created by the Recovery Act to identify and replicate successful models and strategies that raise student achievement. We know that there are many school systems and non-profit organizations across the country with demonstrated track records of success in raising student achievement, and our 2010 request would help bring their success to scale.

Duncan and President Obama are so, so right to focus on this challenge. Sadly, their efforts will so, so utterly fail, just as those of all their predecessors. Here’s why:

For a long time, observers of U.S. public schooling have wrung their hands over a pernicious problem: there are many isolated and transitory examples of excellence within the system (think “Stand and Deliver”), but efforts to scale these models up on a lasting, nationwide basis have always failed.

One early and notorious example was the federal Follow Through experiment of the late 1960s and early ’70s. At a cost of over a billion dollars, it demonstrated that one instruction method, “Distar,” clearly outperformed 21 others. Distar was #1 not just overall, but in each of the subcategories of reading, arithmetic, spelling and language. It placed a close second in promoting advanced conceptual skills, and was even the most effective at boosting students’ self-esteem and responsibility toward their work. Nothing else came close.

So what happened? The public school system failed to follow through on Follow Through. Not only was Distar NOT widely adopted around the country, most of the schools that had used it during the experimental phase subsequently dropped it. Their performance dropped commensurately. End of story.

Then there was the billion-dollar Annenberg Challenge of the 1990s, which was meant to identify and replicate successful education models around the country. The project was funded by TV Guide mogul Walter H. Annenberg, launched by then-president Bill Clinton, and overseen, in its Chicago operations, by Barack Obama. And it was another utter failure. Some good schools were created here and there, but the lasting, system-wide improvements that Annenberg had been hoping for never materialized. Why?

The reason is simple: the incredible progress we’ve witnessed in virtually every aspect of life for the past two centuries is the product of freedoms and incentives that do not exist in public schooling.  After spending most of their adult lives writing an awe-inspiring 11 volume history of the world, Will and Ariel Durant remarked that:

The experience of the past leaves little doubt that every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of the profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity. Substitutes like slavery, police supervision or ideological enthusiasm prove too unproductive, too expensive or too transient. (The Lessons of History, 1968, p. 54-55).

And while the Durants learned this lesson from their study of history, others learned it from personal experience. Michael Manley, leader of the People’s National Party and Vice President of the Socialist International, looked back on his time as Prime Minister of Jamaica and observed in New Perspectives Quarterly:

The fact is we all seriously miscalculated the capacity of the state to intervene effectively. Despite the enormous sincerity we brought to the task, our nationalist and statist approach didn’t work… When one tries to use the state as a major instrument of production, one quickly exhausts the managerial talent that can be mobilized in the name of patriotism. Absent the profit motive, it was truly amazing how few managers one could find that were motivated solely by love of their country, and how quickly these noble souls burned out. I call this idea the “Guevarist myth.” (1992, p. 46-47).

The automatic process by which useful innovations are encouraged, identified, disseminated, perpetuated, and finally superseded relies on innovators being free to do whatever they think is best for their customers, and having powerful incentives to constantly improve on the state of the art. That is why dramatic progress has been the norm under the free-enterprise system over the past 40 years, while public school productivity has plummeted.

Great educators and great schools can and do appear within the public school system, but they do so in spite of that system, not because of it. They never scale up in the way that Google, iPods, or the Kumon tutoring chain have scaled up, because they lack the combination of freedoms and incentives essential to doing so. Trying to get a bureaucracy with a state-protected funding monopoly to reliably scale up excellence in the way that markets do is like trying to reinvent the wheel with an alternative value of pi. It simply cannot be done.

True education markets are the ONLY system that will do what Secretary Duncan, President Obama, and the American people wish.

Tax Credits, Courts, and Cabers

As Adam Schaeffer notes on this blog today, education tax credits have won in court, again. This time in Arizona.

I’ve long argued that their superior resistance to court challenge is one of many reasons to favor tax credits over other approaches to school choice. But there’s one court that even credits are likely to run into trouble with: the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 9th Circuit is the most statist appellate court in the nation, and it has been sitting on an education tax credit case, Winn v. Garriott, for more than a year. For the record, I expect it to rule against the program sometime in 2009. If it does, that ruling will be appealed and almost certainly overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Supporters of educational freedom should both brace themselves for this setback and also put it in perspective. The 9th Circuit is overturned more often than a caber at the Highland games.

Education Tax Credits Upheld, Again

The decision by the Arizona court of Appeals today upholding the constitutionality of the business tax credit program should put to bed once and for all these frivolous lawsuits against tax credits. Opponents are wasting their money.

Education tax credits are taxpayer funds and therefore cannot run afoul of state constitutional provisions regarding the use of government funds. It really is just that simple.

Some school choice supporters have given up on vouchers because of recent disappointments and think that means the end for private school choice. They forget the most successful school choice policy in recent years is education tax credits.

Not only have tax credit programs been passed and expanded with regularity (GA just passed a $50 million, universal program last year), education tax credits have proven bullet-proof in court.

Education tax credits are the future for school choice, and it’s looking pretty bright.