Tag: educational freedom

Andrew Coulson, In Memoriam

Earlier this week, we lost a giant. Andrew Coulson, Senior Fellow in Education Policy at the Cato Institute, passed away after a fifteen-month battle with brain cancer. In the days that followed, colleagues, friends, and admirers paid tribute to his achievements, reminisced about his character and virtues, and reflected on his legacy. What follows is a compilation of those tributes.

Neal McCluskey remembers Andrew in an interview with Caleb Brown:

Adam B. Schaeffer, former colleague and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute:

There is no one else beside Andrew Coulson that you must read to discover what reforms we need in education and why they will work. That is not hyperbole. There are many very sharp people who have contributed important thoughts on education reform, but you will get everything essential that you need from reading through Andrew’s collective works. […]

Andrew was a fine thinker and passionate advocate. But, as many have noted, he was also a kind man with a splendid sense of humor and relentless optimism. He remained immovably committed to his principles and the conclusions to which his great mind had led him. But he always engaged with a sense of magnanimity and humor, never bitter or angry. Even when I made a good deal of trouble for him with my lack of these qualities, Andrew stood by me. When he faced difficulties because of his principles, he always stood firm on those as well.

Adam concludes his tribute with a recommended reading list of Andrew’s works, which are among “all the wonderful gifts he’s left us.” 

Politico Distorts Evidence on School Choice

Yesterday, Politico ran a story on school choice programs claiming that American taxpayers “will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition — and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.” In fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence both that school choice works and that it saves money.

On the question of whether school choice results in superior learning, Politico makes the wrong comparisons. For example:

In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading.

It is not accurate to compare disadvantaged students participating in a school choice program to the general population, which includes children from wealthy families, just as it would be inaccurate to compare all private school students against all public school students (which would show a clear advantage to the former over the latter). That’s comparing apples and orangoutangs. The most accurate comparison is a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the gold standard of social science. As James Pethokoukis and Michael McShane pointed out over at the AEIdeas blog, Politico fails to mention that 11 of 12 RCTs found that choice improves student outcomes. The last study found no statistically significant difference while no study found any harm.

Many of the gains were small, though statistically significant, and often the gains were only for certain subgroups (generally low-income blacks) who had the least schooling options at the outset. However, based on the available evidence, even the most pessimistic reading of the data must conclude that school choice does no harm, on average. Even then, in addition to more satisfied parents, school choice is a great boon to taxpayers as it produces similar (or better) results at a much lower cost.

Should America’s CEOs Listen to Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan?

Politico reports that U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan will address the Business Roundtable today, calling on the nation’s CEOs to “step up and promote the Obama administration’s education agenda.” That agenda is essentially a doubling-down on the policies of the past 50 years—further increases in federal pre-K spending, further centralization of school standards and testing, etc.

Before agreeing to go along, America’s business leaders should ask themselves: who should be learning from whom? Over the past half-century, which record is more worthy of emulation: that of federal government K-12 policy or that of the free enterprise system?

As an aid to their deliberations, I offer the graphics below:

Versus what economist Mark J. Perry calls “The Magic and Miracle of the Marketplace.” The image on the left is from the 1964 Sears Christmas catalogue. The goods on the right show what you can buy today for the inflation-adjusted cost of one of those vintage TVs (images courtsey of Mark J. Perry).


Fordham Study Shows “Common Core” Unnecessary

The Fordham Institute released today a (“groundbreaking”) study titled “What Parents Want,” which finds that:

nearly all parents seek schools with a solid core curriculum in reading and math; an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; and the development in students of good study habits, strong critical thinking skills, and excellent verbal and written communication skills. But some parents also prefer specializations and emphases that are only possible in a system of school choice.

That summary could just as easily describe chapter 1 of my 1999 book Market Education, which reviewed 20 years of public opinion research on people’s educational goals and came to the same conclusion. So far so good.

Upon (re-)discovering that parents already share a “solid core” of educational expectations, do Fordham’s Michael Petrilli and Checker Finn reluctantly abandon their erstwhile attachment to the government-backed standards and testing known as “Common Core”? After all, in a free marketplace with lots of overlap in consumer demands, there will be substantial overlap in what providers deliverall voluntarily; no need for government nudging. [I am shocked, shocked, to discover that Apple puts a web browser on its iPhone, similar to the one on my Android phone!?! Even without a government mandate!]

Strangely, but not unexpectedly, that is not what Petrilli and Finn elect to do. On the contrary, they conclude that the freely-occurring commonality among parents’ demands “bodes well for policy initiatives such as the Common Core State Standards, which are designed to deliver much of that.”

Translation: families would pursueand educators would thus providea common core of studies voluntarily, therefore, governments should compel educators to adhere to a particular set of standards cooked up by a group of bureaucrats and arm-twisted into place by the federal government. Because, really, when has anything pursued voluntarily not been improved by the addition of government compulsion?

Senate Hearing Wednesday: The ‘School to Prison Pipeline’

I’ll be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights this Wednesday, at 2:00pm. The hearing will investigate the “school to prison pipeline”—the pattern of flawed disciplinary policies and practices, including “zero tolerance,” that has been widely faulted for unnecessarily pushing students out of school and into the juvenile justice system.

In addition to summarizing some important recent research on the subject, I’ll also be describing an alternative discipline policy that has shown enormous success in one of the most violent, crime-ridden districts in the country, and what Congress can do to encourage the adoption of such policies.

The hearing is open to the public (Dirksen building, room 226), and I’ll be posting my written testimony afterwards.

The Latest Nobel Prize in Economics… Why It Should Make Us Sad

The latest Nobel Prize in economics has been awarded to Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley. They’ve done brilliant work on algorithms for optimally matching pairs of things (such as job vacancies and job seekers), but at least one prominent application of their work should produce a deafening roar of foreheads hitting desktops: public school choice.

As the Nobel organization’s website explains, the original algorithm was developed by Shapley and David Gale to optimally match pairs of individuals who could only each be matched with one other person. For instance, optimally marrying-off 10 men and 10 women based on their relative levels of interest in one another. Over the past decade, it has come to be used to match students to places in local public schools (by Roth).

The problem is that this approach to “school choice” correctly assumes that the better public schools have a fixed number of places and cannot expand to meet increased demand. So it’s about finding the least-awful allocation of students to a static set of schools—a process that does nothing to improve school quality.

Meanwhile, there is something called a “market” which not only allows consumers and producers to connect, it creates the freedoms and incentives necessary for the best providers to grow in response to rising demand and crowd-out the inferior ones. It also provides incentives for innovation and efficiency. But instead of advocating the use of market freedoms and incentives to improve education, some of our top economists are spending their skill and energy tinkering with the increasingly inefficient, pedagogically stagnant status quo.

Forehead… meet desk.

State Rep. Balks at Voucher Funding for Muslim School

Just as Louisiana’s legislative session was wrapping up earlier this month, state Rep. Kenneth Havard refused to vote for any voucher program that “will fund Islamic teaching.” According to the AP, the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans was on a list of schools approved by the state education department to accept as many as 38 voucher students. Havard declared: “I won’t go back home and explain to my people that I supported this.”

For unreported reasons, the Islamic school subsequently withdrew itself from participation in the program and the voucher funding was approved 51 to 49. With the program now enacted and funded, nothing appears to stand in the way of the Islamic school requesting that it be added back to the list, and it is hard to imagine a constitutionally sound basis for rejecting such a request.

This episode illustrates a fundamental flaw in government-funded voucher programs: they must either reject every controversial educational option from eligibility or they compel taxpayers to support types of education that violate their convictions. In either case, someone loses. Either poor Muslims in New Orleans are denied vouchers or taxpayers who don’t wish to support Muslim schools are compelled to do so.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Education tax credit programs can ensure universal access to the education marketplace without violating anyone’s freedom of conscience. That’s because tax credits extend choice not only to parents but to taxpayers as well. Taxpayers in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and a half dozen other states can choose to donate to nonprofit tuition-assistance organizations that serve the poor. If they do make a donation, they pick the organization that receives their funds, whether it be Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, secular or entirely indifferent to religiosity.

Similarly, direct education tax credits for parents who pay for their own children’s education compel no one to support those parents’ choices. Such personal education tax credits, which already exist in Illinois and Iowa, merely let parents keep more of their own money. Far from increasing the tax burden on their fellow citizens, parents who pay for their own children’s education with the help of a credit save other taxpayers from having to pay for their children’s state schooling.

The school choice movement does not need to throw taxpayers’ freedom of conscience under the bus to secure freedom of choice for parents.