Tag: school choice

Supreme Court Should Call Out Ninth Circuit in Education Case

Friend-of-Cato and 2010 Milton Friedman Prize Dinner keynote speaker George Will published an excellent column today about a case under review at the Supreme Court, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn:

The case concerns an Arizona school choice program that has been serving low- and middle-income families for 13 years. The state grants a tax credit to individuals who donate to nonprofit entities that award scholarships for children to attend private schools – including religious schools. Yes, here we go again.

The question – if a question that has been redundantly answered remains a real question – is whether this violates the First Amendment proscription of any measure amounting to government “establishment of religion.” The incorrigible 9th Circuit has declared Arizona’s program unconstitutional, even though there is no government involvement in any parent’s decision to use a scholarship at a religious school.

If this case hadn’t originated in a state within the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, nobody would have heard about it because any other federal appellate court would probably have decided it correctly. Will correctly and convincingly argues for summary reversal – as our friends at the Institute for Justice, who represent the petitioners, request – because the Ninth Circuit’s decision ignores clear Supreme Court precedent allowing parents to choose how to direct state funds for their children’s education (to a sectarian school or otherwise):

So, [Chief Justice William] Rehnquist wrote [in 2002], public money “reaches religious schools only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals.” Therefore any “advancement of a religious mission” is merely “incidental” and confers “no imprimatur of state approval … on any particular religion, or on religion generally.” These standards had been developed in various prior cases.  

Cato filed a brief in this case that I previously blogged about.  And you can listen to Will’s Friedman Dinner address here.  (Unrelatedly, if you still haven’t read his masterful Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball – which has sold many more copies than any of his political books – pick up the re-issued twentieth anniversary edition.)

A School Choice Movie and a Discussion? What a Deal!

Friday nights are movie nights, but aren’t you tired of just watching movies without getting to discuss them with everyone else in the theater? And aren’t you sick of seeing movies that aren’t about dysfunctional public schooling?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, and if you are going to be in Washington, DC, the evening of Friday, April 30, then have I got a deal for you:

Come to the E Street Cinema at 7:15 Friday night and not only will you be able to catch The Cartel, a searing documentary about what ails American education, but afterward you’ll be able to participate in a discussion about the film hosted by yours truly and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke!

Fantastic!

So take your movie night to a whole new level, and join us for The Cartel this Friday evening!

Failures in Ed. Policy Analysis—Misunderstanding Milwaukee

To the extent education policy commentary actually affects policy, it has the potential to do great good or great harm. Several recent commentaries in this field fall into the latter camp, and it’s important to understand why – so that we can avoid similar mistakes in future.

The one I’ll discuss here is this blog post by Matthew Yglesias, in which he draws broad conclusions about the functioning of education markets from a recent study of a tiny school choice program in Milwaukee as well as from some older unspecified research [for the latter, Yglesias linked here, but the body of that page doesn’t discuss school choice]. The Milwaukee study is part of a vast literature. Over the past quarter century at least sixty-five studies have compared outcomes in public and private schools around the world, reporting 156 separate statistical findings.

The evidence of this literature is starkly one-sided. The vast preponderance of findings show private schools outperforming public schools after all the normal controls. What’s more, when we focus on the research comparing truly market-like systems to state-run school monopolies, the market advantage is found to be even more dramatic (see Figure 2 in the paper linked above). To draw policy opinions from a small, selective handful of those studies while ignoring the rest is policy malpractice, and it is dangerous to children.

Even the recent Milwaukee result described by Yglesias as a failure shows voucher students in private schools performing as well as public school students who receive roughly 50% more government funding. How is a program that produces similar academic results to the status quo at a much lower cost to taxpayers a failure? And what of the research suggesting that students in the Milwaukee voucher program graduate at higher rates than those in public schools?

More importantly from a long term policy perspective, how is a program limited to 20,000 or so children in a single city, being served almost entirely by non-profit entities, a test of market education? Would Apple have spent hundreds of millions developing the iPhone or the iPad if its market were limited to the same customer base? Of course not. The dynamism, diversity and innovation we have come to expect from competitive markets in other fields relies on the prospect of ultimately scaling up to serve mass audiences. Without the prospect of a large-scale return on investment, there is no incentive to invest in the first place.

More Ravitch Ridiculousness

Great post by Chris Edwards responding to historian Diane Ravitch’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post. For a good ripping apart of Ravitch’s reality-free thinking from an education-policy standpoint, check out my review of her new book over at School Reform News.

Oh, and let’s please get something straight: Ravitch has never been the one-time “strong supporter” of school choice she claims to have been. Sadly, this claim seems designed mainly to make it appear that she’s had some sort of serious “come (back) to public schools” moment. But as she writes in her new book, she had never really given much thought to choice until she joined the George H.W. Bush administration in 1991, and then she just tried to cram it into her “worldview.”

“The issue of choice had never really been important to me,” she writes, “but I found myself trying to incorporate the arguments for choice into my own worldview.”

Does this sound either like a strong supporter of choice, or someone who had really thought choice through and understood why and how it would work? Nope, and that comes right through in her simplistic conclusion that because really limited choice like charter schools and tiny voucher programs don’t make huge differences, all choice should be abandoned.

Run Away from ‘Common’ Education Standards

A couple of days ago, Fordham Institute president Chester Finn declared on NRO that conservatives should embrace new, national education standards from the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Today I respond to him on The Corner, and let’s just say it’s clear that neither conservatives, nor anybody else, should embrace national standards.

Oh, one more thing: I shouldn’t have to keep saying this to savvy Washington insiders like the folks at Fordham, but when the federal government bribes states with their own citizens’ tax money to do something, doing that thing is hardly voluntary, at least in any reasonable sense. 

For more wise thoughts on the national standards issue, check out this interview with Jay Greene, and this Sacramento Bee piece by Ben Boychuk.  Oh, and this interview with yours truly.

Ravitch-and-Hirsch-topia.

If you follow education news at all, over the last week or so — until the national-standards stories took over — you probably saw a lot about education historian Diane Ravitch’s supposedly sudden determination that school choice isn’t good after all. That’s one of the major selling points of her new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and just about every major newspaper has devoted a fair amount of ink to it.

Now I’ve devoted some ink — okay, pixels — to it, too. You can check out my review of Ravitch’s book on the brand-new School Reform News website. When you’re done with that, you can take a gander at my Cato Journal review of Core Knowledge guru E. D. Hirsch’s new offering, The Making of Americans. I think you’ll detect a unifying theme: Ravitch and Hirsch are excellent at their specialties — history and pedagogy, respectively — but they ignore just about everything they have lamented for decades about government schooling in order to proclaim that, um, we somehow need more government schooling.

Go figure!

The Standards Themselves Are, Frankly, Irrelevant

Three days ago I reported that draft, grade-by-grade, national curricular standards would soon be released by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Yesterday, they were. (If you want to get a sense for what the proposed standards are follow the link to them. Don’t bother with the appendices, though, unless you really want to get into the weeds.)

Naturally, in the coming days lots of people will be offering heaps of commentary about what the standards do or do not contain. That’s not my main concern (though reading through the English standards I am dubious that mastery of them could be easily or consistently assessed). You see, the content of the standards is largely irrelevant because the main problem isn’t what the standards are, but standardization itself.

As I’ve blathered about on numerous occasions, it makes little sense to expect all kids to master all the same things at the same rates. All kids are different – they have different talents, desires, and abilities – and to impose one, “best” progression on them is simply illogical.

Another problem with imposing a single standard nationwide – and yes, this will be imposed, unless states suddenly decide they don’t like getting their citizen’s tax dollars back from Uncle Sam – is that it prevents competition between curricula. And that, in turn, kills innovation, the lifeblood of progress. So unless these standards have achieved perfection – and I’m pretty sure they haven’t – it’s a very dangerous thing to make them the end-all and be-all.

Finally, no matter how brilliant the draft standards, there is no reason to believe that they will drive meaningful educational improvement. Government schools will still be government schools, and the people employed by them will still have very little incentive to push kids to excellence, and every incentive to game the system to make the standards toothless. And no one yet has offered a decent proposal, other than school-choice supporters, for getting around that very inconvenient, public-schooling truth.

All of these problems help to explain why there is no convincing empirical evidence that national standards drive superior educational outcomes. Unfortunately, most national-standards advocates will talk themselves blue in the face about what’s in the standards, but avoid at all costs the question of whether standardization makes sense in the first place.