Tag: school choice

A Dialogue on School Choice

The South Carolina legislature is currently considering a tax credit bill intended to give parents an easier choice between public and private schools. It would do this by cutting taxes on parents who pay for their own children’s education, and by cutting taxes on anyone who donates to a non-profit Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO). The SGOs would subsidize tuition for low income families (who owe little in taxes and so couldn’t benefit substantially from the direct tax credit). Charleston minister Rev. Joseph Darby opposes such programs, and I support them. We’ve decided to have this dialogue to explain why. The next installment is here.


Rev. Darby

Rev. Joe Darby

Opening Comment, Con

My local newspaper, The Charleston Post and Courier, recently affirmed their continuing editorial suggestion that we “give School Tax Credits a Try.” I think that’s a very bad idea.

My wife is a public school teacher – and an excellent one at that. She spends much of her time either shaping young minds or preparing to do so, even supplementing meager supplies at her own expense and using creative means to reach and teach children described as “at risk.” Her school is almost 100% “free lunch,” but her students score well on state tests because she’s a good teacher. Most of her colleagues who labor under difficult circumstances are excellent teachers too. Rather than simply blaming an ominous “public education establishment,” we should note the truth – objective studies show that private education is not always a winner. A 2008 United States Department of Education study of the District of Columbia voucher program found that students in the program generally did no better on reading and math tests after two years than their public school peers.

A mass exodus to private schools will weaken public schools by leaving behind parents who have the least ability to advocate for or assist their children, and remove positive peer role models from struggling students. The major beneficiaries of private school choice in South Carolina will not be poor families, for the tuition tax credits and scholarships proposed will not cover the cost of many good private schools and will leave parents to take up the slack and to provide other things like uniforms, transportation and extracurricular activity fees. The major beneficiaries will be affluent parents who will simply have more disposable income when their share of their children’s tuition is decreased.

Before we give school tax credits a “try” we should first give equitably funded, staffed and equipped public schools a “try,” for many southern states have never done so. Excellence in public education for African-Americans was frowned upon after the Post Civil War period of reconstruction. In Paradoxes of Segregation by R. Scott Baker, Charleston, SC School Superintendent A.B. Rhett touted what was Burke Industrial School in 1939 as a place to “supply cooks, maids and delivery boys.”

His views matched those of the political powers that be when South Carolina’s schools were separate and unequal. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in 1954, but South Carolina held out until the 1960’s. Our legislatively ordained strategies to maintain segregation included allowing parents to “choose” their children’s public schools and giving state “scholarships” to white parents who sent their children to private schools established to maintain segregation – the same essential strategies in the present quest for school tax credits. Many predominately African-American schools were woefully underfunded, and when whites fled the public schools for private schools, public schools sank into a state of chronic neglect. We can’t label public schools as “failures” when we’ve failed our schools. When we fully and equitably fund, equip and staff all public schools, we can then “try” tuition credits, for parents can then choose between quality public and private schools – although that might be bad for the private school business.

I serve as the pastor of a church in peninsular Charleston, where architectural preservation is serious business. Homes and businesses that have been long abandoned or neglected and are all but falling over aren’t torn down – they’re rebuilt and restored in spite of years of chronic neglect. If we can do that for neglected homes, then we should also acknowledge our past failings and do the same for our public schools instead of simply tearing them apart or abandoning them.

***

The Rev. Darby is senior pastor of the AME Morris Brown Church in Charleston, and First Vice President of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP.

 

Andrew Coulson

Andrew Coulson

Opening Comment, Pro

On paper, the United States offers its citizens a solemn promise: work hard and you can succeed here – regardless of your race, sex, creed, or family wealth. But there’s a catch. To secure a good job you first need a good education. On paper, we’ve taken care of that, too. Over the past 150 years we’ve built up a monumental system of free state-run schools that aims to ensure every child access to a quality education.

In reality, it’s all lies.

If you’re in the top fifth of wage earners, there’s just a one-in-a-hundred chance that you are functionally illiterate. If you’re in the bottom fifth or have no income at all, the odds are that you cannot understand a newspaper or follow the directions on a pill bottle. Despite the relentless efforts of generations of reformers, America’s system of public schooling has failed in its most essential duty. We are not equipping all children to succeed in private life and participate in public life. America’s meritocratic promise is a lie.

What can we do about it?

There are those who still believe that the existing system can be fixed. Having compared different kinds of school systems from ancient Greece to the modern day, and from the poorest to the richest nations on Earth, I am convinced that that effort is futile. The problems with the status quo are endemic to its design.

Public schooling hasn’t failed so many children for so long because teachers weren’t smart enough, or paid well enough, or because classes were too large, or the federal government played too small a role. It has failed because it lacks the freedoms and incentives that drive progress in every other field. Public school teachers are hamstrung by regulations and are paid based on time served rather than classroom performance. Parents are not free to seek out the public or private educational setting best suited to their children, they are extorted into the state system because of its monopoly on $12,000 per pupil in government funding.

But should we prevent people from trying to fix it? Certainly not. If they think they can bring to public schooling the same incredible progress that other human endeavors have experienced over the past forty years, more power to them.

By the same token, no one who wants what’s best for kids should stand in the way of a program that would give parents educational alternatives today. Our children cannot wait to see if the current generation of public school reformers will somehow succeed where their predecessors failed.

I’m an engineer by training and a geek by nature. I advocate programs like the one under consideration in South Carolina because the evidence overwhelmingly supports them. Scientific studies comparing this kind of free enterprise education system to conventional public schooling favor the free enterprise approach by a margin of 15 to 1.

Others advocate school choice for more personal reasons. DC school voucher recipient Carlos Battle wrote a poem explaining his gratitude and commitment to school choice, and delivered it to the rally here last week in support of that program:

surrender me from the typical stereotype of a

black young man

one who slings rocks, smokes weed, and keeps a

gun at hand

i am a whole different guy

one who reads books and wears a tie

you see, I’m changing the perception of a young

black man

i’m climbing the ladder of success - try and stop

me, try as hard as you can….

 

Please don’t.

Please don’t stop Carlos or the children who would follow him up that ladder.

***

Andrew Coulson is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, and author of Market Education: The Unknown History.

 

Rev. Joe Darby of the NAACP and I Discuss School Choice

Tomorrow morning, the Rev. Joe Darby of Charleston, South Carolina and I will kick off a dialogue about school choice. As South Carolina’s legislature debates an education tax credit bill, Joe and I will debate the merits of school choice right here at Cato-at-Liberty.org.

Joe is an eloquent, thoughtful guy. I expect it to be very interesting.

Barack Obama “Fatally Conceited” on Education

The AP reports today that president Obama wants the nation’s school districts to close 5,000 failing schools and re-open them with new principals and teachers. Here is why this won’t work:

  • Typically, public schools only dismiss teachers when they are forced to reduce their workforce for budget reasons, but the president has just infused the system with $100 billion to prevent such dismissals. And when teachers are let go, it is done starting with those with the least seniority, not the lowest performance. So the hundreds of thousands of teachers displaced from failing schools will simply move to other schools rather than being replaced by better teachers. This has been going on for decades. It is called “the parade of the lemons.” Overall, it achieves nothing.
  • The new principals who take over the formerly failing schools have to come from somewhere. So for every school that gets one of the system’s “good” principals, there will be another school that loses one. Public schooling has no incentive structure to ensure that it can identify, hire, and retain competent administrators to strengthen its ranks.

What the president is trying to do in education – as in the auto industry – is to replace the web of market forces that close failing businesses in the private sector with his own personal diktat. This is Hayek’s Fatal Conceit.

The market solves the problem of failing schools by allowing consumers to chose the ones that serve them best, which simultaneously accomplishes two things: it drives failing schools to either improve or go out of business, and it provides incentives for the expansion of successful schools and the hiring of effective teachers and administrators.

As I wrote here, and in expanded and updated form in vol. 3, no. 1, of the Journal of School Choice, the international scientific evidence reveals the overwhelming superiority of market over monopoly schooling. President Obama’s educational dirigism will fail.

Arne Comes Through…in a Bad Way

Yesterday, I had an op-ed go up on Townhall.com summarizing what I think of President Obama’s first 100 days when it comes to education. Long story short: Lots of nice-sounding rhetoric, but the opposite of real reform.

Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – who has embodied the administration’s all-talk, awful-action approach to education – did me a real solid by penning an op-ed for CNN.com beautifully illustrating exactly what I wrote.  Whether it’s his effusive praise of his boss for shoveling tons of federal dough into already obese schools, or his empty, jargon-soaked rhetoric about change – “These discretionary funds are a carrot for educators who will break the mold, scale up successful programs and transform whole school systems” – Duncan really drives home my point.

And so, thanks for coming through for me, Arne! Now, about those DC voucher kids

Private Schools Save Children Rejected by the System

There were many compelling speakers in South Carolina last week making the case for school choice. This man, Colonel Nathaniel Green, was one of the best. In about two 1/2 minutes, he explains better than I ever could why a top-down system doesn’t work for many children. I liked it so much, I’ve also transcribed most of it below.

“Failing schools” are not failing schools, they’re failing students. Failing students is failing America.

I started out working in the system. The system is broken. I was frustrated. I started a program … The young men that are standing behind me, they represent kids that the system kicked out who are now achieving.

The gentleman in the black shirt, he came from Brentwood Middle School. His parents couldn’t afford [our school]. Contrary to popular opinion [of those who keep saying that private schools are only for the rich], he came for free for six years because we were concerned about him. We sacrificed for him. Get that straight.

When he came to our school, he tested below the fourth and fifth grade level in the sixth grade. When he graduated from Eagle [Military Academy] six years later, he had a 1300 on the SAT, it’s documented. He got a Life Scholarship through the state of South Carolina, and he carriers a 3.4 average in college right now at Trident University.

I can repeat this story over and over again [for other students]. By the way, I went to the public schools to show them my program. They weren’t interested. I went to Dr. Rex [, South Carolina’s state Superintendent of Education]. He wouldn’t call me.

I went to the people to try to get them to work with me to help our young men because we’re losing our young men in our state. And I think it’s time to put aside our partisan politics, it’s time to stop playing games, and it’s time to start helping our young people in this state. Vote for this [school choice bill].

Rally for School Choice in the District

Congress and the Obama administration issued a death sentence for the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. That means more than 1,700 students could be forced out of good schools into the dangerous, failing, and expensive DC public school system.

Everyone who cares about these children and school choice should head to Freedom Plaza this coming Wednesday, May 6th from 1:00 - 2:00 pm for a rally to demonstrate support for these children and educational freedom. Hundreds of parents and children are coming to stand up and be heard, and they need all the support we can provide …

Bipartisan Support for Choice Grows Every Year

When the Florida Legislature passed its education tax credit program in 2001, only one Democrat supported the measure.

Last year, the legislature expanded the program with votes from one third of statehouse Democrats, half the black caucus and the entire Hispanic caucus.

Last week, nearly half of House Democrats —47 percent—voted to significantly expand the revenue base for the state’s business donation tax credit program. House Republicans voted 100 percent in favor.

And yesterday, nearly a third of Senate Democrats—31 percent—voted to expand the tax credit program. And 92 percent of their Republican colleagues voted for the bill.

In all, 43 percent of state Democratic legislators voted in favor of education tax credits. Governor Crist is expected to sign the bill shortly.

They are not alone.

In 2006, Democratic governors in Arizona, Iowa and Pennsylvania signed new or expanded tax-credit initiatives. That same year, a Democrat-controlled legislature in Rhode Island passed a donation tax credit. A Democratic governor and legislature in Iowa raised their tax credit dollar cap by 50 percent in 2007.

Partisanship on choice is fading away because many politicians have come to realize that school choice saves money and children. The truth is beginning to spread; school choice is the most proven and effective systemic reform available.

The future of education reform is looking bright in the Sunshine State and across the nation.