Topic: Education and Child Policy

Even Spitzer Loves Education Tax Credits!

With Eliot Spitzer running almost 50 points ahead in New York’s gubernatorial “race,” it seems safe to crown him the winner.  Most of us know Spitzer for his anti-corporate crusading as the state’s swashbuckling attorney general.  A lot of ink has been spilled predicting how he will govern, but little attention has been paid to the consequences for education.  Although he may be bad for business, Spitzer is, surprisingly, pro-school choice.

The New York Daily News reports that Spitzer, “speaking to Orthodox Jews at a Brooklyn yeshiva, said it is unjust that private schools educate 15% of the state’s students but get only 1% of the education budget.”  He supports encouraging private means of educating the public, and appears increasingly unabashed in discussing the topic.

Earlier in the year, he flipped from hazy opposition to support of what was then an education tax credit proposal.  “I support the idea of education tax credits,” claimed Spitzer, the same month he declared that “vouchers would destroy the public school system.”

The education tax credit at issue was re-formed as a blanket child tax credit, but Spitzer still supports the concept of education-specific tax credits.  His spokesman said that “if elected, Eliot will explore the feasibility of expanding such programs.”

Spitzer’s still no fan of vouchers, but education tax credits are emerging as both the “third way” choice policy for Democrats and the preferable policy for social and libertarian conservatives (Spitzer stole the issue from his current opponent, Faso, who sponsored the ETC bill as minority leader of the state Assembly in 2001).

Hopefully the school choice coalition at TEACH NYS are gearing up to ask for the moon next year, when they have a popular Democratic ally in office.  School choice supporters should think big in this political environment and put the opposition on the defensive – start with a broad-based bill that covers all parents and make them whittle it down in negotiations.

Honest, Abe Wants School Vouchers

The Guardian reports today that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is in favor of school vouchers – and Japan has more experience with market education than most countries, due to its multi-billion-dollar for-profit tutoring industry.

A number of Japanese scholars have observed that their nation’s success on international tests would be unthinkable if it weren’t for the huge popularity of these “juku” tutoring schools. So it begs the question: if the market has worked so well in the tutoring sector, providing education that is so much more flexible, child-centered, and effective than the monopoly school sector, why not liberalize the entire education industry by eliminating the preferential tax funding status of the government schools?

Some will argue that Japan’s private juku schools are too narrowly focused on test preparation, but this is merely a symptom of the niche that juku currently fill in the marketplace. Japan also has numerous traditional private high-schools. Get rid of the financial discrimination currently practiced in favor of government-run k-12 schools, and a wealth of new educational options would arise.

And while the Japanese already trounce much of the world in math and science with only their tutoring schools organized along free market lines, just imagine how they would do with a fully liberalized education market from kindergarten through high-school!

It’s Not Fair, Your Schools Are Designed to Work Better!

Charter schools, which often live and die on the whims of public officials, are at best a pale shade of choice. Still, at least in Los Angeles, even charters have enough freedom to work better than traditional public schools. And that just ain’t fair.

District officials, as well as the president of the teachers union, bristle at assertions by the Charter Schools Association that middle and high school charters are significantly outperforming their district counterparts.

A fairer comparison would be with the district’s magnet schools, which outperform charters, school board member Jon Lauritzen said.

“I think it’s basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools,” he said. “They have some real advantages over our schools in the flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district.”

Yeah! Lauritzen is right! I mean, the nerve of people creating schools that can provide what parents and communities want!

It’s no wonder that, a few months ago, Mr. Lauritzen proposed a moratorium on charter schools, and that public schooling’s defenders fight even harder against reforms like vouchers and tax credits. After all, who could just sit by and watch parents get schools they want when an old, hopeless system is suffering?

Preparing Children for Adulthood

From the Washington Post:

Recess is dangerous. There’s all that name-calling, roughhousing and bullying. And the fast running! Why a child might trip, fall, even – and perhaps more important – sue.

Given such perils, Willett Elementary School, south of Boston, has cracked down on tag and other “chasing games.” Pia Durkin, the district superintendent, told the Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Mass., that children’s energies should be better directed toward “good, sound, supervised play.” 

So they’ll be prepared for good, sound, supervised lives.

“Dumb” Is the New “Smart”

What’s wrong with this conversation?

“Smart” Person: I just bought a car, and I way overpaid for it!

Admirer: You did? Brilliant!

OK. You know what’s wrong. Unless the admirer is being sarcastic, what kind of idiot congratulates someone for getting ripped off? Actually, this kind of idiot.

That’s right, the professional rankers at Morgan Quinto Press have produced a “Smartest State” report for 2006 (their full education report is available for only $59.95!), and have deemed Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut their three “smartest” states.

There is, actually, some logic to the rankings, which consider students’ proficiency on a few standardized tests – hardly enough on which to base a designation of “smart,” but at least there’s some connection to actual knowledge. It’s after that, though, that we really see who’s not so smart: In addition to test results, the rankings give positive credit to the states that spend the most money on their schools, the most on their teachers, and have the largest portion of their population in public schools (apparently kids in private schools can’t be that smart).

Now, maybe I missed something (and there’s no way I’m paying for the full report to find out), but it sure as heck seems that Morgan Quinto is telling us that the smartest states are the ones where kids maybe get decent scores, but where they definitely spend the biggest wads of cash.

There’s a term for that, of course, but it isn’t “smart.” I believe, in fact, that the word is “dumb.”

Watch Your Libertarian Language

Colleges often have to decide what their rules are about language that offends people. Is a professor’s criticism of affirmative action offensive to black students? Is a gay-rights group’s advocacy offensive to Christian or morally conservative students? And people can debate how to weigh free speech versus a nurturing atmosphere in a particular college.

But Marquette University seems to have reached new heights, or depths, in what it considers offensive. A graduate student there posted on his office door a pithy quotation from humorist Dave Barry:

 “As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”

A strong opinion, to be sure. One that I’d bet is shared by many but certainly not all Americans. Apparently Barry’s sentiment is not shared by the chairman of Marquette’s philosophy department, who took it upon himself to take down the quotation and sent a department email declaring it “patently offensive.”

Offensive to whom? Surely not to any of the usual identity groups, ethnic or religious or sexual-orientation or gender or whatever. Nor does it use the four-letter words that might be inappropriate for a public space. Perhaps it’s offensive to employees of the federal government, or to those who have a great deal of respect and admiration for the federal government. But one would think that at a university it falls within the parameters of debate. And while Dave Barry writes more effectively and memorably than most philosophers, his statement still qualifies as humor or political commentary or both.

Marquette is a private university and is thus free under the First Amendment to regulate speech as it chooses. But if libertarian jests are “patently offensive” and subject to censorship at Marquette, it might want to note that in a new paragraph of its academic freedom guidelines and perhaps in the catalog provided to prospective students.

Private Schools Now 33% Off!

There’s a common perception in this country that public schools are underfunded, and that if they could only spend as much as private schools do, they’d be in clover. When it is pointed out that the average private school tuition is around half of total public school spending per pupil, defenders of the status quo counter that tuition only covers a fraction of total costs.

So wouldn’t it be interesting to know how much private schools actually spend, in total, per pupil? Well now we do, at least for the state of Arizona.

In a study released yesterday by the Goldwater Institute, I analyze the results of their most recent private school survey. Among the other fascinating findings is that public schools spend one-and-a-half times as much per pupil as do private schools. Or, looked at the other way, private schools spend a third less than public schools.

Some other fascinating tidbits:

Teachers make up 72 percent of on-site staff in Arizona’s independent education sector, but less than half of on-site staff in the public sector. In order to match the independent sector’s emphasis on teachers over non-teaching staff, Arizona public schools would have to hire roughly 25,000 more teachers and dismiss 21,210 non-teaching employees.

When teachers’ 9-month salaries are annualized to make them comparable to the 12-month salaries of most other fields, Arizona independent school teachers earned the equivalent of $36,456 in 2004 – about $2,000 less than reporters and correspondents. The 12-month-equivalent salary of the state’s public school teachers was around $60,000, which is more than nuclear technicians, epidemiologists, detectives, and broadcast news analysts. It’s also about 50 percent more than reporters or private school teachers earn.

I wonder what effect these numbers will have on the flood of education stories about how desperately underpaid public school teachers are… given that those teachers are earning the equivalent of 50 percent more than the journalists who cover them.

There are many other gems in the full report, including a comparison of the condition of physical facilities between public and private sector schools. Public school lobbyists claim they need loads more money to repair and maintain their buildings, so it’d be interesting to know how private schools cope with this issue on a fraction of the public sector’s budget, hmm?