Topic: Education and Child Policy

The Quick and the Ed NOT a Bunch of Droolers …

I never thought I would see the day, but I’ve been charged with “drooling” over a Democratic candidate’s policy position. I guess it’s true, and I guess I am that big of a nerd. I do some additional Spitzer-drooling on NRO this morning.

Sara Mead over at The Quick and The Ed says she can’t get excited about education tax credits like me and Ryan at Edspresso – no drooling from her. The primary problem comes down to this:

“If you’re a moderate on these issues, you should actually find tax credits more troubling than straight-out vouchers, mainly because tax credits for private education have even less public accountability for how public funds are used than do vouchers.”

But the thing is, school choice through tax credits provides an education system more accountable to parents and the public than charters, voucher, or anything else.

Personal-use tax credits allow parents to spend their own money on schools that they choose … and school accountability to parents is the most effective kind of accountability. Donation tax credits let people choose the kinds of Scholarship Granting Organizations they think do the best job educating lower-income children. In both cases, the people with the most interest in holding schools accountable for results are the ones with the power to actually hold them accountable – parents and the people funding the schools.

On top of this direct accountability to parents and the public, families and communities can choose the kind of school that works best for them, without making other people who disagree with their preferences pay for it. As it stands, we have to duke it out in the political and legal sphere over issues like separate but equal schooling for girls and boys. Some people want it, some don’t. Right now, it’s winner-takes-all, loser-tough-luck. Shouldn’t these decisions be ones for the parents, not the courts, the state, or the school district? And shouldn’t people who think same-sex education is wrong be able to withhold their support from it?

Education tax credits let individuals, families, and communities support the kind of educational environment they think works best. What’s wrong with diversity and freedom? Personally, those are the kinds of principles that get me drooling.

Feds Approve Separate But Equal Schools

The federal Department of Education has granted public schools “broad freedom to teach boys and girls separately.”

Presumably, however, school districts will not compel parents to send their children to same sex schools, but rather give them the option of choosing such schools. But if the public school system is willing to grant that same sex schooling might be good for some students and not for others, and that the decision should be left to parents, it begs the question: Is this the only respect in which children should be treated as individuals, and families afforded educational choice?

Surely we could add that some students might benefit from an orderly, structured classroom environment while others might learn more quickly and deeply when allowed greater freedom to explore on their own. Or that some children might be unusually advanced in certain subjects, and require an unusually challenging curriculum, while others might need extra emphasis on the basics.

Offering same sex schooling as an option to families is an admission that children are not identical widgets to be processed by a one-size-fits-all education factory. But once we admit that point, we reveal our current education monopoly for the travesty that it is.

The best way to advance our ideals of public education is not through a monolithic government school aparatus, but through a liberated system of independent schools competing for the privilege of serving each and every unique child.

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.”