Topic: Education and Child Policy

Private Schools Will Always Bail Out Public Schools

Picking up on a Washington Post article I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, in today’s New York Times columnist Brent Staples calls for public schools to get on the ball and provide a decent education for disabled kids. He also notes, though, that even if the public schools do markedly improve, “some severely disabled children will always need to be educated outside the public system.”

To many people, such a statement is practically heresy: Not only doesn’t Staples buy the rubbish dispensed by public schooling apologists that government schools must take all comers, he writes that public institutions will always need a private safety net to catch the most needy children.

This kind of reality-based heresy could easily get Mr. Staples rhetorically stoned by public school zealots. It’s also the kind of heresy that needs to be repeated over, and over, and over again.

Public Education: Social Napalm

Perhaps the most pernicious myth about American public education is that it is the “foundation of our democracy,” the great unifying force that has taken millions of diverse peoples and shaped them into a cohesive, happy whole.

It’s a fantasy. The ugly truth is that our one-size-fits-all public school system, for which everyone must pay but only the most politically powerful can control, has been forcing American communities into ruinous social conflict for almost two centuries. The latest casualty is Miami, where efforts to ban school library books that portray post-communist revolution Cuba in a flattering light have set the community ablaze. From the Miami Herald:

The emotional and political storm surrounding the debate became impossible to ignore in a community so deeply steeped in Cuban culture. It bared the exile community’s considerable political heft as well as persistent suspicion that other groups remain ignorant of – or even hostile to – the deep sensitivity toward Cuba’s image and struggles….

Board member Robert Ingram voted for the ban, but only to invite the ACLU’s lawsuit so the issue could be resolved by the courts, he said. In an impassioned speech, he said threats from the exile community left him thinking board members “might find a bomb under their automobiles” if they voted to keep the book.

“There’s a passion of hate,” Ingram said. “I can’t vote my conscience without feeling threatened – that should never happen in this community any more.”

Tragically, all across the country conflicts like Miami’s occur constantly. Battles over Intelligent Design, school budgets, dress codes, student speech rights, race, and sex education all are symptoms of the same problem: Monolithic systems of public education will only reflect the values of those people with enough political strength to impose their will. This results in either nonstop political warfare or subjugation of the politically weak, neither of which is the foundation of any kind of desirable society. Only freedom, which in education means school choice, can form such a foundation.

Corey’s Christo-Sized Coat-Tails

Newark Mayor-elect Corey Booker has political coat-tails so long they could be a Christo art installation.

Booker won in a landslide earlier this spring on a platform of clean government and school choice, and now the slate of municipal council members he has endorsed have won a clean sweep in yesterday’s runoff elections.

Booker and his fellow revolutionaries will face stiff opposition from the teachers’ unions and state legislators in their efforts to give Newark residents unfettered school choice, but they unquestionably have the city’s people behind them.

School Choice Prospects Improve in SC

Becky Martin, an incumbent South Carolina state representative, won’t be returning to the legislature next session. She was defeated in yesterday’s primary race largely due to opposition from supporters of market-based education reform. Martin was one of a dozen or so Republicans who voted against an education tax credit program championed by Governor Mark Sanford.

Another Republican incumbent who voted against the school choice tax credit bill, Ken Clark, received only 34 percent of the vote. He’ll face a run-off against Kit Spires who received 44 percent.

Most interestingly, Karen Floyd, a pro-school-choice candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction (!!!), appears to have won an outright majority of the vote in a primary race against four other candidates. With 98.2 percent of the vote counted, she leads with 50.49 percent.

It’s too early to declare victory, but things are certainly looking up for kids in the Palmetto state.

For more SC election results, click here.

Tipping Credulity on Student Aid

Yesterday, USA Today ran a front page article on the arrival of six-figure student debt, highlighting especially the $116,000 in debt accumulated by a Rutgers University master’s student.

Now, the article didn’t say whether the scholar in question was an in-state student or had been a Rutgers undergraduate, but if both were applicable his would be a Guinness-worthy borrowing feat, especially since the article said that Rutgers paid the young man’s tuition for his final year of grad school.

Let’s go to the numbers: In the 2005-06 academic year, the cost of tuition, fees, room and board for an in-state undergraduate at Rutgers was $17,800. If the student had paid that for four years—which he obviously didn’t since he must have graduated before 2005-06—his entire undergraduate education would only have cost $71,200. As a graduate student, if we assume he lived in university housing and had the biggest possible meal plan, he would have paid about $20,000 a year. The grand total for both his undergraduate and graduate education, then, would have come to approximately $111,200—$4,800 less than his total accumulated debt! Oh yeah, and Rutgers paid the young man’s tuition in his final year—about $10,000—so he actually owes $14,800 more than the entire cost of his education. Amazing!

Asserting that students have no option but to go into six-figure hock to attend college is, of course, ridiculous. But, predictably, that hasn’t stopped student advocates and interest groups from celebrating USA Today’s story. Indeed, Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt, even dubbed the article a “tipping point” in the battle to convince America that its students are impoverished and need more taxpayer-funded student aid. Sadly, when it comes to her assessment of the article, Kamenetz might be right.

SC in SC

South Carolinians go the polls today to vote in primaries and for several state office holders, and the future of school choice in the state could be substantially affected by the results. The position of state superintendent is up for grabs, with both pro- and anti-market candidates. There are also several legislative primary races in which incumbent foes of parental choice are being challenged by pro-choice candidates.

Stay tuned for an update tomorrow.

Florida Lacks Hobgoblins

In his recent contribution to Cato Unbound, creativity guru Richard Florida argues that continued economic growth will depend on “regional, national, and global efforts to harness the creativity of each and every human being.” Fair enough. What, then, is his education policy prescription for attaining that goal? He doesn’t say –- at least, not in the aforementioned posting.

Looking for an answer, I turned to Florida’s other writings, browsing them for references to “education” and “schools.”

This search quickly revealed that Florida places great emphasis on improving our education system. “What we really need in order to prepare our children for the creative economy,” he exhorts, “is a comprehensive education, something that takes them from aesthetics to algebra without pretending that the two are mutually exclusive” (Flight of the Creative Class, 2005, p. 255). He adds, “As society diversifies and specializes, more and more different kinds of education and teaching styles must be made available.”

So increased educational diversity appears to be the order of the day. Or does it?

Writing in Washington Monthly in 2003, Florida conspiratorially confides that “no one wants to admit this openly, but we’re already headed toward effective federal government takeover of troubled public schools…. Only a national strategy can repair the now broken connection between good local schools and regional prosperity.”

Increased educational diversity through more pervasive central planning? Alas, the cognitive dissonance is only beginning.

Florida’s next education policy prescription is higher spending. To make his point, he trots out the embarrassing jade that “it will be a strange day when our schools get all the billions they need and the army has to hold a bake sale to fund its bombers.” To drive the point home, he characterizes current U.S. public school spending as “paltry sums of money” (Flight, p. 255).

As Florida surely must know, total U.S. public school spending now stands at roughly one half of one trillion dollars a year. Annual per-pupil spending is roughly $10,000. That is a quarter of a million dollars for every classroom of 25 students.

The only nation on Earth currently spending more per pupil at the K-12 level is Switzerland. The Netherlands, which routinely trounces the U.S. on international tests of academic achievement, spends $4,000 less per pupil annually.

Having laid waste to his credibility with the trivially falsifiable claim of underfunding, Florida immediately downplays his own argument. A mere three pages after throwing money and slogans at the problem, he explains that “throwing more money and slogans at the problem will only get us so far” (Flight, p. 258).

If consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, the mind of Richard Florida is a vast hobgoblin-free zone.

Whatever the merits of his claim that the presence of creative bohemians causes economic growth, Florida does not seem to have a coherent education policy for promoting creativity or, for that matter, anything else.