April 28, 2008 3:52PM

A Checkered Present

The Fordham Foundation’s Checker Finn recently responded to Neal McCluskey’s review of his new book. Let’s compare what Finn has to say with reality:

Finn: “You gotta give it to purebred libertarians, they never let their vision of how the world ought to work be distorted by any realities about how it actually works.”

Reality: Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom publishes and summarizes an extensive body of empirical research from the U.S. and abroad (.pdf). We also eschew animal breeding terms when describing those with whom we disagree.

Finn: “the CATO crowd [is] indistinguishable nowadays from the ‘separation of school and state crowd’ ”

Reality: Cato’s Center for Educational freedom recently published the Public Education Tax Credit model legislation. The Alliance for Separation of School and State opposes all state involvement in education.

Finn: “the CATO crowd… basically doesn’t believe in any form of public education”

Reality: As explained in Adam Schaeffer’s Public Education Tax Credit paper, we distinguish between the institution of state‐​run public schooling and the ideals of public education (universal access to good schools, preparation for both participation in public life and success in private life, that schools should encourage harmonious relations among different ethnic and religious groups). We are ardent critics of “public schooling” precisely because it has proven itself so disastrously incapable of delivering public education.

Finn: “They believe in…”

Reality: We are not in the belief business. Our policy recommendations are grounded in domestic, international, and historical evidence regarding the best ways of meeting the public’s educational needs and aspirations.

Finn: “… private education, purchased in the marketplace by parents who want and can afford it for their kids from schools that are not accountable to anybody for anything except keeping those tuition payments rolling in the door.”

Reality: If Finn were familiar with the international evidence on the operation of education markets, he would know that fee‐​paying parents hold schools more effectively accountable for the quality of educational services than do government bureaucrats.

Finn: “They believe… [t]he heck with everybody else’s kids. The heck with an educated polity or transmitted common culture. Check out Neil [sic] McCluskey’s review of my book.”

Reality: Our model Public Education Tax Credit legislation would ensure universal access to the education marketplace while delivering a far higher quality and far more individually personalized education. And as I pointed out in my book Market Education, education markets have proven themselves perfectly capable of transmitting common culture. The classical Athenians, who not only transmitted but invented much of the Western culture Mr. Finn values, had no government education standards or government schools. Surely Mr. Finn’s alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy, taught him something of classical Greece? And even if Mr. Finn was absent during such lessons, surely he has come across a few of the 120 million McGuffey’s Readers printed during the 19th century while browsing New England’s used bookstores? Long before the rise of vast state school bureaucracies, the private sector was busily transmitting common culture all by itself. More than that, we have documented how state‐​run schooling Balkanizes American communities by forcing everyone to support a single official education system — a problem that Finn’s national standards would worsen.

And, finally, it is precisely because we do care about everyone’s kids that we recommend real market reform in education, and urge Americans to move past the calcified school monopoly that has so cruelly shortchanged so many children.

Any time that Mr. Finn would care to publicly debate these issues, either in person or in print, we will be happy to dispel his misapprehensions more thoroughly. Given that he recently declined just such an invitation from us, his acceptance of this one would be a pleasant surprise.