Posts tagged ‘school choice’

Simply Corrupt

The US Justice Department is using decades-old anti-discrimination law to stop poor black families from escaping crappy schools via a school choice program.  The awesome Clint Bolick of Goldwater has the details:

Despite reports of compromise or capitulation, the U.S. Justice Department is continuing its legal assault on the Louisiana school-voucher program—wielding a 40-year-old court order against racial discrimination to stymie the aspirations of black parents to get their children the best education.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program began in 2012. It provides full-tuition scholarships to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty level, whose children were assigned to public schools rated C, D or F by the state, or who were enrolling in kindergarten. In the current year, 12,000 children applied for scholarships and nearly 5,000 are using them to attend private schools. Roughly 90% are used by black children.

Parental satisfaction is off the charts. A 2013 survey by the Louisiana chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national school-choice organization, found that 93.6% of scholarship families are pleased with their children's academic progress and 99.3% believe the schools are safe—a far cry from the dismal public schools to which the children were previously consigned.

But last August, the Justice Department filed a motion to enjoin the program in dozens of school districts that still have desegregation orders from generations ago. It claimed that any change in racial composition would violate the orders. After a tremendous public backlash, Justice withdrew its motion for an injunction, insisting it did not intend to remove kids from the program....

In fact, the children are very much in danger of losing their opportunities. The Justice Department is demanding detailed annual information, including the racial composition of the public schools the voucher students are leaving and the private and parochial schools the students are selecting. If it objects to the award of individual vouchers based on those statistics, the department will challenge them.

If I had to make a list of the top 10 things we could do to actually help African-American families (as opposed to the garbage programs in place now to supposedly help them), #1 would be decriminalization of narcotics and in general stopping the incarceration of black youth for non-violent victim-less offenses.  But #2 would be school choice programs like the one in Louisiana.

PS- I am thinking about what the rest of the top 10 list would be.  #3 would likely be putting real teeth in police department accountability programs, as I think that police departments tend to be the last bastions of true institutionalized racial discrimination.  #4 might be some sort of starter wage program that gives a lower minimum wage for long-term unemployed.  If I weren't a pacifist and committed to free speech and association, I might say #5 was shutting down half the supposed advocacy groups that claim to be working for the benefit of African-Americans but instead merely lock them into dependency.

Progressives Lamenting the Effects of Progressive Policies

Kevin Drum writes

Via Harrison Jacobs, here's a recent study showing the trend in income segregation in American neighborhoods. Forty years ago, 65 percent of us lived in middle-income neighborhoods. Today, that number is only 42 percent. The rest of us live either in rich neighborhoods or in poor neighborhoods.

This is yet another sign of the collapse of the American middle class, and it's a bad omen for the American political system. We increasingly lack a shared culture or shared experiences, and that makes democracy a tough act to pull off. The well-off have less and less interaction with the poor outside of the market economy, and less and less empathy for how they live their lives. For too many of us, the "general welfare" these days is just an academic abstraction, not a lived experience.

He does not give a reason, and apparently following the links, neither does the study author.  But my guess is that they might well attribute it to 1. effects of racism, 2.  growth of the suburbs, 3. laissez faire capitalism.

I don't think racism can be the driver of this change, given that racism and fear of other cultures is demonstrably better in the last 30 years than at most times in history  (read bout 19th century New York if you are not sure).  The suburbs have been a phenomenon for 100 years or more, and capitalism has been less laissez faire over the last 30 years than at any time in our history.

I actually believe a lot of this income sorting is a direct result of two progressive policies.  I have no data, of course, so I will label these as hypotheses, but I would offer two drivers

  • Strict enforcement of the public school monopoly.  People want good schools for their kids.  Some are wealthy enough to escape to private schools.  But the only way for those who stay in the public school system to get to the best schools is to physically move into their districts.  Over time, home prices in the best districts rise, which gives those schools more money to be even better (since most are property tax funded), and makes them even more attractive.  But as home prices rise, only the most wealthy can afford them.  This is dead easy to model.  Even in a starting state where there are only tiny inhomegeneities between the quality of individual schools, one ends up with a neighborhood sorting by income over time.  Ex post facto attempts to fix this by changing the public school funding model and sending state money to the poorest schools can't reverse it, because at least half of school quality is driven not by money by by the expectations and skills of the parents and children in it.  Thus East St. Louis can have some of the highest per pupil spending in the state but have terrible schools.  A school choice system would not likely end sorting by school, but it would eliminate a huge incentive to sort by neighborhood.
  • Strict zoning.  There has always been a desire among certain people to exclude selected groups from their neighborhoods.  This desire has not changed, or if anything I would argue it has declined somewhat.  What has changed is the increased power that exists to exclude.  Zoning laws give the rich and well-connected the political vehicle to exclude the rabble from their neighborhoods in a way that never would have been possible in a free market.  I live just next to the town of Paradise Valley, which has very strict zoning that is absolutely clearly aimed at keeping everyone but the well-off out.  They will not approve construction of new rental units.  The minimum lot sizes are huge, way beyond the reach of many.

Kudos for Teach for America

Via Reason on Teach for America (TFA)

The best evidence we had before today was a randomized evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research between 2001 and 2003, which found that TFA teachers bested other teachers at teaching math — with gains for students equal to about a month of additional instruction —  and were not significantly different from them on teaching reading.

A follow-up using the same data showed that that result held for students across the math score distribution, not just the average student. “These results suggest that allowing highly qualified teachers, who in the absence of TFA would not have taught in these disadvantaged neighborhoods, should have a positive influence not just on students at the top of the achievement distribution but across the entire math test score distribution,” the authors concluded.

We sponsor a TFA teacher each year, and have fun doing a few little things for their classroom through the year (we collect school supplies at the beginning of the year, bring presents during the holidays).  Short of the school choice we really need, this is the best way we have found to help K-12 education.

Welcome to the Fight, Sort Of

After years of apparently being OK with California's absurd restrictions on development and crazy environmental laws that tied most everything new up in the courts for years, Kevin Drum suddenly thinks they may be flawed now that they are slowing development he likes (wind, solar, high density housing around transit stations).  Drum is a classic technocrat, who is OK with absolute state authority as long as the state is doing what he wants it to do.  I am reminded of what I wrote technocrats 7(!) years ago:

Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the technocrats always cry “our only mistake was letting those other guys take control”.  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.  A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.  Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent design.  And you can hear the lament – how did we let Bush and these conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My answer is that you shouldn’t have built the machine in the first place – it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.  And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was political, based on a conservative administration’s opposition to abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well, what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA’s politically motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial lawyers.  In establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the principal, contradictory to the left’s own stand on abortion, that the government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for their own body  (other thoughts here).  Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn’t.  It was unjust to scheme to control other people’s lives, and just plain stupid to expect that the machinery of control you created would never fall into your political enemy’s hands.

Lack of Imagination

One of the things I struggle with in arguing for ending the government schools monopoly is a lack of imagination.  In most people's lifetimes, there has never been a robust network of private school options to fit all needs and budgets, so folks assume that that such choices can't exist -- that there is some structural failure of capitalism that would prevent these choices from existing rather than structural government factors that have prevented them from existing.

Don Boudreaux has a nice analogy that helps make the logic of school choice clearer.

Exhibit A For School Choice

For years I have argued that the killer app that may someday actually lead to school choice will not be individual liberty (because no one in government gives a rip about that any more) and not education quality (because again, its clear no one really cares) but speech and religion.  If the right messes up schools enough, the left might finally be willing to shed their alliance with the teachers unions and consider school choice.  From a live-blog of a Texas Board of Education meeting (via Radley Balko)

9:27 - The board is taking up remaining amendments on the high school world history course.9:30 - Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with "the writings of") and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson's ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don't buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar's problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

9:40 - We're just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board's far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America's exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America's Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.

Bring Back the DC Voucher Program

Chaos Has Gotten A Bad Rap

There are two words that really separate us hard-core libertarians from small-government Republicans and civil-liberties-focused Democrats:  Chaos and Anarchy.  Libertarians love chaos and anarchy, while most Americans still cringe from these words.  For most folks, chaos is some Road Warrior-style dystopia and anarchy is Molotov cocktails sailing into passing cars.

But chaos and anarchy are in fact the hallmarks of a free society.  They imply a bottom-up society where the shape and pattern of everything is driven by the sum of individual decisions, each decision made with that person's own optimization equation of his or her best interests, constrained only by the requirement they interact with other people without use of force or fraud.   Our wealth, our technology, our modern economy are all born out of this chaos.

I have heard it said that capitalism is not a system, it is the anti-system.  This is the true beauty of capitalism -- it is the only way for human beings to interact with each other without compulsion.    Every other approach to organizing society involves some group of people using physical force to coerce other people.

This does not mean that every individual decision made, every investment choice, or every business model in a free society is mistake-free.  Society and the economy are in fact riddled with mistakes.  The HAVE to be, when one considers that the shape of this country is the sum of literally billions of individual decisions, small and large, made every day.  The key, however, is that the outcomes are generally robust  to mistakes, even large ones.  Business people, for example, who make large mistakes see their business fail and their capital disappear and their assets repurchased in bankruptcy by other business people who may well make better, smarter use of them.  Costly mistakes only persist when they are enshrined by law and enforced by government, and thereby protected from the forces that tend to act to correct them.

But despite all we owe to our capitalist system that fundamentally strives on anarchy, we attend schools run by large authoritarian institutions, like the Catholic Church or the US Government, which train us from an early age to fear chaos.  This is not surprising, because the opposite of anarchy is control, regimentation,  and top-down planning, all the things that authoritarian institutions strive to have us meekly accept.   Large investments in public education in Western countries have always been in times of rapid expansions of state power and control.  This was true in France in the early 19th century and Germany in the early 20th.  It is even true in the US.  If you doubt this, and want to claim that public education is all humanitarian, then why does the state make it so hard to opt out?  The ultimate argument of every opponent of school choice is always some gauzy notion that public schools create a "shared experience," which sounds a lot like indoctrination to me.

The current administration is dominated by technocratic planners.   For them, any process that is not being controlled top-down by "smart" people like themselves is by definition a failure.   When I say that the current administration is reminiscent of Mussolini-style fascists, I am not implying that folks are going to be rounded up soon and sent to camps.  I mean that the animating assumptions -- that any process controlled top down is more efficient than one that is allowed to operate bottom-up and chaotically -- are similar.  FDR, for example, and much of the American intelligentsia were driven by very similar assumptions, and the National Industrial Recovery Act (fortunately struck down by a non-packed Supreme Court) was pretty directly modeled on Mussolini's economic planning system.

Examples?  Well, the GM/Chrysler situation is a great one.  One can easily paint a story that Obama's work to avert bankruptcy at these companies is just a crass political handout to powerful unions who supported him.  But, just as easily, one can portray these efforts as a man who is uncomfortable letting the fate of a large sector of the economy play out beyond his control.  Obama killed school choice in Washington DC despite fairly strong evidence of its success, because, again, everyone being educated in his or her own way just cedes too much control.

Another good example is this one, from the Anti-planner:

Ron Utt, the Antiplanner's faithful ally, has uncovered the first steps of President Obama's plan to force smart growth on those parts of the country that managed to escape the housing bubble. The departments of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development have signed a joint agreement to impose smart growth on the entire nation.

Under the agreement, the departments will "have every major metropolitan area in the country conduct integrated housing, transportation, and land use planning and investment in the next four years." Of course, nearly all of the metropolitan areas that already did such integrated planning suffered housing bubbles, while most of those that did not did not have bubbles. The effect of Obama's plan will be to make the next housing bubble much worse than the one that caused the current financial crisis.

Obama first hinted about this plan in a town hall meeting in February. "The days where we're just building sprawl forever, those days are over," he told a group in Fort Myers, Florida. "I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody recognizes that that's not a smart way to desig, n communities." Not everybody.

As a note on city planning, I will not claim a direct causality, because I am the first one to warn of the danger between directly correlating two variables in a complex system, but check out this map of job losses in the recession, noting the situation in Houston as the least planned city in the country.

job-losses

Litmus Test

A lot of the time, the left can reasonably argue that their increases in the size of government are made out of concern for the common man.  For example, they argue that government needs to massively expand its involvement in health care to help the poor get better treatment.  I think they are wrong, but that's a different story.

But there are occasionally important litmus tests where the left must decide between the interests of government (and its expansion) and the interests of the common man.  I think the DC school voucher program is such an occasion, and its pretty clear that the Democrats in Congress are landing on the side of government.  No matter than most Democrats in Congress send their kids to private schools rather than DC public schools.  No matter that our new Secretary of Education was unable run a public school in Chicago that our current President was willing to send his kids to.

I think proponents of school choice have been very smart in creating school voucher programs that preferentially target poor kids in failing schools.  It eliminates the typical class warfare argument that the program is just about giving rich people a break on their private school tuitions.  Democrats are forced to declare on whether the well-being and education of kids in a program that is dominated by poor African-Americans is more or less important to them than sealing a crack in the government education monopoly.

Government Schools

I thought this was a very illuminating bit from Obama on education:

TAPPER: But"¦proponents of school choice say that the best way to
change the status quo is to give parents, inner-city parents a choice.
Why not?

OBAMA: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, although it might
benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of
kids at the bottom. We don't have enough slots for every child to go
into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is
a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.

So what I've said is let's foster competition within the public
school system. Let's make sure that charter schools are up and running.
Let's make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school
districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.

But what I don't want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the
public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach
kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the
public schools. That's going to make things worse, and we're going to
lose the commitment to public schools that I think have been so
important to building this country.

Some responses:

  • I love it when my opponents make my argument for me.  One strong argument for school choice is that public schools put a governor on 80% of the kids' educations, forcing them to learn at the pace of the slowest students.  But Obama basically says this.  He acknowledges in paragraph three that most of the kids would take the private option (and the only reason they would do so is that they perceive it to be better) leaving only the "hardest-to-teach
    kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the
    public schools."  I'm sorry Mrs. Smith, I know you want more for your kids, but we've decided that they should not have a better education than that demanded by the least involved parents.
  • If his fear in  paragraph #3 comes true, isn't that consistent with a leftish market failure model?  And if so, why wouldn't it be entirely appropriate for the government to focus only on this small segment not served by private schools?  Isn't that what the government does in, say, housing or transportation, providing services only to a small percentage of the market?
  • Obama parrots the "there are not enough private schools" objection.  Duh.  Of course there is not currently 20 million student-slots of excess private school capacity just waiting for school choice.  But capacity will increase over time if school choice is in place.  Or, if the capacity does not appear, then what's the problem for Obama?  Everyone will just stay in government schools.
  • The class warfare here is both tiresome and misplaced.  Most school voucher plans have explicitly focused on the poorest families and worst schools as a starting point
  • The statement that kids leaving public schools with vouchers would be costly is just wrong, at least from a monetary point of view.  I don't know of any voucher program where students are offered a voucher as large as the average per-pupil spending of that school district.  So, in fact, each student leaving public schools is a new financial gain, subtracting a $6,000 voucher but removing at the same time an $8,000 cost.
  • Finally, note the political mastery here.  Take the question of how many kids would leave government schools for private schools under a full school competition system.  Obama wants to be on both sides of this assumption, sometimes assuming the number is small (when discussing benefits) and then assuming the number is large (when discussing costs).  Obama is a master because he makes this switch back and forth from sentence to sentence.  First, the  number leaving public schools is low, since choice would just benefit "some kids" (Bad old rich ones at that) and leave our "a lot of kids."  He again in the next sentence implies the number switching must be low, because there are not many private school spots.  One sentence later, though, the number switching is high, since it would be a "huge drain of resources."  And then, in the third paragraph, the number switching is very high, since all that are left in public schools are a small core of the "hardest-to-teach kids."

Also note what was strategically left out of his answer:

  • "Even if school choice worked, I could never support it because my party depends too much on the teachers unions in this election."
  • "Just when I have a good chance to be the leader of this government, do you really think I want to abandon the government monopoly on the indoctrination of children and the power that brings to the government?"

Meet the New Boss

I am reading a fabulous book called "The Rise and Fall of Society" by Frank Chodorov.  It was apparently first published in 1959 and has been republished recently by the Mises Institute.  Here is an early bit I particularly liked:

One indication of how far the integration [between state and society] has gone is the disappearance of any discussion of the State qua State -- a discussion that engaged the best minds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The inadequacies of a particular regime, or its personnel, are under constant attack, but there is no faultfinding with the institution itself.  The State is all right, by common agreement, and it would work perfectly well if the "right" people were at its helm.

His next line is clearly aimed at his conservative contemporaries

It does not occur to most critics of the New Deal that all its deficiencies are inherent in any State, under anybody's guidance, or that when the political establishment garners enough power a demagogue will sprout.

I offered up similar observations here, though aimed at the left, who at the time were the minority opposition party:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

Libertarian Plea to the Left

My Princeton college roommate Brink Lindsey, now of Cato, has been raising a moderate rumpus by arguing that the traditional libertarian-Right coalition is stale and that libertarians should look for allies on the left as well.  He called it liberaltarianism.  Fair enough.   I will take a shot at the same plea.

I will use this map of the teaching of evolution in schools by state as a jumping off point.  I can't validate whether it is accurate or not, so I won't reproduce it here, but let's accept it as a fair representation of the diversity of approach to teaching evolution by state, even if you don't agree with the implicit value judgments embedded in the chart.  I will use it to reflect on two points I have made in the past to try to interest the left in libertarianism.

1.  Building complex machinery of state may feel good at first, when "your guys" are in control, but your opposition, or outright knaves, will eventually co-opt the system. As I wrote here:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.... 

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

2.  As public school boards come under sway of the Christian Right, the left should learn to embrace school choice, just as the Christian Right did a generation ago.  As I wrote here:

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red
state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced
in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.
My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of
every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.
I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism
nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting
outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Yes, I know, private schools to fit all these niches don't exist
today.   However, given a few years of parents running around with
$7000 vouchers in their hands, they will.  Yes, there will be
problems.  Some schools will fail, some will be bad, some with be
spectacular (though most will be better than what many urban kids,
particularly blacks, have today).   Some current public schools will
revitalize themselves in the face of competition, others will not. It
may take decades for a new system to emerge, but the Left used to be
the ones with the big, long-term visions.  The ultimate outcome,
though, could be beautiful.  And the end state will be better if the
Left, with its deep respect and support of publicly-funded education,
is a part of the process.

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the
Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that
some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not
agree with, with science you do not necessarily accept, and with values
that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids
can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school
choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your
kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their
kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a
collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle)
indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public
school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for
retaining such indoctrination.

In other words, are you OK if Bob Jones high school or Adam Smith
high school exist, as long as Greenpeace high school exists as well?
Or do you want to make everyone go to Greenpeace high school
exclusively?

Statements I Never Expected to Read

"Arizona Republic gave an unqualified endorsement of school choice today"

From Adam Shaeffer at Cato.  The AZ Republic editorial is here.  It is really rare to see a local paper break with the established monopoly education interests.  However, before we get too excited, I will observe that the Arizona school choice plan discussed falls pretty short of full school choice, but it is a step in the right direction.

Scary Stuff

Most of you know I tend to avoid the topic of religion like the plague on this blog, but suffice it so say that I am a secular guy.  But that doesn't stop me from being scared of this guy (Chris Hedges at the Nation Institute):

This is the awful paradox of tolerance. There arise moments when
those who would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society
possible should no longer be tolerated. They must be held accountable
by institutions that maintain the free exchange of ideas and liberty.

The radical Christian Right must be forced to include other points
of view to counter their hate talk in their own broadcasts, watched by
tens of millions of Americans. They must be denied the right to
demonize whole segments of American society, saying they are
manipulated by Satan and worthy only of conversion or eradication. They
must be made to treat their opponents with respect and acknowledge the
right of a fair hearing even as they exercise their own freedom to
disagree with their opponents.

Passivity in the face of the rise of the Christian Right threatens
the democratic state. And the movement has targeted the last remaining
obstacles to its systems of indoctrination, mounting a fierce campaign
to defeat hate-crime legislation, fearing the courts could apply it to
them as they spew hate talk over the radio, television and Internet.

Whoa, Nellie.  The "forced to be free" thing never really works out very well, I promise.  I find the outright socialism preached by much of academia to be scary as hell and an incredible threat to me personally as a business owner, but you won't catch me trying to get the government to muzzle them.  Hedges attitude is consistent with opposition to school choice discussed here by Neal McCluskey of Cato:

Another frequent objection to letting parents choose their kids'
schools is that American children need to be steeped in a shared
worldview, lest they be in constant combat as adults. This arose as a
major line of argument in a Free Republic discussion about Why We Fight,
and is very similar to the "Americanization" mission given to
industrial-era public schools, where immigrant students were taught to
reject the customs and values of their parents' lands "” and often their
parents themselves "” and adopt the values political elites deemed
proper.

Now, if one were willing to accept a system that would, by
definition, quash any thoughts not officially sanctioned, then in
theory one would be okay with a public schooling system intended to
force uniform thought. In the context of an otherwise free society,
however, getting such a system to work is impossible, because
it would require that incredibly diverse and constantly combative
adults create and run an education system that somehow produces uniform
and placid graduates. It's no more realistic than hoping a tornado will
drop houses in a more perfect line than it found them.

The practical result of our trying to make uniformity out of diversity has, of course, been constant conflict, as Why We Fight
makes clear. Moreover, there is another by-product of this process that
no one mentions when they weave scenarios about choice producing
schools steeped in ignorance: our schools right now teach very little, especially in the most contentious areas like evolution and history, because they want to avoid conflict.

It all kind of makes a mockery of the left's favorite word "diversity."  One suspects what they want is for people of all color and backgrounds to come together and... think just like they do.  This seems to be part of the same strategy here to bring back the fairness doctrine.

PS- Remember, before you flame me, I am a secularist here defending the right of everyone to speak.  I am not defending Pat Robertson per se, because I almost never agree with the guy, but I am defending his right to say whatever he wants on TV.

Public Schools Not Underfunded, Teachers Not Underpaid

The single post from way back that I still get the most Google hits from (and the most nasty email, I might add) was my post on the myth that public schools teachers are underpaid.  This was a follow-on post to my lengthy post fisking the NEA's school improvement plans and here too.  The premise in all these posts was that 1) Public schools actually spent more per pupil than private schools that do a better job and 2) Teachers, when you adjust their total hours to match other workers who don't get summers off, make a salary very competitive to other professionals, even before their hefty government benefits package.

The Goldwater Institute has just completed a study of Arizona private schools, and has come to many of the same conclusions.  The study's author, Andrew Coulson, summarizes the findings:

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.

My kids go to an absolutely fabulous private school here in Phoenix.  It is secular and (gasp) actually runs for-profit, so it has no endowments or sources of grants or charitable funds.  In exchange for a great education that far outstrips the quality of even the best local schools, it charges a tuition substantially less than the Phoenix-area per-pupil public school spending (and it offers a 20% discount for each child over one).  If you are considering a move to the area, email me and I will give you more detail.

More here on the virtues of school choice.  This is a sort of related post on the barriers to starting a private school.

Statism Bites its Creators

A while back, I observed that liberal statists and technocrats were upset that conservative statists were using the machinery of big government they created for the "wrong" ends:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

Suprisingly, James Taranto in Best of the Web, who I sometimes find too partisan and socially conservative for my tastes, makes a similar point:

Liberal Democrats take credit for creating an enormous government, which, according to them, doesn't work--but would work just fine if only the populace were smart enough to elect liberal Democrats.

In sum: Republicans favor small government but embrace big government when they have the power to control it. Democrats favor big government but insist that it can work only when they have the power to control it. Politicians in both parties, then, seem to see government as a means to the same end: their own political power. Little wonder that voters are suspicious of government.

Employment Opportunities

The Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute is looking for a Director of Administration and a Director of Development.  If you have always wanted to convert your desire for small government into a paying job, this might be your chance.  From their web site:

The Goldwater Institute was founded in 1988 by a small group of
entrepreneurial Arizonans with the blessing of Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Like our namesake, the Goldwater Institute board and staff share a
belief in the innate dignity of individual human beings, that America
is a nation that grew great through the initiative and ambition of
regular men and women, and, that while the legitimate functions of
government are conducive to freedom, unrestrained government has proved
to be a chief instrument in history for thwarting individual liberty.
Through research and education, the Goldwater Institute works to
broaden the parameters of policy discussions to allow consideration of
policies consistent with the founding principles of free societies....

With the legislature introducing thousands of new bills every year,
it's nearly impossible for the average person to know when or where his
liberties are threatened, much less do anything about it. The Goldwater
Institute works on behalf of Arizonans to keep watch on government and
to expand school choice, restore economic liberty, protect private
property, and affirm Arizona's independence against unconstitutional
federal encroachments.

School Choice for the Legally Savvy Parent

It appears that at least one group of students in California get a school choice program:  Those with irritating but legally savvy parents willing to exploit special education programs  (Hat tip to Overlawyered)

In Sonoma County, for example, a family recently enrolled its child in an
out-of-state boarding school, then billed its district not only for tuition,
but airfare, car rental, hotel, cell phone calls, meals, tailoring, new
clothes, an iBook computer, stamps, tolls, gas and 13 future round-trip visits.
Total tab: $67,949.

How?  By having their child declared a special ed student and then shamelessly exploiting the legal process to force such settlements

Since 1993, the number of students in public special ed programs rose 27
percent, to 681,969 from 539,073. But special ed students placed in private
schools at public expense rose nearly five times faster  --  128 percent, to
15,926 from 6,994....

Gross described the law's
myriad requirements as "150 points of potential mistakes" for school districts.

Missing even one step can cause a district to lose its case if a
hearing officer finds that a student's education suffered as a result. 

"There isn't an attorney who can't find us making a mistake on one of
those things," Gross said.

So who is qualifying as "learning disabled"?   I bet you aren't thinking of this boy, who got special education funding from the state to go to a private boarding school:

"He was not offered the classes that I thought he needed," the mother
said. "If my son didn't get what he needed, my fear was that he would drop out
of school.'' 

She acknowledged he had never been a discipline problem. The hearing
records describe him as a "young adult who is likable, friendly, energetic and
highly motivated. He is physically active, plays lacrosse and soccer, and
enjoys wakeboarding and snowboarding."

"He's a model child," she said. "However, his frustration and anxiety were
so high that I could see that this is the type of person who, out of
frustration, turns to drugs or something that he shouldn't be doing."

And, uh, what learning disability does this describe, except perhaps the general category of "teenage boy?"  This is a clear case of the most irritating parents with the most aggressive lawyers getting over on the rest of us.  Read it all.  My guess is that most everyone will be irritated, perhaps most of all those with a child with a true learning disability that really needs special help.  And make sure not to miss the state funded "dolphin therapy".  (Update:  Last year we spent a fortune for our kids to swim with the dolphins in Hawaii.  Do you think I can charge that back to my local school district?)

Static Analysis and School Choice

Below in my first post on the old 1968 edition of The Population Bomb, I said one of the key mistakes of these doomsayers was static analysis, which I described as:

blind projection of trendlines without any allowance for individuals
actually doing something to alter those trends, particularly in
response to pricing signals.  This leads not only to predictions of
disaster, but to the consistent conclusion that only governments
coercing individuals on a massive scale can avert dire consequences for
humanity

A great example of the static analysis fallacy in action today in in the debate on school choice.  School choice opponents often bring out some or all of these arguments:

  • Private schools are often more expensive than public schools, so even with vouchers set at the state per pupil spending, many won't be able to afford private schools
  • Private schools have admissions requirements and testing, such that many students will not be able to meet the cut
  • Private schools are disproportionately religious, leaving few options for secular parents
  • There are no where near enough private schools for the potential demand

Do you see the consistent fallacy?  All the arguments assume that private schools, in terms of pricing, mission, supply, etc., will remain static and unchanged after a voucher program is instituted.  I hate to waste electrons stating the obvious, but the private schools that exist today did not evolve in a vacuum.  They evolved in a world of monopoly public schools, and their nature is based on that reality.  Change that backdrop, and the schools will change.

For example, take the cost issue.  Sure, many private schools are expensive.  The main reason is that private schools have been created in an environment where their customers must have the ability to pay for their kid's education twice.  My kids go to private school, and every month I pay their bill to go to a public school they don't attend (via my property taxes) and then I pay a second bill to the private school they do attend.  As a result, many private schools have high prices, because their customer base can pay.  If the government instituted a special tax so that everyone received a government-funded Yugo, don't you think that the number of inexpensive cars sold by private companies might dry up some?

But private schooling does not have to be expensive.  My kids go to a fantastic school here in Phoenix.  We have moved around a lot, and we have been lucky enough to be able to send our kids to some very good and sometimes very expensive private schools, and I can say with confidence that their school here is both the best and the cheapest!  In fact, the tuition I pay for an education far, far superior to the local public schools is less than what the state of Arizona spends as an average per pupil in the public schools.

The same type of rebuttal can be made to all the other arguments.  Private schools often have tough admissions requirements because the public schools have already staked out the niche for the lowest-common-denominator education, so private schools differentiate themselves by serving an intellectual elite.  But does anyone doubt that if millions of average kids suddenly had $6000 vouchers in their hands, someone would step up to serve the heart, rather than the tail, of the normal distribution?  And I addressed here the huge potential for private school to evolve to serve a diverse range of viewpoints.

Arizona Watch has a nice post on this same topic, including similar thoughts in response to criticisms of school choice:

The statist arguments against HB 2004 are more clearly spelled out in Mike
McClellan's blog
on AZCentral in which he calls HB 2004 "tuition tax fraud." Mike is (surprise
surprise) a public school teacher. Indicative of the quality of public school
education in Arizona, Mike's arguments against HB 2004 are weak, but I'll
briefly refute them here.

1. Private schools can choose who they take "“ many have entrance exams that
will block some students from entering the school.

Mike's correct: private schools can choose the students they accept. Some
students may not qualify for their first choice school. The real point he's
making here is that some students may not have access to private schools even
with the corporate funding "“ that the bill would create a class divide in
education. That's absolutely incorrect. If private schools become affordable to
a significant portion of the population, then more private schools will emerge.
These schools will assuredly serve different market segments. There will be prep
schools, technical schools, art schools, religious schools, atheist schools, and
schools that just provide a decent basic education. There will even be schools
that specifically serve challenged students "“ those students who Mike claims
won't have access to private schooling. The opposite is true. Schools will be
better able to serve a variety of students in a manner far more effecting than
the current one-size-fits-all public school system.

2. Even if they can attend the school, the tuition might not cover all the
costs the student will incur "“ books, uniforms, other fees. If the schools won't
waive those costs "“ and many can't afford to do that "“ the student's family
might not be able to make up the difference.

Certainly some private schools will be more expensive than the tuition grants
can cover. However, many more will design their tuition structure specifically
to stay within the limits covered by the tuition grants. It is absurd to think
that schools would deliberately price themselves out of the market. If the
demand exists, private schools are going to find a way to meet that demand and
earn those tuition dollars.

3. And here's the big one: Republicans apparently believe there are quality
private schools everywhere. They oughta take a more careful look. While Phoenix
and Tucson have plenty of private schools "“ some far too expensive for the
Republican plan, by the way "“ that is not the case in the rest of the
state.

Do you see a trend here? The answer to this last argument is the same as the
answers to the previous two. Tuition grants will create demand for private
schools. New private schools will emerge to meet that demand and collect that
grant money. This is basic economics.

The one concern I have is that statists and choice opponents have many ways to block private schools.  Even with vouchers, zoning and land use laws in many areas have provided a powerful tool to block private school expansion.

By the way, here is one way to test whether people who make these arguments against choice really mean them or are using them to hide the true reasons that they object to school choice:  If they are right, then what are they worrying about?  No new schools will open, no publicly educated kids will be able to afford or meet the admissions standards of those schools that do exist, so nothing will change.  But they seem really worried about school choice, which makes me think that they don't even believe their own arguments.

Defeat for School Choice in Florida

I was gearing up to write a response to the Florida Supreme Court decision that strikes down a school choice plan as unconstitutional, but Baseball Crank did such a nice job, I will refer you to him.  The plan as crafted allowed students in low-performance schools to opt out with  a voucher for another public or private school.  The justices struck down the law because they felt that the Florida Constitution which requires a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system" of education thereby necessitates schools run by the government only.  Their "logic" was that using a public voucher at a private school thwarted the "uniform" part.

But here is the scary part of their interpretation of "uniform".  Most reasonable people would read the Constitution as meaning "uniform in quality".  But the voucher law as written almost by definition increases the uniformity of quality.  The vouchers were offered only to students at low performing schools.  The recipients of the vouchers could then stay at the same school or use the voucher to go to another school.  Since a voucher holder will only go to a different school if they perceive that school to be better than the school they are leaving, the law increases the net quality of education received (at least in the eyes of parents, though perhaps not in the eyes of the NEA or the education intelligentsia).  By any reasonable definition, improving the education of the kids receiving the worst education as determined by consistent standards should actually improve uniformity of quality, not reduce it.  From a quality standpoint, I would argue it is unconstitutional in Florida NOT to have this school choice plan.

So if it is not uniformity of quality that is being discussed, it must be uniformity of something else.  As Baseball Crank points out, what is left is a strongly Maoist overtone of uniformity of thought -- that everyone is receiving the same state programming.  This ability to opt out of state programming has always been at least as powerful of a driver for private and home schooling as bad quality.  While public education has been controlled mostly by the left, the right has been the main group "opting-out".  However, as the right takes over the left's cherished institutions, I made a plea a while back to the left to reconsider school choice:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

Statism Comes Back to Bite Technocrats

Over the past fifty years, a powerful driving force for statism in this country has come from technocrats, mainly on the left, who felt that the country would be better off if a few smart people (ie them) made the important decisions and imposed them on the public at large, who were too dumb to make quality decision for themselves.  People aren't smart enough,they felt, to make medication risk trade-off decision for themselves, so the FDA was created to tell them what procedures and compounds they could and could not have access to.  People couldn't be trusted to teach their kids the right things, so technocrats in the left defended government-run schools and fought school choice at every juncture.  People can't be trusted to save for their own retirement, so  the government takes control with Social Security and the left fights giving any control back to individuals.  The technocrats told us what safety equipment our car had to have, what gas mileage it should get, when we needed to where a helmet, what foods to eat, when we could smoke, what wages we could and could not accept, what was and was not acceptable speech on public college campuses, etc. etc.

Throughout these years, libertarians like myself argued that there were at least three problems with all of this technocratic statism:

  • You can't make better decisions for other people, even if you are smarter, because every person has different wants, needs, values, etc., and thus make trade-offs differently.  Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots is willing to take post-stroke risks by playing pro football again I would never take, but that doesn't mean its a incorrect decision for him.
  • Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.  A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.  Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place - it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.  And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well, what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial lawyers.  In establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for their own body  (other thoughts here).  Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that the machinery of control you created would never fall into your political enemy's hands.

OK, rant over.  No one wants to hear "you asked for it", but that is indeed my answer to many of the left's laments today about conservatives taking over their treasured instruments of state control.  I hate to be a geek here, but even Star Trek figured out this whole technocrat losing control of the fascist state thing 40 years ago.

Update:  Wow, I am not that skilled with reading academix-speak, but I am pretty sure that Ed Glaeser via Margina Revolution is saying the same thing:

Soft paternalism requires a government bureaucracy that is skilled in
manipulating beliefs.  A persuasive government bureaucracy is inherently
dangerous because that apparatus can be used in contexts far away from the
initial paternalistic domain.  Political leaders have a number of goals, only
some of which relate to improving individual well-being.  Investing in the tools
of persuasion enables the government to change perceptions of many things, not
only the behavior in question.  There is great potential for abuse.

Update:  Cafe Hayek discusses how the FDA is failing even technocratic objectives and this is an amazing data-rich in-depth analysis of the FDA vs. markets in managing drug risk/reward choices:

The debate over off-label prescribing is not about perfect safety; it is about
whether unavoidable trade-offs are best made for everyone by a centralized authority
such as the FDA or whether those decisions are best made by patients and doctors
acting independently. Whoever makes a decision to try (patient), prescribe (doctor),
or approve (FDA) a drug must face the trade-off between the costs of prescribing a
potentially unsafe medicine (a type II cost) and the costs of not prescribing a drug
that could have saved a life (a type I cost)....

The FDA tends to overemphasize the cost of using a potentially unsafe medicine,
because type II costs are highly visible and result in punishment of the FDA, whereas
type I costs are invisible and do not result in punishment.

If the FDA approved a drug that killed thousands of people, that story would make
the front page of every newspaper in the nation. Congressional hearings would certainly he held, the head of the FDA would probably lose his or her job, and the agency would be reorganized. But if the FDA rejected a drug that could save thousands of people, who would complain? When a drug kills a patient, that person is identifiable, and family and friends may learn the cause of the death. In contrast, the patient who would have lived, had new drugs been available, is identifiable only in a statistical sense. Family and friends will never know whether their loved one could have survived had the FDA not delayed the introduction of a new drug. In some cases the drug that could have saved the patient's life is never created, because the costs of the FDA's testing procedures make the necessary research and development appear unprofitable...

Patients and doctors do not face the same biased incentives as the FDA and thus
tend to pay more attention to the costs of not using a drug that could save a life.

More on School Choice

A while back, I made a plea to the left to "come to the dark side" and consider school choice.  In this post, I didn't argue about quality or efficiency improvements, but about diversity:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

Today, Jeff Jacoby, via Cafe Hayek, is making much the same argument:

From issues of sexuality and religion to the broad themes of US history and
politics, public opinion is fractured. Secular parents square off against
believers, supporters of homosexual marriage against traditionalists, those
stressing ''safe sex" against those who emphasize abstinence. Each wants its
views reflected in the classroom. No longer is there a common understanding of
the mission of public education. To the extent that one camp's vision prevails,
parents in the opposing camp are embittered. And there is no prospect that this
will change -- not as long as the government remains in charge of educating
American children....

Imagine how diverse and lively American education would be if it were
liberated from government control. There would be schools of every description
-- just as there are restaurants, websites, and clothing styles of every
description. Parents who wanted their children to be taught Darwinian evolution
unsullied by leaps of faith about an Intelligent Designer would be able to
choose schools in which religious notions would play no role. Those who wanted
their children to see God's hand in the miraculous tapestry of life all around
them would send them to schools in which faith played a prominent role.

Sounds good?  Well, unfortunately, as Cafe Hayek points out, Stacy Schiff in the NY Times recently went off on an anti-choice screed.  Not just anti-school-choice, but anti-all-choice, and readers were writing in in droves to agree!  Jeez, do people really want less choice? And just because you are too lazy to handle responsible decision-making, do you really want to limit my choice as well?  And by the way, who is going to be the official cull-er of choice, and what guarantees do you have that those officials will make the same decisions as you in culling choice?  Virginia Postrel has more thoughts on choice.

The bottom line of choice is that many of those in power do not trust you to make your own choices.  I wrote on distrust of individual decision-making here.  In my article on school choice, I ended with this caution:

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the
Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that
some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not
agree with, with science you do not necessarily accept, and with values
that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids
can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school
choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your
kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their
kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a
collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle)
indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public
school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for
retaining such indoctrination.

Update: I feel compelled to include this quote from Radley Balko:

Critics of capitalism once predicted that free markets would wreak mass
starvation, depletion of resources, pollution, and death.

They're now reduced to bitching about too many flavors of mustard.

We've won the debate.

Why do So Many Libertarians Blog?

A few weeks ago, in an interview about blogging, I was asked "why are there so many libertarian bloggers?"  My answer didn't make the final cut for the article, but I thought it was worth repeating here**:

First, I am tempted to answer with a variation of the argument that the left uses to justify why so many academics
are liberal "“ ie, that we bloggers are all smarter and therefore libertarians.  I will eschew that one though, because I think the real reason is that libertarians have never had a really good outlet for our opinions and it is a relief to have a channel to be able to express our views without distortion. 

Part of this is because there are few good organized outlets for libertarians.  In the past, libertarians could perhaps find a voice in one of the two major parties, but that tends to just end in frustration as about the 50% of what either party espouses is inconsistent with a true respect for individual liberties.  At the same time, the formal libertarian party has often been a joke, fielding some pretty bizarre candidates with some pretty niche priorities.

However, a major part of the problem is that libertarianism resists organization.  Libertarianism tends to be a big tent that attracts everything from anarcho-capitalists to Cheech-and-chong-esque hempfest organizers to Larry-Flint style pornographers.  For this reason, libertarianism defies efforts to brand it, which is a critical shortcoming since the two major political parties nowadays are much closer to brands than ideologically consistent philosophical alternatives. 

Libertarians revel in differences and being different.  Almost by definition, none of us have the same message, or even believe that we all should have the same message. Many of us are suspicious of top-down organization in and of itself.  Blogging is therefore tailor made for us "“ many diverse bottom-up messages rather than one official top-down one.

Finally, since libertarianism is really about celebrating dynamism and going in a thousand different directions as each individual chooses, in some sense the Internet and blogging are not only useful tools for us libertarians, but in and of themselves are inherently libertarian vehicles.  Certainly libertarian hero F. A. Hayek would recognize the chaos of the Internet and the blogosphere immediately.  For a good libertarian, chaos is beautiful, and certainly the blogosphere qualifies as chaotic.   The Internet today is perhaps the single most libertarian institution on the planet.  It is utterly without heirarchy, being essentially just one layer deep and a billion URL's wide.  Even those who try to impose order, such as Google, do so with no mandate beyond their utility to individual users.

When people are uncomfortable with the blog phenomenon, they tend to be the same people who are
uncomfortable with anything chaotic.  I have written several times, particularly here and here, that people across the political spectrum, from left to right, are united by an innate fear of and need to control chaos.  Conservatives don't like the chaos of themes and messages found in movies and media.  Liberals insist on a unified public education system with unified messaging rather than the chaos of school choice and home schooling.  Socialists hate the chaos and uncertainty of the job market, and long for guaranteed jobs and pensions.  Technocrats hate the chaos of the market, and seek to impose standardization.  Everyone in the established media hates blogs, which threaten to upset the comfortable order of how-we-have-always-done-things.

** Which just demonstrates another reason why we all blog- no editors!  There is a saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.  It may well be that we bloggers are in the process of proving a parallel adage about being our own editors.

 

Arizona School Vouchers

The Arizona legislature has passed a school voucher bill, though the Democratic governor is likely to veto it.  The MSM generally hates vouchers - just check out this Google news search on the bill.  I have not even linked to a cached version - I just have complete confidence that any time you click on the link the preponderance of headlines will be negative.

I think that the legislature did make a tactical mistake in crafting this bill.  While over time, everyone should be eligible, it is much more intelligent politically to phase the law in with a means test.  Otherwise what happens is the initial beneficiaries in the first year of the plan, before new private schools begin to develop, are the rich who are already sending their kids to private school who will get back some of their tax money that went to public schools they did not use.  The optics of this are terrible, as seen in arguments like this that play on this effect, even if I find the class warfare elements of this extremely tedious.

If the bill were crafted to squelch this argument, the rest are easy to fight.  For example, the same article complains about:

the very different mandates and requirements public schools must comply with and private schools do not

Duh.  If private schools had to follow all the same stupid rules as public schools they would be bloated celebrants of mediocrity as well.

Another argument is that kids leaving public schools will drain the schools of money.  This is a huge scare headline by opponents of choice.  It also makes no sense.  In 2004, the average pending per pupil in Arizona (according to the teachers union, opponent #1 of choice) was $5,347.  Per the proposed law, the average voucher size per pupil is $4000.  So, for every student that leaves, the state will spend $4000 but save $5347, meaning that every student that leaves actually increases the money per pupil that can be spent on those left behind.  (by the way, more on the absurdity of NEA positions here and here).

The other argument that gets made is that private schools are all very expensive.  Again, duh.  Today, the only market
for public schools is to people who can afford to pay for their kids to
go to public school and then pay again for private school.  However,
private schools at the $3500 to $4500 level will appear if people have
a voucher in their hand and are looking for alternatives.  My kids
private school is awesome, and does not charge in the five figures - in
fact it is just a bit over $5000 a year.  Here is more on why more private schools don't exist today.

I would love to find a way to get the left, who in other circumstances seem to be all for choice, onto the school choice bandwagon.  This post had an invitation to the left to reconsider school choice:

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red
state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced
in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.
My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of
every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.
I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism
nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting
outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Might "Red Statism" Cause the Left to Embrace School Choice?

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.  My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.  I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.  Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Yes, I know, private schools to fit all these niches don't exist today.   However, given a few years of parents running around with $7000 vouchers in their hands, they will.  Yes, there will be problems.  Some schools will fail, some will be bad, some with be spectacular (though most will be better than what many urban kids, particularly blacks, have today).   Some current public schools will revitalize themselves in the face of comeptition, others will not. It may take decades for a new system to emerge, but the Left used to be the ones with the big, long-term visions.  The ultimate outcome, though, could be beautiful.  And the end state will be better if the Left, with its deep respect and support of publicly-funded education, is a part of the process.

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not agree with, with science you do not necesarily accept, and with values that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle) indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for retaining such indoctrination.

In other words, are you OK if Bob Jones high school or Adam Smith high school exist, as long as Greenpeace high school exists as well?  Or do you want to make everyone go to Greenpeace high school exclusively?

I honestly don't know how folks on the left would answer this question.  Is Kevin Drum hoping that all parents have the choice of a secular education available to their kids, or is he hoping that all parents are forced to have a secular education for their kids?  Is he trying to protect his kids from intrusive creationism supporters or is he trying to impose his beliefs on the children of those creationism supporters?  I can read the article and his fear of creationism either way.