Parents in charge

The Gantelope’s Andrew Coulson endorses South Carolina’s Put Parents in Charge proposal, which uses tax credits (and scholarships for low-income families) to make it financially feasible for parents to choose public, private or home schooling.

Here’s Coulson’s response to a proposal to allow parents to use tax credits only at schools that use South Carolina’s testing system.

We all want children to get a solid grounding in the academic basics and to be prepared for success in private life as well as participation in public life. An education system that is truly accountable to parents will also be truly accountable to the general public, because the two groups share the same basic aspirations.

That unanimity on core goals does not mean that we agree on every last detail of the curriculum, teaching methods or values that should be taught in our schools. Children are not widgets, and schools are not factories.

. . . Mandating a single state-testing program for every child in every school yanks the reins of educational power away from families and puts them back in the hands of bureaucrats.

Arizona’s tuition tax credit program is expected to become a revenue-saver for the state.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Steve LaBonne says:

    Sorry, if you get public money (and a tax credit is an expenditure of public funds), you should have to meet publicly mandated academic standards. Don’t like that? Then don’t take the money.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    I also question the claim that private schools only costs half as much. The last time I looked National Cathedral in Washington, DC costs 26, 000. The costs of St. Paul’s Preparatory Academy mentioned in the article costs $36,000 a year. That is not something that parents with a voucher or a tax credit can afford.

  3. Yeah, and Harvard costs a lot of money, too….What’s your point? There will always be extremely expensive schools for the kids of the very rich, especially in places like DC or NYC.

    I think you would be hard-pressed to find a private school that expensive in South Carolina. Indeed, even here in New York City, most of the Catholic schools are cheap enough for people of modest means to send a child or two to. I knew lots of kids who went to Baptist day schools in the South – and those sure weren’t expensive.

    Interestingly, the amount of money spent per pupil in DC for public schooling would buy a very good private education in most parts of the country… even a decent college education (though probably at a public university). What’s the figure? $10K per kid per year? All I know is that it’s the highest per pupil expenditure in the entire country for public schooling. I’m sure the not-so-elite private schools in DC charge well less than $10K. So the system probably could save money by privatizing a huge hunk of it.

  4. This is silly. Testing kids to make sure they know how to read, add, and subtract does not mean we have to “agree on every last detail of curriculum and teaching methods,” let alone on values.

    It’s a very phony kind of humanism to say that because “children are not widgets and schools are not factories” the latter should be exempt from accountability. Letting children fail in life because of lousy schools is even worse than scrapping widgets because of incompetent factory managers.

  5. John from OK says:

    Meep,
    $10,000 is about average for the entire country now. D.C. is much higher. Joanne posted an article once about a district in Long Island that spent $25,000 per pupil. Does anyone have a reference for state-by-state expenditures? Or can anyone confirm my $10,000 figure?

  6. DC spends more than $11,000 per student, which is one of the highest averages in the country. The national average is . . . I can’t remember. Close to $7,000, I think. That’s operating costs; adding capital costs would push it up.

    Church-based schools, in part because they have lower capital costs, tend to spend less per student than local public schools. Some secular private schools are very expensive; others keep tuition in line to attract middle-class parents.

  7. As of the 2000-2001 Census, per student spending for:

    The U.S. – $7,284
    D.C. – $10,852

    Source – Education Intelligence Agency http://members.aol.com/educationintel/districts.htm

    I found the 2003-2004 numbers somewheres and D.C. was over $12,000 but now I can’t find the darned web page.

  8. John from OK says:

    I stand corrected, although I think capital costs (however those are measured) should be included in the total to give a better comparison to private schools.

    The numbers I read were probably inflated to defend someone’s agenda.

  9. see http://nces.ed.gov

    for all sorts of information and costs. You can enter a zip code and a radius to pull up all the schools. Look under district-fiscal for costs.

    Our affluent town’s cost is up to $12,000 per student, which is more than most private schools in our area. The most interesting stat I saw was that 25 percent of our students are IEP students. Many of these students might be IEP students for non-academic reasons, but, I thought that the percentage was high. This high percentage of IEP students lowers average academic expectations, justifies a spiral curriculum, and almost mandates social promotion. Add to this high percentage of IEP students the idea of no tracking, pull-out, or TAG program and you end up with 25 percent of our town’s kids going to private school. The public schools talk about removing the academic ceiling using differentiated instruction, but seem to think that enrichment can substitute for lack of acceleration or high year-to-year standards. Parents have no say about these basic educational assumptions.

    Vouchers eliminate this educational dictatorship and put the parents in charge, where they belong. It is, however, quite reasonable for schools accepting vouchers to meet basic accoutability and testing measures. This control could be abused by the bureaucrats, but it is a whole lot better than the control the schools now have over parents.

  10. Steve wrote:

    Vouchers eliminate this educational dictatorship and put the parents in charge, where they belong.

    Let’s not get carried away with the virtues of vouchers. What they get rid of is the district education hierarchy, or at least they highlight the cost of the district. That’s a good thing but it doesn’t eliminate the educational dictatorship.

    The shortcoming of vouchers is their inherent egalitarianism.

    I know that egalitarianism doesn’t sound like much of a knock but if you happen to be able to spend more then the state voucher is worth your choice is to forego the voucher entirely and spend your own money or accept the limitation of the voucher.

    With regard to funding education, that’s roughly the same situation we have now: people who don’t want to use the system are still required to fund it.

    Don’t get me wrong, vouchers are clearly a step in the right direction but they aren’t an endpoint.

    In one way, vouchers may actually be worse then the current system.

    The disparities that exist due to the current funding model have, at least, the justification that people are funding their local schools. You move to a community to get access to the education system, you accept the funding demands.

    But what happens when the money flows from the state rather then the school district? Rich parents will certainly still pay more money but now they won’t be able to direct that money to the education of their children.

    That’s a trend that’s afflicted education in a number of states.

    Texas has their “Robin Hood” funding scheme with all that name implies. Most other states have a mix of state-level and local funding with the pressure, from the political left as well as the poorer districts, to reduce the disparity between poor and rich districts. Fairness and compassion demand it, so goes the litany.

    But if you’re a parent who’s busted your butt building a good-paying career there isn’t much fair about being told that your kid doesn’t get the benefit of your hard work.

  11. Allen, you’re over-generalizing from one particular voucher program. It certainly isn’t necessary that people lose the voucher if they pay extra tuition above the voucher. If a voucher program is set up this way, I’d think that either opponents of it managed to inject a little sabotage in the legislation, or egalitarianism has run wild.

  12. But there is a problem with a tax-credit for schools – unless it still pays off when the credit exceeds taxes paid or owed, it is the least help to those who need other public school options the most. Middle-class people who get the full benefit of the credit are likely to live in a better district in the first place, and can suck it up and pay the full cost of a non-deluxe private school if they have to.

  13. “Vouchers eliminate this educational dictatorship and put the parents in charge, where they belong.”

    My comment has more to do with what is or is not being taught in public schools, rather than any method or fairness of funding. It has to do with basic educational philosophy and assumptions that all parents have to accept whether they want to or not – execpt for affluent parents, 25 percent of whom (in our town) put their kids into other schools. This has little to do with elitism, as many would like to believe, but higher expectations. I have talked to many parents who grew up in public schools who now put their kids into private schools.

    This is a question of control. Obviously, it’s OK for affluent parents to decide on educational philosophy, but not poor parents. Try a simple test. Tell all parents that you will give them the equivalent of their town’s cost per student and ask them where they will send their kids. Their choice won’t be based on elitism; it will be based on getting a better education.

    As for vouchers, there are always going to be some parents who will pay more for an elite education. I don’t care. I care about students who are stuck in bad schools and parents that have no choice or control – right now! They have to wait to see if their school meets some incredibly simple standards sometime in the future. I could argue that things wouldn’t be much better even if they do meet those standards. Vouchers break that control – right now! There are no guarantees with vouchers, but what do we have now? Schools that guarantee that children will get a bad education – right now!

    Charter schools help break this control, but it is almost impossible in some states to get a charter school approved that emphasizes higher standards. Our schools want to eliminate charter school choice for students because our public schools are “high performing” according to a pathetically simple state standards test. Charter school costs are a separate line item in the town budget that doesn’t affect the cost-per-student in the school budget. In fact, the school budget is increasing even though the number of students is decreasing. Loss of students mean fewer teachers and less control. That is what they don’t like.

    There is, however, a huge hidden cost for vouchers. Our town has about 25 percent of its kids going to private schools. I have heard of other towns where the percentage is in the 40 percent range. This is an incredibly huge subsidy of the public schools. Private school parents might pay $12,000 a year for school plus perhaps 75 percent of their property taxes to the public school district. Vouchers and charter schools reduce this subsidy and increase educational costs.

    There seems to be three items that govern school improvement: money, accountability, and choice. I see too many people who complain about money and accountability, but what they really don’t like is choice. To paraphrase Ken Kesey, .. you’re either on the (public school) bus, or you’re off the bus. Money is a separate issue.

  14. superdestroyer says:

    Steve,

    I love how the pro-voucher crowd always compares the best private schools (the elite, all white prep academies) to the worst public schools. Even a cursory comparison of suburban public high schools in white collar neighborhoods (like suburban Washington, DC) show that they perform at the same level as the prep academies that cost much more per student just on variable costs. They also crush the local christain schools.

    What Vouchers would do is create a rat race where the parents all try to get their children into the established private schools with good reputations and good performance. The problem is that those schools are already fulll and have waiting list. What is left is spaces at the corner Christian academy or at start ups with no reputation and no record.

    Why not ask yourself what the best public high schools do and try to repeat that instead of depending on the local church to establish a church.

    Also, I would like you to cite the metropolitan area where 40% of the school age children attend private schools.

  15. markm wrote:

    If a voucher program is set up this way, I’d think that either opponents of it managed to inject a little sabotage in the legislation, or egalitarianism has run wild.

    Why not both?

    The opponents of vouchers are on a holy crusade to save society. They wouldn’t hesitate to put a poison pill in the legislation if they could and egalitarianism has already run wild in many places. Evidence the denunciation of grades in favor of subjective evaluations.

    What I’m getting at is that vouchers aren’t an endpoint and if you think they are then you don’t understand the players.

    Vouchers are money that’s been laundered through the government. It’s no longer “your” money so you lose some degree of power over what can be done with that money.

    Bureaucrats have rules that they have to enforce and legislators have a public to whom they are, more or less, accountable. Both have to listen to pressure groups other then parents and those groups have their own agendas. Over time, they’ll come to influence the scope, funding, details, limitations and means testing of vouchers and not to the advantage of parents and kids.

    Politically, vouchers aren’t a stable situation. The opponents of vouchers will be trying continuously to undermine them so the supporters of vouchers will be constantly on the defensive, protecting what they’ve accomplished.

    You can see this situation playing out in the fight to create charter schools.

    Once the legislation enabling charters is passed the battle starts to prevent erosion of the viability of charters. There are calls for specious accountability, aimed not so much at ensuring the proper operation of charters as it is to put an end to charters. On the local level there’s harrasment by building, fire and health inspectors.

    Am I generalizing? Sure. You can always find examples of charters that work out bueatifully. They open and run with nary a problem. But charters are not conventional, district-based schools and are precieved, correctly, as a threat to the status quo. Not all public education officials respond to that threat but mostly, I think, they do.

    What I’m getting at is that once we start down this road, of taking power away from the public education establishment and putting it back in the hands of parents, we’ve got to see it through because there aren’t any good places to stop along the way.

  16. superdestroyer wrote:

    Why not ask yourself what the best public high schools do and try to repeat that instead of depending on the local church to establish a church.

    What’s stopping the rest of the public high schools from doing right now what the best public high schools do to be best? In fact, why isn’t there ever any interest in how the best teachers, principles, schools, become best so that the their expertise can be emulated? Why doesn’t anyone know, or care, who the teacher of the year is?

    Excellence is not a driving force in public education, funding is. Until excellence becomes the dominant influence we won’t get the best schools money can buy we’ll get the worst.

  17. superdestroyer wrote:

    “I love how the pro-voucher crowd always compares the best private schools (the elite, all white prep academies) to the worst public schools.”

    I didn’t do any such thing. I am talking about basic educational assumptions and expectations and who gets to choose – parents or the school.

    “What Vouchers would do is create a rat race where the parents all try to get their children into the established private schools with good reputations and good performance.”

    I’ve heard this before from you. If this is true, then you must also think there are big problems with the public schools.

    “Why not ask yourself what the best public high schools do and try to repeat that instead of depending on the local church to establish a church.”

    ???? In our area, many private schools have nothing to do with any particular religion. Do you think that is my hidden agenda? “… try to repeat that..” If you think this is the solution, then why hasn’t it happened already? Besides, I see many of the biggest problems in grades K-8. When I offered my professional expertise in selecting a math curriculum, they ignore me and everyone else and continue to use a program that even the publisher has dropped. I’m all in favor of saving public schools. It’s just that you and everyone else gives no good way to accomplish that. They even fight charter schools. “… try to repeat that…”. How, exactly, is this done. I am serious. I want to know.

    “Also, I would like you to cite the metropolitan area where 40% of the school age children attend private schools.”

    I said “other towns”, not a metropolitan area. This was written up in our state’s paper, but I can’t site a source. I have tried to find hard information about these percentages, but it is difficult. In our town they don’t really want everyone to know just how many parents are not happy about the public schools. That makes it easier to call them elitist. When many find out about the numbers they are amazed. I can’t tell you how many of these parents have tried very hard to make changes in the public schools. “… try to repeat that…” What, exactly are you repeating?

  18. superdestroyer says:

    Steve,

    I have lived in a metropolitan area with a high level of private schools enrollment and it was a nightmare. The first problem is finding a school with an open spot in the right grade. Most private schools only admit children at certain grades. Most private high schools only admit freshmen unless you parent is a politican or a millionaire. Second, many of the schools were no better and most were worst than the good suburban public schools in other cities where I have lived.

    Most of the private schools catered to the parents with the same grade inflation, self-esteem, etc that you accuse the public schools of doing. Also, I knew several families who had children split between different private schools and children who had to be driven across the city everyday to the school that had an opening.

    What most people were really paying for was to ensure that the children sat next to other middle class and upper middle class children who had parents who cared somewhat about their children’s performance.

    If you moved to that metropolitan area today, you would have trouble getting your children into the local christain academy and you could forget about any of the prep schools. Is that what you want for all over American.

    You may also want to review David Brooks One Nation, Slightly Divisible article in Atlantic Monthly. A high level enrollment in Private Schools is a high of “Blue America.” I believe because in Blue America politicans make politicies knowing that it will not affect their children or family at all.

  19. So let’s review:

    -living in a metropolitan area with a high level of private school enrollment is a nightmare.
    -private schools will only accept enrollments if they have an opening and then only for the grades they teach.
    -private schools only accept students into freshman classes unless a parent is VIP.
    -private schools are lousy when they’re not mediocre.
    -private schools have no educational integrity.
    -parents who send their kids to private schools are elitist snobs.
    -christian academys hardly accept students and prep schools don’t.

    Well, I’m convinced. Now all you have to do, superdestroyer, is convince all the parents who are so anxious to get their kids into private schools that they’re willing to also pay for the public schools they’ve opted out of. Misguided fools.

    Here’s a link to the David Brooks article superdestroyer referenced: http://tinyurl.com/6k82z

    Not a bad read but you won’t be able to read it at the Atlantic Monthly site.

  20. superdestroyer wrote:

    “What most people were really paying for was to ensure that the children sat next to other middle class and upper middle class children who had parents who cared somewhat about their children’s performance.”

    Are you saying that there is no difference in curriculum and expectations between public and private schools? You think it is just an elitist thing? Perhaps it is in your neck of the woods, but it’s a big world out there.

    Around here, all you have to do is look at the curricula side-by-side and see real differences. These differences accumulate year after year. Some parents say that it gets difficult to make the transition from public to private school by fifth grade. The public school kids are so far behind. The sad part is that the private school curricula are not much different from what we parents had when we were growing up in public schools. The usual progression is that the parents try to work with the school; realize that nothing is going to be done; see their child get further behind and stagnate; finally, throw up their hands and put their child into private school. This just happened with one of our biggest supporters of the public schools.

    As I have said in the past, many of the complaints have to do with grades K-8. Many high schools have good college prep and honors courses and compete well with prep schools. For most poor and urban areas, however, the damage is done by the time the kids get to high school.

    I’m not sure now whether you think there is a problem with public schools or not. You are obviously against parental choice. If you think that all private school parents are elitist, then you really don’t have to deal with the real, tangible issues of educational assumptions and lower public school expectations. “…try to repeat that …” is the best you can do to fix public schools.

    superdestroyer wrote:
    “If you moved to that metropolitan area today, you would have trouble getting your children into the local christain academy and you could forget about any of the prep schools. Is that what you want for all over American.”

    First, you argue that many of the pubic schools are really just as good as the private schools. Then, you argue that there is going to be this big, unmet demand for private schools with vouchers. What happened to the public schools? Do you include charter schools here? Are you for or against charter schools? Are you arguing that because vouchers are not perfect, they shouldn’t be tried? What is perfect about the public school system today?

    Vouchers provide no guarantee, but what do we have now? How, exactly are you going to fix it? NCLB just institutionalizes slow progress towards a minimal goal. What are you going to tell poor, urban parents who have the chance to put their child into a good private school – right now – using vouchers. “You know, private schools really aren’t much better than public schools.”, or “Sorry, you will have to wait until your school tries to fix things.”, or “We can’t give you a voucher, because many other students don’t have your opportunity, and that wouldn’t be fair.” “It’s much more fair for everyone to have no opportunities.” (Except for the affluent.)

  21. superdestroyer says:

    Allen:

    My first hand knowledge of high public school enrollment comes from the current situation in one metropolitan area that does not have vouchers but has close to 30% of school age students enrolled in private schools. If you moved to that area today, with a child in the eight grade, more than half the exisiting private high schools would not have a space for your child. This is a metropolitan area where everyone is paying out of pocket and demand exceeds current supply. Yet, no new schools have opened up recently except for a few k-8 associated with a few churches. All of the college prep high schools exceed the average student costs of the public schools. 90% of the National Merit scholars for the state come from three private schools. Those schools are ones everyone tries to get into and the ones with long, difficult admissions process and waiting lists.

    If vouchers were started today in that city, all that would happen would be the applications at all existing private schools would sky rocket while the existing number of seats in private schools would not.

    In the metropolitan area I current live in, the largest public high school in the county where I live excceeds the enrollment of all the private high schools in the county added together. Every public high school except one exceeds the median SAT score on the region, state, and the nation. The few private high schools that will actually publish their SAT scores do no better than the public schools.

    I believe that if a voucher program was started today, the message to the middle class parents would be to get your child out of the public high schools (that are performing well) and get your kids to the all white prep academy. All vouchers would do is again spike demand for the few established, well performing private prep schools while destroying the public support the well performing public schools.

    I think vouchers would turn every metropolitan area into where I used to live, an area where a few rich kids get a great education and everyone else is left to scramble for what they can get.

    Remember, vouchers do not let parents send their children to schoolwhere they want to send them, it lets parents send their children to schools where they can get their child admitted.

    If you want to make public education the same as private education, why not give all kindergraden students an entrance exam to first grade. Then put the students into schools based upon scores. Thus the top 250 kids would be in one school, the next 250 in the next best school, etc That is what the current models for vouchers would achieve.

  22. superdestroyer wrote:

    >”If you want to make public education the same as private education, why not give all kindergraden students an entrance exam to first grade. Then put the students into schools based upon scores. Thus the top 250 kids would be in one school, the next 250 in the next best school, etc That is what the current models for vouchers would achieve.”

    This is an impossibility. Public schools would NEVER do this. Public schools are all about full-inclusion and tracking by age, not ability. IF public schools finally admitted that they cannot educate a very wide range of ability sutdents in one heterogeneous age-tracked group, that would be a step in the right direction. But, it’s not the answer to bad and fuzzy curricula. Having my son move up to a 4th grade MathLand class rather than a 2nd grad MathLand class is not the answer. TAG programs that appease certain parents are not the answer either.

    You complain (rightfully) about potential problems with vouchers, but you ignore the huge problems that come with your off-the-top-of-your-head solution above. It makes me think that you are not pragmatic and just philosophically don’t like vouchers for anti-elitist reasons. First, your option still gives little control to the parent. Second, parents have no say with the child’s placement and a test in first grade commits the child to a particular level of education. If I thought about it enough, I could come up with the details to make this scheme workable – but it still would be a political impossibility. Why do you have the need to make all of this work under the aegis of “public schools”? Is your problem philosophical or pragmatic? Is your only concern that supply won’t ever meet demand?

    >”Remember, vouchers do not let parents send their children to schoolwhere they want to send them, it lets parents send their children to schools where they can get their child admitted.”

    This is true, but I think you too easily dismiss marketplace and philosophical forces. Many groups are trying very, very hard to set up charter schools. You also seem to be confusing problems of transition with the final end result. Politically, charter schools are a good in-between solution and slower in transition. Unfortunately, public schools are fighting these schools tooth and nail and states impose very strict limitations and approvals on their charters – far beyond meeting state testing standards. In our state we end up with some pretty odd charters. It would be nearly impossible to get approval for a charter school that set higher standards. This all has to do with educational philosophy, power, and control. The only way to break that is by giving control to the parents.

    I am not unsympathetic about the problems with full vouchers, but I have also seen first hand how the public schools work – or not. Outside of full parental choice, I have seen nothing that will fix the problems.