Resistance (to reform) is futile

Resistance to education reform is futile, says Democrats for Education Reform.

Those who resist the school reform movement are going to find they are on the wrong side of history. They may affect the pace of reform, but not its inexorable direction. They must decide whether they will participate, or continue to be further marginalized.

Via This Week in Education.

School choice is gaining ground, argues Greg Forster on Pajamas Media.

The bottom line is that the D.C. and Milwaukee programs are in trouble because they’re legacy programs; they’re the old model of school choice, designed as charity programs that only serve the most disadvantaged. As a result, it’s hard to mobilize political support for them. The constituencies that benefit most are the least powerful.

Georgia, with its more broad-based programs, is pointing the way forward. School choice that serves all students, not just some, is where the movement is headed — precisely because it’s the only model where the political math adds up.

The unions are getting desperate, Forster writes.

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  1. Mike Skiles says:

    Funny thing though is how we’re always reforming and never reformed. Here in Ohio, we have a big push for Praxis III entry year teacher program. I think it was implemented for 2 or 3 years. Current status? Dead. Now they want a 4 year ‘residency.’ Because we all know if we use medical school terms our profession is immediately elevated to that status. 3 years from now the 4 year residency will be scuttled for some new reform.

  2. Nothing funny, or inexplicable. about it.

    The problem’s systemic so any solution that’s not systemic is bound to fail.

    Vouchers, and charters, undercutting the political isolation and resulting indifference of the school district, are systemic changes.

  3. We’ve tried all sorts of reforms in the England, and most have made thing worse for the disadvantaged. School choice, in particular, has been controversial for the socialists, because they thought that poor families produced poorly educated kids because they had no choice.

    Now they have to choose which school their children attend, we find that only the middle classes can be bothered to make the choice – poor families are more likely to support the local failing school – so schools become more socially segregated.

    The problem is a deep social one, and reorganizing the school system without understanding is only likely to make things worse. At best they seem to stay the same.

    But politicians like to be seen moving the deck-chairs around …

  4. Abundant evidence supports the following generalizations:
    1) As institutions take from individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction, overall system performance falls.
    2) Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically adept parents.

    Is school choice gaining ground? One can hope. It’s way too early to call the result of this political mud wrestling match. The State-monopoly school system has endured for over 150 years. The NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel has a new friend in the White House.

    Reform fashions in the education industry come and go. Steven Mosher (__Broken Earth: The Rural Chinese__) wrote of the campaigns which regularly washed over Chinese society. Since bureaucrats in State-monopoly enterprises (and large corporations) lack the power to offer material incentives to workers at the lowest levels, they resort hype to motivate. This hype becomes the next campaign or curricular fad (think: Whole Language, 21st Century Skills). Direct financial incentives in a decentralized market-driven industry reduce the need for managers to motivate through hype.

    School choice is not like other reform fads. Most “reform” policies maintain the structure which produces fads and campaigns. School choice attacks that structure.

    Steady accumulation of small improvements in the industry will yield better instruction for children of parents who do not themselves contribute to the financial pressure to make those improvements, just as cars improved since the time of the Model T, even for the buyers of low-end automobiles.

  5. What is school choice?

    My school district says it offers school choice. I’m convinced a lot of school choice supporters would find that statement Orwellian. So the war over the slogan is already well under way.

  6. It isn’t real choice without the possibility of organizational dissolution.

    If a school’s so lousy that too few parents will send their kids there to keep the school in operation does it shut its doors and dismiss the workforce?

    If the answer’s “no” then it’s not school choice.

    Organizational incompetence ought to be an organizational capital offense.

  7. I think Allen’s on the right track here. The best “reform” would be for parents to take their children out of government schools entirely and either homeschool them or form some sort of cooperatives to school them. It would be much more difficult for the state to regulate these homeschools or cooperatives then it is for the state to regulate their own schools, with teachers being forced to act as agents of the state instead of being able to concentrate on teaching. The trouble I and many others see with vouchers is that they give people a false sense of freedom. With vouchers the state is still funding education, and anything the state funds they are going to regulate.

  8. Thank you but the political realities don’t allow for all that much deviation from the current model of tax-support and mandatory attendance. Charters are more politically feasible then vouchers which are more politically feasible then an end to the public education system.

    I sympathize with your libertarian leanings but the fact is that the public won’t be quickly or easily weaned off the public education system so in a democracy you take what you can get when you can get and plan for the next opportunity to advance your cause.

    Right now the step that would move education away from state control, and is mostly likely to succeed, is to expand charters since they explicitly put more control in the hands of parents at the expense of the public education system. Concurrent with efforts to ease charter caps should be the building of various coalitions that would benefit from or be partial to the expansion of charters.

  9. Allen, I disagree with you here (you knew I would). If the state is funding charters, the state will exercise its power to regulate them. I believe that the more charters there are, the more the state will regulate them. As their numbers grew the state wouldn’t allow them to escape the state’s regulatory control. I would also agree that if homeschooling and voluntary educational cooperatives grew the state would try to regulate them more than they do now, but homeschools and cooperatives wouldn’t be funded by the state, so regulation of them by the state would be much more difficult. Many homeschools and cooperatives would be able to fly under the radar of the state, and parents who were paying for these schools out of their own pockets would be much more resistant to state regulation than they would be with charters, where the state was funding education.

    Now, I would agree that it might be more difficult for many parents to remove their children entirely from government schools and either homeschools them or form voluntary educational cooperatives than it would be to just send them to charter schools. But which would be ultimately better for education: a) having parents take full responsibility for the education of their children, which is the way things should have been all along, or b) having education remain under the control of the state where children are subjected to various forms of government propaganda, such as the reciting of the pledge of allegiance every day? Why should we settle for weak reforms like charter schools and vouchers that, in the end, probably aren’t going to make all that much difference anyway? Let’s go for real choice and real change.

    It’s time that we work towards starving the beast that is state funded and state controlled education.

  10. pm, Steven and Allen,

    I generally agree with you. “Choice” is a multi-dimensional continuous variable. Choice of curriculum or teachers within a school is better than no choice. Choice of schools within a district is better than no choice of schools. Choice between districts within a State is better than no choice of district. State-wide collective bargaining for State (government, generally) teachers reduces parent choice. State-mandated credential requirements for State school teachers reduces parent choice. Generally, vouchers apply only to accredited schools and so restrict parents’ options.

    Voucher critics advance “accountability” as a reason to oppose parent control. One way to address this and broaden parent control (“choice”) is Parent Performance Contracting

  11. Ragnarok says:

    “Voucher critics advance “accountability” as a reason to oppose parent control. “

    Sounds Orwellian. Could you point me at a typical argument? Should be quite funny.

  12. Oh sure I knew you were going to disagree with me Steven. The scent of libertarian absolutism was in the air and the doctrinaire libertarian is transfixed by the goal with, seemingly, little interest in the journey. So I’ll ask again “how are you going to get there from here?”

    How do you plan to achieve this political goal?

    Common sense and the lessons of history suggest strongly that the goal of getting government out of the business of education isn’t achievable in one step – I assume you don’t disagree with that? – so what’s your first, practical, achievable, legal step in bringing about an end to the public education system?

    I have a suggestion for a personal first step and that’s to dispense with the use of the phrase “the state” and with it the presumption of a monolithic entity.

    While the simplicity of the view recommends it the inaccuracy of the same view more then offsets the virtue of simplicity. As far as we’ve come from the original intent of the founding fathers this is still a constitutionally-limited republic so using a formula more appropriate to a totalitarian dictatorship is, at best, inappropriate and at worst, self-gratification.

    You are right that “the state” will attempt to exert greater control over charter schools as the idea spreads but A) that’s predictable and B) that’s not the end of the story.

    There are people whose livelihoods depend on school districts so the charter represents a threat to that livelihood. You can be sure they’ll find little to love in charters and will be well-disposed to any measures that encumber charters in any way. Then there are the folks who are reflexively, or rationally, opposed to any change. Folks who are opposed to any deviation from the district system because, as far as they’re concerned, it’s part of the natural order of the universe and if you’re going to mess with the district system why then it might be the law of gravity that’s next. The teacher’s unions are rationally opposed to a change from the district system since charters by their nature impose higher costs of organization and bargaining.

    But the establishment of charters does a good deal more then make charter opponents uncomfortable and unhappy. Like a political pebble dropped in political water they create spreading ripples.

    At the very least parents who’ve chosen a charter for their child are likely to be supportive of the concept, creating a new constituency. Since the charter exists because of the choice of all the parents who send their kids to that charter are those parents inclined to be supportive of or resistant too political decisions that damage the school to which they send their children? Will politicians who profess a deep and abiding love of charters as proudly independent expressions of parental love for their child be more or less likely to get elected?

    Charters are cheaper to run then district schools.

    No big surprise there. Charters don’t have a district hierarchy to support so the cost of that hierarchy doesn’t have be baked into the per student funding level. You think maybe there are folks, like mayors or municipal union officials, who’d view the funding that’s going to pay the valueless district personnel as having a higher calling funding their little corner of government? I think so. You think there might be folks who’d view that funding as a good opportunity for a tax cut? I think so.

    So charters provide a reason for tax-spenders, tax-cutters and parents to work together. Coalitions of interested parties are how you get things done in a democracy. I charters aren’t sufficiently pure ideologically they do, at least, move the ball in the right direction. That’s good enough for me.

  13. Actually, Allen, I prefer to describe myself as a radical libertarian or a voluntarist. Is that OK with you?

    Are you aware that approximately 2,000,000 children are presently being homeschooled in the United States, and the trend is that many more will be joining them in the future? I am suggesting that instead of using scarce resources to advocate for weak methods of reform such as vouchers and charter schools that we use those resources to concentrate on increasing the trend towards something that would really work, such as homeschooling. That’s how we get to there from here. Not in one big step, but in many small steps. I don’t see what’s so complicated about that. Why waste time on things that won’t make much of a difference when we can spend it on something that will make a huge difference?

    When I refer to the state I mean is as an institution that claims the exclusive right to make and enforce the law. There are many different states, some much worse than others, but those who support them all subscribe in varying degrees to the philosophy that it is legitimate to use force against people who are innocent of committing acts which harm someone else. A philosophy which I reject, by the way. In other words, I see a dividing line between statism and voluntarism, although I do recognize that some forms of statism are not nearly as bad as others. Sorry if this offends you, Allen.

  14. (Malcolm): “Voucher critics advance ‘accountability’ as a reason to oppose parent control.“
    (Ragnarok): “Sounds Orwellian. Could you point me at a typical argument? Should be quite funny.”

    It’s depressing. Here
    “The AFT supports parents’ right to send their children to private or religious schools but opposes the use of public funds to do so. The main reason for this opposition is because public funding of private or religious education transfers precious tax dollars from public schools, which are free and open to all children, accountable to parents and taxpayers alike, and essential to our democracy, to private and religious schools that charge for their services, select their students on the basis of religious or academic or family or personal characteristics, and are accountable only to their boards and clients.”

    Of course, I disagree with all of the above.

  15. That blah from the AFT is depressing. The “public” money they are talking about is coming from the parents that aren’t allowed to spend it as they wish. We should just tie the money to the student. One thing I don’t understand is, what generally happens to the 2/3’s of the per-student money that ISN’T in the voucher? I suppose in CA it just stays with the state for districts that get state money, and her in Palo Alto it stays with the district.

    When my eldest started being home schooled, the PAUSD reaction was a giant ho-hum, as it just meant that they got the same money with one less student; informally, a district office employee informed me that my daughter was not going to be hassled by the district, but that there was a tiny chance that the state might send a truant officer, if a neighbor complained. I’ve had relatives who have had to jump through a lot of hoops to teach their kids at home, but we just ordered the books my daughter wanted, and drove her to Gunn to sign up for AP exams once a year.

  16. Ragnarok says:

    Thanks, Malcolm.

    The AFT argument is so idiotic that it’s not worth deconstructing. I’d hoped for more heft in the opposing side – it’s very depressing to read such drivel.

    I don’t understand why so many teachers write so badly – not all, of course, but a lot. The arguments here are relatively straightforward, there’s no reason to twist oneself into knots.

    At my old school the masters had the respect of the students, for the office if not the man. But they earned it – the women didn’t behave like Mme. Rustamova. We didn’t have state-of-the-art stuff, but everybody knew that studies were important.

    Oh well!