2011 is ‘year of school choice’

Republican electoral gains have made 2011 The Year of School Choice, writes the Wall Street Journal.

No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011, and 28 states have legislation pending. Last month alone, Louisiana enhanced its state income tax break for private school tuition; Ohio tripled the number of students eligible for school vouchers; and North Carolina passed a law letting parents of students with special needs claim a tax credit for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.

Wisconsin removed the cap of 22,500 on the number of kids who can participate in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, the nation’s oldest voucher program, and expanded school choice in Racine County.

Even more significant, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation that removes the charter cap, allows all universities to be charter authorizers, and creates a voucher program that enables about half the state’s students to attend public or private schools.

Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma have created or expanded tuition tax credit programs. North Carolina and Tennessee eliminated caps on the number of charter schools. Maine passed its first charter law. Colorado created a voucher program in Douglas County that will provide scholarships for private schools. In Utah, lawmakers passed the Statewide Online Education Program, which allows high school students to access course work on the Internet from public or private schools anywhere in the state.

Pushed by House Speaker John Boehner, Congress revived the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program for low-income students.

Choice doesn’t guarantee excellent schools, the Journal concedes. But it drives reform by eroding “the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live.”

I’ll be very interested to see what happens in Indiana.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. CarolineSF says:

    This is ironic timing, because the corporate ed “reformers” are having a bad day today.

    The connection of the Atlanta cheating to the high stakes imposed by NCLB HAS definitely been established in the public discussion; the pushback to the attacks on Diane Ravitch is starting to get louder than the attacks; and in the upcoming New York Times mag, Paul Tough slaps down the reformers for supposedly creating a “no excuses” culture and then immediately resorting to excuses when their phony “miracles” are debunked. (And Paul Tough has been a mouthpiece for reform until recently — he has made as much of an about-face as Ravitch has — so that’s significant too.)

    I’ll be very interested to see what happens nationwide, in the long run, as the reformy hype falls apart bit by bit. Then maybe we can get to a point where reforms that don’t disrupt, attack, tear down and harm kids, schools and educators — and that aren’t based on hype and falsehoods — come into favor. What if we took Finland as a model — as “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” implied we should, though without any understanding of what that actually meant — and tried remaking our educational system in a similar way?

  2. Stuart Buck says:

    Everything Caroline mentions in the second paragraph consists of rhetoric — some people are saying this or that, but ooh someone else said this or that in response.

    The school choice enactments are actual accomplishments in the real world, not just words flowing back and forth in cyberspace.

  3. I don’t think you’ll have to wait for “the long run” to see how things work out for “the reformy hype”.

    You’ll only have to wait until the political class realizes that the ludicrous per student budgets typical of big, urban school districts diminish substantially when you don’t have to pay mobs of unnecessary, central office functionaries.

    Of course it might be the municipal unions, beset on all sides, who find the idea of dissolving superfluous school districts attractive. I’m sure they’ve got some excellent ideas about what to do with the funding that’s cut loose.

    I can’t wait to see how that’ll turn out myself.

  4. CarolineSF says:

    An interesting example landed in my inbox after I posted earlier today.

    My son attends Oberlin College in Ohio, where last school year there was a lot of attention given to “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ” Oberlin President Marvin Krislov moderated a well-attended panel discussion of education experts covering the issues raised in the movie, including the principal of a local charter school — Alexis Rainbow of the Arts Academy charter in Lorain (a heavily low-income African-American area).

    My son and a classmate/family friend who both attended the panel said that Ms. Rainbow was quite impressive and convincing (and that the head of the local teacher’s union didn’t come across that well).

    So this news surprised them:

    Lorain County Chronicle Telegram July 7, 2011
    Arts Academy charter school closes in Lorain
    LORAIN — The closing of the Arts Academy has not created any teachable moments between the school’s founder and sponsor.

    The charter school, plagued by money mismanagement, alleged unethical conduct and purported Ohio Sunshine Law violations, has closed after failing to find a sponsor.

    The closing comes on the heels of a scathing May 18 evaluation of the school’s 2009 finances by state Auditor Dave Yost. The audit said Alexis Rainbow, the academy founder and operator, paid $44,688 in state taxpayer money to a company she owns in violation of Ohio’s ethics laws, which prohibit public officials from paying businesses in which they or their relatives have a public interest. In 2007, Rainbow was criticized by the auditor’s office for $15,129 in payments to a company she owned for school services.

    The audit also said the brother of the academy’s dean of students received $22,521 for services and Jorethia Chuck, co-chair of the Ashe Cultural Center, the academy’s Cleveland-based sponsor, received $9,460 for psychological services. The audit said the school, which received $1.56 million in taxpayer money last year, ran a $55,425 deficit in 2009 and didn’t make notifications of public meetings or keep minutes of the meetings.

    … Rainbow on Wednesday said she didn’t pay herself but refused to discuss other details of the audit.

    http://chronicle.northcoastnow.com/2011/07/07/arts-academy-charter-school-closes-in-lorain/

    It was interesting to these kids to get such a close-up look at the issues I have explained to them about charter schools. The phrase “Mom, you’re right!” doesn’t get uttered by college students that often.

    My son, stepping into the position of commentary editor of the Oberlin college newspaper this fall, says he’ll be writing about it.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    Carolinre, I’m not sure what lesson I should draw from this story.

    That there are charismatic frauds in the ed business? I’ve known that for years (but then, I think Randi Weingarten is charismatic).

    That there should be laws against self-dealing? But there are, and he is guilty of violating them.

    That people who work in charters are less honest than people who work in traditional public schools? Given, among other things, the grading scandals in Atlanta and DC, I find that hard to believe.

    At least he’s out on his ass.

  6. CarolineSF says:

    I believe that the charter school world/setup provides a whole new area of ripe opportunity to fraudsters and scam artists, not to mention those who are just over their heads and wind up in trouble for that reason.

    It was interesting for these kids to see an example up so close.

    As noted on other threads, I also believe that imposing life-or-death stakes on test results is also pretty much guaranteed to lead to cheating. It’s a different pathology stemming from the same source — the principles (using the term loosely) of the corporate education reform movement.

  7. Peace Corps says:

    CarolineSF, I agree with your first paragraph (2:57 pm), but since the school districts that are failing in my part of the country are usually the same schools that make front-page news of the bad sort (and usually for a lot more dollars), it is difficult for me to get “worked-up” about it. I still believe that students assigned to failing schools need viable choices. Hopefully the charter scammers will be closed quickly and the charters that are over their heads get the help they need to follow the rules and be successful.

  8. CarolineSF says:

    Since I’ve been following the “charter schools are miracles run by saints!” hype for more than a decade now, I’m not as tolerant of the attitude that *troubled public schools are just as bad, so it’s OK that charter schools attract scam artists.*

    Clearly, charter scams aren’t viable choices, and more and more charters formerly hyped as miracles are being revealed as, if not scams, often no less troubled than public schools.

  9. Any time there are large sums of government money, there are instances of fraud, waste, conflicts of interest, and other abuses. Medicare fraud costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $60 *BILLION* per year. Yet that rarely makes the news because it’s so commonplace. A charter school fraud case, on the other hand, *WILL* make the news because it’s something different and also because many journalists share the anti-charter POV of Caroline.

  10. CarolineSF says:

    Boy, is that not my perspective, Crimson Wife, and I’m a former newspaper journalists. From my POV, most journalists are totally snookered by the charter hype; critical looks are rare indeed, though a few more are surfacing. Editorial boards especially are absolutely in the tank for charters — they’ve made up their minds, and they mock or bash any critics if they deign to notice their existence at all. That’s my take, and I think it’s a well-informed take as I’m a former newspaper journalist myself and have been following the charter movement for more than 10 years.

    My and Joanne Jacobs’ former employer, the San Jose Mercury News, is TOTALLY bought into the charter hype and has been for years, promoting every fad that comes down the pike and beating up on any school district or board member that dares question it. That’s the way I see it, anyway. I would be really surprised if you can produce more than the very rare example of the opposite.

  11. CarolineSF says:

    Sorry, for a journalist I didn’t write that very clearly — was on the fly. You get the idea.

  12. Then maybe we can get to a point where reforms that don’t disrupt, attack, tear down and harm kids, schools and educators

    It struck me, reading this, that there is a fault line in this debate. One on side, is the group that uses “kids, schools, and educators” as a monolithic block sharing common interests. This side argues that what is good for one of these groups is good for the other two. On the other side is the group that sees kids, schools, and educators has having distinctly different and diverging interests. I fall into the latter camp, personally.

    The way I see it, the best interest of the kids is to learn, though it may not be their expressed interest. The interest of the school is to get as much money as possible while getting the most for the least from their educators. The interest of the educators is to have the best work environment possible, which includes good pay.

    In addition, unions are an additional group here who’s interest is not to protect their employees but to amass as much political power as possible. Part of their strategy to do this is to paint the kid/school/educator interest block as a single one. Think of the very name of the NEA. National Education Association? Hardly. Give the NEA a choice between protecting their members and bettering a child’s education, they’ll choose their members every single time.

    Part of the reason we’re still having the kind of debates on this issue that we are is the inability of some very important voices to acknowledge that there are conflicting interests in the education world that need to be balanced out.

    The mainstream media have been especially bad in this regard. They’ve bought the unified interest block idea hook, line, and sinker.

    Democratic legislators are another barrier. Being in the thrall of teachers’ unions, they both advance and act on the flawed unified interest block model. The case recently in California where Democrats outlawed teacher layoffs “for the children” was a particularly egregious example of this.

  13. Roger Sweeny says:

    CarolineSF,

    You are absolutely right. It is so untrue that “charter schools are miracles run by saints!” It is, of course, equally untrue that traditional schools are miracles run by saints.

    That really says nothing about which are better. And, again of course, neither are definitely better than the other. They are all so different. Some charters are better than trad schools for their student body. Some trad schools are better for their student body.

    If we’re truly interested in the kids, I don’t think we should care whether it’s charter or trad. We should care about how well it does with that kid.

    Now, if you believe that charters are some sort of right-wing “corporate” plot to destroy public schooling, you will oppose them.

    If you believe traditional public schools as a necessary part of some social democratic utopia that we can eventually build, you will support them against all competition.

    I don’t believe either of those things.

  14. Peace Corps says:

    Well said Roger.

  15. CarolineSF says:

    Straw men, Roger, and oversimplifying a set of very complex issues. What’s the purpose? It doesn’t rebut me and doesn’t add anything to the debate.

  16. Inasmuch as you completely ignored the original post the claim of not having been rebutted is ironic and your attempt to derail the discussion from the fact that education reform – real education reform – is finally starting to gain traction, is gratifying.

    The real question is – what’s next?

    We’re just in July right now and there’s most of another year before the 2012, states are still looking for fiscal relief and municipal unions that don’t represent teachers are taking a hiding. The balance of the year, and next year, hold all sorts of exciting possibilities.

  17. Stuart Buck says:

    What was particularly odd about Caroline’s initial response was this phrase: “disrupt, attack, tear down and harm kids.”

    School choice does all that to “kids”? What a ridiculous and simplistic idea, as if “kids” are a monolithic group, 100% of whom are harmed by school choice. Even if any kids at all are harmed by school choice, other kids definitely benefit. Plus, most people like having more choice in and of itself even if there isn’t a provable benefit, just as people like being able to choose what to eat for themselves even if their lifespans aren’t provably longer (or even if lifespans go down).

  18. I’m a lower-middle-class, stay-at-home mother in Colorado. We have school choice and numerous charter schools in the area. It is HEAVEN being able to choose where my children go to school and what educational philosophy their school will have without worrying that I can’t buy a house in a more expensive part of town or pay for private school. Charters and school choice are about non-affluent people like me having a choice to get their children the best education they can. Charter schools (even ones under the umbrella of the local school district like the one my child goes to part-time) are far more responsive to parental wishes and children’s needs than the inertia-filled, bureaucrat-heavy regular public school system. And as people above have pointed out, charter schools that have serious issues get CLOSED. The main reason public schools get closed around here is declining enrollment (which appears locally to be partially the result of providing an inferior education). I get that CarolineSF thinks that charter schools were an over-hyped false promise, but only a naive optimist would think that all charter schools would be started by angels. In contrast to charter schools, public schools have little accountability despite the “high-stakes testing” (with quite low standards to attain, actually), while charter schools, due to having to meet requirements to maintain their charter and stay financially viable, are more responsive to what society and parents want.

  19. CarolineSF says:

    And I get that charter schools are an escape from the public schools that have to serve all students, including the disabled, limited-English and other high-need and costly-to-educate students whom charters notoriously underserve. (By underserve I mean “serve fewer of.”)

    Some charter schools may be responsive; others are problem-plagued and worse. Reality and history shows that it’s resoundingly not true that “charter schools that have serious problems get closed” — or at least not till things get seriously dire or they flat-out collapse, as with the charter I mention in Lorain, Ohio.

    But charters that serve as an escape from the challenges posed by the most high-need children are not a real solution in the big picture; that’s my point. If public schools could exclude and push out challenged and high-need children the way charters do, we wouldn’t need the contentious charter sector at all.

    Many charter school boosters ARE naive optimists — definitely those living on Planet Editorial Board nationwide, who have forgotten the adage “fool me twice, shame on me.” That’s another of my points.

  20. But charters that serve as an escape from the challenges posed by the most high-need children are not a real solution in the big picture; that’s my point. If public schools could exclude and push out challenged and high-need children the way charters do, we wouldn’t need the contentious charter sector at all.

    I suppose this is because the only problem the otherwise sterling and perfect public schools have is high-need children. It’s not as if there is any incentive in public schools to put the needs of the adult interest groups ahead of the needs of the kids. It’s not as if there aren’t the endemic performance problems associated with monopolies. Nope, the entire problem is those darn high-need kids and how they degrade the experience for everyone else. Talk about your naive optimism.

  21. Roger Sweeny says:

    CarolineSF,

    I don’t understand your comment (7:38 am). I was agreeing that charter schools aren’t some miracle cure. Sometimes a particular charter is better for a particular student than the traditional public school he or she would otherwise attend. Sometimes it is worse.

    Do you disagree?

  22. Straw men, Roger, and oversimplifying a set of very complex issues. What’s the purpose? It doesn’t rebut me and doesn’t add anything to the debate.

    Actually, Caroline, Roger asked a fair question. To put more of a point on it: Can you admit that anywhere, anytime, there might be a population better served by a charter school or private school than by their district school? If you answer no, then why don’t you take the time to explain to everyone the reason you believe traditional public school monopolies are the unassailable pinnacle of education.

  23. CarolineSF says:

    Yes, of course I do agree that some — even many — students are better served by a charter or private school than by their district school. I’ve often explained this before and I’ll repeat it using essentially the same explanation.

    Schools that serve a critical mass of high-need, at-risk, challenged students become overwhelmed and struggle, Those are the schools we harshly brand “failing schools.” Schools that serve a percentage of high-need, at-risk, challenged students that falls short of that critical mass (which may vary depending on the characteristics of the school) can function effectively.

    A student whose public school is one of those overwhelmed “failing schools” is certainly likely to be better served by a charter or private school, if he or she can get into the charter or private school and survive there.

    That’s not always true, as there are some really messed-up charter schools that serve students as poorly as — or worse than — even the most troubled public schools. But it can be and sometimes/often is.

    That doesn’t solve the big-picture problem of the schools overwhelmed by critical mass of high-need, at-risk, challenged students, though.

    And the education reform movement as a whole massively denies and covers up the true situation, portraying it as “bad” public schools (when actually those schools are overwhelmed by the high-need, at-risk, challenged students) and “good” charters (when actually there’s a whole self-selection and sometimes selection process at work, with those outside the process left in the “bad” public schools). The education reform movement as a whole is unethical and dishonest in that denial.

    I think the “monopoly” line is BS and I don’t believe that struggling public schools are the “unassailable pinnacle of education,” so I dispute and refute that sentence entirely, Quincy.

    Nor do I believe that public schools are “sterling and perfect,” so I dispute and refute that misstatement as well. But yes, the heart of the problem is the most challenged subset of high-need, at-risk, challenged students, and you’re wrong to sneer at that fact, Quincy.

  24. Caroline, I do appreciate the detailed answer. My comments were more of a challenge and less of a sneer. However, it seems you missed the if in my statement. I would only challenge you to explain the latter part if you answered no to the former question. You didn’t, so I wouldn’t hold you to that strawman belief.

    As for the monopoly line, what part of it is BS exactly? Public schools, even with the presence of private and charter schools, form a de facto monopoly in large parts of the country. They make up what, 70+ percent of the sector?

    By the standards for monopolistic behavior established in US v. Microsoft, I believe it’s indisputable that not only do public schools form a monopoly, but actively engage in monopolistic behavior. By setting up a situation in which IE was the default choice, MS was engaging in monopolistic behavior. Public schools do the same. How often does a monopoly get to continue charging even those customers who opt out of its services entirely? How often does a monopoly get the power to deny its competitors existence, as various levels of government do? Microsoft would have killed to get away with stuff like this, but these are common monopolistic tactics executed by the public monopoly school system every day in this nation.

    As for my caricature of your belief that public schools are “sterling and perfect,” it was in no way a stretch from your assertion that “If public schools could exclude and push out challenged and high-need children the way charters do, we wouldn’t need the contentious charter sector at all.” There is an implicit assumption in the statement that public schools have no other problems that might lead parents to want out. That assumption is obviously false and deserves to be challenged.

  25. That doesn’t solve the big-picture problem of the schools overwhelmed by critical mass of high-need, at-risk, challenged students, though.

    By the way, here I actually agree with you. However, I doubt we’d agree on what it means.

    In my view, the fact that we haven’t found effective, repeatable ways to help educate these children is a damning indictment of the academic apparatus that develops theories and does research in education.

    How many stories of teachers having to reinvent the wheel do we have? How many stories of unproven fads? Charters were premised on the belief that more variety in teaching techniques would help educators learn more. This kind of blind groping points to a complete immaturity in the science and research on education.

    Until this maturity develops, schools with high-need populations are going to be overwhelmed and will fail to serve their populations. They may be “good” in the sense of intent and effort, but they are still ineffective even though they’re trying hard.

    The condemnation of schools as “bad” in a qualitative sense is a simplistic out. It’s a bad school, we don’t need to ask why. Looking at a school as ineffective leads to the analysis of *why* it’s ineffective and *what* can be done about it. Can teacher behavior be changed? What about discipline policies? What about curriculum? Etc., etc. Unfortunately, the immature science of education hobbles this analysis.

    My modest proposal? Bar anyone holding a degree in education from teaching or researching in an ed school. Get some real analysts and researchers on the problem who haven’t been polluted by the ed school mentality, and we might just get somewhere.

  26. CarolineSF says:

    The fact that public schools are required to serve everyone removes the reality from the “monopoly” analogy, in my opinion.

    If one wants to start with a monopoly analogy at all: It’s like if Macy’s was the only store in town serving those who didn’t pay extra for exclusive specialty stores, but then was required to provide clothing for every type of hard-to-fit person and people with special clothing needs, and also to feed the shoppers (under an inadequately funded system with incredibly burdensome requirements) and do medical care for anyone who fell ill in their stores (with no funding for medical staff) — and take care of all the needs of shoppers with every type of disability — something like that. Off the top of my head.

    For the record, I disagree with this entire paragraph:

    “As for my caricature of your belief that public schools are “sterling and perfect,” it was in no way a stretch from your assertion that “If public schools could exclude and push out challenged and high-need children the way charters do, we wouldn’t need the contentious charter sector at all.” There is an implicit assumption in the statement that public schools have no other problems that might lead parents to want out. That assumption is obviously false and deserves to be challenged.”

    That was an absurd characterization of my assertion, and that is not the implicit assumption in my assertion. Just for the record.

    Anyway, I made my point, so there’s not much need to keep belaboring it. I’ve followed the charter movement closely for more than 10 years; I think I’m well informed about it, and those are my views.

    The starry-eyed folks who were touting Edison Schools as the great miracle 10+ years ago — including those on Planet Editorial Board nationwide — never came to us critics later and said “Gosh — you were right — we should have been more skeptical — and we’re really sorry we ignored, mocked and/or bashed you.” Nor did they conclude, “Next time we’ll be more thoughtful, ask more questions and listen to a wider variety of views.” They just moved on to falling unquestioningly for the next load of hype from the same scamsters or their younger cousins.

    So the same “oops … never mind… ” response is what we’ll expect when the current package of reform fads fizzles too — there won’t be a bang OR a whimper.

  27. Stuart Buck says:

    Caroline’s view massively simplifies the whole issue of school choice.

    Why would anyone want the opportunity to choose among different schools? In her skewed view, it’s only because of a wish to escape from the troubled students that certain public schools are stuck with.

    But there are many other reasons to want a different school.

    1) A desire for a different curricular emphasis (near me, there are two charter schools, one with an arts focus and one with a heavy science/math focus).
    2) A desire for different pedagogical techniques (some people love the “progressive” style of education, and some don’t).
    3. Some kids have pre-existing friends at a different school.
    4. Some kids get bullied at one school but not another.
    5. Some kids get “lost” at a huge school but other kids like the diversity of options there.

    There are many more reasons that anyone who purports to speak for “Parents” ought to be familiar with, if she cares about how actual parents might feel.

  28. CarolineSF says:

    That’s a brand-new angle on the “need” for reform, Stuart. If charter operators went to Bill Gates and Eli Broad and asked for megamillions just so families could just have a different school to choose from, sans “shock doctrine” crisis, I’m not sure it would fly.

    My city does have an all-choice school district, so our families do get options like that — though that’s complicated too, since some schools are oversubscribed and that leads to mass frustration and you get the picture.

    A small town that can only support one or two schools wouldn’t be able to financially sustain offering that array of choices — whether they were private, charter or public — just like a small town that can only support one department store would also not be able to financially sustain a greater number.

    Yes, in a perfect world families would be able to make all those choices, but realistically that might not be feasible in a world of public schools OR a world of charter schools. Living in a big city offering multiple schools is the best bet in that case.

  29. Stuart Buck says:

    All this time commenting on charter schools and vouchers, and this is the first time you’ve ever heard the (obvious) point that there are lots of reasons that people can rationally want a different school other than the mere desire to escape “bad” kids in the public school? Hmmm.

    Indeed, some people might want one type of school for their first child, but realize that their second child needs a totally different environment — what is that family supposed to do, without school choice? No matter what zone they’re in, one of the children is going to be harmed.

    Public school choice is a good thing, but there’s no reason to be so narrow about it.

  30. Speaking of Macy’s, isn’t it a good thing that instead of everyone having to go to Macy’s, we have “clothing choice”? We can go to Target, Old Navy, or Catherines (for plus sizes), or we can order online, or we can sew our own clothes, or we can even opt for a combination of all the options! Now why can’t we have school choice, too? The overselling Caroline saw of some charter schools doesn’t invalidate all the good reasons to let parents pick where and how their children are educated. Parents sometimes make dreadful clothing choices for their children, but that doesn’t invalidate the point that lots of concerned parents will choose something more appropriate for their own children’s needs than an impersonal bureaucracy would force on all children. Why fight school choice, thus allowing only homeschoolers and rich people to give their children an even moderately-customized education, based on a bad taste from some charter school overhyping in the past?

  31. CarolineSF says:

    Catherine, because the whole package of fads and nostrums pushed by the corporate education reformers is destructive to schools, children and public education. Your question calls for an explanation starting from scratch, which seems more circular than necessary.

    I bring up the “overhyping” of the past to show that these same so-called “reformers” fooled us once.

  32. Stuart Buck says:

    Allowing charter schools and vouchers is not “destructive to schools” or “children” at all. It would destroy “public education” only if tons of people choose alternative schools — but if that is what you think would happen, you aren’t exactly confident that this “public education” of which you speak is meeting very many people’s needs, are you?

    That’s the reason for the “monopoly” point: it’s the essence of bad monopolistic behavior to oppose allowing more than a few percent of people to choose anything else.

  33. I think, charter schools are the best thing that has happened to urban school districts, since they improve pupil learning, increase learning opportunities, and encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods by providing parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.

    Benefits of this school choice include, but are not limited to, providing vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public, creating new professional opportunities for teachers, and so on…

    http://parents4magnolia.org/2011/06/14/not-gulen-charter-schools-our-charter-schools/

  34. That’s opening another whole can of worms. The non-corporate education reformers have been destructive as well. The only fair way to resolve things like “math wars” and “reading wars” and differences of opinion about the efficacy of differentiated instruction is to let people vote with their feet and the tax dollars allocated to their children. To bring up one of my least favorite non-corporate education fads, if you want your child taught Everyday Math or something like it, fine. But don’t trap me into that schooling for my children just because you’re OK with it. I am vehemently not. Because I can homeschool my children for math, I do, specifically to make sure they don’t receive “fuzzy math” mal-instruction. People without my ability/inclination to homeschool would be stuck with the same destructive curriculum if they couldn’t drive a few miles to one of the Core Knowledge charter schools in town. Education can not succeed as a one-size-fits-all endeavor in our diverse country.

  35. oops – “cannot”, not “can not” – while both can be correct grammatically, I definitely meant “cannot”. :)

  36. That was an absurd characterization of my assertion, and that is not the implicit assumption in my assertion. Just for the record.

    I apologize for not being able to read your mind and only having to rely on your words. I’ll take your word that you didn’t mean what you appeared to mean.

    If one wants to start with a monopoly analogy at all: It’s like if Macy’s was the only store in town serving those who didn’t pay extra for exclusive specialty stores, but then was required to provide clothing for every type of hard-to-fit person and people with special clothing needs, and also to feed the shoppers (under an inadequately funded system with incredibly burdensome requirements) and do medical care for anyone who fell ill in their stores (with no funding for medical staff) — and take care of all the needs of shoppers with every type of disability — something like that. Off the top of my head.

    So much ignorance and faulty thinking in one paragraph. Where to start…

    One, I am not using “monopoly” as an analogy, I am using it as a definition. I am clearly, and correctly, stating that public schools meet the definition of a monopoly.

    Two, your analogy is fatally flawed by omission. Here is the other half: Local laws state that every person must go to this Macy’s and accept whatever clothes and services are offered to them unless they go to another store or make the clothes themselves. Also, in the latter two cases, they’re still paying to run the Macy’s anyway.

    Once the analogy is completed, it becomes clear that the Macy’s you describe would indeed *be* a monopoly, with all the problems therein. And, if one uses the principles of economics to predict what would happen, you’d get something along these lines:

    - The clothes offered are one-size-fits-all, with token alterations for wide variations of size.
    - Some sizes simply aren’t available, and so go unserved.
    - Secondary services would be of poor quality.
    - The stores would be rough and constantly deteriorating shape.

    Funny, this sounds an awful lot like what happens in the public school monopoly. Now, you would attribute this to not enough money or commitment or a thousand other reasons. I attribute it to one very simple, proven reason: organizations with captive customer bases will *never* strive to serve the captive customer base. This is the problem that defines monopolies as bad things.

    Only someone who’s bought into the “government is good” religion can deny that this is an economic monopoly. Why do I say this? It requires blind faith in the goodness of public servants to act completely contrary to the incentives presented by being a monopoly. History (not to mention the DMV and Unemployement Office) prove this faith to be completely misplaced.

  37. Stuart Buck says:

    Caroline doesn’t seem to understand what a monopoly is. She seems to think that if the people who work in a monopoly are annoyed at some of the hard-to-serve customers who have nowhere else to go, then it’s not really a monopoly.

    That makes no sense. The Post Office has a monopoly over first-class mail. It doesn’t suddenly become not a monopoly just because the Post Office workers are annoyed when they have to deliver a dirty, barely-legible letter all the way from Alaska to Florida.

  38. Caroline’s got a tough job. She’s trying to defend the indefensible.

    That’s why she has to resort to all those various misrepresentations, rhetorical tricks and purposeful changes of topic. Since monopolies are inevitably abusive of their customers it’s necessary, in order to defend them, to make the alternative look even worse.

    Back when AT&T’s monopoly on business communication was broken one of the tactics AT&T used to try shepherd customers back into the fold was to emphasize AT&T’s reliability implying that at critical, life-and-death moments AT&T’s rivals would inevitably let the customer down.

    But some percentage of the customers, now with a choice, decided that a lower phone bill was worth the risk. History makes it clear that the wise choice for the customer was the lower bill and for society, choice for the phone customer.

    Caroline and her ideological and mercenary confederates have a similar problem.

    If any parents exercise choice, and it works out well for them, other parents will, quite naturally, be intrigued. After all, who doesn’t want to have a choice among alternatives? I’m fairly sure that Caroline and her like recoil from following that particular question to its logical conclusion.

    But she doesn’t want anyone else to do that either because you just can’t tell about people.

  39. Roger Sweeny says:

    I have to defend Caroline here. Traditional public schools are not a pure monopoly. They are different in different places. The more money you have and the more willing to move you are, the more choice in public schools you have.

    Of course, this means that traditional public schools serve the function of transmitting inequality down the generations. Not something I’m a real fan of.

  40. Traditional public schools are not a pure monopoly. They are different in different places. The more money you have and the more willing to move you are, the more choice in public schools you have.

    From an economic standpoint, the fact that one can seriously disrupt their life and move does not negate the fact that the public schools act as a monopoly *within their market*. It’s kind of like the local cable companies. Sure, you *could* move to get away from Comcast, but that’s a pretty high barrier of escape.

    That said, I’m going to step in and defend Caroline too. She’s advancing an argument that I happen to vehemently disagree with. I’ll go after the argument all day long, but not her as a person. There is a difference.

  41. Roger Sweeny says:

    Many public schools do not act like a monopoly “within their market.” Administrators (and teachers) are acutely aware of “what the community wants.”

    Schools elsewhere serve as what economists call “potential competition.” I know that my local pizza joint is not going to try to gouge me. If it does, somebody else will just open up another pizza place down the road, and a lot of people will take their business there.

    Only a fraction of people will move in any one year (though Americans move a lot). Nevertheless, this can exert a lot of pressure on a school system. The more likely people are to move, and the more places they can move to, the more the pressure.

  42. Many public schools do not act like a monopoly “within their market.” Administrators (and teachers) are acutely aware of “what the community wants.”

    But, you see, therein lies the problem. Monopolies are problems for *individual* customers who find their needs poorly met or met at high cost. The community is *not* an actor in the market for education. Neither is the student. It’s the schools (and homeschoolers) providing the service and the parents making the economic decisions.

    Schools elsewhere serve as what economists call “potential competition.” I know that my local pizza joint is not going to try to gouge me. If it does, somebody else will just open up another pizza place down the road, and a lot of people will take their business there.

    Is your local pizza joint buttressed by laws requiring the consumption of pizza 180 days a year and funded by your tax dollars even if you choose to get your pizza elsewhere? No. What would the odds of enough pizza places opening to prevent gouging or substandard pizzas be if the incumbent pizza place had those supports? Not so high, I would think. There goes the potential competition.

    Now, imagine that there were a series of these subsidized, legally protected pizza places that had carved up the nation into no-competition zones. A pizza place from zone 2 couldn’t serve residents from zone 1. To bounce from one to another of these, one would be required to pack up their life and move. How many people would do that, out of 100? Five? Ten, maybe?

    These pizza places would leave individual customers who didn’t like what they had to offer poorly served, as do public schools today. Want gluten free? Tough, we make pizza. Want accelerated courses? Tough, you’re going to get differentiation. Want wine? Tough, we serve soda and beer. Want your kids to do meaningful work instead of yet another diorama? Tough, we believe handling popcicle sticks and shoe boxes is an important life skill.

    The community at large might be very happy with pizza, differentiation, soda and beer, and dioramas. But the *individual* who is not is stuck with one of a few costly options to escape.

    So, yes, public schools are monopolies, and they have the economic problems of monopolies. That some public schools happen to be responsive to their communities doesn’t change that.