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December 30, 2004

school choice

Don Herzog: December 30, 2004

Here is one more reason the left -- and the right! -- ought to be gleeful about charter schools.  I know one of the two founders, an astonishingly talented and committed guy.  But it's a cautionary reminder of how hard and expensive it can be to turn things around for kids in blighted communities.  As the latest fundraising letter says, "our program costs more than a traditional school and more than we receive through our public charter school funding.  We rely on private contributions to support the range of services we offer."


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Posted by: sierra

I'm happy the school is doing well. Still, is there any reason to assume a quality education should be more expensive than traditional public schools?

Posted by: sierra | Dec 30, 2004 4:20:20 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

This school's students are kids who haven't made it in the regular public schools and kids who've already been enmeshed in the criminal justice system. They have a very long school day and run right through the summer, too.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Dec 30, 2004 4:44:51 PM

Posted by: Bill

As far as cost go, also note the class/school sizes at MAPCS:

"Our campuses have fewer than 175 students. Class size ranges from 6 to 16."

Posted by: Bill | Dec 30, 2004 5:06:34 PM

Posted by: Bill

Different point: I happen to have an untested theory that, at least with respect to Christianity, increasing the availability of religious education in the U.S. (i.e. through vouchers or whatever) would actually reduce the influence of cultural conservatism within the polity.

I'm always keen to know what people think of that. This blog might provide an interesting discussion of such an empirical question.

My buddy Eliot once claimed that inventing the Anglican church was the key to secularizing England (to the extent it is, not totally of course). I've sometimes wondered if critics of public support for religious schools in America (not a U.S. state religion!) are ignoring relevant evidence there.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 30, 2004 5:08:18 PM

Posted by: Terrier

I love this, "is there any reason to assume a quality education should be more expensive than traditional public schools?" What do you mean? You think traditional public schools are doing such a great job that more money would just be wasted? Is this "sierra" a plant from one of those teacher's unions that are always opposing change in the schools just so they can shovel Marxism down our children's trusting gullets? :-) On the other hand, I'm hoping to buy a BMW for $6.95 and will as soon as Wally-World makes their Chinese slaves build them. ;-)

Posted by: Terrier | Dec 30, 2004 5:40:37 PM

Posted by: Theodore

School choice is a good thing. The more options parents have in the education of their children the better the education system will be; that is, as long as we hold all schools to a high standard. Charter schools are providing opportunities for many students who are not thriving in the public school system. Many public schools are failing their students, and if redirecting our tax dollars to schools like the Maya Angelou PCS through vouchers will help those students succeed then we need to do just that.

Posted by: Theodore | Dec 30, 2004 6:40:29 PM

Posted by: sierra

Don, sorry if I seemed a little pissy. I just wasn't sure what your point was. (Ditto for Terrier. ;-)

Okay Bill, I'm stumped: how would increased religious education lead to reduced cultural conservatism? (25 words or less, otherwise it won't work. ;-)

Posted by: sierra | Dec 30, 2004 9:08:45 PM

Posted by: Bill

I no longer endorse my own theory. But (1) resentment of secularism, (2) the association of government with "progressive" cultural trends, and (3) general anti-government ideology, might be reinforcing each other in a way that allowing public funding for the religious education of your choice might defuse.

(38 words, sorry)

Posted by: Bill | Dec 30, 2004 10:33:59 PM

Posted by: JennyD

I don't see anything about per-pupil spending, so it's hard to know how much this might cost. But let's think about it. New York City spends $12,000 per pupil. That seems like a decent amount for nine months of learning. So why are kids failing?

Maybe it's because they don't know how to spend the money. Maybe there's actually plenty of money floating around for education, but educators don't know how to spend it. As an education researcher, I think that's true.

Posted by: JennyD | Dec 31, 2004 8:57:03 AM

Posted by: Terrier

I think the point is that we don't need to abandon public schools to innovate AND money does make a difference! Even this charter school must solicit outside funding to provide a quality education. What if we fully funded this school? What if we encouraged all schools to adopt this successful model and funded them sufficiently to do so? Does anyone really think that it doesn't actually cost more money to have small class sizes? Does anyone really think that small class sizes are not an educational advantage? We spend money on stadiums and convention centers, on bombers and missle shields, but we deny that more money will help educate our children. I would like see General Dynamics build a bomber on the money we spend on public education.

Posted by: Terrier | Dec 31, 2004 9:26:08 AM

Posted by: rtr

If New York spends $12,000 per pupil per year that is just incredibly outrageous. That’s $120,000 a year for a class size of 10. $240,000 for a class size of 20. $360,000 for a class size of 30.

Say a “decent” teacher salary is $50,000 (which is almost $67k for a full time 12 month job) and a decent class size is 25, where’s the other quarter of a million dollars going for each classroom each year! It’s unfathomable that expenses beyond the salary of the teacher would amount to more than 25% extra. Like I said before there has evolved a lecherous class with economic and ideological interests opposed to the educational interests of children.

But that outrageous inefficiency is typical of government involvement in education, health care, or whatever.

As a start the education budget should be massively cut to $5,000 per student. Each student gets a $5,000 voucher they can be spend on any educational institution. That’s well within range of a lot of top notch private catholic high schools. Over twenty years its cut to zero and every family becomes responsible for their own children's education.

How is it fair that a family living below the poverty line steals $60,000 a year from their neighbor’s through the democratic process for five kids? If it wasn’t “stealing” it would be voluntarily raised with no government intervention. Why should a family with no kids be forced to pay for families with kids?

Nobody cares anymore. The system is corrupt through and through. There is no “right” to education. Right’s do not make serfs of others. All concerned individuals should get the numbers of their local school districts and States and find out where the money is going. Maybe some recently graduated assistant district attorneys can bring the teachers Unions and others up on charges of racketeering, antitrust, etc., the same charged members of the Mafia would face.

Posted by: rtr | Dec 31, 2004 11:34:55 AM

Posted by: Jay Cline

What Public Schools need is, not innovation nor money, but competition. When I was in the PS system, long ago, the guiding philosophy was 80/20; get 80% of the kids educated with 20% of the effort. Now, with charter schools and vouchers, and with my own children being victimized by this shoddy system, that ratio has changed to 85/30. That is why vouchers are such a good idea. If you aint' doing the job (quality education 100% across the spectrum) move aside and let someone else do it.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Dec 31, 2004 12:01:53 PM

Posted by: Jay Cline

Also (just read rtr's comments), portable vouchers are a good idea, but the notion of abandoning public financing for education is ridiculous. Educational ability does not correlate to financial ability. An educated populous is a decided benefit to a democratic society (read your Jefferson). Education is and should be a right. It's just that this monolithic system we have in place doesn't work and is in conflict to 180 degrees with any notion of democratic ideals.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Dec 31, 2004 12:08:40 PM

Posted by: rtr

Well, if education is and should be a right, I don’t see how there can be any doubt whatsoever that abortion is and should be outlawed in all cases including rape and endangerment of the mother’s life as murder. Where does education come from? Do we have the right to go to the houses of the authors of this blog and demand our education? If they refuse do we have the right to threaten fines, imprisonment, or death of other human beings to obtain our “right” to education? Does education just magically permeate the minds of everyone when the “right to” education is enforced? Per the analogy, the populace demanding the right to education is no different than a fetus demanding the right to live, but one is much more clearly established on conflictual "rights" bases.

Posted by: rtr | Dec 31, 2004 12:28:29 PM

Posted by: Terrier

"Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog." - Mark Twain

Posted by: Terrier | Dec 31, 2004 12:30:20 PM

Posted by: rtr

If an educated populace is a benefit to democratic society, how is not a fed and sheltered populace a benefit to democratic society? If public financing is required for education why is not public financing required for more basic human “needs”? Why aren’t supermarkets public financed? Don’t children need a place to live before they need an education? Why shouldn’t the government take over the housing market? We can seize the (I’ll guess average market value of 400k) houses of the authors of this blog and relocate them to the proportionally equal tenements that is proportionally equal to what is spent per student’s education.

Perhaps we need some mandates on publicly financed teachers: their automobiles cannot be worth more than 25k, their houses cannot be worth more than 200k, etc. etc.

An alleged non-”right” to education is pure Totalitarianism. That portable vouchers are controvesial shows the degree to how that Totaliarianism has increased. Just like we buy our groceries from the supermarket, our houses from construction companies, our electronic gizmos galore from manufacturers, there’s no reason to think most wouldn’t similarly purchase education for their children. There’s nothing “stopping” schools with zero government involvement in education just like there’s nothing stopping food being produced and sold with zero government involvement in supermarkets

Posted by: rtr | Dec 31, 2004 12:54:49 PM

Posted by: rtr

So as Don reminded us “how hard and expensive it can be to turn things around for kids in blighted communities” why is it not similarly hard for kids in blighted communities to purchase food, DVD players, Playstation 2s, cds, etc. etc.? Quick answer: because the government isn’t artificially increasing the costs tenfold through corrupt inefficiency. Maybe some people need to get out more and volunteer as mentors in “blighted communities”. Mr. Rogers ain’t got **** up on their neighborhoods.

Posted by: rtr | Dec 31, 2004 1:11:49 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu


"Say a “decent” teacher salary is $50,000 (which is almost $67k for a full time 12 month job) and a decent class size is 25, where’s the other quarter of a million dollars going for each classroom each year! It’s unfathomable that expenses beyond the salary of the teacher would amount to more than 25% extra."

This report (found via Google) says that:
- NYC pupil:teacher ratio is more like 12:1. However, according to this class size is more like 20-32 for elementary and 28-34 for middle and high school. I'm not sure what accounts for the difference, but some is special ed classes (see below)
- 44% of the costs go to paying teachers, which works out to about $50K per teacher
- In NYC, 12% of the students are classified as special ed. Special ed takes 25% of the overall spending. Taking out special ed reduces cost per pupil to a bit less than $7.7K per student, according to the report...which still gives around $190K per year per class, using rtr's hypothetical of 25 students. Meaning that for these general ed students only 26% of the spending is going to the teachers. Although rtr is wrong to ask about the extra quarter mill, there's still a lot left over after paying the teacher.

So, although rtr may be off on the numbers somewhat, the author of the report (disclaimer: Manhatten is a Conservative think tank, isn't it?) reaches the same general conclusion.

There is a well-founded suspicion that the lack of money is the least of the Board of Education’s (and our) problems. Money matters, but isn’t everything. As now operated, many people think the system tolerates considerable waste and incompetence. There is in short a good deal of skepticism about whether the BOE, as it is presently structured and managed, is capable of delivering higher quality educational goods whatever resources are placed at its disposal.

I'm inclined to agree. However, from what I can tell, it's not like the teachers are blowing the money at the track, either. Stories of teachers paying for supplies out of their own pockets are not uncommon.

I wouldn't go so far as rtr in calling public funding for education "pure Totalitarianism" - the "Total" in Totalitarianism would mean government control of all the other stuff mentioned...but then rtr should also recall that we do have government interference in food and housing. Remember the Farm Bill? The mortgage interest deduction? ;^)

On the other hand, I don't think a "right" to a publicly funded education is a useful way to think about the problem either. I view it as a Public Good, but not a right. The coercive nature of taxation should be taken into account as a cost of this Public Good, but should not automatically bar using taxation to fund it. Vouchers are still public funding. Rights come into it insofar as once we've decided to fund a Public Good, there is a right to equal access.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Dec 31, 2004 1:55:43 PM

Posted by: Jay Cline

rtr misunderstands the notion of public finance. Public finance is not public ownership; public finance is not monolithic institutions; public finance is not coercive taxation. Public finance is a partial redistribution of wealth, for the greater good, in an economic system that, while it is the best economic system humanity has yet come up with, is far from perfect. Libertarian notions ignore a) our basic humanity and charity towards each other and b) that basic economic theory draws a very definitive line between micro and macro economics. What is good for the individual is not necessarily good for society. Providing public portable vouchers, financed through taxation or other social revenue, is no different than Social Security, unemployemnt insurance, aid to low-income familys and other "entitlements". The fact that these programs are grossly inefficient does not belay their importance. So, yes, basic human needs like food and shelter are public goods, if not explicitly rights. And I paid $125,000 for my house.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Dec 31, 2004 2:24:14 PM

Posted by: oliver

The example of that charter school is like NASA and the United States' accomplishment of putting men on the moon. It inspires, and it is a proof of principle in an academic sense, but like the moon landing it doesn't establish a method for putting every child in America on the moon, which is akin to our goal for the school system. Regretfully I doubt something analagous to the "X prize" is going to solve the problem for the schools, because I don't see how a single school can't test the economies and sociologies of scale that will make or break an educational system.

Posted by: oliver | Dec 31, 2004 2:29:28 PM

Posted by: oliver

"...how a single school CAN test..." (not "can't test")

Posted by: oliver | Dec 31, 2004 2:30:56 PM

Posted by: oliver

I guess inspiration is what we need to get the voters of an entire district or state to perform on its kids an experiment of the necessary scale. To the extent the stellar school cost a bundle and recruited resources through a culture of activism that won't scale, I'm less inspired...but I suppose I need to read more about.

Posted by: oliver | Dec 31, 2004 2:40:10 PM

Posted by: Jay Cline

The inspiration needed to get the voters of an entire district to perform is already in place, restrained ony by vested interests in the current monolith. Let the voters vote with their share of the public finance.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Dec 31, 2004 2:51:19 PM

Posted by: rtr

Jim Hu makes a fair post. The bandying of “rights” the left has claimed for “public goods” (such as health care and non-universal special interest groups such as race) can just as easily come back to haunt in a totalitarian fashion. The government educational establishment has clearly and absolutely failed as evidenced by what the general populace conceives as “rights”. They have no clue in general even through the university level. A charge of ideological corruption is easily made. Of course, it is in the interest of the State to have every group claiming rights at the expense of other ill-defined groups (such as the general taxpayer), and this is what we see of farmers, renters, students, it just goes on and on and on and on.... Thus the precedent is set for any and all claims for further intervention. The inflation of the weight (if you were to put it on a scale or measure it by lines) of all the laws probably is greater than the inflation of the number of printed dollar dollar bills y‘all. This ensures that the government Aristocratic class has jobs and power. Can anyone reasonably maintain the government of the U.S. has not become manifestly corrupt throughout? The pork, the subsidies, the military invasions, the pay raises, the never ending accounting scandals....

I’ll take it that the idea of mandating limits on the value of teacher’s cars and homes is not that unrealistic, hell let’s mandate domestically manufactured vehicles as another condition of employment as a public education teacher, does not spark an ounce of horror to the conditioned dependency of pervasive political invasion at any level. The grade school question of “what would you do if you were president?“ is no different than the plotting of dictators of ages past. We mandate district residences for public school teachers already (where they can live). The average individual life is now swamped by a cesspool of government interference and corruption. I think the Founders would be horrified. And here is the Left who’s primary political motivation is to give the general citizenry ever more corrupt governmental interference, to take ever more choices and decisions away from individual actors. The fact is the Left won for good decades ago and now it is time to enjoy the Spoils.

Personally, I think it’s highly questionable whether the U.S. has gone too far and it is only a matter of time until the same bureaucratic inefficiency that suffocated the Roman Republic takes its course here as well. I’d say it’s borderline and a universal health care system would tip the scales for good. The precedent for looting and forcefully controlling has been signed into Law everywhere you look. I don’t think the general citizenry would even care if a military general arose out of a chaos of carnage several nuclear weapons being detonated in cities would cause. What does it matter when it’s an up or down majority vote whether you pay four years of property taxes in three years in Michigan. What’s preventing tax rates from being voted 100% pure socialism? Nothing. The protection of the Constitution of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is gone. Go give a cop the “L” sign to the forehead calling him “a loser” and see. Then ask for his name and badge number. Take a quick glance at the trend of taxes as a percentage of GDP from 1900 to 2000. That’s all one needs to see to realize that this country is in serious trouble. The European democracies too are sitting atop a huge Lie, an even bigger one. In economics that’s called a bubble. And they are everywhere, in the housing market, the stock markets, the currency markets, and the educational system too. You might have room to maneuver when a doubling of tax rates brings them to 50% and a slicing in half of interest rates brings them to 5%. But you are at the edge when a doubling of tax rates brings them to 100% and a slicing in half of the interest rates brings them close to 0%.

Don’t forget to say “thank you” to the Left. It might be a jailable offense not to some day soon.

Posted by: rtr | Dec 31, 2004 3:09:38 PM

Posted by: mynym

You cannot buy treating a child with love and respect. You cannot buy a teacher's love of knowledge and a wish to impart it. Socrates did not need state funding, although he sardonically noted at the end that if anything, he should have gotten it.

I think that failing schools are just a feature of a decadent culture, a declining civilization. Those living in a decadent culture look out for themselves, not their posterity. They would rather kill their posterity. You cannot mix a little more copper in the coin to buy your way out of decadence. And it will not matter who spends the money if the general culture is decadent.

Yet focusing on an intangible like parental choice is at least a good start, as opposed to the left's typical materialistic response.

Posted by: mynym | Dec 31, 2004 3:18:25 PM

Posted by: mynym

"...the same bureaucratic inefficiency that suffocated the Roman Republic takes its course here as well. I’d say it’s borderline..."

Yes, Republics end. It was a pretty good Republic and probably has more than a few generations left in it yet though.

"Plato says that from the exaggerated license which people call liberty, tyrants spring up as from a root...and that at last such liberty reduces a nation to slavery. Everything in excess is changed into its opposite...For out of such an ungoverned populace one is usually chosen as a leader...someone bold and unscrupulous...who curries favor with the people by giving them other men's property. To such a man....the protection of public office is given, and continually renewed. He...emerges as a tyrant over the very people who raised him to power."
--Cicero (De Republica, i, 2.)

Posted by: mynym | Dec 31, 2004 3:24:13 PM

Posted by: Jay Cline

Quoting long dead poets and holding up vanquished republics as some sort of ideal is fine, except when you remember that slavery was a common, and commonly accepted, practice in both Ancient Athens and Rome and those long dead poets and philosphers had their share in the slavery pool. And the enfranchisement was limited to 1) men 2) with wealth. Ah, those were the days of democracy and freedom and liberty! When the anguished voices of the non-plebes could be crushed at the River Siler.

And, of course we should throw out the baby with the bath water as the public finance of "entitlements" can only prop up the ambitions of the Aristocratic class with jobs and power, taking more choices and decisions away from the individual actors who really need them.

I tell ya Edith, those were the days.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Dec 31, 2004 3:51:05 PM

Posted by: patrick

Why should we assume that parents know what they are talking about when it comes to picking education?

Privatization of education in South America hasn't worked. In fact, the public educational systems of Europe do a fantastic job, and Asian/Eastern European schools do a much better job with math.

It is simply silly to look at all the public educational systems that a do a much better job than our system and then assume that competition or free market mechanisms will fix it, especially considering that privatization experiments haven't really worked when made general.

Greater parental satisfaction is a not a particularly good indicator of educational quality.

Further, marking out per student spending in an entire system is actually very, very deceptive, for a couple reasons.

First, special education students take up a disproportional amount of spending, and rightly so.

Second, as with an discussion of means, it ignores wide differentials between individual school systems. Contrary, to the mythology of anti-public school advocates, failing urban schools spend less per pupil IN THE CLASSROOM than suburban schools. Once one eliminates the extra cost of crumbling infrastructure and providing for security, public schools with minority students are generally less well financed than affluent mostly white schools.

Anyway, as a public school teacher, I am unsure how to fix the system. However, the idea that competition will fix the system...or that sucking out the top students in any system for select charter schools will fix the system grossly underestimates the scope of the problem.

And if we look at private medical insurance, it seems fairly obvious that waste, corporate handouts, and corruption will INCREASE if we privatize education, so I am pretty skeptical that's the solution.

Posted by: patrick | Dec 31, 2004 5:42:07 PM

Posted by: sierra

Just got back & am catching up. Patrick says: "First, special education students take up a disproportionate amount of spending, and rightly so." On the contrary, I think special ed is bloated by overdiagnoses of learning disabilities. About every tenth K-12 student is currently being diagnosed as learning disabled, and of those only a tenth or so have classic diagnoses such as retardation, autism, blindness or deafness. What's more, the tests used to detect learning disabilities typically measure severe discrepancies between IQ and achievement levels, begging the question of whether it may stem from instructional failures. (There's actually no standard definition for LDs, a problem in itself.)

And there's every incentive for this to happen. From the schools' point of view, the feds offer them additional funding (~$60 billion overall) the more LD students they have. From the parent's point of view, their underperforming kids often get special attention, a free tutor, extra time on tests, and freedom from many disciplinary rules (all of which are a bad signal to be sending to "at risk" kids). So it should come as no surprise that a lot of affluent kids are being diagnosed as LD these days, because their parents are getting skilled at gaming the system. Kids from families with incomes over $100K are twice as likely to receive special help on their SATs, for crying out loud.

I'll never forget taking my daughter to the local children's library and watching her interact with all the other normal-seeming kids, all while listening to the parents talking about how they were coping with their kid's various learning disabilities. It struck me as largely a yuppie conceit.

Posted by: sierra | Dec 31, 2004 11:17:21 PM

Posted by: sierra

Terrier quotes Mark Twain: "Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail...." Okay, I'll see you and raise you: "In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards." Same guy.

Happy New Year,

Posted by: sierra | Dec 31, 2004 11:23:06 PM

Posted by: JennyD

Consider that education is at the moment like medicine a century ago. Leeches, non-sterile environments, no anesthesia, all that. Some patients didn't die, so those doctors and hospitals were considered "better." But the treatments were untested, based on guesswork.

That is the state of education at the moment. We know very little about how to "treat" kids to learning in a systemic way. Some teachers manage to figure out good ways, most don't. Some schools manage to get a group of teachers to figure out a few things together, and then that's a better school. Some schools are lucky to get a population of kids with advantages. The fact that those kids perform well is hardly a reflection of the school's good work.

So let people choose schools. It doesn't hurt anything. It might squeeze some waste out of the system. It might maximize resources. It might even push the profession to think a lot harder about improving the real work of teaching through careful study and research, and revision of how teachers are taught, and how they teach.

BTW, for a great example of why spending more money with improving teaching won't work, look at Newark, NJ. About seven years ago, the state's high court ruled that the district needed to get as much money as suburban districts. The cash flowed into Newark, increasing per-pupil spending by nearly 20 percent. What happened to student learning? Nothing. Stayed right where it was.

But in the last year, student achievement went up. And even school administrators admit that it might be because of the pressure from charters, and from the demands of No Child Left Behind.

Posted by: JennyD | Jan 1, 2005 10:32:28 AM

Posted by: noah

Vouchers without restrictions other than a prohibition of sedition (the US constitution). It worked for this nation in the aftermath of WW2. Why not trust the people to find their way in a world that is clearly epistemologicaly challenged?

Posted by: noah | Jan 1, 2005 11:05:09 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

One might just as easily turn patrick’s question around and ask why we should think educational professionals know what they’re talking about. If schools of education are the standard, I think we have good reason to harbor doubts.

One can always point to one school or school system doing better about this or that than another. Moreover, the needs of special education students and of poor urban schools versus most middle class students in most middle class schools is indeed a bit of an apples and oranges sort of thing, though one can diddle with the statistics in such cases as well.

On the question of waste (however defined) or appropriate spending levels, however, the one thing we can say about competitive markets is that they provide valuable cost and price information. Even assuming we could agree what the standards for educational quality should be, if it is true that we don’t have much of a sense what we should be spending per student to get there (and I believe it is), then competition is one way of getting some better data. As long as government schools are a de facto monopoly, that data will be unavailable.

Now, students are not lab rats, and different sorts of students require different sorts of educational resources and costs. But returning to my first observation, I’m inclined to believe that parental satisfaction is a much better indication of educational quality than just about any other index. In general, parents care far more about their children than do those children’s teachers or, for that matter, doctors (to borrow patrick’s comparison to health care.) I have a great deal of faith in the choices most parents would make for their children in either regard if they had enough options to make meaningful choices. And I believe that the choices they did make would serve to improve the quality and control the costs of education (and health care) over time.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 1, 2005 11:39:49 AM

Posted by: oliver

A potential weakness in that argument from the general behavior of parents would be if it is the education of the exceptional students that differentiate one system from another and if what makes students exceptional lack of parental concern. There's also the problem of geographic clustering of exceptional students. But then perhaps even the average crack mother cares for the quality of her child's education....

Posted by: oliver | Jan 1, 2005 1:18:31 PM

Posted by: sierra

Pardon the redundancy. Terrier asks: "What if we encouraged all schools to adopt this successful model and funded them sufficiently to do so?" Most likely they would fail. Don describes the co-founder as an "astonishingly talented and committed guy," and that's something money can't buy. (Same thing happened with Head Start: great results from test cases run by highly motivated staff, fairly indifferent results when applied broadly.) And what do you mean by "all schools," anyway? A guiding philosophy that is geared to dealing with marginal students in frequent trouble with the law is not going to work in suburban communities.

"Does anyone really think that it doesn't actually cost more money to have small class sizes? Does anyone really think that small class sizes are not an educational advantage?" I do. Catholic schools get great results with larger classes, one of whom is my wife. Anyway, concentrating on the aggregate teacher/student ratio is silly. Sometimes it makes sense to have a small class size, and sometimes it doesn't. E.g., You don't gain all that much from teaching Econ 101 to a class of ten undergrads rather than a lecture hall of over a hundred, while it might make a lot more sense for advanced courses. Class size is not much more than a recent enthusiasm of an educational establishment flailing around for answers.

Posted by: sierra | Jan 1, 2005 1:42:42 PM

Posted by: oliver

"School choice" would be nice but I don't think it deserves to be an "ought"--like we "ought" to be able to choose. We're talking about providing staff and infrastructure to house and occupy for half the day every child in this country age 6-18 for 200 or so days per year--a huge burden for the state a priori. This is a post-office size endeavor--a national defense size endeavor--and perhaps more sensitive and vital than both. Should we be able to choose who polices our neighborhoods? Walled communities with private armies? (Uh, no.) State monopoly doesn't imply absence of choice. The Commander in Chief has the airforce and the navy and the army to choose from, the Postmaster General has parcel post ground and first-class air-mail, etc

Posted by: oliver | Jan 1, 2005 1:46:19 PM

Posted by: Jay Cline

"great results from test cases run by highly motivated staff, fairly indifferent results when applied broadly". In a society that values independence (universal franchise in governance, capitalism in economics), wouldn't it just make sense to leverage that social preference toward motivation? What can be more motivational for quality teachers than the fear of losing business if they don't maintain that quality?

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 1, 2005 1:51:44 PM

Posted by: Jay Cline


Question: why are all the good students leaving?

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 1, 2005 1:54:52 PM

Posted by: sierra

olivier says: "perhaps even the average crack mother cares for the quality of her child's education." I certainly expect crack mothers who are indifferent to their kids' education would benefit from school choice as well, since choosier parents will drive the market.

Posted by: sierra | Jan 1, 2005 4:51:06 PM

Posted by: oliver

It's obvious to me that 'choosier parents will drive the market" when they outnumber the apathetic ones, but the reason I earlier invoked "geographic clustering" is that parental apathy/ignorance/preoccupation can be chronic in neighborhoods and/or whole districts--or this is my impression. In such an environment, how is "the market" going to work and how does it lead to good schools?

Posted by: oliver | Jan 1, 2005 5:09:48 PM

Posted by: mynym

"Quoting long dead poets and holding up vanquished republics as some sort of ideal is fine, except when you remember that slavery was a common, and commonly accepted, practice in both Ancient Athens and Rome and those long dead poets and philosphers had their share in the slavery pool."

Slavery was practiced in the American Republic and yet that does not refute every idea of its philosophers. Infanticide is allowed now, yet the same applies.

I still note that Socrates did not need State funding to teach. People with a love of trying to seek and find knowledge and then imparting that to others cannot be bought. It is not a tangible thing. The best that can be hoped for is trying to let the natural love of parents for their posterity work and at a minimum, not work against it. I.e., parental school choice. And if parents are narcissistic spendthrifts who do not care then there is nothing to be done. That is just the way things get in decadent cultures. Yes, you have to look to history some.

Your arguments for rejecting historical knowledge are odd. The international history of slavery is more than a buzzword for Evil or a way of rejecting all past experience.

Posted by: mynym | Jan 1, 2005 5:54:21 PM

Posted by: mynym

"In such an environment, how is "the market" going to work and how does it lead to good schools?"

Ummm, it doesn't. And the State trying to come to the rescue probably wouldn't work either.

Posted by: mynym | Jan 1, 2005 6:01:32 PM

Posted by: sierra

oliver asks: "how is 'the market' going to work " when the majority of a neighborhood's parents are apathetic? People tend to become apathetic when they don't have any options, so I reject that premise. Even so, majorities don't make the sort of make-or-break difference in markets that they do in politics. If even a small percentage of parents were to flee, the school would have to respond to the threat of an even larger percentage fleeing as well. Competition would lead to uncertainty on the part of providers, which would be a healthy development.

Posted by: sierra | Jan 1, 2005 6:36:14 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu

Patrick writes:

"the public educational systems of Europe do a fantastic job, and Asian/Eastern European schools do a much better job with math"

So...what should we/can we learn from our overseas colleagues? I found this report(it's a bit old, but I think the general picture is still accurate) on some of the differences.

Some of the differences are related to one of the features that many have objected to about NCLB: high-stakes standardized testing.

Transplanting features from foreign systems should not be done blindly. We have to ask: Are the differences transplantable? I've often wondered if a Canadian-style health care system would really be doable here because I have a patriotic faith that Americans will be more creative at cheating the system than Canadians :^). In this case, I think we have to ask not only whether it would work, but also: What do we give up? One of the important differences in the US is the sense of social and economic mobility we have. Some of this is based on our love for the reinvention stories - people who overcome hardships and their own bad choices earlier in life to reach success. The downside of this is the message that what you do now isn't important - you can always come back later.

I think the sense that these options would be closed off is part of why Americans find it kind of creepy to think that a test put together by a committee of bureaucrats will determine what their kids lives will be like. We also don't like the sense of lost childhood that comes with these testing systems...the idea that a 12-year old should be obsessed with a national exam is unappealling. But perhaps that may be what it takes if we are concerned by global competition.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 1, 2005 7:29:46 PM

Posted by: superdestroyer

School choice is the red herring of the right in the US. Why? Because if hand very child a voucher for $5K, the demand of good established private schools goes up but the supply does not go up. The supply of unproven, experimental schools goes up.

What are you left with in a voucher system? Parents camping in front of private or charter schools for days before the start of application time. Families where every child is not only in a different school but in a different type of school system. Families unable to move cities because they will end up at the back of the line for the established private schools or charters in a new town.

Vouchers will help the students who truly want to learn but are trapped in pathetic urban schools but that benefit comes with a huge price.

Posted by: superdestroyer | Jan 1, 2005 8:27:56 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu


the demand of good established private schools goes up but the supply does not go up. The supply of unproven, experimental schools goes up.

This is defining the question to get the answer you want. New schools by definition cannot be "established" or "proven". However, you might see an increase in schools like the one in the original post. You might see new schools with established and proven teachers who move. You might see a few more slots in established and proven schools...and not just private ones.

Have your scenarios appeared in the few and limited experiments with vouchers (i.e. Milwaukee and Cleveland)? I don't think so, and different schools will have different admissions policies. If I was running a school, why would I care where a family was in line when I decided on who gets a slot? From what I've read, many of the existing programs use lotteries among those who qualify.

So, what's the "huge price"? Compared to what? The current performance of our schools? Is equality of opportunity to be extended to preventing the students who really want to learn from doing so because we can't save all the students?

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 1, 2005 9:13:40 PM

Posted by: mynym

"Some of the differences are related to one of the features that many have objected to about NCLB: high-stakes standardized testing."

You make a good point. There are more stories like this:

"TUMPAT, Sat. - Was exam pressure the reason why Siti Nurulain Hafizah Che Rauf strangled herself to death?

The 12-year-old was found at 7.30pm yesterday with a length of nylon rope around her neck.

At her feet was an exercise book with two lines written repeatedly: "Aku anak bodoh" and "Belajar tak pandai".

A police spokeman said the Standard Six pupil, from Kampung Dalam Rhu, was preparing for the
Primary School Assessment Test (UPSR).
Neighbours helped to send her to the district
hospital where a post-mortem indicated that death was due to asphyxiation."
(New Straits Times (Malaysia)
September 5, 2004, Sunday
Prime news; Pg. 6
Exam pressure linked to suicide)

I think that most Americans are a long way from strangling themselves to death over a math test, though. Comparisons with other nations may not be of the worth that some people seem to think they are.

Posted by: mynym | Jan 2, 2005 10:58:32 AM

Posted by: mynym

"Are the differences transplantable?"

Exactly, there are differences between nationalities and even races. The Left admits this in various ways, while denying it for the sake of some pretentious vanity about how tolerant they are. In that denial as well as generally the Left tends towards totalitarianism, totality, treating all the same in the name of egalitarianism.

The American Founders wanted separation of powers, separation piled on more separations with each community making the discriminations it needs to, as it needs to. Because each one may well be different and this helps to filter out abuse of power, hopefully.

Leftists seem to turn the nationalistic impulse that recognizes differences, something that can be good or bad or used for good or bad, into a blind internationalism instead. And they often seem to assume that a blind internationalism is good, all the time. Applied on the local level that means that the decisions of parents and communities (local tribes/states) are minimized in favor of the federal government (interstate) making all discriminations through the federal system, like the federal judiciary.

For you know, without the federal judiciary Americans would be forcing everyone's children to worship Jesus while killing gay kids. So it's a good thing that the always wise and benevolent American judiciary takes more power to stop all that from happening.

Sheew! It gives me shivers just thinking about it. The judiciary will have to stop school choice too for the sake of separation of church and state. That's good, because otherwise Americans will probably start killing atheists.

Posted by: mynym | Jan 2, 2005 11:16:19 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I suppose there is this much truth to superdestroyer’s concern. Quickly unleashing a great deal of pent up demand will result in a temporary inadequacy of supply. Over time, however, the notion that increased demand would not result in an increased supply is simply wrong.

In many relevant respects, education is just another service industry. People get comfortable with monopolies and highly regulated services to the extent that they do, more or less, provide the services and their customers tend to believe that their faults and failings are just an inevitable part of the price they must pay for those services. They also get frustrated when those services are de-regulated or the monopoly is broken. Think telephone services or the airline industry. Indeed, I would not argue that such deregulated services are always better in every single respect even after the dust settles. Same examples. I suppose there are those who would prefer to return to Ma Bell and the days of half-empty flights at much higher prices, but I am not among them.

The devil we know, however, when it comes to K through 12 education, is a government monopoly ‘controlled’ by captive regulators which even its staunchest defenders concede fails to perform at even a minimally acceptable level in some circumstances. The fact that any change from the status quo will involve some inevitable problems and some likely risks is not much of a counter-example in the face of that reality. Most of the conjecture as to how serious or how likely those problems and risks would be is merely that; that is, mere conjecture without adequate supporting evidence.

Turning briefly to the question what the minimally acceptable level of K through 12 education should be (or, for that matter, what the optimal level should be), it seems to me that we need to be clear about several issues. First, no one-size-fits-all answer will work for all students. It will either be set too high or too low or, in some cases (e.g., special education, learning disability and even gifted and talented students) entirely inappropriate. Moreover, reasonable people can reasonably disagree about what any sort of core curriculum for most students should include. On the other hand, would anyone disagree that we should not be graduating students from high school who remain functionally illiterate or are incapable of performing elementary arithmetic computations or have next to no knowledge of civics or history or the natural sciences?

One last point for now. It is a commonplace observation that one of the primary historical purposes of public education has been socialization. It is left, the wags continue, to the universities to de-program those of us who make it that far. (Ironically, one of the other primary historical purposes in protestant America was so that people would be able to read the Bible.) Industrialization and its aftermath have increasingly required a ‘better educated’ work force than a predominantly agrarian society required, and the notion that education is a prerequisite to being a productive and self-supporting member of society has predominated ever since. (Note, however, that none of these reasons pay even lip service to the notion that education is an intrinsic good.) The question therefore occurs whether we might simply have inherited an historical institution (to wit, the public school system) that is itself increasingly ill adapted to meet our contemporary and future educational objectives.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 2, 2005 11:25:57 AM

Posted by: Jay Cline

Superdestroyer says

"School choice is the red herring of the right in the US. Why? Because if hand very child a voucher for $5K, the demand of good established private schools goes up but the supply does not go up. The supply of unproven, experimental schools goes up.

What are you left with in a voucher system?"

On supply and demand, you are absolutely correct, except you stop before the process plays itself out. Increasing the supply of unproven schools IS the point. Because in a free market, they will either get proven (ie successful) or fail. And then we are left with proven schools. The only thing proven about the current status quo is that current schools have essentially failed, yet they still exist and remain entrenched, a function more of politics than economics. Why? Because they are not subject to the market forces that cull the failures. And that is the point.

What are we left with in a voucher system? Something we all want; schools that have been proven to be successful, not a failure.

As far as being on the right, ok, I am. But only in the same fashion as Sam Nunn and Zell Miller and other bluedog Democrats. Please let's not devolve into high school sports mentality on such important issues.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 2, 2005 12:56:23 PM

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