Misunderstanding Markets cntd.

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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79 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick says:

    The government already subsidizes every aspect of private collegiate education, from research grants to tax policy to student loans to Pell grants.

    What’s the difference between a voucher and a Pell grant, pray tell?Report

  2. Avatar Patrick says:

    Apart, of course, from the fact the grant can be used anywhere. But if we want to affirm our commitment to public education, why not require Pell grants be spent at public schools?Report

  3. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Well first of all, Pell grants don’t take money out of the public education coffers. For instance, when I use a Pell grant to go to Harvard, for instance, it doesn’t suck money out of my local university. It comes from the Federal government. That’s not how most voucher programs would be structured. Then again, perhaps we need to rethink how Pell’s are used – rather than using them as an example of something that is working.Report

  4. … when I use a Pell grant to go to Harvard, for instance, it doesn’t suck money out of my local university. It comes from the Federal government.

    This seems mistaken. In the first place, the money for public schools also comes from the government; it’s not as if they’ve got their own funding sources. (Well, with the exception of Beverly Hills H.S., which – I seem to recall – has its own oil well.) Moreover, a student who chooses to go to Harvard on a Pell Grant does take money away from his or her local university in at least one sense, since by losing out on that student the state school also loses out on the money that the Pell Grant would have provided. Indeed it strikes me that the two cases are pretty much identical along the relevant dimensions.

    … perhaps we need to rethink how Pell’s are used – rather than using them as an example of something that is working.

    What do you mean by this? Are you proposing that private institutions be even more closed off to poor would-be students than they already are? Is there anything in favor of this position besides sheer consistency of logic?Report

  5. “Well, with the exception of Beverly Hills H.S., which – I seem to recall – has its own oil well.” No. You’re thinking of Bayside High from Saved By the Bell. Get your pop culture references straight!

    Beyond that, I obviously agree with you and Patrick.Report

  6. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Local schools are funded almost entirely through local taxes, and when vouchers are used, that money is taken from the local school budget and given to a private school instead. That drains money directly from the local whereas a Pell is a Federally run program.

    Are you proposing that private institutions be even more closed off to poor would-be students than they already are?

    Actually, Pell grants don’t make private school possible for poorer students. They are far too small to do that. What they do is subsidize scholarships offered by private schools, who would otherwise need to provide more financial aid. I don’t think there’s any way to reasonably say that a $30,000 tuition bill is going to be dented much by a $2000 Pell grant. (But if you add up all the savings a private institution makes on not having to provide those extra chunks of $2000, well that’s a different story).

    It’s important to examine who is actually being subsidized – is it in fact the student or is it the institution?Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The point of a college degree from a solid state school seems to be nothing more than to communicate “I have middle class values and am trainable”.

    The point of a college degree from an Ivy League schools seems to be little more than to communicate “I have upper class values.”

    I’ve worked with managers who have told me that they would rather hire someone who worked for four years as an assistant manager at McDonald’s right out of high school than yet another dumbass with a degree in (insert Liberal Art here)… but they couldn’t hire someone they knew would be reliable because company policy was to hire someone with a Bachelor’s.

    The signal given by a degree is changing. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the university bubble burst before I die.Report

  8. Avatar greginak says:

    E.D.- You could also mention that there are many reasons why schools perform the way they do, aside from the actual school. Also choice is limited in schools from grade to HS, by location, transportation, etc. While i can choose whatever potato chip is in my market for the same cost of going to the store, school choice is limted by other factors.

    Defenders of free markets as a cure all would be well served by trying to look at each situation as unique (like the real world) and assess what are the market factors in that specfic situation.

    John-We could make college or trade school free or on a sliding scale depending on income to all who want to enter. That would solve the problem.Report

  9. Local schools are funded almost entirely through local taxes, and when vouchers are used, that money is taken from the local school budget and given to a private school instead. That drains money directly from the local whereas a Pell is a Federally run program.

    That misses my point, which is that it’s money that would go to “local” schools if students had decided to attend public schools in-state. Would restricting Pell Grants in that sort of way be more just?

    It’s important to examine who is actually being subsidized – is it in fact the student or is it the institution?

    How about both?Report

  10. Defenders of free markets as a cure all would be well served by trying to look at each situation as unique (like the real world) and assess what are the market factors in that specfic [sic] situation.

    Well I’m not such a person, but that’s just what I’m trying to do.Report

  11. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    John – good point. It’s not a direct comparison by any means, but it is a good argument against subsidizing private universities vis a vis Pell grants. (which, er, I guess is the answer to your last question too)

    greginak – also good points. I’ve talked about some of that stuff in previous posts, actually, but yes it falls right into the problem with markets and school choice that I’m speaking of here.

    Regarding making all school free – I see no reason why not to for state run schools. I think we should be out of the business of meddling with private schools (government should be hands off re: private industry to whatever extent possible…)Report

  12. Avatar greginak says:

    Jay- FWIW- Some college programs actually impart a knowledge base that is needed for a profession. I know my “solid state school” ( we don’t even have a D1 football program) did at a undergrad and grad level. I not only could not have entered my profession without said knowledge but I have relied on it and the various other skills I learned in statist indoctrination camp college.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

      “Some college programs actually impart a knowledge base that is needed for a profession.”

      I’m certain that *SOME* do. I imagine that the ones under the “Bachelor of Science” umbrella qualify with relatively few exceptions.

      Please understand that I say this as a Philosophy Major (minor in Religious Studies): I have met more folks who graduated with a BA in English (or some equivalent) who obviously spent the 5 or 6 years studying the effects of two beers and a funnel on one’s consciousness than those with whom I could discuss, say, Orwell.

      Maybe I have been unfortunate enough to only encounter outliers.Report

  13. Avatar Patrick says:

    Vouchers have only been tried in the most piddling fashion ET. Leaving aside aid for charter schools, I believe they’ve only been tried as pilots in Cleveland and DC.

    And while it’s true that Cleveland pays for its own schools (with generous state and federal subsidies), most proponents of vouchers on a large scale propose payment at the state level. Indeed, if vouchers were tried on a large scale I can’t imagine state education bureaucracies giving up that sort of control, and budget. Cleveland may pay for its schools, but Ohio would pay for its vouchers.Report

  14. It’s not a direct comparison by any means, but it is a good argument against subsidizing private universities vis a vis Pell grants.

    Actually it was meant to be a reductio. But anyway.

    (government should be hands off re: private industry to whatever extent possible…)

    As the resident right-wing loon, I have no idea what this means. Do we restrict food stamp recipients to shopping at “public” supermarkets”? Recipients of state-funded health insurance to “public” hospitals and clinics? And again, it’s entirely possible to have voucher programs that don’t involve private schools; just allow parents to transfer their children between one public school and another depending on where they think their kids will get the best education.Report

  15. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    John –

    As the resident right-wing loon, I have no idea what this means. Do we restrict food stamp recipients to shopping at “public” supermarkets”?

    That’s a dodge. First off, you’re not a right-wing loon. Second of all, there are no public supermarkets and we, as a society, have no commitment to public supermarkets. The private market, as I’ve mentioned above, works fine to provide competitive foodstuffs. The only sensible way to provide food stamps is in this fashion. (Hence, to “whatever extent possible” government should be out of the subsidization business. For instance, it is odd that we subsidize farmers to burn their own crops and then provide people with food stamps….)

    And again, it’s entirely possible to have voucher programs that don’t involve private schools; just allow parents to transfer their children between one public school and another depending on where they think their kids will get the best education.

    How is this a voucher program then? I’m all for people being allowed to go to any school they’d like within their own district and if they want to live somewhere that has better schools, then by all means live there and share in the tax burden. Or – better yet – let’s reinvent how schools are funded by pooling revenue sources and evenly distributing them to all the schools in a state, thus equally funding each one. Then go to whatever (public) school you like, no matter where you live….Report

  16. Second of all, there are no public supermarkets and we, as a society, have no commitment to public supermarkets. The only sensible way to provide food stamps is in this fashion.

    As I’ve said, I have no idea what it is about voucher programs that would mean that implementing then shows a lack of “commitment to public education”. Given that we have such a commitment, the dispute is precisely over what form it should take; my assertion is that restricting students to attending the schools they happen to live nearest to is transparently not a sensible to provide public education.Report

  17. Avatar Kyle says:

    Ditto what Patrick said.

    Personally, I think the “because the markets are better” argument for vouchers is neither convincing nor terribly good but Patrick’s point/question about government subsidies of private universities is one that should be addressed.

    “And vouchers deny that commitment, plain and simple. ”
    Really? I don’t think there’s anything simple about education or vouchers. Surely support for vouchers doesn’t preclude a commitment to improving and maintaining public education.Report

  18. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Vouchers essentially say two things:

    1) public schools are worth giving up on because private schools can do it better &

    2) private schools require government subsidies in the form of vouchers because private schools can’t do it better without them.

    The reason the logic behind “improving public schools by creating more competition” doesn’t amount to sound logic is due to the fact that education, as I have pointed out, is not like other consumer goods and thus does not function within a market in the same fashion. Hence the whole point behind arguments that somehow vouchers will improve public education by forcing public schools to compete doesn’t make sense.

    And why do we need to subsidize private universities with Pell grants when we have plenty of state institutions available? I don’t get it. Don’t private universities have funds set up for needy students with excellent academic records?Report

  19. Avatar Kyle says:

    Hah, that’ll teach me to leave the room for an hour before submitting a comment.

    First, while there are numerous voucher programs that exist, Milwaukee being the longest I think, it’s notable that DC’s now defunct OSP was not funded with local funds nor taken from the normal budget.

    So while I can understand a significant resistance to pilot voucher programs that sap local money that is normally appropriated to school districts. When that isn’t the case, the argument just changes to “well money spent on the pilot program should be spent on improving public education.”

    Moreover, many criticisms of the potential downsides of vouchers tend to be predicated on fear of the harm they might cause, which leads me to support a.) finding out for sure and b.) not designing bad voucher programs.Report

  20. Vouchers essentially say two things:

    1) public schools are worth giving up on because private schools can do it better &

    2) private schools require government subsidies in the form of vouchers because private schools can’t do it better without them.

    Sorry, but that’s B.S. Re: (1), all that a push for vouchers says is that (some) parents who think that private schools can do a better job for their children deserve some level of financial assistance in trying that out. Re: (2), the point is just that many parents can’t afford private schools (or schools in other towns or districts). Articulating the issues in the most tendentious way possible does not do much to help your argument.

    The reason the logic behind “improving public schools by creating more competition” doesn’t amount to sound logic is due to the fact that education, as I have pointed out, is not like other consumer goods and thus does not function within a market in the same fashion. Hence the whole point behind arguments that somehow vouchers will improve public education by forcing public schools to compete doesn’t make sense.

    I’m aware that you have stated that, but where has it been shown? Why in the world should the provision of education be an instance where the basic laws of economics don’t apply, let alone one where they don’t even make sense?

    And why do we need to subsidize private universities with Pell grants when we have plenty of state institutions available?

    Because many of them provide educational opportunities that state schools don’t? Because we don’t think that having a class of educational institutions that are exclusively the property of the most well-off is good for a democracy? Because private schools, like public ones, are offering a public good and are worthy of public support?Report

  21. Avatar Kyle says:

    Yes, but if private schools can do it better than public ones, why not subsidize the poor going?

    I imagine if I were a parent trying to get my child to get into DC’s OSP, that decision could easily be explained as a desire to send my kid to a school that doesn’t have metal detectors rather than a vote of no confidence in the entire pubic education system.

    The same goes for places like Chicago where over 24 students were killed last year.

    I think choice programs within public education are far better and more manageable solutions, but I don’t think there’s a leg to stand on when you’re arguing that the poorest of the poor should have to attend failing schools because sometime down the road maybe the public will actually improve them. Nor do I think it’s terribly humane to resist allowing some students to escape unsafe, failing schools because the solution (vouchers) doesn’t help all students.Report

  22. Avatar Kyle says:

    “Or – better yet – let’s reinvent how schools are funded by pooling revenue sources and evenly distributing them to all the schools in a state, thus equally funding each one.”

    California did that in response to funding equity lawsuits. The result was to equally under fund ALL schools. School funding is a mess and I agree that there should be more resources to underfunded schools but equalizing revenue distribution isn’t a step forward it’s a solid half-marathon backwards.Report

  23. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    If the money used to pay for vouchers comes from the Federal government instead of local districts, then I hope conservatives realize all that this will amount to is a giant spending increase. If there is not a net-sum-zero approach in terms of budget, I fail to see how conservatives can back such a plan. This would mean that local dollars remain for local schools and new federal dollars enter the system for private schools creating a vast private/public partnership / entitlement similar in nature to the Pell but available to children for all of their grade-school years (13 years rather than 4 in a standard college scenario). That’s expensive.

    John, the problem with what you’re saying in both those paragraphs is this: why should the government be in the business of subsidizing parents who want to send their kids to private schools? Why is this a service that the government should provide? If we do want government to provide this service, then why not just make all schools free across the board? Socialize all education, so that everyone gets a fair shot. That’s really what this comes down to – half-assed socialism – why not go the whole way if the philosophy behind this is essentially let’s give poor kids a chance at private school? Why not just make it all government paid?

    And the reason that markets (or the universal laws of economics) don’t apply to schools is because the nature of the product (education) is inherently difficult to assess. The better education you receive, the better you’re able to judge the quality of the education you received. Or, in other words, the parents with the highest likelihood of taking advantage of real school choice are the ones already most capable of doing so. The parents of the most troubled and disadvantaged kids will have the most trouble getting them into private schools because those schools will simply refuse to accept them, and the schools that don’t want to be forced to take such students will simply opt out of the program, leaving us in much the same place we are in now.

    Kyle –

    Yes, but if private schools can do it better than public ones, why not subsidize the poor going?

    Who says they do a better job? And the ones that do a much better job are extremely expensive and no voucher program in the world would cover that cost (like the Obama’s school, for instance).

    The fact that Cali under-funded all schools speaks to a general lack of commitment within the public sphere to public education more than it does to the efficacy of private school subsidization.Report

  24. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    All this being said I would support federal grants to disabled children to attend private schools specializing in their disability (schools for the deaf, etc.)Report

  25. E.D.:
    “And the reason that markets (or the universal laws of economics) don’t apply to schools is because the nature of the product (education) is inherently difficult to assess.”

    This is actually precisely why free market economics could apply particularly well in the context of education. With no way of objectively differentiating “good” schools from “bad,” it should be up to the parents – not the local, federal, and state governments – to define what outcomes, curricula, etc. are “good” and bad.” If it were possible to universally assess quality of education, then a public education monopoly would make more sense because there would be ways of evaluating what “works” and what doesn’t, and there would be some very real accountability for the school systems.Report

  26. What Mark said. E.D.’s objections show only that parents wouldn’t be infallable at picking the best schools for their kids, not that they’d be incapable of it.

    … why should the government be in the business of subsidizing parents who want to send their kids to private schools? Why is this a service that the government should provide?

    Because those schools are helping to provide a public good, and because if, in certain cases, private schools can do a better job of that than public schools can, they deserve public support.

    As to the question of why we shouldn’t just socialize things altogether, the answer is obvious, and it’s the same answer I have to the question of why we shouldn’t guarantee every American free health care from whatever institution they’d like to have serve them.Report

  27. Avatar Kyle says:

    Well first off, who says they do a better job? The NAEP.

    I’ll be the first to admit, however, that comparative gains are misleading because of the exclusivity factor. Also, the performance of students at private schools tends to be only slightly better, nothing dramatic. However, parental satisfaction rates tend to be noticeably higher.

    I’m not sure which Obama school you’re referring to? Punahou? Sidwell? Either way, you’re right. However, subsidizing students would make it easier for the institutions to offer more scholarships to cover the difference.

    I don’t think vouchers are a panacea but I don’t think they hurt and for whatever their symbolism may be their real effect on the families that use them, tends to be a net positive. So I don’t oppose them.

    As for doing a better job, I think that for whatever the difference in educational outcomes, there is no doubt that private schools in cities with school violence and deaths are certainly safer.

    I would agree with your read on California, but I think it’s a reality that should be addressed. Building a system that requires a political will and commitment that is hard to build and even harder to maintain is incredibly risky.

    The elderly and childless often tend to prefer that public funds be spent on services to them rather than public education and generally vote against tax increases focused on education. It’s a political reality that – in my mind – challenges the capacity of any statewide electorate to support public education in the way you’d like and, likely the way children need.Report

  28. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    So – we would have private schools that failed to succeed in this “go under” to be replaced by private schools who provided the “customer service” and “pricing” that customers needed? (Would we bail out the failed private schools – or those who became “too big to fail?”)

    Honestly, the only way this works is if we take public schooling out of the equation altogether. How can private schools subsidized by the government truly be competitive? Doesn’t a voucher system directly meddle with the idea of a free market (which the private schools already operate in…)

    And here’s the other thing – it’s already up to the parents. Parents can send kids to private school if they want to, or home school, or to a charter school. They can vote for public school officials. They can protest.

    (I still want to know who you think should be paying for vouchers…)

    Mark:

    This is actually precisely why free market economics could apply particularly well in the context of education. With no way of objectively differentiating “good” schools from “bad,” it should be up to the parents – not the local, federal, and state governments – to define what outcomes, curricula, etc. are “good” and bad.”

    Okay, so what about the kids whose parents actually can’t define this – the ones who are ostensibly the most in need of it? We’re talking about uneducated parents. Single mothers. Drug addicts. The worst schools that would supposedly benefit from this the most are the least likely to come with parents who either care or are capable of determining what is right for their kids. A lot of these problems are cyclical – poverty, addiction, abandonment, etc. These are the problems that lead to under-performing schools in the first place. So it’s fine to say that things would be great if only these parents could choose where to send their kids but that’s not a reflection of real life. That’s a reflection of educated, suburban life.

    I think a better approach would be to fund building smaller schools, and paying for more teachers and smaller student-teacher ratios. Create school sizes that are manageable. Provide for security concerns at schools where violence is a problem. I support school uniforms. I support paying teachers more. I support creative ideas like the two-track system in D.C. (tenure vs higher pay). But I can’t support a system that gives up on public commitment to public education in favor of subsidizing private industry – even if that industry is supplying a “public good.”

    Beyond this, a lot of private voucher schools shifted over to public charters where they’ve been tried….something wasn’t working out….Report

  29. How can private schools subsidized by the government truly be competitive? Doesn’t a voucher system directly meddle with the idea of a free market (which the private schools already operate in…)

    By … umm … competing? Just like they do in higher education? And the presence of vouchers – not to mention fully-funded public schools – would only mean that it wouldn’t be a completely free market, which is something that very few people think there should be in education.

    But I can’t support a system that gives up on public commitment to public education in favor of subsidizing private industry – even if that industry is supplying a “public good.”

    Well good, because as I’ve said about a thousand times pretty much no one – least of all me – wants to “give up on public commitment to public education!Report

  30. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Do you honestly think that the private universities wouldn’t be capable of competing without public subsidies?

    And I know proponents of vouchers aren’t giving up on public education by and large – it’s the logic behind it that gives up on public education. The logical extension of a voucher program is to pay for it somehow. Not at the federal level. At the local level. The only way to pay for that is through taxes – and far easier to cut school budgets than to raise taxes. So, cut the school budgets and put that money into private schools instead. Bit by bit public education is hacked away at, replaced by a subsidized private industry. The intentions may be good, but when you apply standard small government conservatism to the voucher program this is the road forward. Not another federal entitlement program. The money has to come from somewhere.Report

  31. “Private schools should remain a part of our education system, alongside public schools. But they should remain separate.”

    That would be fine if a tax break is given to those who choose private schools and don’t use the public school system. The only problem from a compassionate point of view is that it would prevent poor kids from attending a good private school in their area.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to mike farmer says:

      Let’s say that you are a fairly wealthy person and want to make sure that no (slurs) go to your child’s school.

      Would you support vouchers or would you argue that vouchers don’t address the real needs of our The Children and we should redouble our efforts to make public schools better? Would you support tax breaks or would you talk about how our The Children deserve *MORE*, not less, of what we have to give?

      After you answer these (admittedly loaded) questions, look to see how many politicians who oppose vouchers also send their own kids to private schools. Then ask yourself what percentage of politicians really, deep down, strike you as the altruistic type.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

        It doesn’t matter in the end because the wealthy send their kids to schools that would still be too expensive for vouchers to pay for.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          If I were fairly wealthy and I wanted to make sure that my most-likely average children had a leg up against the best-of-the-best found out there among the proles, I’d make sure that the proles were hobbled so as to prevent the best of them from usurping my children from their “rightful” place.

          But maybe that’s just me.Report

  32. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Why should a tax break be given to attend private school? That’s the same problem as a voucher program. It cuts out the wealthy populations commitment to public education.Report

  33. Avatar Kyle says:

    E.D.,
    I largely agree with what you think are better approaches, but I still take issue with your framing of this issue. I think vouchers or public commitment to public education is a false dichotomy, see the District of Columbia circa 2002-2009.

    Even if I were to accept your framing, one could still see it as reaffirming the nation’s commitment to education writ large, rather than narrowly committing only to government sponsored education.

    By your logic under any sort of public healthcare option, NIH should stop funding grants to private research labs and universities for oncology research because it would be demonstrative of a lack of commitment to public healthcare. Even though the point of such grants is to further cancer research for public health/public good reasons.

    I don’t see what good is done by quibbling over who gets to educate children, while children sit around not being educated.

    Moreover, you haven’t addressed the main flaw – as I see it – in your policy prefrences, that the public commitment to public education < the resource needs of public education.

    Though the possibility of change through protests, political coalitions, voting, etc…exists. That such a public commitment has yet to manifest itself outside of wealthy counties and public interest groups over the past century cannot be dismissed.Report

  34. “It cuts out the wealthy populations commitment to public education.”

    taxes to pay for public schools cuts out the committment to private schools.Report

  35. The logical extension of a voucher program is to pay for it somehow. Not at the federal level. At the local level. The only way to pay for that is through taxes – and far easier to cut school budgets than to raise taxes. So, cut the school budgets and put that money into private schools instead. Bit by bit public education is hacked away at, replaced by a subsidized private industry.

    This is silly; it’s a bit like saying that the logical extension of raising the speed limit to 65 is that you’re going to raise it to 120. Public education won’t be replaced, but rather supplemented, by a private industry. And of course the idea is that this state of affairs will lead public schools to get better, since there will be more pressure on them to do what is necessary to fill seats.Report

  36. Avatar Kyle says:

    I’m sorry, OSP was started in 04, so really DC circa 2004-2009. Also, I don’t mean to imply that students aren’t being educated at all…just not as well as they should be.

    I also think you’re concerns re: long term funding of voucher programs are completely valid. I think the economic and funding results down the road of such plans aren’t terribly well thought out and lend themselves to your concern.

    Pilot programs today turn into either entitlements or funding competition for public schools. Fair concern. I think – again – that’s more of an argument for reevaluating public school financing arrangements and our funding commitments at all levels of government than a reason to shut down exploration of vouchers as part of educational reform.Report

  37. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    John –

    This is silly; it’s a bit like saying that the logical extension of raising the speed limit to 65 is that you’re going to raise it to 120.

    No this is like saying that things have to be paid for. Which they do. And it’s already difficult to pay for public education so it’s going to be doubly difficult to pay for both public education and subsidies to private education.

    I think I could maybe support vouchers if I felt like there was the political will to reinvent how we funded education writ large i.e. federal funding across the board. But that’s never going to happen. So…Report

  38. Avatar greginak says:

    Just to pick out one point in this debate. Exactly how many private schools are there for kids in most if not all harsh inner city environments to go to? Somewhere between zero and not a hell of lot. Ritzy private schools are usually far away from slums and gritty urban scenes, and for that matter rural poverty.

    I grew up in suburban NJ and there were quite a few richy rich private schools. They were all in exclusive suburbs. It would have been extremely difficult if not impossible for kids in the various nasty inner city areas to go there.

    There is just not as much choice in schools in reality as school choice proponents often suggest. And where there is there are often few slots for kids for distant areas.Report

    • Exactly how many private schools are there for kids in most if not all harsh inner city environments to go to?

      My dad volunteered for years at Catholic schools in Jersey City, and I take it that both of the schools (not at all “richy rich”, but still preferable for many parents) he worked at are still there. Moreover, if vouchers were available there’s little doubt that more schools would pop up to serve the new constituencies.Report

    • I still live in the NJ suburbs! Actually, it’s worth noting that “private schools” have a very different flavor in the inner cities than they do in the suburbs. I don’t have time to look the data up right now, but you’d be surprised how many private schools there are in the urban environment, and how few of them classify as remotely “richy rich.” So, yeah, in the Jersey suburbs, for every Immaculata or All Saints (to name two), there are a pretty good share of Pingrys and Huns. But I’m not sure how well this holds true in more truly urban environments. Remember, after all, that NJ is one of the two or three wealthiest states on average.Report

  39. … it’s already difficult to pay for public education so it’s going to be doubly difficult to pay for both public education and subsidies to private education.

    No it won’t, because – as you indicated – money spent on vouchers is offset by a corresponding reduction in the money given to public schools. My point was just that the idea that public schools would thereby be “replaced” by public ones is an example of slippery slope analysis at its very worst; both would coexist, but probably in a somewhat different balance than they presently do. (Though note that if public schools improved thanks to the increased acocuntability and competition, they might be able to attract back some of the students they’ve already lost.)Report

  40. The best solution would be to privatize education, then allow private associations to work with donors to pay for the poor families who can’t afford it. We underestimate the power of the private sector. According to Index of Global Philanthrophy- “of the $122.8 billion of foreign aid provided by Americans in 2005, $95.5 billion, or 79 percent, came from private foundations, corporations, voluntary organizations, universities, religious organizations and individuals.”

    If we can give this to foreign countries, just think what we could do for the poor. The welfare state has stifled the power of philanthrophy — just think what it could be.Report

  41. Avatar Kyle says:

    I think discussion of funding options is less rooted in what is likely to happen than it is a talk about things that are generally possible, but I think E.D. has a point here.

    Any federally led voucher program would more than likely involve shared costs (ala the interstate system) that invariably will end up costing the states more.

    Also, going back to E.D.’s pizza parlor example, what happens to the school that goes out of business during the school year? Or if a series of schools close? The state will have to pick up the slack one way or another and that will be disruptive for students and likely expensive.

    The market distortion here is something that shouldn’t be ignored. In most markets, the good a business is providing isn’t a constitutionally mandated provision. *not federally but in almost all – if not all 50 states it is.Report

  42. Avatar greginak says:

    mike- utopias are wonderful to believe in. How many of the c0untries that perform better then us in education have such a system? how many of them have strong public education systems?Report

  43. “So, you are calling for total abandonment of the public school system…and using the efficacy of foreign aid as your example?”

    Yes and No.Report

  44. “mike- utopias are wonderful to believe in. How many of the c0untries that perform better then us in education have such a system? how many of them have strong public education systems?”

    Amurican ain’t followers, hoss – we’re leaders, by Gawd.Report

  45. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    How do Parisian politicians feel about vouchers in the suburbs?

    They banned head scarves for Muslim kids….Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      One hopes they said “separation of church and state” before doing so!

      Because, after all, tax dollars paid for those public schools.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

        That was certainly the impetus behind the move.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Let the kids prosletyze on their own time!

          The government is responsible for making sure that they stay out of trouble and, preferably, keep out of the job market for the jobs that people who donate do.

          Keep the kids in the suburbs stupid and eligible only for menial labor, if eligible for any at all, and keep them sequestered away from the real people.

          You know. Like we do with the inner cities.Report

  46. Avatar EngineerScotty says:

    Regarding whether subsidized competition would force public schools to improve–it depends on what you mean by “improvements”. I seriously doubt that a non-elite (i.e. affordable by a family of modest means taking advantage of a voucher program) non-selective (one that doesn’t deny admssion or expel students based on academic performance alone) private school, will measuablyout-perform a public school in the same vicinity. There are some elite schools who might employ elite faculty, keep the student-teacher ratio low, or otherwise take concrete steps to improve learning–but I suspect most dollar-shop private schools envisioned by this don’t.
    What this is really about, I suspect, is one of two things: a) subsidized religious instruction, which isn’t an issue for voucher programs that exclude parochial schools, and more importantly for this debate, busting teacher’s unions. When I hear the words “public schools will be forced to complete”, what is often being implied is “union jobs in public sector education will be lost and replaced with non-union jobs at private schools”.
    Educational unions, for better or worse, have their foot in the door in public education. Many believe that they retard educational improvements; and many others simply want a lower tax bill, and want to achieve that by driving wages down.
    That’s where the “competition” will lie. Not for studnets, but in the educational labor market.Report

  47. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    E.D.,

    Many, many thanks for this post. You say just about every important thing on this topic that needs to be said. There are things I could add, but none that need to be. I only wish I could make these points as clearly and with as much conviction when I get into debates with people who have little use for public education and its institutions as you do here. Now at least I have something to point them to. Honestly, if I could I would make anyone who is even having the first inkling of engaging with this debate read this post first. Bravo.Report

  48. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    And as to your critics:

    No it won’t, because – as you indicated – money spent on vouchers is offset by a corresponding reduction in the money given to public schools.

    That is game, set, and match in the discussion over what the logic of vouchers really holds for the future of public education. I tend to choose to take proponents agt their word about theur belief in the efficacy of the ‘competition’ that public schools would then have to undergo in order to restore previous funding levels, rather than indulge my suspicions which tend to be rather along the lines of EngineerScotty’s.

    All that said, however passionately we object to the logic inherent in the voucher movement, it is probably for the good that in practice we tend to see public education officials support pilot voucher programs when there is a popular movement to see them established. This is for the reason you mention elsewhere, namely that for now they represent only a small fraction of the total funding and participation inK-12 education. It is better for officials to appear not to be standing in the way of a workable solution for some families than to die on the hill of an argument about what the larger implications of the arguments for vouchers would be for student who remain in public education. Bend so as not to break and so forth. It doesn’t make us wrong, but perhaps John would point out that at the level it exists now our arguments are probably rightly somewhat discounted in favor of a mutual acceptable agreement to disagree. But the logic remains the logic, and this is not a school board chatroom (do those exist?), but an association of thinkers, and you are doing a great service in passionately asserting some irrefutable logical realities and defending a side of this question that gets fairly widely besmirched, and unfairly so given the merits of the argument.Report

  49. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Thank you, Michael. And I agree – it’s fine and good that these voucher pilot programs are being tested – they are after all still a theoretical. And I think the likely result will be that many simply shift over to charter schools, which have their own issues, but at least provide competition, as it were, on a more even keel.Report

  50. Vouchers would also do a number on the prestige factor of any institution which bothered to use them, since the government would suddenly be involved in admissions, rules, etc.

    Apologies if this point has already been made, but it’s rather remarkable that this empirical assertion would be backed up by zero evidence from any of the many voucher programs that have existed for more than the past decade.Report

  51. . Hence the whole point behind arguments that somehow vouchers will improve public education by forcing public schools to compete doesn’t make sense.

    Whether it “makes sense” to you or not, most studies do find that vouchers put competitive pressure on public schools to improve. See all of the studies listed and linked here: http://jaypgreene.com/2009/04/27/systemic-effects-of-vouchers-updated-42709/Report

  52. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Stuart –

    Here’s the thing. In a very limited way, there would be no problem. That’s the double-edged aspect of vouchers. In very, very limited usage not many people are on them. They don’t have very many adverse effects, but they also don’t do very much to improve the system. The prestige factor comes into play when you have really nice private schools being forced to take students because they’ve signed up to take government subsidies. As soon as that happens on a larger scale, there goes the neighborhood…Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      I just think it’s false t say that vouchers are responsible for the improvements we have seen. We went through a demonstrable crisis, and public education became somewhat of a joke. I don’t know where additional market signals (in very limited circumstances) that there was a problem is what brought about a greater committment to improving education. I’ll look at the studies. But ny strong inclination is that the general climate was one of crisis, and now there are burgeoning efforts at reform, independent of what tiny actual pressue there was due to families being able to vote with their feet via vouchers. An example is NYC, where a very higly respected figure, Joel Kein, was brought in to make sweeping changes, and many are being made. There was no voucher program, but rather an inherent acknowledgement of the need to improve. And even where they have been, I think the effect of the voucher programs given theirs size has probably more been to add to the general perception that improvements are needed, not to actually force reform through losses of enrollees.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Is anyone actually saying that vouchers are responsible for the improvements we’ve seen?

        I don’t think they are and if they were, they’d be wrong. I think quite clearly I’ve been saying that they can help some people and, if I recall correctly, every study of DC’s OSP has demonstrated both slight gains in student achievement and significant increases in parental satisfaction. Also, looking at DC’s program you see a move away from private school with vouchers towards charter schools of the public/private mold that E.D. was mentioning.

        I think if anything, New York City is a good example of the importance of choice and fairly aggressive educational reform. I could write several papers paragraphs on the politics of educational reform in NYC but it may be succeeding in part because of an enormous change in educational governance, community culture, a substantial increase in parental choice options, and a public-private partnership to accomplish real reform at a quicker-than-glacial pace.

        Whether any of that will last past Bloomberg is a HUGE and open question, but if anything, pointing to encouraging signs of successful reform without a large-scale voucher program in the nation’s largest school district isn’t definitive proof that vouchers are useless or should be left off the table.

        The history of American school reform shows that successful models in Place A don’t necessarily translate to success in Place B. New York with a public school budget larger than some countries’ entire budget, quite frankly, has more options and a different host of problems than say Charlotte – Mecklenburg, Milwaukee, or Stillwater, Oklahoma.

        I think you have a point that there are other reform options out there but nobody here is arguing that vouchers are the last, best hope for America’s public schools.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kyle says:

          I’m reviewing the studies you linked to to see just exactly what claims are being made, whether the theories underpinning them make sense, and whether the evidence supports them. I wonder whether E.D. might be interested in doing the same and perhaps posting some thoughts where we could then continue the discussion.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

            Oh, my apologies, that wasn’t you who posted those, Kyle. I’ve only just started to look at them, but it does appear that a Univ. of Arkansas/Manhattan Institute researcher published a study about Milwaukee specifically attempting to establish a link between private-school choice an improved performance in the public district from which the students receiving the voucher came. So it appears the claim is being made. I’m sure people who follow this debate closely know exactly what is said on both sides on a week-to-week basis, so we are really doing catch-up work here. As I said, I am going to review some of this to see what I think of it, becuase the last time I really engaged this topiv was in an Ed. Pol class about 8 or 9 years ago. And this is some very recent research. And I’m not a trained social scientist, so my take will be that of a layperson. But the short answer seems to be yes, that claim is being made. Moreover, it is fairly clearly the underlying logic of folks like Mark Thompson who, while they don’t make an empirical argument that the phenomenon is real, do assert that the expectation that such effects take place is a sufficient rationale for significantly expanding private-school choice opportunities as a means to both provide more options to families, but also to prod public schools and adminitrations into improving (which for him is nothing more than seeking to maximize parental satisfaction).
            [I’ve tried to be very scrupulous in characterizing Mark’s argument here, but if I have fallen short, perhaps someone will alert him to the renewed discussion in this thread, and he can clarify.]Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kyle says:

          Your points about (and knowledge of) the NYC case are well-taken. I would just point out that in New York what I believe you have (please correct me) is a long-established practice of choice within the public system (speaking primarily of the secondary school level here), along with an increasing number of public charter schools. But no public-to-private voucher program (otherwise I think we’d hear a lot more about it, right?). I want to clarify that very few of us skeptics of the private-school-choice-as-sinecure view have any criticism of systems like NYC that promote, require even, students and families to make choices among the available public schools.

          (In point of fact, we don’t oppose the choice of private schools either, but merely a widespread, significant rerouting of public funds to subsidize that choice.)
          New York from what I have seen is an example (and please provide an alternate view if you have one) of a public school district clearly rebutting with their actions the charge that public education invariably stifles and discourages innovation and reform. On the contrary, it is a clear example that public schools systems are capable of providing a wealth of choices for families within the public context, while also maintaining rigorous standards (ie. the Regents exams, which admittedly many students do not initially pass).Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to Michael Drew says:

            On the first paragraph, you’re right on. I would like to point out something that I didn’t make clear earlier that you touch on. Pre-Bloomberg/2002 or so, New York’s public schools did actually allow for innovation and experimental schools. So you’re right that it’s a long-established practice. However, there was an enormous variance in the quality and functioning of schools between community school board districts. So again, you might have some amazing PSs in Manhattan, but you might have school board members stealing school pianos in the Bronx.
            In fact, in the early years of Bloomberg’s reforms curriculum became more centralized (except at the higher performing schools) which curtailed that innovation in curricular choices somewhat.
            When I said a substantial increase in parental choice options I meant that there were more viable/reasonable options. (in addition to the greater number of schools generally) So while I wouldn’t feel comfortable speculating on which system allowed more innovation the pre-mayoral takeover system or the current one, I’d feel pretty confident saying that from a parental standpoint your zip code probably has less to do with public school options that are available to you than it did a decade ago.
            Though, I should point out that at the pre-secondary level, your zip code still has a lot to do with the quality of your education, (which is leading to some rather ridiculous behavior by the frustratingly rich/nouveau middle class, like renting a second apartment in zones with better schools)
            As for your second paragraph, I mostly agree with your point and think it makes sense. I think the capabilities you throw out exist, I would just argue that the capacities of public education don’t nicely align with what actually happens.
            First, while charters and magnet programs can often provide some degree of choice, flexibility, and innovation in structure and curricula, most schools aren’t charter schools and don’t have magnet programs. So, while there’s ample evidence to support the claim that public schools can be flexible, innovative institutions, many are not. Personally, I think that has much, much more to do with governance issues and the lack of any reasonably strong political counterweight to the teachers’ unions.
            Second, some public school districts do a fantastic job of providing choices for families (see Montclair, New Jersey. Median family income $119K). However, even in the New York example there are limits to the ability of parents and children to access choices offered (median family income $52K). New York still has failing schools. It still has a teacher shortage and in some schools fairly high teacher-student ratios. If you live in the Bronx, you still have limited choices until secondary, and then an onerous application/audition system determines your high school, which even some middle class professional parents find byzantine and complex. This speaks volumes to how difficult the system must be to navigate for parents with fewer resources and less time to try muddle through.Report

            • Avatar Kyle in reply to Kyle says:

              Wow, that was long and poorly formatted.

              Anywhoo if you’re interested here are a couple of NYT articles about the experiences of a.) finding a good public school after cutting back on your dreams of a private school education (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/realestate/05Cov.html)

              and b.) navigating the high school application process.
              (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/nyregion/09apply.html)

              I’ll be honest, I don’t find the travails of the would be wealthy terribly heartwrenching, considering the quality of the public schools they’re downgrading to, but at the very least it underscores that living where the good schools are isn’t just a suburban phenomenon. Nor is it easy or cheap.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kyle says:

                Good and helpful points all, thanks.

                Both my girlfriend and her sister worked at a small H.S. in the S. Bronx for the last few years, and we lived in Queens for a while during that period (2006-08). I don’t know the history very well (though I want to learn more), but from what I saw, if you accept that choice among public high schools is significant choice, then there were in fact a multitude of options for kids who were committed to their education, or with parents who were (and that is always the x-factor). The lack of choice for primary grades certainly doesn’t enhance the situation, but it may be that given the success of choice at the higher grades, it is perhaps merely a solvable question of logisitics that has prevented choice at the lower grades from becoming the norm.

                But certainly it remains true that whatever success we see in NYC is not typical, so the debate rages on, as it should (and just to reiterate I am not against limited voucher programs in practice that help real families for precisiely that reason, but rather I have profound philosophical objections to the project of using them to force improvement in public schools through ‘competition,’ and to those who would focus on ‘choice’ as the primary means of addressing education generally.)

                What I greatly appreciate in your reflections on New York is that you are focusing directly on the problem of how to improve public education in that city on its own terms, giving that question primary open-minded attention, rather than backing into the question through a particular entry point, ie a prior committment to a particular policy mechanism, ie vouchers, which then must take on powers of reform that they simply don’t inherently possess. So I agree with your formulation elsewhere that vouchers can be (you say “should be”; I would condition it on sufficient local political will to bring it about) part of our educational triage (a formulation I very much admire), but even more I appreciate your subordinating that tool rhetorically to a prior, broader committment to do what is necessary to make public education work for the students and families who will continue to seek their way in life in that setting.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                A clarification: In my first paragraph, “choice” means public-school choice; in my second “‘choice'” means what John McCain meant by it when it was the first refence he made answering the one question on education in the debates with Obama — broad choice emphatically to include public subsidies of the private decision to send one’s children to particular private institutions, in addition to public-school choice. Sorry for the overlapping terminology.Report

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