Americans already have school choice

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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24 Responses

  1. Freddie says:

    We tend to address small bore issues because the bigger ones are so intractable. We seem to have rare but devastating spasms of ugly violence in this country, which we don’t have the slightest clue as to how to address– but agitating to ban Marilyn Manson, that’s easy and small bore.

    Meanwhile, in America, we have a problem with a permanent underclass that suffers on a whole host of the rubrics that we care about– income level, education level, social mobility, crime, drug use…. We pour a ton of our frustration about that big problem into education. It’s the ultimate proxy. Sometimes I feel like the general attitude, from people left and right, is that if we could only teleport disadvantaged children out of their lives and into better situations, they’d be in so much better shape. And, well… yeah.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Parents will always love their own children more than they love the children of others.

    Where this rule of thumb does not apply, it tends to not apply because the parents don’t give a crap about their own kids rather than it being an issue where they have additional love for the children of strangers.

    Attempts to overcome this dynamic on a Federal (or State, or even City) level will fail.Report

  3. Will Wilson says:


    You might find the Swedish education interesting. I’m a big fan.


  4. Kyle says:

    You and Diane Ravitch on the same day..Report

  5. Kyle says:

    le sigh.

    I mean Bramwell’s piece is premised on the idea that Americans have freedom of movement. Let’s face it, you know enough about health care to know that people certainly aren’t free to pick up and relocate jobs for better schools. Living within a school district is no guarantee of going to a good school within that district, See City of New York, and yes, we are all equally free to live in the DC suburbs or the UES. (also see Dreher’s comment)

    I find the Bramwell piece to be lazy and for an attack on accountability he does a poor job of actually articulating what he’s talking about.

    Ravitch’s critiques aren’t new, only her conversion. It’s not news that charter schools aren’t uniformly better performing than regular public schools, and the skepticism of those who tout them as panaceas and not just a welcome addition to the pantheon of educational choices exists. Next she criticizes the narrowing effects of NCLB on teacher choice in the classroom, a concern that’s as old as the law and has far more to do with how terribly set up the accountability provisions of NCLB are and little to do with a poor choice in overall direction.

    If you remember from the back and forth you, Mark, and I had over vouchers, the two most compelling points for vouchers remain completely untouched by Bramwell’s point. First, that metrics of better schools are subjective and vouchers allow for a greater diversity of metrics than test scores. Second, that there are no educational silver bullets and preventing triage in the hopes of finding one is criminally negligent.

    Equity in education is a position that I couldn’t think less of, however, at this point achieving adequacy in education has yet to be proven an unobtainable goal.

    Mostly, I think Bramwell is dead wrong when he writes, “families are in fact generally matched with schools in accordance with how much they value education. You are troubled by the cases of people who value education highly but are still trapped in bad schools. I am troubled by these cases too, though I suspect that the number is smaller than imagined.”

    Is this like anti-reformist’s version of “well if the poor just got job…”

    My main issues with your localism in education bent, is first that the states are the dominant players in education and that isn’t going anywhere and second that the federal role in education really has been a mixed bag. Local schools were all about the segregation until federal authorities were involved, local schools were even worse about accommodating the needs of the disabled without federal involvement.

    I can’t think of an approach or policy more suited for denying equality of opportunity to the needy than one that enables the local denial of adequate education to all within a jurisdiction without providing an appropriate recourse via other levels of government, including the federal.Report

  6. Will says:

    Telling poor families to move to another school district does not strike me as a very effective way to promote competition.Report

    • Freddie in reply to Will says:

      The idea that competition leads to superior educational outcomes has very little to support it.Report

      • Kyle in reply to Freddie says:

        Not that we would agree on solutions, but at least in terms of the problem, I would imagine we agree that for a variety of reasons it can be significantly harder for the parents of students in poorer districts to be active enough to push for changes in their children’s education.

        The amount of effort it takes for an overworked but involved parent to engage a hostile school bureaucracy can be significantly greater than the effort to move kids to a different school.Report

      • Madrocketscientist in reply to Freddie says:

        Which is why we don’t bother to let Universities compete.

        So Freddie, you got a few studies to back up that assertion with?Report

    • Nathan P. Origer in reply to Will says:

      It doesn’t strike me as being a particularly helpful way “to fix communities first”, either. Rather, I see it as one more policy-based way of encouraging rootlessness and mobility.Report

  7. What we’ve found locally is that a series of high-erforming magnet programs throughout the county creates demand for certain schools because they have the auora of being elite. These schools get the kids whose parents actually care about their education. The rest end up at their reside schools. There are very few kids who get stuck at a crummy school when they really want to be somewhere else.Report

    • I can understand that dynamic. The problem is that we as a society are holding all students to equivalent standards– No Child Left Behind in particular, but our dedication to the idea that all students can be proficient in the same core areas in general. That fits with my egalitarian leanings, and it’s my natural preference– but I start to wonder if it isn’t a cruel thing, at the end of the day.Report

      • I think the key is to define ‘proficency’ in a way that makes sense. Of course – the other option is to have more separation of kids by learning ability, but that takes money. Most public schools have three levels: remedial, traditional and advanced. That forces kids into a pretty broad group. In contrast, the private high school I attended had 8 levels. the gradiatin was small but it helped kids get tracked into the right class for the learning abilities. This also added to greater success in testing.Report

        • Mr. Prosser in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

          I think I agree with you. Is “proficiency” a measure of two students’ ability at calculus or at manipulating fractions and decimals? I want my students to to at least be able to read and follow the procedure to prepare an intravenous solution or determine the friction loss in a firehose. Whether they can proceed to calculating the trajectory of a projectile or the half-life of an element is another matter. E.D. mentions a return to trade schools. I am an advocate of this if the “trades” are modernized.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    An essay written by someone else? Why not.

    Here’s an excerpt: “A couple more notes on that subject: my mother taught first grade in rural Florida in the 1920’s; essentially all her pupils in this rural Florida classroom learned to read in first grade. As mother put it, “A few didn’t, but they didn’t learn anything else, either.” “Report

  9. Stuart Buck says:

    This point from Bramwell seems remarkably obtuse:

    School vouchers, for example, a favorite policy of “accountability” proponents, punish those very school systems that have already worked very hard, thank you very much, to attract the best students and most civic-minded parents. (It’s no surprise that vouchers have proven to be politically unpopular, including if not especially among Republican voters.)

    The very schools? So in inner-city DC and Cleveland and Milwaukee (the sites of three voucher programs), we find “the very school systems” that are doing their best to attract good students? Ridiculous.

    Moreover, voucher programs are very popular with inner-city black residents; not so popular with privileged whites. Try to figure out why that might be.Report