School Choice and Single Payer

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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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109 Responses

  1. Avatar James K
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    says:

    I think the reason for this paradox is the Anchoring Effect, everyone evaluates policy relative to the status quo.

    This is a good piece Erik, and it touches on a distinction that gets far too little play in policy debates.

    When I was studying policy economics at university, we were taught that there’s a fundamental distinction between public provision (the state paying for stuff) and public production (the product is directly produced by a government agency) and the latter was much harder to justify than the former. Unfortunately this is not a distinction that may people seem aware of. But how could one understand the arguments for (or against) vouchers without it?Report

  2. Avatar Aaron
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    says:

    It’s my impression that opposition to vouchers comes largely from those who are concerned that they would be used to fund parochial school education, particularly for the large numbers of children already in parochial schools, and also particularly in those areas of the country in which parochial schools tend to be predominantly white and public schools predominantly minority.

    If the issue is multiple providers, you get that through charter schools, which as you know have already been widely implemented. Vouchers with no strings attached would divert a significant amount of public money to parents who already have their kids in private schools. Vouchers that impose conditions on the schools that accept them (e.g., requiring that the vouchers be accepted as full tuition) are apt to benefit parents whose children attend a school that is subsidized by an outside entity, and as that often will be a church we’re again talking about transferring a massive amount of taxpayer money to parochial schools for the benefit of students who are already enrolled in those schools. If you add the condition that a voucher cannot be used for a parochial school, you’re probably going to have a hard time finding a school that will accept a voucher – it would seem that a new school would be better off organizing as a charter, and existing secular private schools would likely not be able to afford the tuition cut that vouchers would require.

    The argument can be made that parents should have the right to taxpayer help paying for private or parochial school education. After all, the parents who can afford private school are often among the more highly taxed residents of a given community. But if you implemented a voucher system predicated upon that sense of fairness, you will significantly increase the cost of schools to state and local governments.Report

  3. Avatar rj
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    says:

    I think liberals would have a much easier time supporting vouchers if:

    1) They weren’t so closely associated with the kind of people who are always and everywhere trying to bust unions and eliminate the workers’ negotiating power;

    2) They weren’t mainly cash funnels to churches, most notably the really big one with all of the child molestation claims against it.

    When, after decades of contracting out government services on a no-bid basis to cronies who do the same job at the same price with fewer workers earning less, someone proposes contracting out more government services, liberals have every right to be wary of what this is really all about.Report

  4. I’ve long-wondered why vouchers gained so much traction. The answer to me seems much more simple. If a child attends a failing school allow them to transfer to another school that isn’t failing. This eliminates money leaving the school system, it keeps private schools exclusive, there’s no conflict of public money funding parochial education…etc.

    A good public school system has choice within the system. Often kids are stuck in bad schools because of assignment plans. A simple pass out of that system is the easiest solution.Report

  5. Avatar BSK
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    says:

    What about the argument that flooding the market with vouchers (free money) will lead to inflation? If you suddenly have a bunch more people with a bunch more money for school, what’s to say that schools won’t raise prices?Report

  6. Avatar E.C. Gach
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    says:

    rj gets at an important point. Most liberal opposition seems to be motivated by the idea that vouchers would be taking money away from public schools, or at the very least, give money to programs outside the public schools while these schools continue to fail.

    In addition, a lot of people are opposed to the lottery “Waiting for Superman” like style that they are distributed in.

    So, if we were to actually dismantle the current public school system and offer vouchers in scaled amounts proportional to means (i.e. poor have it paid in full, wealthier maybe have it paid by half, etc.) you’d solve both of these liberal concerns by making sure everyone at the bottom rung is getting the same opportunity, AND by making the entire thing voucher based, the idea of vouchers taking money AWAY from public schools becomes moot, since the public school isn’t the automatic first choice from which all other routes are mere deviations.Report

    • Avatar rj in reply to E.C. Gach
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      says:

      That’s not exactly what I said, though it is a common concern for a lot of people.

      The issue is that we haven’t had a great track record with contracting out government services. Just look at defense – collective bargaining doesn’t hold a candle to no-bid contracts given to campaign contributors who are in turn shielded from civil and criminal liability.

      Surveys have consistently shown that while most Americans think our schools in terrible shape, they give high marks to the schools where they send their own kids. Regular old gummint schools are doing the quite well for most kids, so it’s neither unions nor government that are obstacles in and of themselves.

      It’s the usual hacks who are using a panic about a corner of our public education system to tear the whole thing down.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to rj
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        says:

        Most people aren’t well informed then. Looking at my senior high, from which my youngest brother recently graduated, I can tell you that it’s in abysmal shape despite the well off, highly educated suburbanites that live here.Report

        • Avatar rj in reply to E.C. Gach
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          says:

          I think customer (parent) satisfaction is a pretty important indicator of whether a school is successful or not.Report

          • Avatar RTod in reply to rj
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            says:

            Out of curiosity, then… If a school in Mississippi had a science program that taught that the Earth was 6000 years old, and that the fields of biology, geology, and astronomy were lies and should not be taught…. would that school’s science program be successful? Assuming, of course, that the parents that sent their kids loved it.Report

            • Avatar rj in reply to RTod
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              says:

              I said it was an “important indicator,” not the only one, and certainly not one to be dismissed out of hand.

              To look at it another way, take a look at the recent homework and testing backlashes among upper-middle class students and parents. Presumably, these kids go to some of the best schools in the country and are likely go on to the best colleges and end up in good jobs. Yet the kids are miserable and stressed. I think parents have a right to be angry, despite success on standardized tests. Satisfaction matters.

              Does that mean that public schools should violate the Establishment Clause if parents want them to? Of course not! It means that the focus on a minority of really poorly performing schools has warped public perception of a system that works well for most of the kids and parents it serves.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to rj
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                says:

                “To look at it another way, take a look at the recent homework and testing backlashes among upper-middle class students and parents. Presumably, these kids go to some of the best schools in the country and are likely go on to the best colleges and end up in good jobs. Yet the kids are miserable and stressed. I think parents have a right to be angry, despite success on standardized tests. Satisfaction matters.”

                Or maybe the kids and parents are spoiled and expect that any sign of struggle is a failing on the school’s part… I bet those folks don’t mind pushing for all sorts of education reform for other schools but god forbid if little Suzie or Johnny get caught in the cross fire.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to rj
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            says:

            I couldn’t disagree more. As a teacher, parents often know very little about what is best educationally. This isn’t a knock on parents. Most are well-intentioned and rightfully act as the chief advocates for their children. But they are not educators and often have, at best, a very cursory understanding of best practices, child development, etc, etc.

            Would we criticize a doctor because he won’t give me the prescription-strength pain meds I need for a headache? Would we criticize a lawyer who won’t take on a frivolous lawsuit from a client?Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to BSK
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              says:

              Which is not to say that specific teachers and education in general are immune from criticism from outsiders. Many folks, inside educations and out, have invaluable perspectives that would go a long way towards improving education, both on the micro and macro levels.

              But when you have 25 different parents with 25 different kids and 25 different wants and needs, you will never get a favorable assessment of a teacher or a school.Report

              • Avatar rj in reply to BSK
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                says:

                If you will “never get a favorable assessment of a teacher or a school,” then why are a large majority of Americans satisfied with their own schools while assuming the rest are terrible?Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to rj
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                says:

                RJ-

                Is that true?

                Perhaps my experiences aren’t representative. I work in independent schools where entitled folks who make a hobby of complaining are in and out of meetings with school personnel every time someone tells them that their child isn’t the smartest, fastest, brightest, cutest, hardest working, most athletic kid in the school’s history.

                I probably am being overly dire, but my point is that parents are not a monolithic body. They have different perspectives, different wants and different needs, different philosophies on child rearing, different value systems, all of which make it impossible to please all the people all the time.Report

              • Avatar rj in reply to BSK
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                says:

                Well, yeah. Parents can be brats just like their kids. But when they are asked if their local schools are good, they generally say they are, and with good reason.

                Take the Washington metro area. Fairfax County’s very good schools serve three times as many students as D.C.’s bad schools. Tony Montgomery County serves about twice as many students as D.C. If you held a poll of area parents, the ones sending their kids to good suburban schools will vastly outnumber those sending their kids to the crummy ones.

                My initial comment stated that the perception that everybody else’s kids go to bad schools is warped and that it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to privatize/voucherize/charterize the majority of school systems that do good work.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to rj
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                says:

                On the flip side, are we sure those schools are doing good work? Just because parents think so doesn’t mean it is so. We need a far more vigorous form of assessment and evaluation that gets at what works, what doesn’t, and how to do more of the former and less of the latter. The problem is we are constantly seeking a one-size-fits-all solution which generally leads to a one-size-fits-none approach. Ideally, there would be a variety of schools offering different methods that have been documented as successful and parents would have the opportunity to choose the environment that is ideally suited for their child. Alas, that is a pipe dream…Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BSK
              Ignored
              says:

              > But they are not educators and often have,
              > at best, a very cursory understanding of
              > best practices, child development, etc, etc.

              This is something of a point.

              On the other hand, I’ve probably read more books about educational methods than some practicing teachers.

              On the gripping hand, there’s three teachers teaching a grade at a school that all have demonstrable success. However, they have three varying styles and personalities, and one of the three will be best suited for my particular sprog.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to rj
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        says:

        “Just look at defense – collective bargaining doesn’t hold a candle to no-bid contracts given to campaign contributors who are in turn shielded from civil and criminal liability.”

        Yes, just look at the Webb Space Telescope for an example of how well competition can work out. I mean, JWST was competed between three different companies! That means that the result MUST have been just fine!Report

  7. Avatar BSK
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    says:

    Personally, I love the idea of charter schools. Some will do great, some will fail. Ideally, the great ones will excel and spread their practices. Of course, a school failing is different than a business failing, in that you end up with children lost in the lurch, but schools are already failing so might as well try something different. Much of the problem with charter schools is that they are often more focused on expanding than they are on actually refining their approach. They design a charter, open a school, and 3 years later, they’re expanding at a rate of 3 new schools every 2 years… all before they’ve even graduated a class.Report

  8. Avatar RTod
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik, you seem to have an unspoken question in this post: why do those that generally support vouchers for education hate them with HC and vise versa? And it looks like folks are already chiming in with various theories about why that is.

    But can I posit a possible and (I’m guessing) unpopular reason? I suspect that it comes down to nothing more than one Team got behind one idea first, and so the other Team must oppose it – and vise versa. And that most of the logic that’s used to support/oppose either based on ideology is just backwards engineering.

    I know that’s not a particularly sexy answer, and it isn’t political philosophy debate fodder, but I do think it is the real reason.Report

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

      Well sure. Imagine if we had actually nationalized medicine like the Brits. I bet libertarians would be arguing for single-payer, and the left would be adamantly opposing it. Single-payer would do to nationalized medicine what school choice would do to government-run education. It’s all about the timing.Report

  9. Avatar Pierre Corneille
    Ignored
    says:

    How do school vouchers work in practice? Are they a rebate on property taxes, and if so, does that mean that only homeowners and not renters directly benefit from them? Or are they outright grants of money?Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to Pierre Corneille
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      says:

      It would be troubling if that was the case. As much as people hem and haw about renters not paying taxes, we all know that the property taxes are folded into their rent. It’s not like the property owners take a loss on property taxes. They simply distribute it amongst their tenants as necessary.Report

    • Avatar Adam Schaeffer in reply to Pierre Corneille
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      says:

      Pierre . . . they are grants of government money. Education tax credits allow taxpayers to use their own money on education for their own child or to donate it to someone else . . . its proven extremely successful at saving money for taxpayers, opening choice, improving public schools, and avoiding compelled support and religious entanglement issues that embroil voucher programs in fatal legal battles and political controversy. They also eliminate the need for government third-party payment (ala vouchers)entirely, while ensuring access to good educational options for low-income students. Education tax credits are the libertarian solution to the government-run school problem, not single-payer government vouchers.Report

  10. Avatar Chris
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    says:

    E.D., I wonder what you think of the South Korean school system.
    I have a good friend from Korea (actually back in Korea now) who often talks about his time in high school (from which 97% of Korean students graduate). He didn’t particularly enjoy it, since he was at school for as many as 14 hours a day, and he only got about 10 weeks off every year, but he got a great education, and he’s thankful for it.Report

  11. Avatar David Cheatham
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    says:

    There’s another issue that no one mentions, besides the ‘take money from schools’ thing: Public schools all have specific goals to get funding. Standardized testing goals.

    If you let people freely leave and enter a private school, even _without_ any sort of voucher at all…guess what sort of students the private schools will accept? That’s right, the best ones. Leaving all the bad students behind, resulting in plummeting test scores and lower funding.

    This happens with charter schools, too. If one school is required to take everyone, and one school is not, then the school that is will, statistically, do much worse…and we, for some unimaginable reason, have decided to base education funding on how well a school is doing.

    Vouchers just mean that now _poor_ smart people can leave, making the system even more broken.

    I’m imagining how this would work in medicine. ‘We’re sorry, too many people are dying while on Medicare, we’re going to have to reduce your funding.’

    Of course, you could go the other route, and make it look like health insurance currently looks…where poor performers would be ‘uneducatable’, like the uninsurable, and not get any schooling at all.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to David Cheatham
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      says:

      “Vouchers just mean that now _poor_ smart people can leave, making the system even more broken.”

      So you’re saying that smart kids should be forced to stay in bad schools just to bring the average grades up and make it look like everything is okay?Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to DensityDuck
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        says:

        Not sure that this is the required consequence of what he’s talking about.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to DensityDuck
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        says:

        Are you saying that _bad_ students should end up being by themselves at broken schools?

        What I am perhaps saying is that we _shouldn’t have broken schools_, and the insane idea that charter or private schools will ‘fix’ the problem is insane when those school are not forced to take everyone, and hence, by definition, cannot ‘replace’ public schools.

        And we certainly shouldn’t reduce funding because a school is ‘bad’.Report

      • Density Duck,

        It’s not a problem of smart kids staying in ‘bad’ schools. In fact the best hings for these schools are for smart kids of similar socio-economic backgrounds to remain there and help their classmates. Peer pressure goes both ways. Additionally, augmenting those schools with kids from higher socio-economic backgrounds is a big help. It’s ugly and it’s tough on parents but the truth is that busing works.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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          says:

          Bingo. One of the unspoken of problems education has is that there are six zillion school districts so it’s easy for suburban districts to wall themselves off from urban districts.Report

          • In my city we only have one district and that covers a pretty economically-diverse area. I think it’s a real travesty that states allow so many smaller districts in other places. At the minimum I think they should all be county-wide.Report

            • Avatar RTod in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
              Ignored
              says:

              In Oregon it’s set up so that all tax revenue for education is statewide, and that revenue is divided up among the districts on an equal per-head basis so that there is – in theory – equal funding for all schools.

              In reality, of course, it means that higher income areas have massive annual fund raising events to supply extra teachers, curriculum, facilities and supplies. So poorer areas still end up with less teachers/facilities/supplies/extra-curriculum/school days than richer ones, and there is less incentive for higher income areas to want to change the system.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
          Ignored
          says:

          “[T]he best hings for these schools are for smart kids of similar socio-economic backgrounds to remain there and help their classmates. Peer pressure goes both ways.”

          So now it’s the duty of the smart kids to teach the dumb ones? Interesting.

          Peer pressure? I suggest to you that few of these smarter children have peers.Report

          • Avatar RTod in reply to DensityDuck
            Ignored
            says:

            Actually, the benefit is not unilateral. Kids that learn in group environments where helping peers learn test far better across the board.

            Why would they not have peers?Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to RTod
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              says:

              “Helping”, as often as not, consisted of giving Kid A the answers to their homework so that he will keep Kid B off your back. That was the case for me. Beyond that, it was typically the smart kids clumping together and the dumb kids doing the same. And the class slowing down to the speed of the latter, while I drew comic books and created paper football leagues.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Will Truman
                Ignored
                says:

                Ouch and yuck. Our kids go to a magnate school where team learning & peer mentoring is part of the curriculum, and I have to say we’re pretty thrilled with the way it’s worked for them. But it’s not hard to imagine what you describe happening.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to RTod
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                says:

                I’m not surprised to hear it working in specific environments directed towards thing. When it’s an intentional part of the program, with class time given for students to help students, and so on. But as often as not, I simply hear it as a counterargument for when people bring up smart kids slowed down by a slow classroom. “If they’re bored, they can help the other kids.” As a sort of afterthought. Not saying that you meant it that way; this is just one of those things where I have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction on.

                Another factor to success, or not, is why the slower students are slow. If they’re eager to learn but just have hurdles to jump that the other kids don’t, I think it can work out splendidly. If they’re moving slower because they don’t care, or if they don’t care because they’re frustrated at moving more slowly, that’s a different matter.

                I actually got an inordinate number of special ed and remedial assignments last semester. It was really eye-opening. The difference between the kids that were there because of some impediment, and the ones that were there for other reasons, was stark. The actual special ed classes were often a delight. Kids often acted inappropriately, but they meant well. The remedial classes, on the other hand, were just miserable.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                Do you mind if I ask what grades you teach?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to RTod
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                says:

                Mostly K-8, though some high school. A lot of middle school and a lot of special ed (at all levels). I think I tended to get the assignments that others didn’t want.Report

          • Density Duck – No one said anything about the smarter kids teaching the dumb ones. To the contrary that’s not really the dynamic. What we’re talking about is privelaged kids serving as positive role models for under-privelaged kids. We’re talking about them coming to school ready to learn and with their homework done. We’re talking about them having a natural edge which allows teachers to devote just a little more time to the kids from tougher homes.

            Also, let’s pretend for just a moment that there are a bunch of geniuses floating around our public schools that are stagnating because they are stuck in under-performing schools. You’re welcome to propose some kind of escape clause for them where they can be whisked away to affluent areas where bach is pumped into the classrooms and they have every advantage. So…what % of students do you think that is?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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              says:

              What we’re talking about is privelaged kids serving as positive role models for under-privelaged kids.

              What ratio do you think there needs to be for this to work?

              Because I went to some awesome schools and the ratios in these awesome schools was *STILL* not enough to get the squids to show up with their papers done.Report

            • For the record, the older sprog is one of these students.

              We were asked prior to his first grade placement if we would mind if he was placed in the predominantly ESL class. We said sure. I figured it was a good opportunity for him, and it’s turned out that way (for him at least).

              I don’t know if it has worked for the ESL kids in general.Report

            • You’re also talking about slowing down classroom speed to accommodate the slower students. I also think it’s on the idealistic side to believe that the non-privileged kids think that they have anything to learn from the privileged ones. Or the slower kids from the faster. Or the non-behaving from the behaving.

              I think that Jaybird is right that a lot of it comes down to percentages. The question being, what is the dominant culture of the place? Stick a poor kid in a rich school and he might adopt the value structure to fit in (or he might find a bunch of kids like him and they will collectively reject the common culture) Stick a well-to-do kid in an environment where such behavior is ostracized, you’ll likely get bad results one way or the other.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Will Truman
                Ignored
                says:

                > You’re also talking about slowing down
                > classroom speed to accommodate the
                > slower students.

                That *really* depends on the teacher.

                > I also think it’s on the idealistic side to
                > believe that the non-privileged kids
                > think that they have anything to learn
                > from the privileged ones. Or the
                > slower kids from the faster. Or the
                > non-behaving from the behaving.

                Ditto on this.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                All I can say is that it takes a really special kind of teacher to motivate un-motivated kids. I don’t think such teachers are common enough that we should rely on being able to staff our schools with them.Report

              • Will Truman – again, there’s an erroneous assumption being made that poor kids are ‘unmotivated’. They aren’t – at least at first. There’s just a lot of them with shitty home lives and limited resources (few books in the house, no internet, parents who don’t care about their education). Good teachers AND higher-performing peers can mitigate those negatives.

                I’m not talking out of my ass here. Study after study shows that busing benefits under-priveleged kids and does zero harm to priveleged kids.Report

              • Oh, sure. For many, though, it’s likely too late.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Will Truman
                Ignored
                says:

                “The question being, what is the dominant culture of the place?”

                This seems entirely correct.Report

              • Will Truman,

                I’m not suggesting that the classroom be slowed down at all. I’m talking about simply accepting that some of the kids are going to present more of a challenge and allowing the teacher to focus on them. Diverse learning groups even within a single classroom are a standard approach in almost all elementary schools and diversified learning groups within a single school are common in middle schools even when bsuing is not in place.

                The erroneous assumption being made is that only the poor bused kids will be in those learning groups so there will be a ‘school within a school’. That’s elitist nonsense. I went to private school with plenty of dumb rich kids.

                So yeah, some of the poor kids will end up in slower groups…but some won’t.

                And honestly, it’s not a big deal. When i was in first grade I was in a classroom that was divided evenly between first and second graders. The younger kids benifitted by eavesdropping on the older kids’ lessons (we were all dying to learn cursive) and the older kids benfitted by helping us with our phonics lessons (teaching is a great way to learn a subject).

                Poor kids in rich schools typically rise up so that’s a no-brainer. Rich kids in poor schools can be more of a challenge. Studies show there is no harm academically but socially there may be issues. That’s why I prefer to bus some poor kids to rich schools and then focus reform efforts on the poor schools that now have reduced student populations and a greater student-to-teacher ratio.Report

              • Mike,

                We’re actually not all that far apart on this. My comment was written before you put the split at 75/25. Therein my second paragraph applies, it depends on the percentages we’re talking about. Maybe 75/25 is okay, maybe it would need to be 80/20 or 85/15. I really don’t know.

                My main point of hesitation is that it takes a handful of bad kids to hijack an entire classroom. This isn’t to say that all of the poor school kids are going to fall into this category. Most won’t. And some rich school kids will fall into this category. But there will be proportions. Take the kids and split them along 50/50 lines and you’ll more often than not end up with two bad classes instead of one good one and one bad one. Maybe 75/25 is enough to avoid that.

                My middle school was on the razor’s edge. Mostly well-to-do, but with some pretty sketchy neighborhoods in there. It wasn’t particularly well regarded. Then they made it a magnet school, shuffled in some more rich and bright kids, and now it’s considered a great school (and not just because of the magnet science program). If a few kids can tip the balance in one direction, it can to the other as well.Report

              • I agree with all of that – but I don’t think it’s fair to assume that behavior problems are the only way that disadvantaged kids manifest their status. Much of the time it’s simply a lack of preparedness and a lack of help at home.

                Here’s the way I view it: We all know that successful learnng involves a partnership between students, teachers and parents. In the case of some (many) disadvantaged kids they are missing the parental component. Now I will be the first one to say that teachers should not fill that gap (and my wife is a school social worker). To be honest no one can. but what happens when poor kids are bused to more affluent schools is that the parents of the well-off kids become defacto advocates for not just their own kids but also the poorer kids. Their PTA money provides resources that will benefit every kid in the school. And the best part is, to my conservative heart, it’s completely voluntary. No tax-based income distribution.

                The more affluent parent/advocates may not be able to exactly fill the gap that is left by a lousy parent but they can make that gap smaller. That’s enough of a hope to make it a worthy effort from my perspective.Report

              • It’s not that I think that it’s the only way that the disadvantaged manifest their status. There’s also lack of motivation, which can manifest itself without actual misbehavior and which can be contagious, and slowing the class down (including teacher-absorption here). I focus on misbehavior because you’re (perhaps not wrongly) dismissive of the other two. Perhaps not wrongly, but I’m not presently in a position to pursue them.Report

  12. Avatar Adam Schaeffer
    Ignored
    says:

    Vouchers are grants of government money. Education tax credits allow taxpayers to use their own money on education for their own child or to donate it to someone else . . . its proven extremely successful at saving money for taxpayers, expanding choice, improving public schools, and avoiding compelled support and religious entanglement issues that embroil voucher programs in fatal legal battles and political controversy. They also eliminate the need for government third-party payment (ala vouchers)entirely, while ensuring access to good educational options for low-income students. Education tax credits are the libertarian solution to the government-run school problem, not single-payer government vouchers.Report

  13. Avatar Pat Cahalan
    Ignored
    says:

    If you’re going to pass out vouchers, at the very least you should require any school that accepts vouchers to have the same reportable metrics.

    Private schools wanna accept vouchers? Then we must know that they’re doing as well as the public schools with our tax money. Let them take the same standardized tests that the public schools take.

    Most private schools won’t take ’em, you betcha. Because they don’t want to teach to the test, for one thing.

    But also because I suspect that on the same baseline of performance, private schools will show that… they don’t… actually produce… a better result than your average public schools.

    Sorta breaks the mystique of paying for it.Report

    • Avatar Adam Schaeffer in reply to Pat Cahalan
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      says:

      The evidence generally demonstrates that private schools do educate children more effectively, and for a fraction of the cost. For instance, DC voucher kids do as well or better than those who applied for but did not recieve a voucher. The cost? Less than $7k compared to $28k in DC public schools. And this is in a highly-regulated, tiny program that can’t effectively match diverse needs with a diversity of educational environments.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Adam Schaeffer
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        says:

        > The evidence generally demonstrates that private
        > schools do educate children more effectively, and
        > for a fraction of the cost.

        That is a very broad statement. I would like to see some references, please.

        > For instance, DC voucher kids do as well or better
        > than those who applied for but did not recieve a voucher.

        I can think of any number of explanations for this single result that don’t support the thesis. I’m also hugely unconvinced that the results would necessarily generalize, even if the result does support the thesis. I would like to see the study.Report

        • Avatar Adam Schaeffer in reply to Pat Cahalan
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          says:

          There is good evidence that private school kids do better in general, even controlling for family factors. But there are surely unseen differences between private and public families. The most convincing evidence therefore comes from random-assignment studies, essentially policy experiments like those used to test the effectiveness of drugs. Since school choice is so poplar, voucher programs are typically oversubscribed by large numbers. Many voucher programs draw winners randomly. Because of this, we can be certain that any statistically significant difference between the two groups — those who won a voucher and those who did not — are due to the program itself. The families are not systematically different from each other.

          Here’s a roundup of this literature:
          http://jaypgreene.com/2009/04/27/voucher-participant-effects-updated-42609/Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Adam Schaeffer
            Ignored
            says:

            Thank you. It is extremely rare that I get actual usable citations when I request them 🙂 I will peruse your evidence, good sir.

            > Many voucher programs draw winners
            > randomly. Because of this, we can be
            > certain that any statistically significant
            > difference between the two groups —
            > those who won a voucher and those who
            > did not — are due to the program itself.
            > The families are not systematically
            > different from each other.

            I’m not certain this is the case, but I’ll take a look at what you got.

            I expect, for example, that people who don’t intend to take advantage of a voucher program may in fact still apply for it (or may *be* applied for it, depending upon how the program is administered). I also would be a bit leery of assuming that the selection process is in fact random without auditing it.

            But those may be baseless objections, I’ll take a look at the studies.

            On a meta level, if you have troubled schools and a very popular voucher program, then the right to exit may be tied to the voucher program. Those that stay behind may indeedy be stuck at a bad school. This doesn’t necessarily imply that vouchers improve schooling, just that they assist moving students from a particular bad school to a better one. There are lots of other potential ways to solve that problem (improving the initial bad school, for one!)

            What about people who leave normally-performing schools on a voucher program? I suspect, for example, that some people who are Catholic might jump at the chance to exit their public school for a private one on the state’s dime, even if their existing school is just fine.

            Anyway, you gave me some evidence, I’ll go chew on it. Thanks!Report

            • Avatar Adam Schaeffer in reply to Pat Cahalan
              Ignored
              says:

              Thanks Pat . . . I think you point to a subtle but potential issue in this kind of random assignment; what about the parents who might apply but not use a voucher? There might be some significant differences here, as you point out. These studies take the most cautious approach to the analysis, comparing those who won to those who lost. In other words, the “treatment” is winning the voucher, not using it. This surely means that some real impact from actually using a voucher is washed out, but it also washes out what differences there might be between families who use or don’t use the vouchers.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Adam Schaeffer
                Ignored
                says:

                > In other words, the “treatment” is winning
                > the voucher, not using it.

                Huh. I’m wrapping my head around that one.

                > This surely means that some real impact
                > from actually using a voucher is washed
                > out, but it also washes out what differences
                > there might be between families who use
                > or don’t use the vouchers.

                Is there a lot of variance inside the “voucher-winner” group, as a whole?Report

        • Avatar Adam Schaeffer in reply to Pat Cahalan
          Ignored
          says:

          Regarding the cost of schooling, there is no contest . . . plenty of data backing this up, which I discuss here:
          http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11432Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Adam Schaeffer
            Ignored
            says:

            I’ll look at that, too.

            This one is trickier, though, because it’s hard to normalize for comparison. Sure, public schools may be hiding lots of costs.

            But the price tag on a per-head for a private school likely has a lot of cost-shifted costs, too.

            Private schools have endowment funds, donated lands, subsidized faculty members (in the case of parochial schools), tax breaks in some cases, etc. To really compare the two, you’d have to do a lot of digging.Report

        • Avatar Adam Schaeffer in reply to Pat Cahalan
          Ignored
          says:

          In regard to generalizing these findings, I can think of few good reasons to doubt that they would apply generally among low-income students.

          And at the very least, we can be confident that wwe would get the same or better achievement for about 60 percent (far less the way most private chocie policies are strutured) of the cost of public schooling.

          In other words, this is about as easy a decision as one could have in public policy. That is, if it weren’t for the $600 billion governement monopoly system that would stand to lose a good chunk of loot.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Adam Schaeffer
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            says:

            And hey, if they don’t work out, the school will just kick out the kids that are “causing too much trouble” and conservatives will continue to crow about how much cheaper and better they are than public education.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jesse Ewiak
              Ignored
              says:

              You say that like expulsion is a crazy thing that never happened at any point in the history of American schoolteaching.

              Although I guess you’re right, the only way to get expelled from public school these days is to be a white kid with a pocketknife in your car.Report

  14. Avatar kmu2
    Ignored
    says:

    As a parent of who has grappled with educational choices I have pretty strong opinions about education and our current choices. My kids started in poor school district where I found myself looking at private schools, considering home schooling and praying for some solution (there were no charters). All the private schools were either too expensive or full, all had religious affliliation which was problematic for me. Fortuanately we moved to a great but very large school district. Many years later we found ourselves once again looking for more alternatives due to specific educational needs of one child. We turned to a new Charter school that seemed perfect. We provided them with all school records etc. Within 5 weeks they asked me to pick up my child because of a very mild learning disability they felt didn’t want to deal with. ( he had asked for extra help in math) Something the public shool had never even given him any asisstance with. A school with 50 students total couldn’t deal with something a school of 4000 had very effectively. Basically they felt it would bring their numbers (funding) down. I was later told that they sent 7 students away that day. My child has consistantly done well on standardized testing, often getting exemplary scores yet a school of 50 couldn’t give him a bit of additional help in one subject. We are back to public school, and bigger proponent than ever. It has it flaws but it has served our family.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to kmu2
      Ignored
      says:

      “My kids started in poor school district…Fortuanately we moved to a great but very large school district. ”

      And, according to people in this thread, that move means you’re a bastard who’s trying to wall off poor black people in some kind of educational ghetto, because it was your kids’ duty to act as auxiliary teachers.Report

      • Avatar RTod in reply to DensityDuck
        Ignored
        says:

        “according to people in this thread, that move means you’re a bastard who’s trying to wall off poor black people”

        Um, dude… I think you might be the only person in this thread that’s talking about black kids / white kids.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to RTod
          Ignored
          says:

          We talk about “class issues” and “urban vs. ex-urban divides” and such.

          Completely different.Report

          • Avatar RTod in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            Depends on who you are where you live, I guess. In Oregon all of the poor school districts are in fairly impoverished rural, white conservative districts, where black students are pretty damn rare – if they exist al all.

            So actually, yeah. Completely different.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to RTod
              Ignored
              says:

              They can be completely different, as you point out. Even so, I almost felt the need to say Kid A and Kid B in my example were both white. And when talking about the run-down local school district where I substitute teach (where almost all the kids are white), I will frequently mention it to avoid folks on the left thinking racial implications are being made, and the folks on the right from assuming that I am deliberately leaving out the race of the kids involved because I don’t want to be “racist” (in quotes).Report

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