Saturday, March 21, 2009

Post No. 96: Should Government Get Out of the Business of Education?


It is our goal to examine every imaginable issue in society about which reasonable people may differ. We’re nothing if not eclectic.

For some time now, it has been our intention to delve into the subject of education. We tangentially touched on it in a prior post, “Recognizing the Potential of the Innovative Thought Process,” but never approached the subject directly.

Today, we seek your thoughts about a very specific issue: whether government should be involved, in any way, in the education of American citizens.

Earlier today, C-Span2 Book TV aired a book discussion program featuring author John Taylor Gatto. Mr. Gatto was a teacher in the New York Public School system for almost 30 years. He discussed his latest book, Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling.

Mr. Gatto contends that compulsory schooling cripples the imagination and discourages critical thinking. The entire time that we listened to his presentation, we thought about the current debate about the government’s involvement in our lives, and the suggestions that many of the policies of the current administration are socialist in nature.

Many have argued that the only things that government does well are the maintenance of the armed forces and law enforcement. We occasionally hear from those who contend that private schools are of higher quality of than public schools. (At this point, we do not wish to discuss school vouchers.)

However, we have never heard anyone suggest that government remove itself entirely from the field of education. We all know the arguments which prompted government involvement years ago.

However, many argue today that the “free market” is a far better mechanism for driving progress and innovation in society than the government. Should we just let everyone in society decide for themselves how their children should be educated, and leave them to fend for themselves?

Should we let competitive forces decide who gets an education and its quality? Sort of an educational Darwinism?

We believe that any responsible organization should revisit its underlying assumptions on a daily basis, and constantly question whether there is a better way to achieve its goals. Otherwise, it will become stagnant, fall behind in relation to its international competition, and ultimately lose sight of its reason for being.

Tell us – should government get out of the business of education? At the elementary school level? High school level? Collegiate and graduate school level?

51 comments:

  1. Why all or nothing? A blend is best, I think, since it allows choice in these matters. One caveat, the choice should be free and un-coerced by government or quasi-government (teachers unions and associations). You should not eliminate one option, vouchers, because that increases choice and allows competition between public and private education.

    By the way, educational Darwinism already exists today and has, well, forever. Better colleges are expensive, state run schools are cheaper but not seen as equal or superior to the Ivy League. Better neighborhoods (higher average incomes) beget better schools (even public ones). The rich and connected can afford to send their children to private(and better) schools (check out where the Obamas are sending their young girls).
    I believe that government, at least at the state level, has a valid role in education. It can help expand educational opportunities to those who could not otherwise afford it if the system were entirely private.

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  2. Our question was not directed to whether people should have a choice. Arguably, they currently have a choice. Our question was whether government should be involved at all. "Free market" advocates might suggest that it should not. Additionally, those who oppose government involvement would argue that the quality is poor.

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  3. Either way you wish to describe the question, I believe my opinion is a fits. I don't agree that government should not be involved at all. Not because of the lack of quality but because, without its involvement, a fair portion of the population would get little to no education at all. Granted, public education is not doing a good job in comparison to private but it is doing a good job in comparison to none.

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  4. Douglas: First of all, we are willing to explore ANY issue about which people have views. This is a forum for the stimulation of thought and CIVIL exchange of ideas. We’ve learned an incredible amount about how people view the world through our operation of this blog. Hopefully, others have also, and will continue to do so.

    We did not intentionally pose this particular question as a one to be considered from a moral perspective. We recognize that there are some who contend that, in a prosperous country as ours, it is immoral that certain people have certain “things” and others not, some as a result of their efforts or lack thereof, and others through no fault of their own.

    However, our purpose here was not to pose the moral question. We posed it as a governance or management question, with somewhat of a focus on the underlying economic model. There appears to be a concern on the part of many that government has too significant a role in our lives. There are many who feel that the New Deal policies implemented by FDR posed a detriment to the US in the long run. A strong argument has been advanced that the free market should be allowed to operate to the greatest extent possible, and that such operation inures to the greater benefit of society.

    We were simply asking whether people felt that the “let the free market operate” principle is also applicable to education.

    Assuming that it was a moral question, and we have definitely posed some of that nature, we simply encourage people to share their views/positions, and the underlying reasons for their views, so that others might consider them and take them into consideration in formulating their views of the world.

    Ultimately, this concept is to be presented to high school seniors about to enter college, and college students, to assist them in thinking about the many different ways to analyze issues, at an earlier stage in their lives. We believe that the more information that one has about the world, and intellectual tools available to them, they can do a better job of navigating the complexity that is life.

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  5. Douglas, you said: "... [W]ithout its involvement, a fair portion of the population would get little to no education at all.

    Why shouldn't those folks be left to fend for themselves like other aspects of life? Wouldn't the competitive forces of the free market mechanism serve to advance the interests of all? Aren't those who would receive the little to no education at all the same people that many are currently claiming are the irresponsible segment of society, and living off of "entitlements," and not pulling their weight in society?

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  6. Logistician,

    Yes, I think that the government should get out of the business of education! I'm frankly sick of them spending MY money to educate somebody ELSE'S kids (as I have none of my own)!

    See the problem? If we were to eliminate the public education structure, then those who wish to have their children educated at all (never mind "well-educated") would face a tremendous expense, no part of which would be born by their neighbors.

    Yes, I know: here is Mr. Take-A-Hike-Nanny-State endorsing a collectivist enterprise (sort of). Whereas it would do my heart good to see those well-paid (compared to me) indoctrinators have to go begging for work and actually have to produce measurable results to keep their positions; and whereas I would love to see the teacher's unions effectively busted; I nonetheless would hate to see some children effectively "passed-over" when it comes to even the most rudimentary and agenda-based education.

    Think about the result: the crime rate would soar, and entire cities would be run by gangs of young thugs. The fact that you posed the question is laudable because it leads to the conclusion that to eliminate public education is unworkable in the context of our modern society.

    Public schooling has been pretty much universal for nearly a century and, while privatization might have been a viable option at the outset, doing away with it at this late date would quickly lead to a nightmarish polarization between the haves and the have-nots. One could argue that the rise of America's middle class is primarily due to the availability of public education. Are we morally obligated to offer it? No, but the smart money (vis-à-vis our society’s well-being) is on its continuation. Some fine-tuning would be in order, however. Perhaps this is not the sort of answer which you sought, but it is the only one which I know to give.

    And yes, I am indeed a product of the public education system. Perhaps they bestowed me with some sort of "implant" which might predispose an otherwise pretty conservative guy to offer the above sort of response . . .

    Jeff Dreibus

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  7. I think there is a place in American society for all types of education (public, private, home, etc.). however, I believe failures in any education system are rooted in parent's lack of involvement or misguided priorities. For example, there are plenty of families who drop their kids off at school at 7:30am and pick them up at 6:00 at night. Thats a lot of time away from home for a youngster. These families would argue that they have no choice because they can't afford an alternative, but these families often have two new cars, a giant home, expensive vacations, a sickening amount of expensive electronics and other material goods.

    In summary, we cannot fix our education system without first fixing ourselves. If American's really value education, they will sacrifice anything (including material goods) to ensure the best education for their children. This could mean becoming more involved in the public schools, budgeting for a private school, or forgoing one parent's salary to home school. If this attitude shift doesn't occur in American culture, free enterprise education will fail just as miserably as public education.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Log, I am not trying to be confrontational. I am trying to explain why the question shouldn't be (and isn't being treated as) an either/or one. Perhaps it should be "What role, if any, should government have in education?" This, in my opinion, would allow a broad spectrum of concepts to be explored.

    If I recall correctly, all schools were once private enterprises with some communities creating town schools (the town would build a school and hire a teacher). This would suggest that government was always involved at some level in education in the US. There is a term often used in education, local control, which I think should be the underlying principle of an educational system.

    When I was in junior high, a teacher once praised the US system (at that time, mostly state level control with federal financial assistance) and compared it to the centralized system of France. She was not in favor of the centralized control and unification of curricula. Perhaps she had a great influence over my thinking on the subject or her ideas and mine simply meshed.

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  10. Many have argued that the only things that government does well are the maintenance of the armed forces and law enforcement.

    Speciously of course. Govt is inefficient at all tasks, but needed in some cases to avoid greater abuses. ie you can't easily privatize a military, though we recklessly squander *trillions* on ours every decade thanks to the fundamentally naive and foolish assumptions that are defending things we have actually threatened with our massive spend - fully half the global military total.

    In Education (as well as environment, etc) I'd suggest we want a modest govt infrastructure to act as ombudsman, bringing transparency and legal enforcements to abuses such as malfeasance, massive truancies, discrimination, etc. But based on my (limited) understanding of the current system we squander hugely on administrative infrastructure to fret over "standards and practices" that are not very relevant or enforceable.

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  11. Jeff: You raise many interesting issues. You made us think of something about which we had not thought before.

    The "let the market operate" advocates claim that their way is better than government involvement. They frequently make this argument with passion, as if it is a given, and beyond question. Since much of society appears to be dissatisfied with the results of public education, what assurance does society have that leaving it to the market forces will do a better job?

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  12. Ginac: We couldn't stated the issue any better ourselves, at least with respect to the importance of motivation or political will on the part of society to address the education issue.

    The reality is that in America, under our governance model, there will always be a segment or strata of society, which will be ignored, and left to fend for itself. It's the nature of any competitive model.

    It does not matter whether it is crabs, liones, roaches, or dinosaurs. Not everyone can win. It's a constant battle. Not everyone is going to place in the top 5 or 6 places, or even the top 70%. There will always be losers. It's the nature of the beast.

    The issue is how many losers are we willing to tolerate, and how does society ensure that they do not have a adverse impact on society at large.

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  13. Douglas: There are at least 27 different ways in which we could have posed the question. We just put one out there. The reason that we posed it in that fashion is because many "let the market determine" advocates and libertarians contend that the government should perform as few functions in society as reasonably possible. Education may or may not be one of them depending on one's view.

    That being said, we think that the comment of Joseph Hunkins really drives a stake at the issue of how we divide the function between government and the private sector.

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  14. Joseph Hunkins, welcome! Beautiful, simply beautiful: "... needed in some cases to avoid greater abuses."

    There is a personal story which the Logistician often tells around here at the Institute. When he was in graduate school, he was presented with a societal issue which needed to be addressed, but each time that suggested that some agency or organization in society should address it, his professor would provide some structural reason as to why that entity could not address it.

    Finally, out of frustration, he exclaimed, "Well, somebody has to do it."

    In a society which values its people and its long-term survival, there are arguably certain things that it wants to ensure are addressed, and simply not left to chance that some entity will decide or be motivated to do it. Some would argue that education is one of those.

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  15. Some would argue that education is one of those.

    Yes! It is bad enough that state-funded institutions of higher learning are ever more being run according to corporate models. This may serve well the bottom line, but colleges and universities are not meant to be commercial enterprises, and once they have become that, our culture is in its death throes. It is bad enough, I say, that this is happening at the university level. The thought of turning unformed K-12 minds over to amoral corporate bureaucrats--the same folks who are destroying their bodies with fats and sugars--is sickening.

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  16. http://guilfordschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2009/03/
    logistician-tackles-public-education.html

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  17. If the question is, as stated, "Should Government Get Out of the Business of Education?" then my answer is "No." It is needed. I believe that society benefits by the expansion of education. That is, by providing basic educational opportunity to as many of its citizens as fiscally possible. However, there are limits. I do not agree with Rodak that corporate funding of higher education is bad or improper.

    Historically, I believe you will find that higher education and big business have had common interests and goals and have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship.

    I would suggest that whatever abuses one sees perpetrated by corporations can easily be matched, and exceeded, by government. At least businesses have competition from other businesses. What competition does government have?

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  18. I do not agree with Rodak that corporate funding of higher education is bad or improper.

    The only corporate funding of education should be through the tax system. I do not want the corporate mind-set designing and implementing the educational programs of our children.

    What competition does government have?

    That "the government" is a monolithic adversary of personal liberty is a propagandistic myth perpetrated by reactionaries either outside of government proper (Rush Limbaugh), or who are themselves members of the government that they attack from the floor of the House or the Senate. Think about it. It is hard to imagine any institution in which there is more competition than there is in government. Every office is won through whole hierarchical levels of competition, both intra- and extra-mural. Liberalsim competes with conservativism and libertarianism competes with both. It's never-ending.

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  19. Answer: No

    Douglas' description of soaring crime and increased poverty in a world where schools are privatized is right on the money. And guess who loses? As usual, the middle class. The poor remain poor. The rich weather the storm per usual.

    With university tuitions soaring toward $50k/year, how can we expect the free market to allow middle class folks the "luxury" of affording 13 additional years of private eduction costs? There's nothing "free" about that free market.

    Unless, of course, the portion of your homeowner's tax bill that is presently applied to town schools is simply eliminated. But we know it never works that way. Especially on tax bills that aren't broken down on a line-by-line basis. Towns aren't going to reduce their residents' yearly assessments when they could simply shift the school portion toward infrastructure, or police, or refacing the library, or whatever.

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  20. "Should Government Get Out of the Business of Education?"

    NO. Reforms are needed and we need parents to take and active role as well as empower teachers, cut waste, rid them of corrupt management etc.,but not abandon public education.

    The following are a few reasons why we need to support public education:

    Why have compulsory education? Consider this: No human society within the last 100 years has been able to compete and survive without a measure of compulsory education. If you check the stats you will find that those nations with the best educated populations are the ones who are best off not only in a financial sense but also health-wise and many other aspects of what we consider to be lives worth living. I know of no people or nation doing well without compulsory education. We can not afford to abandon public education. In fact we as a nation have done that in large measure and we are suffering the consequences.

    According to a United Nations survey of worldwide adult literacy, of the 158 participating nations, the United States ranks 49th. In 1992 the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics conducted a National Adult Literacy Survey to assess the depth and breadth of literacy problems in the United States. The survey suggested that 20 percent or more of U.S. adults possess no better than a fifth-grade reading capacity.

    85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

    Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders

    43% of adults at Level 1 literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at Level 5

    One-half of all adults in federal and state correctional institutions cannot read or write at all. 7 in 10 prisoners perform at the lowest two literacy skill levels. Only about one-third of those in prison have completed high school.

    70% of mothers on welfare have reading skills in the lowest two proficiency levels.

    The gap between children from low and high-income families on reading comprehension scores is over 40 points. Children from low-income families, on average, score 27 points below the mean reading level score for all students. Students from wealthy families score 15 points above the average.

    According to the National Academy on an Aging Society, 73 billion dollars is the estimated annual cost of low literacy skills in the form of longer hospital stays, emergency room visits, more doctor visits, and increased medication. “Toward a Literate Nation”, Luis Herrera, Public Libraries, Jan/Feb 2004.


    In 1993, the Education Department determined that as many as 30 percent of unskilled and semiskilled industrial workers (approximately 14 million) were below even a fourth grade level of reading and writing. This would make it almost impossible to read required safety manuals, product labels, and even written warning signs. A commonly cited incident involved an apparently illiterate worker taking a cigarette break: unable to read the danger sign on the door of an empty room, the worker set off a lethal explosion after he entered the room and ignited his cigarette.

    According to statistics published in 1998 by the National Institute for Literacy, a federal agency established by the National Literacy Act of 1991, businesses lose more than $60 billion annually—an amount comparable to Mobil Corporation's 1997 worldwide revenues—because of skill deficiencies.

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  21. Log, short answer, No, the government should not get out of the business of education.

    However, we need change.

    I am normally not a believer in big government, but education should be funded at the federal level. Instead of state or local funding, which encourages "Darwinism" in education, schools should be funded on a per pupil basis by the country. Control of curriculum, however, should not be nationalized. "No Child Left Behind" is a disaster, and, in my judgement, can never be fixed.

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  22. Rodak: Thanks for joining us. You mentioned a very significant change which has taken place in institutions of higher learning in recent years. In many instances, the job of university president has been transformed from an academic one, to a fund-raising function.

    We recently read a book written by a retired head of one of colleges at Harvard. He indicated that with so much emphasis being placed on getting a job, people no longer learn for learning's sake any longer, and thus have narrowed their world views.

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  23. Thank you for providing a forum for an important topic. I have been working for the past 18 months in a university library archive. In processing historical university records, some of which date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, I have received a vivid, almost visceral, impression of the gradual (but accelerating) transformation of the university from an institution dedicated to the cultivation of broad-based human ethical and cultural sensibilities, into a factory-like facility for the mass-production of highly specialized, cookie-cutter meal tickets. It is dismaying.

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  24. There's no question that society needs education, and that it is important. The question is whether government should take some role in providing it. If the private sector is so good a mechanism for driving quality, and beats out government in most areas (at least according to some), why not just leave it up to the market forces?

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  25. Do you have the additional disposable income to "leave it up to the market forces"?

    Do you have the guarantee of your municipality, and every municipality in the country that the portion of taxes currently diverted toward education will be cut from the tax assessment should privatization become the only option?

    That said, privatization as a mandate does offer an interesting twist on property values. Namely, it would equalize them, as towns which once boasted top schools would see their home prices levelled via surrounding environs.

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  26. Yes, government should continue to be a part of our educational system and continue to play a big part of educating American citizens. We have to look at the bigger picture. Without a quality education, not only statistics such as crime rate, prison rate, poverty, etc rises, but America's global rank declines. At this time, the medical field recruits from other countries because there is a shortage of doctors,nurses and other medical staff in United States to fill those positions. In the future, will we have to recruit in other fields as well because we did not want to educate our own?

    I am a member of the Alliance for Education and recently attended a "C3 Conference" The "C3" meaning "Careers Connection Conference" This is where business and the community connect and support the education of our youth. Business people realize the importance of educating children so that they can have competent employees. The community realizes that their community will be safer when they invest in education.

    So, not only should government continue to provide an education, but the business sector, community, and the parents should play an active role in educating our youth.

    I want to say a little about parent participation in the school system. Educators state that this is the main component whether a child is successful in school or not, is if the parent is actively involved. There are a few parents that I feel that they don't care or where the education of their child is a top priority.

    But from my experience working in the community, a vast majority of parents do not know how to be actively involved. First, the educational system does not invite parents to participate other than "Back to School Night" or Parent-Teacher Conference. Elementary schools are the most inviting for parent volunteers. It gets more difficult,to be actively involved as a volunteer at the school as your child promotes to the higher grades. Unless, your child is in sports, music or some club, you are not welcome to volunteer in the high school. The school can be intimidating to a lot of parents, who lack education themselves.

    In conclusion, our educational system needs the government but also parents, business people and the community support so that we can educate our youth to provide a competent workforce, safer communities, and a better society.

    Sharon

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  27. Historically, the only people who received an education were the privileged. That is, the few who had money and/or power (the ruling class and the clergy). I would suggest that we always will have a percentage of the population seeking knowledge for knowledge's sake in spite of those gloomy perceptions of large numbers merely seeking knowledge for commercial goals. The concept that knowledge is a goal in itself is something which perpetuates a class system. The idea that knowledge is a tool and, as a tool, can be used to improve one's life is a key to expansion of liberty, equality, and theimprovement of the quality of life.

    This concept, knowledge as a tool for the average person, is a relatively new one. That is, within the last 200 years. Most rapidly with the advent of the industrial revolution but starting with the advancement of a more universal concept of democratic government but got its start with the American experience. The US had much to do with this although I think it is more unintended consequence of a pairing of free market and democratic rule. When people began to see themselves as equals, not trapped within a class, education became recognized as the means to upward mobility. Knowledge and ability are what democratic free market states reward.
    Therefore, it is in a society's best interest to educate as many of its citizens as it can. Leaving it all in the hands of government, without the input of private enterprise, is a state as supreme concept. When the becomes more important than the individual, we lose liberty. When the state determines what will be taught, the next step is to decide who will be allowed to learn what. All in the interests of "proper use" of public funds but, in reality, to perpetuate the personal power of those we place in charge.

    By the way, Log, one of the main functions of a university president has always been to raise funding. And I suspect all presidents have always felt that it has taken too much of their time. Yet, the academic concerns are met by the Deans and the president's function is administration of the business side of the school.

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  28. Logistician,

    It would seem safe to declare that we have achieved a reader concensus on this topic.

    Impressive, considering the widely-varied nature of TVFOMTW's readership.

    Jeff Dreibus

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  29. Jeff noted that a reader consensus had evolved on this topic, which he considered impressive considering the widely-varied nature of our readership. This is interesting, in and of itself. If you agree with Jeff, why do you suspect that this is not the case with other subjects? Education is a pretty significant deal in our society. What explains the difference?

    Interestingly, the Logistician also noted a lack of polar extremes during the discussion on lying.

    Does this suggest that individuals at opposite ends of the ideological or philosophical spectrum can meet somewhere in toward the middle?

    While we are on education, how about a bit more discussion about school vouchers.

    Thanks readers for carrying this discussion.

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  30. Vouchers would only work in fairly large, urban areas where there exists are large number and variety of schools. If you give me a voucher here in Dogpatch, USA, I have no place to take it. The only schools, other than the public schools, are very small, sectarian religious schools, and one very small private K-6 school.
    The other problem, even in urban areas, is that the alternatives to the public schools would very rapidly reach their maximum capacity and be unable to absorb more students from the failed public schools. Also, the problem kids, and the remedial cases would bring all of their issues with them, thus diluting the experience for the kids already in attendance. Vouchers sound real good, until you start considering the nuts and bolts, the problematic logisitics, of making them universally available.

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  31. Rodak, are you saying that because it won't meet the needs of everyone that it shouldn't be tried? If so, couldn't the same thing be said about public education? Or just about anything else? I would suggest the vouchers would provide incentive for the private schools to become viable in your area. At the same time, they would provide incentive for the public schools to deal with the discipline problem and provide better education for those students whose parents choose to stay with that form.
    America is about freedom and that shouldn't be restricted by fear of the unknown or by possibly incorrect assumptions.

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  32. Rodak and Douglas: Interesting points made. Rodak, thanks for mentioning the geographic density issue. We had not previously appreciated it as such, although we were aware that inner-city single mothers were big fans of vouchers.

    Douglas: Thanks for raising the issue of whether we should try something new even if it does not help everyone in society.

    Assuming that we expend taxpayer funds on any education effort, what percentage of affected students should be minimally required before we think it fiscally responsible to purse the effort?

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  33. Rodak, are you saying that because it won't meet the needs of everyone that it shouldn't be tried?

    Not with federal money, it shouldn't. Where is the fairness there? Many of the rural schools are not only the only choice, but just as bad a choice as the inner-cities schools often are.

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  34. That said, Douglas, you don't address any of the practical, logistical issues I raise. It is fine to take the libertarian "Don't tell me I can't do X" stance, if you have solutions to the collateral, problematic issues that implementing X would foreseeably raise.
    If, for instance, you wanted to build charter K-12 schools where I live, you'd need a complete physical plant for each. And where would you get the excellent, experienced teachers you'd want to hire? If almost all of the kids left the public schools, would they be shut down? If so, you would only have moved the location of the school to another building. I've had this discussion before, elsewhere, and the people most adamant in their advocacy of vouchers never seem to come across with solutions to any of these fairly obvious problems.

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  35. Rodak: You are the first person, during the past year of our maintenance of this blog, who has used the words "logistical" and "practical" together in discussing how to address an issue raised in this forum.

    The Logistician tries to encourage people to focus on what it takes to get things done in our society, and unlock the chains to their particular ideological positions. We as a society can not box ourselves in at this point in time.

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  36. Rodak, I went to two years of high school where the classrooms only had a roof and two walls each. The class I was in consisted of students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. I went to this school because I was about to quit public school. I was not challenged, I was not being taught, at public school. You do not need an elaborate building, or major money to teach students. You need teachers who are capable, respect for their abilities, and a desire to teach. Public schools are failing to teach, are not living up to the promise implied as a social contract. Where is the fairness in that?
    I believe I did answer your questions, addressed your assumptions about what might happen. But I also pointed out that you do not know those things will actually happen until it is tried. And you don't seem to want to try because you are afraid those things will happen. I say we are failing our children now, that is real, and we should have an option to put those kids into other schools which might actually educate them. My granddaughter is now enrolled in a private school. She had to qualify for it, she had to wait to get in, her parents had to pay for it (no vouchers). Fortunately, they can afford it. Not so for most others in her class in public school. Not without vouchers. Public schools have become holding pens for barely literate kids. If public education is good, it will improve itself and live up to its promise. The voucher system can help do that because nothing motivates like the fear of losing funding.

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  37. In fact, all of our public schools are not failing. Despite the almost total lack of any alternatives to the public schools in the (very small) city where I live, my two daughters were quite well educated. The older one was accepted to Wellesley College, and the younger one has gotten all "A's" and "B's" in her first two quarters at one of the state universities. But this is a university town; out in the surrounding rural counties, including the one my city is in, things are not so sweet.
    Have you considered the fact that a federally-funded voucher system would set up another huge and permanent federal bureaucracy to oversee its funding and to monitor its administration? Have you considered the fact that many persons now paying for the public schools through local taxation would need to continue to do so, as well as paying to send their children to the alternative school that the vouchers made possible, once tuition for attendance at those alternative schools is means-tested as it would certainly need to be, down the road?
    Another factor is that K-12 teachers will need to be much better compensated than they are now, if the quality of teaching is to improve across the board with the implementation of a universal voucher system. It is just true that the best and brightest of our college and university students are not currently majoring in education.

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  38. Question: If parents can afford 13 years of private schooling, why not save up to buy a home in a town with excellent public schools?

    Does the cost of real estate eclipse the cost of private schools? Are the taxes in these towns prohibitively high? Is the assumption of private schools as superior to public ones true?

    I'm a product of the public school system, albeit from a very good district, so admittedly I'm biased. In my area, while private schools continued to cut extracurricular activities, not to mention music and art programs, the public schools kept these activities alive. Of course, our property/school taxes are the fifth highest in the nation.

    You get what you pay for.

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  39. MVD makses some excellent points.
    Ultimately, a voucher system will end up helping only families in the middle- to upper-middle class, who are just on the economic verge of being able to afford private schooling (where available) for their kids, but not quite there. A voucher system won't federally fund schooling for the lower-middle and disadvantaged families forever. Or, if it does, it will soon become one more hated "entitlement" program. And the same people who are touting it now, will be calling for its dissolution then.

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  40. Rodak, you make some assumptions, ones I have heard many times from the teachers' unions and school administrators. These seem, to me, to be people with a certain bias. No, "all of our public schools are not failing." However, enough of them are that people are complaining and looking for solutions. And it has been going on for decades. In the 50s, there was a book called "Why Johnny Can't Read". It was a best seller. The problems still exist today. In the 50 years since that book came out, the public education system has tried experiment after experiment to improve our children's eduction. And it has failed to do so. It seems that the only things that haven't been tried are those things which suggest that children might be better served outside the system. That's an understandable position taken by those whose careers are dependent upon the system. But it is not necessarily the right position.
    Yes, a school voucher system will mean that you would still pay school taxes even though your children don't go to the public school. That happens even without vouchers. It's a specious argument. That most children survive public education means nothing. My own son did but I had to opt out in order to finish high school. Not because I was not smart enough but because I was bored to tears with it. You may not understand that. You seem to have a fixed mindset on this subject. I will not be able to change your mind. I am not trying to. I am speaking to those "on the fence". I am suggesting that fear is not a reason not to try vouchers, that predictions rarely come true, and that the arguments are often without any real foundation. I am not speaking in absolutes.
    I leave it up to the public.

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  41. I'm just curious where the gentlemen live who hold a negative bias of public education. In my area of the country, job openings at public schools attract hundreds (no exaggeration) of resumes. The entire region is dotted with well-funded, excellent rated districts.

    Of course, our taxes are probably higher than yours. Now, I'm not a big government advocate by any means, nor would I vote for increased taxes in most circumstances, but again...

    You get what you pay for.

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  42. It's a specious argument.

    I don't think you heard the argument. The argument was that those commonly most in need of alternatives to public education are usually also those least able to simultaneously support two, competing, school systems. (People who now vote against school millage issues because they have no children in school should be ashamed of themselves for so doing.)
    The argument I was making refers only to those who pay local taxes AND want to send their child to the alternative school. If they are wealthy, they don't need the voucher. If they need the voucher, they can't afford the double-dip--or it will be, at the very least, an unwanted burden.
    I don't argue that vouchers wouldn't work for that demographic slice of the middle-class that I described above. I argue that vouchers will not work if they are universally available, and available at no cost to all those people who would not otherwise be able to take advantage of them.
    You don't answer my concerns about the inevitable federal bureaucracy that federally-funded vouchers would make necessary.
    You don't address any of my nuts-and-bolts issues. Your personal, anecdotal experience is not a proof of anything. If you can demonstrate WHY the things that I predict would happen, won't happen, then you will have made an argument.

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  43. The argument I was making refers only to those who pay local taxes AND want to send their child to the alternative school. If they are wealthy, they don't need the voucher. If they need the voucher, they can't afford the double-dip--or it will be, at the very least, an unwanted burden.

    That's right, they cannot afford the double dip. That is the purpose of the voucher, it is a refund of a portion of the taxes. Each child is a "head" that is counted within each school district and the district is allocated a specific amount of money per "head". Since those "heads" who go to a private school will not be there, the money does not need to be given to the district. Instead, the voucher system allocates that money to parent who then decides how that money should be spent to educate his/her child. If the parent chooses not to exercise that voucher but to utilize the public school then the money would go to that school. Where is the unfairness in that?

    There is already a huge bureaucracy now, it can take on the voucher process. We have a voucher system in Florida. No new bureaucracy, it is handled by the Department of Education.

    Finally, it is not my responsibility to prove a negative. It is not possible to do so in any event. It is your responsibility to prove the positive, to prove that something you predict will happen. You are opposed to change because you fear the possible results. Yet you admit that there are are significant problems which are not being successfully addressed. What are your alternatives? Do you have any?

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  44. What are your alternatives? Do you have any?

    Sure. Instead of putting federal money into alternative schools, I would put it--only where needed--into the public schools. I would recognize the extreme importance of primary education by making the salary scales of public school teachers comparable to the salaries college faculty. I would provide federal subsidies to make that possible, where necessary. My impulse would be to eliminate degrees in education as the sole qualifier for teaching in public schools, except in the case of various kinds of "special ed." If a scholar with a Masters or Ph.D. in history is willing to teach middle-school or high school history, I would consider his degree to qualify him. I would make the Ph.D., rather than the B.A. and the Masters degrees the standard for promotion, in order to justify the increased salary scale. In short, I would recognize the extreme value of the excellent start in the education life of the child and prioritize the development and recruitment of educators qualified to meet that need. I think that there are many people who would like to teach children who don't do so because of the relatively skimpy salaries. University faculty don't unionize because they don't need to do so to get the salaries and security that they feel they deserve. I would put public school teachers in the same position.

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  45. We think that a tad too much attention is being paid to the educational system and those individuals who function within it. During his workshops, the Logistician frequently reminds us that "people change when they are sufficiently motivated to change."

    Education has to be viewed in the broader context / society in terms of whether the student really feels that it is worth his or her time and effort to pursue education. For many, they do not see the benefit of doing so. They are disillusioned. They look around their neighborhoods and see virtually nothing of promise, and thus they become less than motivated. Imagine some kid growing up in rural North Carolina, in tobacco country, seeing that business decimated for various reasons.

    We are not suggesting that this is a good state of mind; however, it is reality.

    In a competitive environment, if a student looks around and recognizes that his or her prospects of excelling, or simply getting a fundamental education, are very slim, we seriously doubt that they will be motivated.

    There is also the reality that someone can pursue a particular type of education, and then find out that there are not many jobs available. In a country where people are free to pursue any type of educational pursuit they might so desire, it is a little difficult to later complain about the lack of available jobs in that chosen area.

    When the government becomes involved, it only adds to the complexity of managing this whole education thing.

    Not everyone comes to the table with the same set of skills and capabilities. Not everyone comes to the table with the same resources, and home situation. There are dramatic differences between different geographic areas.

    We often forget that we are a very big country with diverse values and resources. Managing all of this is extremely complex. Perhaps the best folks to decide how to handle this issue are at a local level, or perhaps even smaller, at the neighborhood level. Arguably, once the government gets involved, it tries to apply a uniform approach to a larger area. That's inherently difficult to do.

    There is another reality. There is a segment of our society which does not like educated people. We do not uniformly share a common value with respect to the value of education.

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  46. Thanks are extended to everyone for carrying this discussion. We really enjoyed the back and forth. We consciously tried to stay in the background and let you frame the issues, and you did a great job.

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  47. The recently departed National Security head once said that there is a problem with large organizations and their bureaucracies. As they get bigger and bigger, they become more focused on their survival and continuing their existence, rather than pursuing the original purpose or goals of the organization.

    Maybe parents need to re-take control of the educational process.

    I am still amazed at some statistics which I saw on one of William F. Buckley's last shows about home schooling. According to the presentation, children who are home schooled apparently have much better "empirical" results. I am aware of the argument about social skill inadequacy and lack of involvement in school organizations. However, the other stats are impressive.

    Perhaps it is because parents relinquished control of the education of their kids to others than the system has deteriorated. An educational abdication of responsibility.

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  48. As we type this, C-Span is airing a panel presentation on the funding of public education. It is sponsored by the Thomas Fordham Institute, and the discussion focuses on budget cuts and education reform.

    http://www.c-spanarchives.org/library/index.php?main_page=product_video_info&products_id=285202-1

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  49. Thanks are extended to everyone for carrying this discussion. We really enjoyed the back and forth. We consciously tried to stay in the background and let you frame the issues, and you did a great job.

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  50. I think there is a place in American society for all types of education (public, private, home, etc.). however, I believe failures in any education system are rooted in parent's lack of involvement or misguided priorities. For example, there are plenty of families who drop their kids off at school at 7:30am and pick them up at 6:00 at night. Thats a lot of time away from home for a youngster. These families would argue that they have no choice because they can't afford an alternative, but these families often have two new cars, a giant home, expensive vacations, a sickening amount of expensive electronics and other material goods.

    In summary, we cannot fix our education system without first fixing ourselves. If American's really value education, they will sacrifice anything (including material goods) to ensure the best education for their children. This could mean becoming more involved in the public schools, budgeting for a private school, or forgoing one parent's salary to home school. If this attitude shift doesn't occur in American culture, free enterprise education will fail just as miserably as public education.

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