The market is not God!
On a number of my posts, I have gotten comments from people who say they believe we shouldn't have public schools. Although I completely disagree with them, I respect them for their honesty. What galls me are those who don't have the guts to come out and say that, but instead seek to destroy public education by advocating "choice" through a full-scale voucher plan. They generally push their ideas by extolling the virtues of the market. To many of them, the market is God.
Last week, Jay Greene had a guest education basher on his blog named Matthew Ladner. Before pushing his "market" solution, Ladner throws his spears at public education.
Our education problems worsened despite the increased spending. Today, 38 percent of our 4th graders have failed to learn basic reading skills, and around a third of our high school students dropout of high school. As today’s dropouts are largely those students who failed to learn to read in elementary schools, tomorrow’s dropouts are already in the pipeline.
Last week Greene told us that our elementary school students were doing just fine, and now his buddy tells us that nearly forty percent of our fourth graders can't read. I'm not sure where he's getting that statistic from, but I would guess it might be the same place as his "around a third of our high school students dropped out of high school." I've seen that statistic before, and I know that it's widely disputed, but Ladner presents it as fact.
Ladner's solution to all of our problems, of course, is the market.
Our students need a market for K-12 schools. The market mechanism rewards success and either improves or eliminates failure. This has been sorely lacking in the past, and will be increasingly beneficial in the future. The biggest winners will be those suffering most under the status-quo...
A market system will embrace and replicate reforms which work, and discard those that fail to produce. A top-down political system has failed to perform this task. Where bureaucrats and politicians have failed miserably, however, a market of parents pursuing the interests of their children will succeed in driving progress.
You know, if I was one of the less fortunate in our society, I think I might be a little bit suspicious of someone who tells me the market (genuflect, please) is going to be my savior. I have no doubt that a full-fledged voucher system would be a heckuva good deal for all those affluent people who are already sending their kids to private schools, but I'm not sure about people like the working poor. I mean they aren't exactly thriving under our market-based health care system.
But Ladner cares about poor people--he really does.
Charter school operators such as KIPP, Yes Academies and Amistad have proven definitively that low-income inner city children can learn at an accelerated pace, and can even outperform our complacent suburban schools and attend elite universities. These innovators face huge political and practical obstacles in making these schools more widely available, but don’t bet against them. Already, they have settled the question of whether we must settle for today’s failed status quo: we don’t. Our students can learn. We adults simply have to learn how to follow the example of those who are getting the job done.
We cannot feel satisfied with a system that watches helplessly as a third of pupils drop out before graduation each year. We can do much better. The key lies in matching disadvantaged students with high quality teachers and school leaders. Parental choice programs help to achieve this by providing new education delivery methods.
Even though I don't teach in an inner-city school, I find Ladner's inference that the kids in those schools do poorly because of poor quality teachers insulting. People like him always assume that if schools aren't doing well, it's the teachers' fault. What he is apparently too dense to realize is that when you take all the kids in an area that suffers from a lot of social problems, a number of those kids aren't going to give a rip about education, and that's going to make it much more difficult for anyone to learn regardless of the quality of the teachers.
I have no doubt that there are kids in the inner-cities who do want to learn with parents to whom education is important. And it doesn't surprise me one bit that if you put those kids together, and get them away from those who don't care, that they will do wonderfully. And that's great! But if we ever go to a full-fledged voucher system, and we take more an more of those kids who care about education out of the public schools, what is going to be left? How in the world are those kids going to learn anything? That market system will probably work about as well for those people as our heath care system does for those who can't afford insurance.
I do wan't to make a couple of things clear before I close this off. First of all, I am not a socialist. Heck, I'm not even a liberal Democrat. I am grateful that a market system is at the heart of our economy in the United States, because I think for most things, a market system works better than anything else. It isn't perfect; but it beats the alternatives. But the market is not God. The second thing is that I would love just once to hear one of those education market-thumping revival preachers say, "Let's have real competition. Let's have a voucher system, but let's also give public school teachers and principals the same power to deal with disruptive and apathetic students as private schools have." Do you think any one of those "experts" who say they are so concerned about education and so concerned about poor and middle class people will ever say that? Don't hold your breath.