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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

It was back in 2010 when I first shared a video about school choice. We’ve enjoyed a lot of progress since then, which is producing a backlash from teacher unions and their lackeys.

In this new video, Corey DeAngelis debunks their arguments.

The “3 big lies” mentioned in Corey’s video are 1) school choice defunds governments schools, 2) school choice is unaccountable, and 3) school choice violates separation of church and state.

When I discuss this issue with my left-leaning friends, they usually trot out the third argument. They say it is wrong, or perhaps even unconstitutional. to give families tax-funded vouchers that can be used at religious schools.

I then ask them whether they want to get rid of grants and loans for college students who attend religious schools such as BYU, Baylor, and Boston College?

Needless to say, I’ve never received an intelligent answer to that question.

To be fair, that’s not their only argument. They also claim that the solution to bad government schools is more money from taxpayers.

Corey didn’t address that myth in his video, but I’ve explainedover and over again – that we’ve tried that approach. At the risk of understatement, it doesn’t work.

School choice, by contrast, produces good results.

Even in some unexpected places. In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Laura Williams describes how school choice has successfully operated in Vermont’s “tuition towns” for a long time.

Too small and sparsely populated to support a traditional public school, these towns distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …In these towns, the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. A spectrum from centuries-old academies to innovative, adaptive, and experimental programs… Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Because parents, not bureaucrats or federal formulas, determine how funds are allocated, schools are under high economic pressure to impress parents⁠—that is, to serve students best… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead. …Wealthy parents will always have school choice. They have the power to choose the best opportunity and the best fit for their individual child. Tuition towns—where all parents direct their child’s share of public education spending—give that power to every family.

Amen.

The concluding sentences are very important. School choice is a way of giving families with modest incomes the same opportunities that have always existed for rich families (including the families of hypocritical politicians).

P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Since I’m a fiscal economist, I can’t resist mentioning that school choice is not only good for students, but for taxpayers as well.

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When I shared the best and worst news of 2021, I expressed happiness about how school choice is spreading across the nation.

But it’s not spreading as fast as it should because some establishment Republican state legislators would rather kowtow to teacher unions rather than promote better educational opportunities for the kids in their districts.

But parents are beginning to notice.

In a closely watched primary contest yesterday in Iowa, the Republican Chairmen of the House Education Committee (and a lackey of the teacher unions) was being challenged by a supporter of school choice.

Needless to say, it’s very difficult to defeat an incumbent politician. But, as Corey DeAngelis shared in a tweet, the challenger prevailed in a stunning outcome.

And if you peruse the press release from the American Federation for Children, that was just one of many victories in the Hawkeye State.

Indeed, it’s just one of many victories in primaries across the country.

Corey wrote an article last week for National Review, co-authored by Jason Bedrick, that analyzed primary results in other states this year.

They start with some good news.

DeSantis made school choice a centerpiece of his campaign, and voters rewarded him. In a race decided by fewer than 40,000 votes, his unusually high level of support among black women (18 percent, or about 100,000 votes), who chose him over an anti–school choice black Democrat, Andrew Gillum, proved decisive. …Republicans began wrapping themselves in the mantle of parental rights and school choice, but the fulfillment of their promises has been mixed. States such as West Virginia and New Hampshire enacted bold new education-choice policies in 2021, while Florida, Indiana, and more than a dozen other states expanded existing choice policies.

They then share some bad news.

Nevertheless, choice initiatives stalled this year in Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah, with some Republicans casting the deciding votes.

But they close with the best news of all.

In recent primaries, GOP voters threw their support to candidates who supported choice, even if it meant tossing out otherwise conservative incumbents. …Representative Phil Stephenson, an incumbent backed by the teachers’ union, lost to school-choice supporter Stan Kitzman, who secured 58 percent of the vote despite spending less than half of what his opponent spent… Likewise, school-choice champions Ellen Troxclair and Carrie Isaac both defeated candidates who were endorsed by the Texas affiliate of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers. In all, eleven of 14 Texas House of Representatives candidates endorsed by the pro-school choice Texas Federation for Children PAC won their primary runoffs. …in Kentucky, an incumbent known to be the leading opposition to school choice in the Republican caucus, Representative Ed Massey, suffered a devastating primary defeat by school-choice champion Steve Rawlings, who garnered 69 percent of the vote despite being significantly outspent. Candidates endorsed by American Federation for Children Action Fund and its affiliates won their primaries or advanced to runoffs in 38 of 48 races in Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, and Nebraska so far this year.

Actually, the best news of all is not what happens in elections. Instead, the best news is when legislation is approved that expands school choice. Like we saw last year in West Virginia and other states.

I’ll close with some political analysis.

I’m a big fan of the no-tax-pledge organized by Americans for Tax Reform.

Why? Because it is a way of targeting politicians who are sympathetic to tax increases.

Signing the pledge does not guarantee that a candidate is good (they can vote for debt-financed spending without violating the pledge).

But a candidate who does not sign the pledge almost certainly is bad. And voters now have a way of identifying – and rejecting – those politicians.

We need something similar for school choice. Maybe that’s a pledge. Maye it’s simply endorsements by the American Federation for Children.

All that matters is that politicians learn that there are negative consequences if they side with teacher unions instead of children.

P.S. Politicians who oppose school choice often are reprehensible hypocrites, as noted by Democratic state senator Justin Wayne of Nebraska.

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For years, I’ve been explaining that students have been hurt rather than helped by government programs to allegedly make higher education more affordable.

How can this be true?

For the simple reason that colleges and universities dramatically boosted tuition in response to all the government subsidies.

Did students somehow benefit?

Hardly. In addition to much higher tuition and fees, the higher-education sector became more bloated, with much more bureaucracy and much lighter workloads.

So the people working for colleges and universities were big beneficiaries.

Students, by contrast, got put on a backwards treadmill featuring more loans, higher tuition, and more debt.

Given this background, I was interested to see a column in the New York Times describing how students at Bennett College (and elsewhere) have been disadvantaged by the current system.

Here’s the headline from the piece, which was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom.

While I certainly sympathize with students who are now trapped in this system, I was left unsatisfied by both the above headline and the actual details of Ms. Cottom’s column.

Why?

Because there was a lot of discussion about the consequences of the current system but zero recognition that government is the reason colleges and universities are now so expensive and bureaucratic.

So I decided to make a modest correction to the headline.

Ms. Cottom thinks the answer is student loan forgiveness, which simply means other people pick up the tab.

That’s a perverse form of redistribution since people who went to college have higher earnings than the general population.

I don’t like redistribution in general, but redistributing form poor to rich is particularly perverse.

But even I might be willing to embrace loan forgiveness if something was being do to solve the underlying problem of the government-caused tuition spiral.

Needless to say, that’s not part of the discussion in Washington.

P.S. The underlying economic problem is “third-party payer.” It’s wreaked havoc with America’s health sector and it’s have the same pernicious effect on higher education.

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It is very common for politicians to cause a problem with government intervention and then use the problem as an excuse for even bigger government.

I call this the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of government failure.

And the current controversy over student loan forgiveness is a perfect example.

  • Politicians decided to subsidize student loans.
  • Colleges and universities predictably responded by increasing tuition so they could grab this additional money.
  • Politicians are now responding to the government-created crisis by pushing loan forgiveness.

I could write a column about how this will make a bad situation worse. Heck, I already have written that column. Several times.

But I want to focus today on a different aspect of this issue.

Biden on his allies in Congress are pushing a policy that will redistribute money from lower-income people to higher-income people.

Let’s look at some of the findings of a new study by Professor Sylvain Catherine at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor Constantine Yannelis at the University of Chicago.

…on average, those who graduate with a post-secondary degree earn more than those who do not, so student debt forgiveness plans, by definition, are geared toward higher-wage earners. Further, many holders of high loan balances completed graduate and professional degrees and thus earn even higher incomes. …universal debt forgiveness policies would disproportionately benefit high earners. …universal and capped forgiveness policies are highly regressive, with the vast majority of benefits accruing to high-income individuals.

Peter Suderman of Reason is unimpressed by this backwards form of redistribution.

The single largest source of student loan debt is MBA programs, as Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Adam Looney has noted, and MBA grads average more than $73,000 in earnings their first year out of school. “The five degrees responsible for the most student debt are: MBA, JD, BA in business, BS in nursing, and MD,” Looney wrote in 2020. “That’s one reason why the top 20 percent of earners owe 35 percent of the debt, and why most debt is owed by well-educated individuals.” Technically, it’s true that well-paid professional school graduates fall into the category of “working people.” But..what Biden appears to be considering, is a massive program of government aid that would disproportionately benefit doctors, lawyers, well-paid medical specialists, and comfortably salaried individuals with advanced business degrees. …a trillion-dollar bailout for the upper-middle class.

This is disgusting and reprehensible.

I don’t think it is a proper role of the federal government to redistribute money. But it is especially grotesque and misguided when politicians use the coercive power of government to shift resources from lower-income Americans to higher-income Americans.

For what it is worth, there already are many policies and programs in Washington that – on net – shift money from the poor to the rich.

I will close by observing that there has also been a vigorous effort from our friends on the left to restore an unlimited deduction for state and local taxes.

It’s almost as if it is okay to have policies that benefit rich people, so long as they mostly live in blue states.

P.S. It is possible to design loan forgiveness to reduce the level of poor-to-rich redistribution. The aforementioned study by Professors Catherine and Yannelis includes data showing how various income deciles will (or will not) benefit depending on different types of forgiveness rules.

P.P.S. However, any type of loan forgiveness exacerbates the original problem, which is how politicians have enabled and subsidized ever-higher tuition rates.

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In my libertarian fantasy world, schools and libraries would be private institutions, which means market forces would determine which books would be available.

This would mean plenty of diversity.

Private schools in rural Oklahoma presumably would opt for content that reflects traditional values, for example, while private libraries in San Francisco would be more likely to feature salacious content.

But there also would be entrepreneurs who would cater to the needs and interests of left-wingers in Oklahoma and right-wingers in San Francisco.

The bottom line is that there’s no need for a one-sized-fits-all approach if a market is allowed to operate.

All that sounds nice, but my libertarian fantasy world doesn’t exist (even though it already has an anthem).

In the real world, we have government schools and government libraries. So what should the rules be for which books get selected?

As you might imagine this gets very contentious.

Valerie Strauss and Lindsey Bever have a story in the Washington Post about a battle in Florida over what math books to use.

Florida said it has rejected a pile of math textbooks submitted by publishers in part because they “contained prohibited subjects,” including critical race theory. The Florida Department of Education announced…41 percent of the submitted textbooks were rejected — most of them in elementary school. …“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was quoted as saying in the announcement.

And a report by Annie Gowen in the Washington Post examines the fight over which books should be in public libraries.

…a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. …Gov. Greg Abbott (R) jumped into the fray, calling for an investigation of “pornography” in school libraries. …challengers are being assisted by growing national networks such as the parental rights group Moms for Liberty or spurred on by conservative public policy organizations like Heritage Action for America, the ALA has said.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think libertarians have a dog in this fight.

We viscerally oppose government-mandated censorship, of course, but that’s not what is being debated.

The fight is not over which books to ban. It’s about which books to buy.

And since schools and libraries obviously don’t have the ability to purchase every book ever written, somebody will need the authority to choose.

  1. Should local librarians and local principals have that authority?
  2. Should local and state elected officials have that authority?
  3. Should politicians and bureaucrats in D.C. have that authority?

The worst outcome is allowing the crowd in Washington to have any power. That leads to one-size-fits-all and it is a recipe for endless conflict.

Moreover, the federal government has a terrible track record, especially with regards to education. And I can’t imagine the folks in D.C. would do any better if they got involved with libraries.

So we are left with options #1 and #2.

But that’s somewhat misleading because local politicians already have a lot of power over which principals and librarians get hired. They may delegate that authority, to be sure, but they have the ultimate power.

Indeed, the two stories cited above are about citizens pushing elected officials to make certain choices.

That’s democracy in action, for better or worse.

P.S. Libertarians favor democracy, but we very much want to limit the size and scope of government. In other words, for everything other than genuine “public goods,” we prefer markets over majoritarianism.

P.P.S. I don’t want to ban any book, but I definitely would be happy if fewer schools and libraries chose to buy Howard Zinn’s inaccurate book on American history.

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I’ve already shared a “Tweet of the Year” for 2022, as well the “Most Enjoyable Tweet” of the year.

I’m going to call this the “Most Obvious Revelation Tweet” since it reaches a should-have-been-immediately-clear conclusion that the Department of Education is a net negative for the United States.

I’ve already provided my two cents on why the Department of Education should be eliminated.

So let’s look at what others have said.

In a column for National Review, Charles Cooke says it’s time for the bureaucracy to be retired.

In our constitutional order, education is the preserve of the states, and it ought to be the preserve of the states — not only because educational institutions work best when they are close to their benefactors and beneficiaries, but because education is power and because the centralization of power presents enticements that are beyond any human being’s ability to resist. …We have now seen the failure of nationalized education policy under presidents of both parties: George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” was a signature of his campaign in 2000 and his pre-9/11 presidency and has been largely abandoned, as has Common Core, which started life as a “conservative” idea but was quickly sucked into the maw under President Obama. The problem, as so often, is the system itself.

And here’s some of what Neil McCluskey wrote back in 2020.

Department of Education…was basically a payoff to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, for their 1976 support of Jimmy Carter’s presidential candidacy. …What we have gotten… One thing we do know is that total, inflation‐​adjusted federal education spending, including K‑12 programs and college student aid, has risen greatly since 1980, from $115 billion to $296 billion. Meanwhile, national test scores for 17‐​year‐​olds have been basically flat… Federal education meddling, especially since the advent of the Department of Education, has been of questionable value at best, and a high‐​dollar, bureaucratic failure at worst.

Needless to say, I agree with both of them. The current system is bad for America’s kids.

If you’re wondering why I have that view, just click here, here, here, here, and here.

By the way, it’s not just that the Department of Education has been a failure for K-12 kids. It’s also been bad news for college students.

Here are some excerpts from a 2015 column that Richard Vedder wrote for the Foundation for Economic Education.

He observes that higher education was a success story before the Department of Education was created.

The 30 years between 1950 and 1980 were the Golden Age of American higher education. The proportion of adult Americans with college degrees nearly tripled, going from 6 to 17 percent. Enrollments quintupled, going from 2.3 to 12.1 million. …This was the era in which higher education went from serving the elite and mostly well-to-do to serving many individuals from modest economic circumstance. …During this period, however, the federal role was quite modest. …College costs remained remarkably stable. Tuition fees typically rose only about one percent a year, adjusting for inflation. At the same time, high economic growth (real GDP was rising nearly four percent annually) led to incomes rising even faster, so in most years the tuition to income ratio fell. In other words, college was becoming a smaller financial burden for families.

But things took a wrong turn after a new federal bureaucracy was created. Here are some of the reasons Prof. Vedder has identified.

First, of course, education costs have soared. Tuition fees rose more than three percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms, far faster than people’s incomes. …rising federal student financial aid programs are the primary factor in this phenomenon. …Second, if anything, college has become more elitist and less accessible to low income students. The proportion of recent graduates who are from the bottom quartile of the income distribution has declined since 1970 or 1980. …Third, there has been a shocking decline in academic standards. Grade inflation is rampant. …Fourth, accreditation of colleges, overseen by the Department of Education, is expensive and ineffective. …Fifth, the federal aid programs and “college for all” propaganda promoted by the Department have led to a large proportion (probably over 40 percent) of recent graduates being underemployed… Sixth, the Department is guilty of regulatory excesses and bureaucratic blunders. …the form required of applicants for federal student aid (FAFSA) is byzantine in its complexity.

For what it’s worth, I think Rich’s first item deserves some sort of special emphasis. Maybe a couple of exclamation points to drive home the point that higher education is absurdly over-priced today precisely because of government intervention to supposedly make it more affordable.

Now politicians are reacting to this mess by urging even more subsidies. Which will simply make the problem worse. Lather, rinse, repeat.

P.S. Here’s a bit of humor to compensate for the depressing news in today’s column.

My other examples of education-themed humor can be found here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. Biden wants to reward failure with a 21 percent increase in the Department of Education’s budget.

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You can find examples of libertarianism in some very unexpected places.

What’s particularly interesting are the examples of how private governance is evolving in developing nations.

These are real-world example of “anarcho-capitalism” and they exist for the simple reason is that governments have utterly failed to provide core “public goods” such as crime control.

Now we have a new case study. The U.K.-based Economist reports on the development of a “private parallel state” in South Africa.

Situated in the north of Johannesburg, Steyn City has shops, a school, generators, a petrol station, golf, 50km of biking trails, fishing dams, 24-hour security and a dinosaur-themed playground. There is even a helipad; but residents need never leave. …estates like Steyn City, which account for nearly one in five property transfers (a proxy for sales)…represent a broader demand: for a sanctuary in a country where the state cannot seem to curb crime or provide decent services. And it is not just the rich who are fending for themselves. So, increasingly, is everyone else.

Incidentally, we have similar “estates” in the United States, such as The Villages in Florida and other private communities and residential developments.

But let’s focus on South Africa and why people are opting for private alternatives to government.

The article notes that a growing number of citizens are choosing private schools (akin to what’s happening in India).

Since 1997 the number of pupils in private schools has tripled, from 236,000 to 703,000… The increase is not happening in the most expensive schools, which are, in fact, becoming easier to get into, because so many well-heeled South Africans are emigrating. “The growth is in the low-to-mid range of the market,” says Lebogang Montjane, the head of the Independent Schools Association. …Private fees are priced to be affordable for the black middle class. Spark costs 28,050 rand ($1,800) a year for primary school.

There is also a section on private health care.

But the part about public safety is even more remarkable.

Security is the clearest case of where private companies are replacing the state. In 1997 there were roughly as many police officers (110,000) as active security guards (115,000). Since then officer numbers have increased by 31% (to 144,000) but the number of private guards has ballooned by 383% (to 557,000). Gun-carrying watchmen and ubiquitous surveillance cameras that feed footage to security firms’ operation rooms are everyday sights in suburbs and high-walled estates. …the sense that the state cannot protect citizens—underlined dramatically last year when the country saw the worst civil unrest since apartheid—is widely felt.

Here’s the bottom line.

Some South Africans emigrate to escape failing public services. But most cannot leave, or do not want to. Instead, argues Gwen Ngwenya of the opposition Democratic Alliance, they slip across an imaginary border, migrating, as it were, into the arms of “the private parallel state”.

The obvious takeaway is that the failing parts of government should be eliminated and, in tandem, the tax burden should be reduced so that it’s easier for citizens to pay for the private alternatives that actually work.

But that’s a very unlikely outcome.

Why? Because government programs in developing nations generally exist to provide patronage to friends and supporters of the politicians.

  • The purpose of government schools is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to teachers, not to educate children.
  • The purpose of government health care is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to providers, not to cure sick people.
  • The purpose of government security is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to cops, not to fight against crime.

So long as this corrupt system works for politicians, there’s no reason to expect changes.

P.S. At some point, South Africa will go bankrupt. In theory, this should lead to long-overdue changes. In practice, it will mean a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which temporarily will prop up the current system of corruption and waste.

P.P.S. South Africa will be bankrupt sooner rather than later if it takes advice from the OECD.

P.P.P.S. This comparison of South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe is very revealing.

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In theory, annual awards should not be bestowed until the end of the year. But I already violated that rule when writing about “2022’s Tweet of the Year” last month (in my defense, anything that mocks Oxfam deserves favorable attention).

Given my weakness for premature proclamations, I may as well do it again.

Being a big fan of school choice, you can understand why this bit of whining and grousing from the National Education Association is my “Feel-Good Tweet of the Year.”

Oh, dear, the union bosses are upset that children are getting more options to escape government schools. My cheeks are wet with crocodile tears! So much schadenfreude.

By the way, I agree with part of the tweet. The union bosses at the NEA are correct that school choice is spreading.

Most notably, there was a huge victory for choice last year in West Virginia. But there’s also been progress in many other states.

But I can’t resist correcting two other parts of the tweet.

  • First, choice doesn’t “divert funding for public education into private hands.” Instead, it returns funding to private hands, where the money can then be used to get the best possible education for kids. Incidentally, that could mean government schools (researchers have that quality increases when government schools have to compete for students).
  • Second, it’s not voucher proponents that have been “steadily working to undermine public education.” Instead, the NEA should look in the mirror. It’s the union bosses and their political allies who have made government schools less attractive. They’ve been given record amounts of money and produced dismal educational outcomes.

P.S. As always, I can’t resist reminding people that there are successful systems of school choice in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands. In other words, it’s not a crazy idea being pushed by American libertarians.

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What’s the main problem in K-12 education today? Based on news reports, one might think the top challenge involves hot-button social issues such as sex education and critical race theory.

Or maybe pandemic policies such as masking, remote learning, and vaccinations.

Or the malignant role of teacher unions.

Those are real issues, of course, but surely the biggest problem must be that taxpayers are spending ever-more money and getting ever-weaker results.

Given these issues, I was interested to see that the Washington Post has a lengthy article, written by Laura Meckler, that looks at the various challenges facing government schools.

It starts with a grim assessment.

Test scores are down, and violence is up. Parents are screaming at school boards, and children are crying on the couches of social workers. Anger is rising. Patience is falling. For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. …Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building. …Schools are on the defensive about their pandemic decision-making, their curriculums, their policies regarding race and racial equity and even the contents of their libraries.

As one might suspect, the pandemic made a bad situation worse.

Remote learning, the toll of illness and death, and disruptions to a dependable routine have left students academically behind — particularly students of color and those from poor families. Behavior problems ranging from inability to focus in class all the way to deadly gun violence have gripped campuses. …In fall 2021, 38 percent of third-graders were below grade level in reading, compared with 31 percent historically. In math, 39 percent of students were below grade level, vs. 29 percent historically. …A McKinsey & Co. study found schools with majority-Black populations were five months behind pre-pandemic levels. …Last school year, the number of students who were chronically absent — meaning they have missed more than 10 percent of school days — nearly doubled from before the pandemic.

Many parents have responded to this mess by seeking other options.

More kids are now attending charter schools or private schools, and there’s also been an explosion in home schooling.

Enrollment in traditional public schools fell to less than 49.4 million students in fall 2020, a 2.7 percent drop from a year earlier. …if the trend continues, that will mean less money for public schools as federal and state funding are both contingent on the number of students enrolled. …Some students have shifted to private or charter schools. A rising number, especially Black families, opted for home schooling. And many young children who should have been enrolling in kindergarten delayed school altogether. …charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, saw enrollment increase by 7 percent, or nearly 240,000 students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. There’s also been a surge in home schooling. Private schools saw enrollment drop slightly in 2020-21 but then rebound this academic year, for a net growth of 1.7 percent over two years.

From my perspective, here’s the best part of the article.

Fueling the pressure on public schools is an ascendant school-choice movement… EdChoice, a group that promotes these programs, tallies seven states that created new school choice programs last year. …Another 15 states expanded existing programs.

Amen. School choice is the answer to our education problems – from the perspective of both students and taxpayers.

We’ve already seen a lot of progress on this issue, but more is needed. I hope more and more states copy nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands and give parents the ability to opt for higher-quality private schools.

P.S. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t help when politicians created a federal Department of Education in the late 1970s. At best, it meant another layer of costly bureaucracy. At worst, it led to mandates and regulations that exacerbated the problem of ever-more spending for ever-weaker results.

P.P.S. Here’s a very amusing video about home schooling.

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If Winston Churchill was commenting on America’s government schools instead of the Royal Air Force, he would have said, “never have so many paid so much to achieve so little.”

Which is one of the messages in this new video from Reason.

I won’t keep anyone in suspense.

The message of today’s column is that government schools are becoming ever-more expensive while producing ever-more dismal outcomes.

As a nation, we have two choices.

We can continue to pour more money into monopoly, government-run systems that never produce better results.

Or we can learn from the evidence and harness the benefits of competition and innovation with school choice.

Let’s look at some more data and research.

In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dennis Epple, Richard E. Romano, and Miguel Urquiola were largely agnostic on the desirability of choice.

But their research included some very favorable analysis.

We review the theoretical, computational, and empirical research on school vouchers, with a focus on the latter. …multiple positive findings support continued exploration. …for some subgroups or outcomes, vouchers can have a substantial positive effect on those who use them. …Evidence on both small scale and large scale programs suggests that competition induced by vouchers leads public schools to improve. … The most robust finding is that voucher threats induce public schools to improve. …In addition, recent evidence from small-scale experiments in the United States finds substantial gains in years of school for recipients… More encouraging results on the effect of small-scale programs come from developing countries. …interesting evidence comes from India. While vouchers there delivered modest test-score gains, they did so at one-third the cost per student of public schools. …In the case of Sweden’s large-scale voucher program, …recent work features evidence of significant gains… Recent research also tends to support the finding that voucher competition has improved the performance of public schools.

Since I’ve written about choice programs in nations such as Canada, Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands, I’m glad the study mentioned some of the international evidence.

Moreover, I’ve also noted that proponents of school choice have been gaining ground.

Francis Suarez, the Mayor Miami, wants more progress. A National Review article he co-authored with Corey DeAngelis makes the case for expanded options.

School choice is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century. Choosing the right school opens opportunity, it shapes success, it prevents failure, and it unleashes economic opportunity. …We believe the best way to improve our schools and invest in our future is to expand parent-driven school choice. …Miami has always led on school choice. In 1996, T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, partnered with Governor Jeb Bush to start Florida’s first charter school in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. …Since then, Miami-Dade County has launched 140 charter schools, serving more than 70,000 students, and more than 440 private schools that serve tens of thousands of students with school-choice scholarships. Miami has done well, but now we need to do better. …Moreover, the students who benefit from increased school-choice options are overwhelmingly from historically discriminated-against communities. In a 2019 study, the Urban Institute found students using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families — 24,502 students in Miami-Dade used them last year — are far more likely than their public-school peers to enroll in colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. And a 2020 study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research found that, as that same program grew, students in the district schools most affected by competition saw higher test scores.

The moral of the story is that school choice is a win-win for taxpayers and students.

Now let’s shift to the politics of school choice.

That normally means focusing on the baleful role of teacher unions, which place their personal self interest above student outcomes.

But there’s also the red-vs.-blue dynamic. In a report for the American Enterprise Institute, Jay Greene and Lindsey Burke analyze some of the challenges of trying to enact bipartisan choice legislation.

…in their quest for broader support, choice proponents have conceded to Democrats’ policy demands that ultimately weaken the options available to families: limited student eligibility, heavy-handed standardized tests and regulations, caps on scholarship amounts and student participation, and admissions regulations. Not only has that approach weakened many school choice programs, but it doesn’t appear to have actually won Democratic policymakers’ support. It may have even alienated Republican policymakers who were on the fence about supporting school choice. …Any Democratic support has been for modest or heavily regulated programs, such as the voucher program in Louisiana. The Louisiana voucher program suffers under a mountain of regulations that has discouraged private schools from participating, so much so that only one-third of the state’s private schools will accept the vouchers. …What does this all mean for private school choice proponents? It means supporters should not be afraid to make what is likely our most compelling case: that education freedom is fundamentally about enabling parents to choose learning environments that align with their values. …choice proponents should embrace and be vocal about school choice allowing families an escape hatch from government schools pushing an agenda that runs counter to their values. In other words, choice proponents should be unafraid to appeal to Republicans. …proponents have not made the cultural case for choice to the Republican base, for fear of losing Democratic legislative allies, who, it turns out, weren’t really there to begin with.

I’m a policy wonk rather than political pundit, so my only comment is that proponents shouldn’t give up on bipartisanship.

There’s new legislation in Georgia to enable choice and it has several Democratic cosponsors. If enacted, this could be even bigger news than last-year’s victory in West Virginia.

And I’ve already lauded the powerful words of Justin Wayne, a Democratic member of Nebraska’s legislature.

Speaking of politics, another complication is that charter schools (a type of choice in the government system) may undermine private schools.

Christopher Bedford explains this problem in an article for the Federalist.

Search the Lehigh Valley papers and you’ll find Catholic school after Catholic school closing down. In March 2018, Our Lady Help of Christians in Allentown closed its doors. In June 2020, Sacred Heart School in Bath and St. Francis Academy in Bally shut down. And last May, Trinity Academy in Shenandoah became the latest victim. …Charter schools are booming in Pennsylvania. …enrollment at charters rose by 25,000 last year; about 10 percent of all children in the state are enrolled in them. There are at least 14 charter schools in the Lehigh Valley region so far. …Often, in fact, the arrival of a charter is the death knell for a parochial school. In New York state, a 2012 study found that for every charter school that opened, a parochial school closed. …This is the kind of mutilated, self-defeating “victory” we see on the right far too often. Democratic teachers unions were weakened, and public school bureaucrats faced some small level of competition. …But in the big picture, parents and their children are still at the mercy of a government bureaucracy… Still, for a lot of parents, the choice is simple: They know public schools are poisonous, and now they have an alternative that doesn’t cost them a dime in tuition. And so, charter schools are booming, while parochial schools are slowly withering and dying.

This creates a quandary.

Charter schools are better than regular government schools.

But it would be a Pyrrhic Victory if the expansion of such schools undermines the vitality of private schools.

P.S. Many rich folks on the left believe in private schools, but only for their own kids.

P.P.S. There’s also evidence that school choice is better for children’s mental health since it’s associated with lower suicide rates. That’s a nice fringe benefit, much like the data on school choice and jobs.

P.P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

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When contemplating the issue of school choice, it’s most important to focus on how we can improve educational outcomes, particularly for children from low-income communities.

But, as a fiscal economist, I can’t help thinking about how school choice is also good news for taxpayers.

And I also can’t help but notice that opponents are often very hypocritical.

What do these opponents of choice have in common? What drives their hypocrisy?

Simply stated, they put the interests of teacher unions above the interests of children.

Speaking of which, the NH Journal recently reported on another glaring case of hypocrisy.

One of New Hampshire’s most outspoken school choice opponents stunned reform advocates Friday when she admitted she had pulled her son out of public school to attend a private academy… Advocates for education reform were stunned. “I’m sure Rep. Porter had good reasons for choosing a private school for her own child, and other families have good reasons as well,” said Jason Bedrick, Policy Director at EdChoice. “It’s a shame she’s seeking to deny families the same opportunities she and her children had.” …Porter’s stance highlights what supporters of EFAs and similar programs say is the hypocrisy of their opponents: They oppose letting low-income families use their children’s share of education funding to have the same choices they do. For example, while New Hampshire teachers’ unions are strident opponents of EFAs, multiple studies have found public school teachers are far more likely to send their children to private schools than their fellow parents.

Since we’re on this topic, it reminded me of past examples of education hpocrisy.

For instance, the Daily Caller investigated some of the Democratic Senators who opposed Trump’s Secretary of Education because of her support for school choice.

Lo and behold, they exercised choice for their children while opposing choice for poor kids.

At least seven of the 46 Senate Democrats who voted against Betsy DeVos…currently send or once sent their own children or grandchildren to expensive private schools. …Sen. Al Franken…has two children who attended The Dalton School in New York City… The cost of a single year of tuition for students in kindergarten through 12th grade at Dalton is $44,640. …Sen. Elizabeth Warren…has a granddaughter who rubs shoulders with the children of movie stars at the trendy Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, California. Tuition at Harvard-Westlake costs $35,900 each year. …Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse…has two children. His daughter attended the Wheeler School, a coed day school in Providence where a single year of tuition for sixth grade through 12th grade currently costs $35,215. …Whitehouse…also sent his son to a St. George’s School, a private boarding school… Annual tuition at St. George’s is currently $39,900. …Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand…sends her two school-age children to Capitol Hill Day School… Tuition at the private, progressive bastion currently runs $30,300.00 per year for sixth through eighth grades… Sen. Richard Blumenthal…sent one of his four children to Brunswick School, a private, all-boys day school in Greenwich… A year of high school tuition at Brunswick currently costs $40,450. …Blumenthal sent another one of his kids to Greenwich Academy, an all-girls day school where high school tuition currently runs $41,890. …Sen. Maggie Hassan…daughter attended Phillips Exeter Academy… The cost for a year of tuition and fees at Phillips Exeter is currently $37,875. …Sen. Bob Casey…sent his daughters to Scranton Preparatory School, a private Jesuit school where a year of tuition costs $13,400.

Researching today’s topic, I also came across a column for PJ Media, authored by Tom Knighton, that exposed Matt Damon’s hypocrisy.

I’m a Matt Damon fan. …throughout his career, I’ve also known that he was a rabid leftist… It wasn’t until recently that I learned he was also a grade “A” hypocrite. You see, …he’s not sending his kids to public school. …Damon’s argument is that he can’t find the kind of progressive education he had growing up for his own children, and thus has no choice but to send his own kids to private school. Isn’t that just fascinating? Throughout this country, there are people who are less than thrilled with the school they find their children assigned to due to where they live. Maybe they live in a great neighborhood for their modest income level but the school they’re zoned for is notorious for drugs and violence. Maybe it’s just a bad school. …Damon would have that hardworking family that only wants what’s best for their kids to be forced to attend the bad school with no say in the matter, all while sending his kids to private school because he can’t find quite the same “progressive” education he had as a kid. In other words, because he’s rich, it’s cool for him to be picky about his children’s education, but not for the rest of us.

To be fair, while there are many leftists who are hypocrites (as well as plenty of folks on the right), we should acknowledge that there are counter examples.

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post made a strong case for school choice back in 2017.

Millions of parents choose to send their children to parochial or other private schools. Millions more decide where to rent or buy a home based on the quality of the local public schools. The only people who do not enjoy this right are those who are too poor to move out of neighborhoods where public schools are failing. A disproportionate number of these are people of color. …Well, here’s a suggestion: DeVos could offer one or two cities the chance to become laboratories of choice. …The federal government would offer financial help… The system would then stop funding schools and begin funding families. Every child would be given an annual scholarship. Poor children, who often enter school needing extra attention, would get bigger scholarships. …Every school would then have to compete for students. Principals would be allowed to hire the teachers they wanted. …positive change would be almost immediate: Poor parents, so often ignored and disrespected by public school bureaucrats, suddenly would find themselves being wooed and treated as valued customers. …positive results might soon become self-reinforcing: High-performing schools would attract more students, low performers would have to improve or close.

Heck, the official editorial position of the Washington Post is favorable to school choice, notwithstanding the paper’s generally left-leaning outlook.

These honest and ethical leftists should be applauded.

Let’s close by celebrating the fact that 2021 was a great year for school choice and educational freedom (especially in West Virginia).

J.D. Tuccille of Reason has a new article pointing out that not only was it “a ‘historic’ year for school choice,” but it also has resulted in much greater levels of acceptance for alternatives to the government monopoly.

…accelerated by pandemic-era stresses, innovations in recent years brought big changes to education. The biggest change of all is probably the growing acceptance won by charters, homeschooling, and a host of flexible approaches to teaching kids… “How have your opinions on homeschooling changed as a result of the coronavirus?” EdChoice asks parents every month. In December 2021, 68 percent of respondents reported that they are more favorable to homeschooling than they were before the pandemic. Only 18 percent are less favorable. It’s not just homeschooling. The same survey finds rising support (70 percent) for education savings accounts which allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds to pay for education expenses, school vouchers (65 percent) by which public education funds follow students to the schools of their choice, and publicly funded but privately run charter schools (68 percent) like the one my son attended through third grade.

You can see why I listed school choice as one of the best developments for 2021.

P.S. The “Tweet of the Year” for 2021 involved school choice.

P.P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as Canada, SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

 

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I wrote two days ago about how the Supreme Court will be ruling in the next few months on a very important school-choice case, involving whether state and local governments should be allowed to discriminate against religious schools.

As part of that column, I mentioned that “government school systems cost a lot of money and do a bad job.”

Some readers emailed me and expressed disbelief. The common message was that private schools surely had to be more expensive.

There are some very costly private schools, to be sure, but the data clearly show that government schools, on average, consume a lot more money.

I want to build on this message today by calling everyone’s attention to a great report by Martin F. Lueken of edChoice.

Here are some of the key findings from the executive summary.

This study estimates the combined net fiscal effects of each educational choice program on state and local taxpayers… Through FY 2018, the 40 educational choice programs under study generated an estimated $12.4 billion to $28.3 billion in cumulative net fiscal savings for state and local taxpayers. This range represents $3,300 to $7,500 per student participant. …Educational choice programs generated between $1.80 to $2.85 in estimated fiscal savings, on average, for each dollar spent on the programs. These savings result from many of the students who exercised choice who would have been enrolled in a public school if these choice programs did not exist—and enrolled in public schools at a much larger taxpayer cost.

The report is packed with lots of data, including state-by-state estimates of how different choice programs save money.

But if you’re going to digest one set of numbers, Figure 4 tells you just about everything you need to know.

And remember, when you look at these cost comparisons, that private schools produce better outcomes, as measured by student achievement.

P.S. Here’s a must-see chart showing how more and more money for the government school monopoly has produced zero benefit.

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The case for school choice is very straightforward.

The good news is that there was a lot of pro-choice reform in 2021.

West Virginia adopted a statewide system that is based on parental choice. And many other states expanded choice-based programs.

But 2022 may be a good year as well. That’s because the Supreme Court is considering whether to strike down state laws that restrict choice by discriminating against religious schools.

Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice and Walter Womack of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference make the case for a level playing field in a column for the New York Times.

In 2002, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution allows school choice programs to include schools that provide religious instruction, so long as the voucher program also offers secular options. The question now before the court is whether a state may nevertheless exclude schools that provide religious instruction. The case, Carson v. Makin, …concerns Maine’s tuition assistance program. In that large and sparsely populated state, over half of the school districts have no public high schools. If a student lives in such a district, and it does not contract with another high school to educate its students, then the district must pay tuition for the student to attend the school of her or his parents’ choice. …But one type of school is off limits: a school that provides religious instruction. That may seem unconstitutional, and we argue that it is. Only last year, the Supreme Court, citing the free exercise clause of the Constitution, held that states cannot bar students in a school choice program from selecting religious schools when it allows them to choose other private schools. …The outcome will be enormously consequential for families in public schools that are failing them and will go a long way toward determining whether the most disadvantaged families can exercise the same control over the education of their children as wealthier citizens.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized on this issue earlier this week.

Maine has one of the country’s oldest educational choice systems, a tuition program for students who live in areas that don’t run schools of their own. Instead these families get to pick a school, and public funds go toward enrollment. Religious schools are excluded, however, and on Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear from parents who have closely read the First Amendment. …Maine argues it isn’t denying funds based on the religious “status” of any school… The state claims, rather, that it is merely refusing to allocate money for a “religious use,” specifically, “an education designed to proselytize and inculcate children with a particular faith.” In practice, this distinction between “status” and “use” falls apart. Think about it: Maine is happy to fund tuition at an evangelical school, as long as nothing evangelical is taught. Hmmm. …A state can’t subsidize tuition only for private schools with government-approved values, and trying to define the product as “secular education” gives away the game. …America’s Founders knew what they were doing when they wrote the First Amendment to protect religious “free exercise.”

What does the other side say?

Rachel Laser, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, doesn’t want religious schools to be treated equally under school choice programs.

Here’s some of her column in the Washington Post.

…two sets of parents in Maine claim that the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom actually requires the state to fund religious education at private schools with taxpayer dollars — as a substitute for public education. This interpretation flips the meaning of religious freedom on its head and threatens both true religious freedom and public education. …The problem here is even bigger than public funds paying for praying, as wrong as that is. Unlike public schools, private religious schools often do not honor civil rights protections, especially for LGBTQ people, women, students with disabilities, religious minorities and the nonreligious. …If the court were to agree with the parents, it would also be rejecting the will of three-quarters of the states, which long ago enacted clauses in their state constitutions and passed statutes specifically prohibiting public funding of religious education. …It is up to parents and religious communities to educate their children in their faith. Publicly funded schools should never serve that purpose.

These arguments are not persuasive.

The fact that many state constitutions include so-called Blaine amendments actually undermines her argument since those provisions were motivated by a desire to discriminate against parochial schools that provided education to Catholic immigrants.

And it’s definitely not clear why school choice shouldn’t include religious schools that follow religious teachings, unless she also wants to argue that student grants and loans shouldn’t go to students at Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Liberty, and other religiously affiliated colleges.

The good news is that Ms. Laser’s arguments don’t seem to be winning. Based on this report from yesterday’s Washington Post, authored by Robert Barnes, there are reasons to believe the Justices will make the right decision.

Conservatives on the Supreme Court seemed…critical of a Maine tuition program that does not allow public funds to go to schools that promote religious instruction. The case involves an unusual program in a small state that affects only a few thousand students. But it could have greater implications… The oral argument went on for nearly two hours and featured an array of hypotheticals. …But the session ended as most suspected it would, with the three liberal justices expressing support for Maine and the six conservatives skeptical that it protected religious parents from unconstitutional discrimination.

I can’t resist sharing this additional excerpt about President Biden deciding to side with teacher unions instead of students.

The Justice Department switched its position in the case after President Biden was inaugurated and now supports Maine.

But let’s not dwell on Biden’s hackery (especially since that’s a common affliction on the left).

Instead, let’s close with some uplifting thoughts about what might happen if we get a good decision from the Supreme Court when decisions are announced next year.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think we’re getting close to a tipping point. As more and more states and communities shift to choice, we will have more and more evidence that it’s a win-win for both families and taxpayers.

Which will lead to more choice programs, which will produce more helpful data.

Lather, rinse, repeat. No wonder the (hypocritical) teacher unions are so desperate to stop progress.

P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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I don’t like Joe Biden being a lackey of the teacher unions, and I think the entire Department of Education should be eliminated.

That being said, intervention from Washington is the not the main cause of America’s education problems. The real problem is that we have an inefficient monopoly system that is – for all intents and purposes – run for the benefit of teachers and bureaucrats.

All of us should be upset that we see more and more money going to more and more employees, but we don’t get any progress in boosting academic outcomes.

I sometimes think the system can’t get any worse.

But then I read something that almost makes me think that politicians want the system to be a failure.

Here’s a story from Yahoo! News that I first assumed was from the Babylon Bee. But it’s not satire, it really happened.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown privately signed a bill last month ending the requirement for high school students to prove proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic before graduation. Brown, a Democrat, did not hold a public signing or issue a press release regarding the passing of Senate Bill 744…, an unusually quiet approach to enacting legislation, according to the Oregonian. …The bill, which suspends the proficiency requirements for students for three years, has attracted controversy for at least temporarily suspending academic standards… Backers argued…the new standards for graduation would aid Oregon’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.” …Republicans criticized the proposal for lowering academic standards. “I worry that by adopting this bill, we’re giving up on our kids,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan said.

I don’t know which part of the story is more reprehensible. Should we be more outraged that state politicians wants to eliminate standards, or should we be more outraged that supporters are implicitly (at the very least) racist in thinking that minority students can’t perform?

This is equivalent to breaking your bathroom scale because you don’t like your weight.

In any event, we have more evidence that government schools squander lots of money and deliver very poor results.

Which means we have more evidence in favor of school choice.

P.S. Since I’m pointing out the failure of government schools, I can’t resist sharing a couple of older stories

Here’s a bizarre story from New Jersey (h/t: Reason).

Ethan Chaplin, a Glen Meadow Middle School student, told News 12 last week that while he was twirling a pencil with a pen cap on in math class, a student who bullied him earlier in the day yelled “He’s making gun motions, send him to juvie.” He was suspended for two days and then underwent five hours of a physical and mental exam at Riverview Medical Center’s crisis unit, his father told NJ.com.

We have another crazy example of political correctness run amok, as reported by the New York Post (h/t: Daily Caller).

Meet 8-year-old Asher Palmer, who was tossed out of his special-needs Manhattan school for threatening other kids with a toy “gun’’ — which he made out of rolled-up paper. …[His mom] was incensed that Principal Micaela Bracamonte told other staffers in an email that Asher “had a model for physically aggressive behavior in his immediate family.’’ Spadone thinks Bracamonte was referring to her husband because he served in the military during the Kuwait war. If that was the reason for the comment, she said, “I find it offensive and inappropriate.’’ As far as the toy gun is concerned, she said Asher, a first-year student, made it out of a piece of paper after discussing military weapons with his dad.

I’ve previously shared many stories of anti-gun political correctness in government schools (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). Makes me wonder whether that kind of nonsense is even more counterproductive to kids that some of the excesses of critical race theory.

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The most powerful argument for school choice is that children from poor families will be more likely to get a high-quality education. After all, these are the kids most likely to be trapped in failing government schools.

But there are lots of secondary arguments for school choice.

Today, we’re going to add to this list by considering the current controversy over whether “critical race theory” should be taught in schools.

I won’t bother trying to put forth my own definition of CRT.

But, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing if kids learn that the United States (like all nations) has an imperfect history, while it’s wrong if kids are brainwashed into believing that they are either oppressors or victims simply because of skin color.

But what about people who think differently? Should I decide what schools teach, or should other people make those choices?

The right answer is that we don’t need a one-size-fits-all approach. Either mine or anyone else’s.

In a column for Reason, J.D. Tuccille says school choice is a way of letting parents pick the schools that best reflect their values.

…some states are banning the teaching of CRT—an approach that threatens to turn advocates of the ideology into free speech martyrs fighting the entrenched establishment. …families that choose how their children learn—my own included—rather than defaulting to government-run institutions…have largely escaped these battles. By homeschooling, or micro-schooling, or picking private or charter schools, we can avoid curricula permeated with ideas we find toxic… Parents that…support CRT also have alternatives to battling over the content of schoolroom lessons. They can introduce their tykes to Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby Picture Book, marinate their kids in CRT-infused homeschooling, or send them to one of many private schools that offer willing families an education steeped in the ideology. …if that’s what they want their kids to learn, let them do so in peace, and without zero-sum arguments about what children are taught in shared institutions.

Amen.

Critical race theory won’t be nearly so controversial if we let parents choose the type of education that’s best for their kids.

And the same is true for other contentious issues, ranging from phonics to prayer.

No wonder more and more states are shifting in the right direction on this issue.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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Sometimes Bill Maher, the host of Real Time on HBO, says smart things and sometimes he says not-so-smart things.

His recent monologue on the “college scam” was an example of the former. It’s almost as if he was channeling Professor Daniel Lin.

Maher makes great points about how government subsidies for higher education are a backwards form of redistribution, taking money from lower-income people and giving it to higher-income people.

And I love what he says about credentialism, where people can’t climb the job ladder without getting useless degrees like masters in education.

But his monologue wasn’t perfect. He mentioned how tuition costs have exploded, but he didn’t make the should-be-obvious connection between rising costs and government subsidies.

To be more explicit, tuition expenses have skyrocketed because colleges and universities have raised prices to capture all the extra loot politicians are dumping into the system.

Which, by the way, is what happens in every sector of the economy (health care being an obvious example) where government tries to make things more affordable.

By the way, if you don’t want to trust Maher’s comments because he’s an entertainer rather than a policy expert, you may want to read a column in the Wall Street Journal by Tomas Philipson, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.

Here’s some of his analysis.

The student-loan crisis is rooted in government policy… The Biden administration’s American Families Plan is designed to perpetuate the cycle. The student-loan crisis has a long history but accelerated dramatically in 2010, when lawmakers moved the portfolio onto the Education Department’s balance sheet to “pay” for ObamaCare. …But Education Department bureaucrats, not experts in lending, didn’t bother with prudent practices, such as underwriting, that are routine in private credit markets. The result: A lender with the lowest cost of capital on the planet is now about $500 billion in the red. …And federal student loans are highly regressive. …The Brookings Institution found in April 2019 that Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s loan-forgiveness proposal would mainly help the rich, with families with income in the top 40% receiving about two-thirds of the benefits. …These policies reward professors and administrators who can then raise the price of their services. …Tuition rising as loan subsidies expand is no different. It isn’t a coincidence that education and health care, the industries in which government subsidies are most pervasive, took the highest price increases over the past 15 years—3.7% and 3.1% a year, compared with the 1.8% average across industries.

Amen, especially with regards to the final sentence. Student loans and other subsidies are the reason colleges and universities can get away with never-ending tuition increases.

And Joe Biden wants to make matters worse, as Bill Maher noted. Not that we should be surprised since that’s what Barack Obama wanted and what Hillary Clinton wanted.

The left is in favor of just about anything, other than the policy that would solve the problem.

P.S. There’s even academic research showing that government spending on higher education has a negative impact on economic performance.

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After three columns on the topic in the past five weeks (see here, here, and here), I wasn’t expecting to write again about school choice anytime soon, but this speech by State Senator Justin Wayne of Nebraska must be watched.

What a great idea! All politicians who vote against school choice have to send their kids to the crummy government schools in their states and districts.

That wouldn’t be good news for hypocrites like Barack Obama (and his Secretary of Education), Elizabeth Warren, Democratic congressional candidates, and the head of a teacher union.

Heck, we could create a giant list of all the rich leftists who exercise choice for their own children while voting to deny similar opportunities for kids from families that don’t have lots of money.

And this is why I’m overjoyed that we have seen a lot of progress on the issue this year.

And it’s continuing. Here are excerpts from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about recent steps to expand choice in Florida.

Florida already has among the most expansive school-choice offerings in the nation, and this week the Legislature expanded private-school vouchers to more families. …The bill increases the eligible household income cap from 300% to 375% of the poverty level—about $100,000 for a family of four—though it prioritizes households under 185%. The enrollment cap will continue to escalate by 1% of public-school enrollment annually, allowing roughly 28,000 new students each year. …One of the bill’s biggest boons is extending scholarships to students already in private school. …Florida is a haven for overtaxed northerners, but it’s also an education refuge for low- and middle-income families.

Also in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Peterson of Harvard has a column on how government lockdowns have created an opening for expanded educational freedom.

President Biden wants credit for opening up the nation’s schools within 100 days of taking office. …The big news at the 100-day mark isn’t school opening but the revival of the school-choice movement. …school-choice advocates have scored big victories around the country. Indiana enlarged its voucher program. Montana lifted caps on charter schools. Arkansas now offers tax-credit scholarships to low-income students. West Virginia and Kentucky have funded savings accounts that help parents pay tuition at private schools. Florida, a movement leader, has enlarged its tax-credit scholarship programs. Even Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee promises to veto a moratorium on new charter schools. …The pandemic is the driving force. The failure of the public schools to educate children in the past year has angered parents and policy makers. …the loss of learning and social connectivity produced by school closures has been devastating, especially for low-income minority children. …Survey data show a rise in the level of support over the past two years for vouchers, charters and tax-credit scholarships. Political leaders sense a change in the public mood. After aggressive unions and bewildered school boards shut down schools for a year, the choice bandwagon has begun to roll.

Let’s hope that choice bandwagon rolls further. It will be great for kids.

And, given the importance of quality education for competitiveness, it will be great for the nation as well.

P.S. I’m disgusted by the hypocritical politicians who send their kids to private schools while voting against school choice for the rest of us. But I’m even more disgusted – and baffled – that the NAACP opposes school choice when minority children have the most to gain.

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I’m pessimistic about the direction of public policy, especially on fiscal issues such as taxes and spending.

But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of statism. We’re seeing continuing progress on school choice, most notably a big expansion of educational freedom in West Virginia.

It appears more and more state and local policy makers are reaching the inevitable conclusion that government schools operate for the benefit of teacher unions rather than students.

And this is motivating many legislators to push for school choice, especially since there’s more and more evidence that school choice improves educational outcomes.

For instance, the Wall Street Journal opined last week about a new victory in Indiana.

Ten years ago in these columns, we hailed Indiana for its leadership in establishing one of America’s most ambitious school voucher programs. On Thursday the Indiana Legislature built on that achievement by approving a budget that will take the program to 48,000 students a year from about 37,000. …The teachers unions are unhappy. Their beef is that money to expand choice is taken from traditional public schools. And this year they lobbied local school boards to pass resolutions opposed to school choice. But that common union line about choice robbing public schools isn’t true. …92% of Indiana students will be in traditional public schools, and 93% of all education funding will go to these schools. …Since 2011, when Indiana pushed through its first voucher plan, more than a quarter-million Hoosier students have benefited. In an interview with Today’s Catholic, former Gov. Mitch Daniels explains the moral logic of choice this way: “Providing poor and minority families the same choice of schools that their wealthier neighbors enjoy is the purest example of ‘social justice’ in our society today.”

Meanwhile, Arkansas may be on the verge of adding to the good news.

Here are some excerpts from an article by Jason Bedrick in National Review.

In response to families demanding more educational options, six states have already passed new choice policies or expanded existing ones this year, and similar bills are still making their way through more than a dozen other state legislatures. …the Arkansas state senate…passed Senate Bill 680, which has the support of Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Education, by an overwhelming margin. Although only half the size of the previous proposal and limited only to low-income children, the bill still represents a major step toward providing broad access to educational choice. The Arkansas House now has another opportunity to do right by Arkansas families desperate for more educational options. …the Arkansas House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted to recommend that the full House pass the bill.

The superintendents of government schools are fighting to preserve the status quo. Their main argument is that choice will hurt outcomes for students stuck in their schools.

But competition encourages everyone to do better, and Jason shares some of the evidence about government schools doing better when there is school choice .

The research about the effects of educational-choice policies on public schools…overwhelmingly finds that such policies benefit not only participating students, but also the students who remain in their assigned district schools. Out of 27 studies, 25 find that students attending district schools improve their performance on standardized tests after the introduction of a choice program, while only one study found a negative effect, and one found no visible effect. …a recent study by the University of Arkansas found that states with robust educational-choice policies saw significant improvements on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) over the last two decades. …The sky isn’t falling in any of the 29 states that have some form of private-school-choice program. Indeed, the sun is still shining on their public-school systems, which have not only not collapsed but are actually performing better than before.

Fingers crossed that Arkansas lawmakers do what’s right for kids rather than siding with the education bureaucracy.

Let’s conclude with this video from the Institute of Justice, which makes the point that school choice is especially critical for those with low incomes and other challenging backgrounds.

I shared a similar video back in 2016 as part of a column about why school choice is critical for black children.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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I wrote one week ago about a big victory for education in West Virginia. The Mountain State arguably now has the most extensive system of school choice in the country.

This will be great for parents and children.

There’s a lot of research showing better educational outcomes when families have options other than low-performing, monopoly-based government schools.

Now we have some additional good news.

Kentucky legislators have just overridden the governor’s veto, meaning that students in the state will now have expanded educational opportunities. Eric Boehm of Reason has some of the details.

The new law, originally House Bill 563, allows students in Kentucky public schools to switch school districts, and it creates a new tax-advantaged education savings program for families to use for private school tuition, to pay for tutoring, or to cover other educational expenses. The most controversial part of the proposal was the creation of a $25 million scholarship fund—to be filled by donations from private businesses, for which they would receive state tax credits—that students in Kentucky’s largest counties can tap to help pay for private school tuition. …With the passage of the first school choice bill in state history, Kentucky is now the 28th state with some form of school choice.

Speaking of other states, the Wall Street Journal editorialized about the beginning of a very good trend.

The pandemic has been a revelation for many Americans about union control of public schools… That awakening is helping to spur some welcome reform progress as several state legislatures are moving to expand school choice. One breakthrough is in West Virginia, where the Legislature passed a bill creating the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program. …Meanwhile in Georgia, the House passed a bill last week that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program for special-education students. The Senate, which had already passed the legislation, voted to approve House amendments on Monday and the bill is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. In South Dakota this month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to students already enrolled in private schools. …in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill last week that would establish a new tax-credit scholarship program. But the state legislature voted late Monday to override the veto… Nearly 50 school-choice bills have been introduced this year in 30 states. It’s a testament to how school shutdowns have made the advantage of education choice more evident, and its need more urgent.

By the way, school choice has existed for a long time in Vermont. Yes, the state that regularly reelects Crazy Bernie has dozens of small towns that give vouchers to students. Laura Williams explains in an article for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Vermont’s “tuition towns”…distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. If the school doesn’t perform up to parents’ expectations, they can take their children, and the tuition dollars they control, elsewhere. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …parents have the ability to put their kids in school anywhere, to buy the educational experience best suited to each child. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. …Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead.

Rhode Island is another unexpected example. That deep-blue state recently expanded charter schools in Providence.

That’s not as good a genuine school choice, but it gives parents some ability to escape traditional government schools. The Wall Street Journal opined last year on this development.

…this particular hell may have frozen over, as last week the state’s education council voted to expand and open more charter schools to rescue students in the district. About 13% of Providence’s 30,000 students attend 28 charter schools, some in other districts. But demand far exceeds supply. Only 18% of the 5,000 or so charter school applicants were offered a seat this school year, according to the state education department. …The state education council last week gave preliminary approval for more than 5,700 new charter seats in Providence and other districts. Three of four new charters that applied got a green-light to open, pending final approval in the spring, and three existing charters (two of which serve Providence) are expanding. …The teachers union isn’t happy. In a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten complained… This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control.

Let’s now add to our collection of evidence about the benefits of school choice.

In an article for National Review, James Piereson and Noami Schaefer Riley discuss the track record of the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

Children’s Scholarship Fund enables low-income children to attend private schools — and thrive. …parents who receive financial aid from the organization…send their children to inner-city private (mostly Catholic) schools. …When it came to how satisfied they were with their children’s education, almost 90 percent graded their school a 4 or 5 out of 5. …Since its inception in 1998, the fund has helped more than 180,000 children attend private schools. CSF’s high-school graduation and college matriculation rates far surpass those of the urban public schools that surround them. In Philadelphia, for instance, 96 percent of CSF eighth-graders graduated from high school on schedule — compared with Philadelphia’s public-school graduation rate of only 62 percent. A study of CSF in Baltimore found that 84 percent of scholarship recipients were enrolled in college five to ten years after completing eighth grade, compared with fewer than half of students from local public schools. Nor are these high-priced private schools. The average tuition at these schools is about $5,300 per year, and the average scholarship award is $2,200.

Why do even low-cost private schools out-perform expensive government schools?

Because they have to deliver a good product. Either that, or parents will take their money elsewhere.

It’s a simple question of incentives, as illustrated by this meme about why private schools have been much better than government schools during the pandemic.

While the obvious argument for school choice is that it delivers better educational outcomes (and at lower cost), it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of secondary benefits.

As explained by W. Bradford Wilcox in an article for the American Enterprise Institute, private schools produce better families.

The public debate surrounding the efficacy of private versus public schools tends to revolve around their relative success in boosting test scores, graduation rates, and college admissions. …But there is more to life than excelling at school and work. For instance, there is the opportunity to be formed into a woman or man of good character, a good citizen, or a good partner and parent. …Until now, however, we have known little about how different types of schools are linked to students’ family life as adults. …In this report, we examine how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools is associated with different family outcomes later in life. …Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. They are also about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have a child out of wedlock. …Compared with public-school attendees, ever-married adults who attended a secular private school are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced. Catholic-school attendees are about 30% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.

And Corey CeAngelis notes in this tweet that school choice reduces segregation.

And the Wall Street Journal editorialized last December about school choice improving mental health.

Teachers unions have pushed to shut down schools during the pandemic no matter the clear harm to children, just as they oppose charters and vouchers. Now comes a timely study suggesting school choice improves student mental health. Several studies have found that school choice reduces arrests and that private-school students experience less bullying. One reason is that charter and private schools enforce stricter discipline than traditional public schools. …The new study in the journal “School Effectiveness and School Improvement” is the first to…analyze the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades. They find that states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private-school voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers. …The researchers also looked for any correlation between students who attended private school as teenagers and their mental health as adults. …individuals who attended private schools were two percentage-points less likely to report a mental health condition when they were roughly 30 years old.

Let’s conclude with some excerpts from a strong editorial from National Review. The magazine points out that teacher unions wield power in blue parts of the nation and schools are run for their benefit rather than for the best interests of children.

…the interests of children and their families take a distant second place to the desires of the public-sector unions that dominate Democratic politics around the country and run the show practically unopposed in California. …unionized teachers…have turned up their noses at the children they are supposed to be serving and looked instead to their own two-point agenda: (1) not going to work; (2) getting paid. Randi Weingarten exercises more real practical political power than any senator or cabinet secretary, and her power is exercised exclusively in the interest of public-sector workers and the Democratic Party, which they effectively control. Perhaps it is time for Americans to take back some of that power.

And what’s the way to take back power?

It’s possible to reform labor laws so teachers don’t have out-sized influence. That sort of happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker.

But that’s difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain.

The best long-run answer is to have school choice so parents are in charge rather than union bosses.

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As a public finance economist, I’m a huge fan of fiscal reforms such as a spending cap or a flat tax.

But, if asked to pick the reform that would have the biggest positive impact for the United States, I’d be very tempted to pick school choice.

Largely because of the pernicious effect of teacher unions, government schools are doing a poor job of educating children. Especially considering the record amounts of money that’s being dumped into the system.

Which is why I’m very excited that we’re about to see a massive expansion of school choice in West Virginia.

The state legislature has enacted and the governor is expected to sign (fingers crossed!) legislation creating education savings accounts (ESAs) providing $4,600 per child.

These accounts, called Hope Scholarships, will be available to all families with kids in government schools (and every single new kindergarten student). Parents then can use the funds for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and a range of other approved items.

The state’s leading think tank, the Cardinal Institute, has a primer on the issue.

ESAs allow parents to apply for eligible students to receive the state portion of education funds into a personal, parent-controlled account. Parents are then empowered to customize an education experience that meets the individual needs of their child, using their account to pay for approved services like tuition, therapy, tutoring, textbooks, and more. …the bill would extend ESAs to students who are enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school… parents will only be able to purchase approved items and services. This makes ESAs as—if not more—transparent than any other form of education spending. …The key aspect that distinguishes ESAs from vouchers is parent control and customization. Instead of the state sending funds directly from the state to a specific private school, the state instead deposits funds into a parent-controlled account. These funds can then be spent on wide array of approved education services, not only tuition

Corey DeAngelis and Neal McCluskey address some of the hot-button issues in an article for Reason.

West Virginia’s public schools spend an average of $12,644 per child per year, while the estimated amount of funding that would follow the child under HB 2013 would be about $4,600. If the legislation becomes law, public schools would keep large amounts of funding for children even after they left, meaning they would end up with more money per child. …choice opponents in the state also are claiming that $4,600 is too low to cover private school tuition. But do those same people oppose Pell Grants just because they don’t cover the full cost of attending many universities? …And $4,600 would actually go a long way in West Virginia as the average private school tuition in the state is just $6,068 and the average elementary school cost is $4,890. …The worst thing about anti-school choice myths is that they disproportionately prevent the least advantaged from access to much-needed education options.

Amen to the last point.

School choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century since black and brown kids are the biggest victims of the government school monopoly.

I’ll close by observing that teacher unions traditionally have done a very good job of protecting their monopoly. Every time I think a state is poised to make progress on school choice (most recently in Pennsylvania and Colorado), the unions dump tons of money into campaigns so they can maintain their privileges.

Assuming West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, doesn’t betray children by unexpectedly vetoing the legislation, the union win streak will have ended.

P.S. Here’s a video explaining the benefits of school choice.

P.P.S. There’s international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Government schools in America are a national disgrace.

Every year, we throw more money into the system and every year we get back mediocre results.

The numbers are especially depressing when you compare how other nations get better outcomes while having significantly lower levels of per-pupil spending.

Given this grim situation, I’m always on the lookout for analysis that can help us figure out how to make things better.

Though some people seemingly want to make things worse.

In an article for the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan reveals how elite private schools have become high-pressure pathways for entrance to elite colleges. It’s a fascinating – and even disturbing – look at the life of people (mostly) in the top-1 percent.

But what grabbed my attention was her conclusion. She accurately observes that government schools do a crappy job, but then suggests that high-performing private schools are the problem.

In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item. …We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle. …Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken. In my own state of California, only half of public-school students are at grade level in reading, and even fewer are in math. …Shouldn’t the schools that serve poor children be the very best schools we have?

At the risk of understatement, this point of view (the article’s headline in the print edition is “Private Schools Are Indefensible”) is utterly perverse.

If we know that private schools do a better job (and not just the super-elite schools discussed in the article), then the ethical answer should be to get rid of the government school monopoly and adopt a system of school choice so that the children of non-rich families also have an opportunity to get a quality education.

That would be good for kids and it would be good for taxpayers (we’re spending record amounts of money on the failed government school monopoly, so turning that money into vouchers would provide enough funding for families to afford the vast majority of private schools).

But this brings up another issue. What if leftists aren’t just against private education? What if they also object to any sort of system where better students get better outcomes?

Chester Finn of the Hoover Institution wrote a column last November for the Wall Street Journal about the efforts to undermine the tiny handful of high-performing government schools.

Nationwide, selective-admission public schools, also known as “exam schools,” are under attack… Much like elite universities, critics allege, these schools have been admitting far too many whites and Asians and not nearly enough blacks and Latinos. …in New York, …admission…is governed by the eighth-grader’ scores on a specialized admission test. …there’s no denying that they’re full of Asian and white kids, many from low-income and middle-class families. …Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor have recently pushed to make the admissions process more “equitable.” They want to…abolish the entry exam…[i]nstead of repairing the elementary and middle schools attended by poor and minority kids… Consider another furor in Virginia, over admission to the esteemed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, regularly ranked the country’s top high school by U.S. News. Thomas Jefferson is in such demand that it can accept fewer than 1 in 6 applicants. …The Fairfax County superintendent and board last month moved to abolish the qualification exam… the remedies being sought in every case are wrongheaded. …School systems…have to face the reality that some kids are smarter and more motivated than others, no matter their color. That’s anathema to “progressive” reformers, who prefer to abolish accelerated classes for high achievers. …The progressive assault on education in the name of equity ends up denying smart kids from every background the kind of education that will assist them to make the most of their abilities.

I’m almost at a loss for words.

For all intents and purposes, our friends on the left would rather have everyone be mediocre than allow some students to succeed.

  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending private school.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending so-called exam schools.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by taking accelerated classes.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending charter schools.
  • They don’t want some kid to succeed by being home-schooled.

This hostility to achievement is reprehensible.

Part of it is probably motivated by a cynical attempt to appease teacher unions.

And part of it is presumably the ideological belief in equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, even if the net result is that all students are worse off (the same perverse instinct that leads them to support economic policies that hurt the poor so long as the rich get hurt more).

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Other than some clever examples of gallows humor, the only silver lining to coronavirus pandemic is that more people now understand that teacher unions are an obstacle to quality education.

This video hopefully will make that lesson apparent to everyone.

What a reprehensible person.

Needless to say, I don’t blame Mr. Meyer for putting his kid in a private preschool. And I won’t blame him if he then sends her to a private elementary school and a private high school.

After all, teachers in government schools presumably are very aware that private schools do a much better job than government schools.

But it’s total hypocrisy for him to take advantage of in-person schooling for his daughter while fighting to deny that option for parents who have no choice but to rely on government schools.

Sort of like Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton wanting higher taxes on the rest of us while coming up with a clever tax strategies to protect their money from the IRS.

But I’m digressing (which is understandable since our friends on the left can be very hypocritical).

Let’s get back to our main topic. The Daily Caller has an article about Mr. Meyer’s despicable hypocrisy.

Viral video footage shows a California teachers union president who led school closures dropping his daughter off at a private school. …“Meet Matt Meyer. White man with dreads and president of the local teachers’ union,” the group tweeted Saturday. “He’s been saying it is unsafe for *your kid* to be back at school, all the while dropping his kid off at private school.” …The video was filmed by Berkeley area parents who did not give their names out of fear of retaliation… The video sparked a backlash among parents who want their children to return to in-person learning as soon as possible.

A total hypocrite.

Just like Gregory Hutchings. Just like Elizabeth Warren. Just like Barack Obama. Just like Dan McCready. Just like Arne Duncan. Just like…well, you get the point.

Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with all of them opting to send their kids to private schools. Indeed, it’s what they should be doing given the subpar track record of government schools.

But it’s disgusting that they want to deny that same opportunity for parents who don’t have the same financial resources. Especially since minority children are the ones who suffer most.

P.S. It’s worth pointing out that this column is an attack on teacher unions, not teachers. For what it’s worth, the main argument for school choice is that it would be better for students. That being said, good teachers also would prosper in a choice-based system.

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Whenever I’m asked to give an example of a powerful and persuasive visual, I always have an easy answer.

The late Andrew Coulson created a very compelling chart showing that huge increases in money and staff for government schools have not led to improvements in educational outcomes.

All rational people who look at that image surely will understand that we’re doing something wrong.

And if they review the academic evidence on government spending and educational results, they’ll definitely know we’re doing something wrong.

The international data, by the way, tells the same story. Which is especially disheartening since Americans taxpayers spend much more on education than their counterparts in other developed nations.

Let’s further investigate this issue.

I came across a 2017 tweet from Mark Perry that gives us another way of looking at the numbers.

He reviewed 64 years of data and found that government spending on education soared by 368 percent. And that’s after adjusting for inflation.

We got more teachers with all that money, but the main outcome was a massive expansion in the number of education administrators and other bureaucrats.

In other words, most of the additional money isn’t being used for classroom instruction.

And the numbers seems to get worse every year. In a recent article for Education Next, Ira Stoll uses two different data sets to document the growth of bureaucracy.

Here is some of the data he got from the Department of Labor.

Are schools really spending more on administration than they used to? The short answer is yes. …information to corroborate the idea of skyrocketing administrative spending may be obtained from a different source: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. …The category of “education administrators, kindergarten through secondary” in May 2019 included 271,020 people earning a mean annual wage of $100,340. In 1999, there were 186,220 people in this category, earning a mean annual wage of $65,480. That is 45.5 percent growth in the number of administrators. …The math works out to nearly three $100,000-a-year administrators for every school.

Here’s his table based on numbers from the Department of Education.

In each case, we see bureaucrats have been the biggest winners. There are a lot more of them than there used to be, and they enjoy lavish compensation packages.

Cory DeAngelis of Reason summarized Stoll’s findings in a pair of tweets.

Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explains that all this additional funding and additional bureaucracy is not yielding worthwhile results.

…the U.S. spends more than $700 billion on K–12 education a year, or about $14,000 per student. That’s 39 percent more than the average OECD nation. And many big-city districts spend considerably more, with per-pupil outlays of more than $20,000 per year in places such as Washington, D.C., and Boston. …But it’s not clear that we’re spending all of this money in effective ways. For instance, …the ranks of non-instructional staff have grown more than twice as fast as student enrollment over the past 30 years. …in public bureaucracies, new dollars often double as a convenient excuse to avoid hard choices.

So what’s the moral of the story?

I don’t need to write anything because this article in National Review by Cameron Hilditch has a very apt summary.

American taxpayers have been hoodwinked by the whole idea of “public schools.” …We’ve been putting more and more money into the system for decades without reaping more returns for the nation’s children. …schools are advertised to taxpayers as institutions that serve every child in the nation. In reality, they serve the interests of no one other than the small group of Americans who work in these schools as teachers and administrators. …Since the teachers unions can shield their own avarice with claims of “public service” to children, they can manipulate the actual public into thinking that more money, job security, or political power for themselves is in everyone’s interest instead of their own. …a look at graduation rates, test scores, and graduate employability calls this into question.

P.S. While this column has mostly focused on the ever-expanding number of administrators and other education bureaucrats, as well as their lavish salaries, it’s worth noting that compensation for teachers also has been going up.

P.P.S. Though the real problem is not teacher pay. Some deserve more pay, some deserve less pay, and some deserve to be fired, but we can’t separate the wheat from the chaff because teacher unions and local politicians have created an inefficient system that delivers mediocrity.

P.P.P.S. We need school choice so that competitive pressure rewards the best teachers as part of a system that focuses on better results for students.

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I have a Bureaucrat Hall of Fame to highlight government employees who have turned sloth and overcompensation into an art form, and I have a Moocher Hall of Fame to illustrate the destructive entitlement mindset that exists when politicians pay people to do nothing.

I’m now thinking we also need another Hall of Fame to bring attention to the despicable people who oppose school choice because currying favor with teacher unions is more important than giving poor children an opportunity for a good education.

Some of the charter members would include:

And we many need to include Joe Biden on this tawdry list.

We’ll know soon enough. There’s a federally funded school choice program in Washington, DC, and time will tell whether the President intends to kill it.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Virginia Walden Ford expresses hope that President Biden won’t sacrifice the needs of minority children in the nation’s capital.

I hope his administration doesn’t tear down a program that has brought hope to thousands of African-American children in the District of Columbia. In 2004, Congress created the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. …In 2020-21, 82% of scholarship recipients identified as African-American and another 12% as Hispanic. While scholarships for poor children of color should hold bipartisan appeal, the…2020 Biden-Sanders “unity” platform went out of its way to recommend defunding the program.

Ms. Ford isn’t opposed to government schools, but she does want poor kids to have the same opportunity as Joe Biden’s kids.

I strongly support both public education and school choice. I attended public schools, and my father served as the first African-American school administrator in Little Rock, Ark.—for which my family received a burning cross on our front yard. …What really undermines public education is attempts from elites to keep good education for themselves… Mr. Biden’s children went to private schools. Why shouldn’t my former neighbors in Southeast Washington have the opportunity to do so too?

I’ll close by observing that many of the people opposing school choice are total hypocrites. They send their kids to private schools while fighting to deny hope and opportunity for children from poor families.

Including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Obama’s Education Secretary, both of whom also would be charter members of a new Hall of Fame for policy makers who care more about union bosses than poor kids.

There are folks on the left who have genuine integrity on this issue, including the editors at the Washington Post.

P.S. At the risk of stating the obvious, the solution is not dumping more money into government-run schools. We’ve tried that and tried that and tried that, over and over again, and it never works.

P.P.S. For example, Bush’s No Child Left Behind (which I call No Bureaucrat Left Behind) was a failure, as was Obama’s Common Core.

P.P.P.S. Instead of throwing good money after bad and imposing more centralization, getting rid of the Department of Education in Washington would be a far-preferable approach (we’d be copying Canada with that approach).

P.P.P.P.S. If you want evidence on the benefits of school choice, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.P.S. There’s also international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Coronavirus has been a dark cloud. But if we want to find a silver lining, the government’s bungled response to the pandemic has exposed some weaknesses in the government school monopoly.

And this could mean opportunity for competing structures that can do a better job of educating kids.

  • School choice – An approach where parents get vouchers that they can send their kids to schools, either government or private, that compete to best serve their needs and interests.
  • Home schooling – An approach where parents direct their children’s education, often in cooperation with other parents and experts who specialize in certain fields.
  • Charter schools – An approach where education entrepreneurs (often groups of parents) set up government schools that operate outside of the existing monopoly.

Even before the coronavirus, there was plenty of evidence against the government’s monopoly.

Politicians have been shoveling ever-larger amounts of money into the system. Yet student outcomes have not improved.

Why? Part of the answer is that too many schools systems are run for the benefit of teacher unions, with student outcomes being a secondary (at best) concern.

And that problem has become increasingly apparent because of the pandemic.

But, in an article for Reason, Matt Welch hopes the despicable behavior of teacher unions may lead to long-overdue reforms.

…in the COVID-scarred year of 2020. Teachers unions, and the (largely Democratic) politicians they back, have relentlessly limited parental choice in the name of maximizing the autonomy of teachers to opt out of classrooms while still getting paid. No other country in the industrialized world has closed schools down to this degree. …The remote learning that tens of millions of kids are suffering through nationally is broadly understood to be a disaster. The results are as predictable as day following night: Parents are pulling their kids out of public schools. …I’m furious that public schools have used our money to fail poor kids. …unions and their allies have made America a global outlier in keeping schools shut, driving parents away from the systems, and some cities, in droves. …the same guilds that have such a concentrated amount of power are soon going to find themselves having to explain to the rank and file just why there aren’t as many jobs anymore.

Or, maybe the union bosses should explain why sauce for the goose isn’t also sauce for the gander.

They vigorously defend their jobs and perks, but they often make sure their kids aren’t victimized by the system.

For instance, here’s the headline of a story forwarded to me by a reader.

Not that I’m surprised.

I’ve shared many examples of two-faced behavior by defenders of the government education monopoly – crummy schools for the children of ordinary people but high-quality private schools for their kids.

So can we hope for reform?

Most of the action will need to take place at the state and local level, but the federal government unfortunately has been playing a bigger role in schooling, so it’s also worth paying attention to what we’ll get from the Biden Administration.

In a column for New York, Jonathan Chait worries that Democrats are so cowed by teacher unions that they aren’t even willing to maintain support for charter schools.

…charter schools have produced dramatic learning gains for low-income minority students. In city after city, from New York to New Orleans, charters have found ways to reach the children who have been most consistently failed by traditional schools. The evidence for their success has become overwhelming, with apolitical education researchers pronouncing themselves shocked at the size of the gains. …in 2015, a survey focused on charters in urban districts, where education reformers have concentrated their energies (and where gains have outpaced suburban and rural areas). It found urban charters on average gave their students the equivalent of 40 additional school days of learning in math and 28 additional days of learning in reading every year. CREDO’s studies confirm the conclusion that the lottery studies have found: In most cases, urban charters now provide the same group of students much better instruction. …The ability of urban charters all over the country to get nonselective groups of poor, Black students to learn at the same level as students in affluent, middle-class schools is one of the great domestic-policy achievements in American history.

Chait is on the left, but he’s honest.

So he recognizes that this is a battle over what really matters – currying favor with teacher unions or delivering better education for kids.

The final element of charters’ formula is inescapably controversial. They prioritize the welfare of their students over those of their employees, which means paying teachers based on effectiveness rather than how long they’ve been on the job — and being able to fire the worst ones. …the traditional practice of granting teachers near-total job security, without any differentiation based on performance, is a disaster for children.

Sadly, many folks on the left have decided that union bosses matter more than children.

They’re even willing to condemn minority children to substandard education to keep the unions happy.

…the second outcome of the charter-school breakthrough has been a bitter backlash within the Democratic Party. The political standing of the idea has moved in the opposite direction of the data, as two powerful forces — unions and progressive activists — have come to regard charter schools as a plutocratic assault on public education and an ideological betrayal. …as Biden turns from campaigning to governing, whether he will follow through on his threats to rein them in — or heed the data and permit charter schools to flourish — is perhaps the most unsettled policy mystery of his emerging administration. …or many education specialists, the left’s near abandonment of charter schools has been a bleak spectacle of unlearning — the equivalent of Lincoln promising to rip out municipal water systems or Eisenhower pledging to ban the polio vaccine. …Today, teachers unions have adopted a militant defense of the tenure prerogatives of their least effective members, equating that stance with a defense of the teaching profession as a whole. They have effectively mobilized progressives (and resurgent socialist activists) to their cause, which they identify as a defense of “public education”.

The actions of white leftists is particularly disgusting.

Polls show that the backlash against charters has been mainly confined to white liberals, while Black and Latino Democrats — whose children are disproportionately enrolled in those schools — remain supportive.

Though there are exceptions, to be sure. Not just Chait, but even the editors at the Washington Post.

But I fear too many Democrats have made a deal with the devil.

Teacher unions bring money and votes to the table. Meanwhile, many Democrats take for granted the votes of minorities. Given these real-world considerations, it makes sense (from a self-interest perspective) to side with the union bosses.

But from a humanitarian perspective, that’s an awful choice.

For what it’s worth, I have zero hope that Biden will be sympathetic to genuine school choice. But there’s a chance he could follow Obama and be somewhat open to charter schools.

And if that happens because of the coronavirus, that will indeed be a silver lining.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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There’s a lot of speculation that we’re in the midst of a political realignment, with Democrats becoming the party of the rich and the Republicans becoming the party of the working class.

I don’t pretend to know whether this realignment is happening or what form it will take, but there is plenty of evidence that Democrats are focusing on policies that disproportionately benefit those with high incomes.

And those policies often are at the expense of ordinary people, which is an especially repugnant form of redistribution.

Their efforts to restore the state-and-local tax deduction are an obvious example, but they also favor other tax breaks that are utilized overwhelmingly by rich people.

They also favor big subsidies for higher education, which mostly benefit kids from well-to-do families (and well-paid college bureaucrats).

And now they want to provide another windfall for the college crowd.

Jonah Goldberg opines on this perverse form of redistribution in a column for the New York Post.

…a coalition of 236 progressive groups led by teachers unions called on Biden to cancel student debt on his first days in office. Biden himself has already urged Congress to cancel $10,000 as part of a pandemic relief package. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for even greater debt forgiveness. Sanders’ plan would cost an estimated $1.6 trillion dollars. …Most Americans, especially most poor Americans, don’t have student debt, because most didn’t go to college in the first place. Moreover, most people who did go to college have no or very little student debt. …only 6 percent of borrowers owe more than $100,000. Virtually all of them borrowed so much because they attended graduate school. …do they deserve help more than truck drivers, mechanics or short-order cooks? One reason teachers unions — a huge source of donations and political organizing for the Democratic Party — want loan forgiveness is that teachers and administrators can boost their pay by going back to school to get advanced degrees. Other municipal and federal workers — another major constituency for Democrats — have similar rules. Using the pandemic as an excuse to reward workers who are far less likely to lose their jobs and more likely to find new employment if they do, seems awfully self-serving.

Writing last year for the Washington Examiner, Brad Polumbo argues for the principle of individual responsibility.

College is way too expensive, but nonetheless, most young people who are buried in student loans or struggling to pay off their debt only have themselves to blame. The average student is now graduating with $30,000 in debt…the median monthly payment is just $222. If you can’t afford that, as a college graduate, it’s probably your own fault. …If you chose to major in gender studies, French, or anything similarly impractical, it’s your own fault that you’re stuck with a lower starting salary and might struggle to make payments. That’s unfortunate, but it’s no justification for shirking your responsibility to pay back what you owe or asking taxpayers to bear the burden of your mistakes. …people who find themselves buried in hundreds of thousands in student loan debt have their own decisions to blame. …They chose expensive dream schools… To bail them out at taxpayer expense is to punish people who made responsible decisions and encourage recklessness from future generations. …to the millions of borrowers who’ve made terrible decisions, don’t ask for a bailout — it’s your own damn fault.

Some of you may be thinking that Polumbo’s argument made sense last year, but we’re now struggling with coronavirus-caused economic turmoil and perhaps debt forgiveness would help the economy.

But that’s not the case according to the number crunchers at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. They show that loan forgiveness isn’t “stimulus” even if one uses discredited Keynesian analysis.

…loan forgiveness…is the not the equivalent of sending $1.5 trillion of cash to households. …because borrowers often pay back their loans over 10, 15, or even 30 years, debt cancellation will increase their available cash by only a fraction of the total loan forgiveness. …Not only would loan cancellation provide relatively little spendable cash to households, but the cash it does offer would be poorly targeted from a stimulus perspective. …The majority of those most affected by the current economic crisis likely have little or no student debt. Over 70 percent of current unemployed workers do not have a bachelor’s degree, including 43 percent who did not attend college at all. …Indeed, about two-fifths of all student debt is held by households with graduate degrees. 

So if loan forgiveness isn’t the answer, are there any desirable policies?

Mike Riggs, writing for Reason, explains we need less government rather than more government.

…subsidies have…driven up the cost of education at a rate multiple times higher than inflation. …The most libertarian policy preference in my view is two-pronged: get the federal government out of the lending and guaranteeing game, and make student loan debt reasonably dischargeable in bankruptcy. These two policies would realign the incentives of colleges, lenders, and students to bring down prices and saddle fewer potential students with loans they are unlikely to repay.

Amen.

I don’t like loan forgiveness, but I do sympathize with many indebted students because when Uncle Sam started dispensing grants and loans, colleges and universities responded with dramatic tuition increases and then used the money to create fat, waste, and inefficiency.

Let’s end this column with some satire.

First, the geniuses at Babylon Bee produced this gem, which could be based on Jonah Goldberg’s column.

One local plumbing contractor, Sam Caughorn, is really looking forward to paying the tab on his neighbor’s $89,000 gender studies degree. …According to studies, there are millions of white girls working at coffee shops across the country while struggling under the crushing student debt they acquired by irresponsibly obtaining college degrees that gave them no marketable job skills. Benevolent politicians have proposed transferring all the wealth from trade workers and minority business owners to help indebted white girls with their student loans so they can still afford their daily latte and cat food expenses. Local gender studies major Amber White is looking forward to having all her debt forgiven, thanks in part to the contributions of plumbers like Sam Caughorn. …According to sources, Sam Caughorn owns a successful business he started right after high school. He also has 5 kids, a nice house, and serves as a deacon at his church. “I guess I can spare some change for poor disadvantaged girls like Amber,” he said. 

Second, here’s a cartoon that could be based on the column I cited from Brad Polumbo.

P.S. The way federal intervention has screwed up higher education is very similar to the way federal intervention has also made the health sector expensive and inefficient.

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Writing about the failed government education monopoly back in 2013, I paraphrased Winston Churchill and observed that, “never has so much been spent so recklessly with such meager results.”

This more-recent data from Mark Perry shows that inflation-adjusted spending has ballooned in recent decades, driven in part by teacher expenses but even more so by the cost of bureaucrats.

Robby Soave recently wrote about the hypocrisy of one of those non-teaching bureaucrats.

In a must-read article for Reason, he notes that the lavishly compensated superintendent of government schools in a suburb of Washington, DC, has decided that one of his kids will get a better education at a private school.

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Gregory Hutchings has always been proud to call himself a parent of two children who attend public school. …But now, Hutchings has pulled one of his kids from ACPS—which remains all-virtual, to the frustration of many parents—and instead enrolled the child in a private Catholic high school currently following a hybrid model: some distance learning, and some in-person education. …It’s hard to blame Hutchings for trying to do right by his own child. But he is in a position to do right by thousands of other kids who don’t have the same opportunity.

Mr. Hutchings is a hypocrite, but that’s hardly a surprise.

So was Barack Obama. And Obama’s Secretary of Education. Lots of other leftists also have opposed school choice while allowing their kids to benefit from superior private schools, including Elizabeth Warren.

Why are they hypocrites? Because they put the self-interest of teacher unions before the educational interests of other people’s children.

But let’s return to Mr. Hutchings, because not only is he a hypocrite, he’s also a believer in equal levels of mediocrity.

Hutchings previously expressed concerns about parents seeking alternative educational arrangements. In a July 23 virtual conversation with parents and teachers detailing the district’s fall plans, Hutchings fretted that in-person learning pods would cause some students to get ahead of their Zoom-based public school counterparts. …Hutchings described pod-based learners as “privileged.” “If you’re able to put your child in a learning pod, your kids are getting ahead,” he said. “The other students don’t get that same access.” Students enrolled in pod-based learning, private tutoring, or private schooling that involves in-person instruction are indeed better off than those languishing in virtual education. But that’s a failure of public schools, which have largely chosen to privilege the demands of unions over the needs of children.

This is truly reprehensible.

In the past, I’ve criticized President George W. Bush “No Child Left Behind” scheme because it involved more centralization and more wasted money.

Hutchings is even worse. His policy should be called “No Child Gets Ahead.” And he’s not alone. My home county of Fairfax has the same disgusting attitude.

All things considered, Mr. Hutchings deserves membership in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame.

P.S. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow, that the record spending increases for government schools have not been matched by improvements in educational outcomes. Heck, the chart shows that there haven’t been any improvements.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but keep in mind that the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

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I’ve been writing about the benefits of school choice for a long time, largely because government schools are becoming ever-more expensive while produced ever-more dismal outcomes.

But even I was surprised to see this tweet, which shows how so many parents in New York City seek alternative educational opportunities for their children.

What makes these numbers so shocking is that parents are forced to pay for government schools. So when they opt for alternatives such as private schools, they’re paying twice.

But they decide the extra cost is justified because they know government-run schools don’t do a good job (and those failures have become even more apparent because of coronavirus).

For instance, David Harsanyi indicts government schooling in an article for National Review.

“Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. …State-run schools have undercut two fundamental conditions of a healthy tolerant society. First, they’ve created millions of civic illiterates who are disconnected from long-held communal values and national identity. Second, they’ve exacerbated the very inequalities that trigger the tearing apart of fissures. …No institution has fought harder to preserve segregated communities than the average teachers’ union. …Prosperous Americans already enjoy school choice — and not merely because they can afford private schools. …This entire dynamic is driven by the antiquated notion that the best way to educate kids is to throw them into the nearest government building. It’s the teachers’ unions that safeguard these fiefdoms through racketeering schemes: First they funnel taxpayer dollars to the political campaigns of allies who, when elected, return the favor by protecting union monopolies and supporting higher taxes that fund unions and ultimately political campaigns. …most poor parents, typically black or Hispanic, are compelled to send their kids to inferior schools… Joe Biden says he’ll create not a child-oriented Department of Education but a “teacher-oriented Department of Education.” By teachers, Biden means unions. …It’s likely that left-wing ideologues run your school district. They decide what your children learn. …The embedded left-wing nature of big school districts is so normalized that parents rarely say a word. …a voucher system creates opportunities for all kinds of students, not just wealthy ones.

I suppose it should explicitly stated that those opportunities would produce better results, both for taxpayers and for kids.

In an article for the American Institute for Economic Research, Gregory van Kipnis compares government schools and private schools.

Only when there is a monopoly are we denied choice. The negative consequences of that are well known… Monopolies produce goods and services at a higher price and a lower quality than would be obtained in a competitive market. That is certainly the case with public education. …society should be interested in data about the costs and outcomes of different approaches to education, namely public versus private schools, and how this data should affect our choices and behavior.

And what does the data tell us?

…currently (as of 2018), a public school education in the US costs 89% more than private education; that is, $14,653 for a public school and $7,736 for a private education. The high relative cost of public school education has persisted since the earliest period for which the data has been collected – 1965 (Chart 1a). …Private education is significantly less expensive.

Here’s the chart showing that government schools are far more expensive.

This raises a separate question: Are government schools more expensive because they’re producing better results?

Nope.

While the generally accepted knowledge is that private education produces better results than public school education, …Chart 4…shows the trends and levels in the composite ACT test results (meaning for math and reading combined) for the period 2001-2014, for private, public and homeschooled children. …The results speak for themselves – private schools test at a significantly higher level than public schools, and the gap is widening.

Here’s a chart showing the difference.

So what’s the bottom line?

Consumers of any product know they get better outcomes, as measured by quality and price, if the product is offered in competitive markets. This is true even in markets that have only limited competition. Any competition is better than none. Just as that principle is true in the markets for cars and cafes, so it is true in the market for educational services. …It is manifestly cheaper to get a private education and get a far better education in a private school. The problem holding back the growth in private education is that you have to pay twice to get it. The economics and facts support the logic of freeing parents to obtain private education and alternative public education for their children. To further facilitate this decision, parents should be given vouchers and credits equal to the cost of public school in their area, which they can freely use to fund their choice of better education in the private sector.

Amen. School choices produces better educational outcomes and saves money for taxpayers.

Hard to argue with the data (unless, of course, your motive is to appease teacher unions).

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I’m a huge fan of school choice. Simply stated, private schools deliver far superior results for children compared to costly and bureaucratic government schools.

Moreover, given the way minorities are poorly served by the status quo, school choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

But what about charter schools, which are hybrid creatures. They’re government schools, but they’re largely independent of bureaucratic constraints, and they also have to compete for students, which means they face similar incentives and get to operate in a similar fashion to private schools.

I’ve never analyzed the degree to which these schools are successful, but I remember being stunned when I was writing last year about “National Education Week” and saw a map showing the incredibly high demand for charter schools from parents in poor areas of Washington, DC.

What did those parents know that I didn’t know?

Well, it turns out that they must know that charter schools are a much better option than regular government schools.

There’s some new research, just published by Education Next, by Professor Paul Peterson and Danish Shakeel of Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance that looks at the comparative performance of charter schools.

Here’s a description of the study’s methodology.

…we track changes in student performance at charter and district schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests reading and math skills of a nationally representative sample of students every other year. We focus on trends in student performance from 2005 through 2017 to get a sense of the direction in which the district and charter sectors are heading. We also control for differences in students’ background characteristics. This is the first study to use this information to compare trend lines. Most prior research has compared the relative effectiveness of the charter and district sectors at a single point in time.

They wanted to investigate this topic because charter schools are increasingly popular.

School systems in 43 states and the District of Columbia now include charter schools, and in states like California, Arizona, Florida, and Louisiana, more than one in 10 public-school students attend them. In some big cities, those numbers are even larger: 45 percent in Washington, D.C., 37 percent in Philadelphia, and 15 percent in Los Angeles. Nationwide, charter enrollment tripled between 2005 and 2017, with the number of charter students growing from 2 percent to 6 percent of all public-school students. …one in three charter students is African American.

Here are the results.

As you can see, charter schools are attracting more students because parents want better outcomes.

Our analysis shows that student cohorts in the charter sector made greater gains from 2005 to 2017 than did cohorts in the district sector. The difference in the trends in the two sectors amounts to nearly an additional half-year’s worth of learning. The biggest gains are for African Americans and for students of low socioeconomic status attending charter schools. …The average gains by 4th- and 8th-grade charter students are approximately twice as large as those by students in district schools.

Here are the relevant charts from the study.

Here’s a chart showing that charter schools produce bigger gains in both math and reading, whether looking at students in 4th grade or 8th grade.

The next chart shows that black student are big beneficiaries when they can choose something other than a traditional government school

Last, but not least, our final visual looks at the gains for disadvantaged students.

This is all good news.

But there’s also some bad news.

Joe Biden wants to curry favor with teacher unions and that means he has come out against charter schools and other reforms that threaten the existing education monopoly.

This puts him to the left of Obama on this issue (as is the case on many issues). Heck, he’s also to the left of the Washington Post.

So if Biden wins, this could be very bad news for poor kids that don’t have any other educational alternatives.

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Way before we had a pandemic, I wasn’t a fan of the government school monopoly.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so many taxpayers paid so much money into a system that produced such mediocre results for so many people.

Now that we have a pandemic, the argument against government-run schools is even stronger. Simply stated the government monopoly is too politicized and too inflexible – and that means the the gap between government schools and private schools (and homeschooling) will be larger than ever.

Today, I want to show how the system is driven by bad ideology and bad incentives.

Let’s look at a recent announcement from the government schools where I live in Fairfax, VA. The bureaucrats don’t like when parents utilize private tutors because they would rather have all students fall behind than have some succeed.

Across the country, many parents are joining together to engage private tutors (who are often school teachers) to provide tutoring or home instruction for small groups of children. While there is no systematic way to track these private efforts, it’s clear that a number of “pandemic pods” or tutoring pods are being established in Fairfax County. …these instructional efforts are not supported by or in any way controlled by FCPS… While FCPS doesn’t and can’t control these private tutoring groups, we do have concerns that they may widen the gap in educational access and equity for all students.

Mike Gonzalez had the same reaction. He, too, was surprised that the bureaucrats would openly state their ideological desire for universal mediocrity.

There are similar problems in other communities surrounding Washington, DC.

In his column for the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney explains how government school bureaucracies – including where he lives in Montgomery County, Maryland – care more about preserving the flow of tax dollars than educational success for kids.

Because public schools will be offering a vastly inferior service this year (remote-only learning), the allies of public schools and their teachers’ unions worry about parents pulling their children into private schools — and so they are trying to take away some of the private schools’ advantage. …after Gov. Larry Hogan struck down a county order barring private schools, one public school teacher wrote a public Facebook post nearly admitting as much: “MCPS parents… Please keep your kids enrolled in MCPS! Loss of funding will be devastating, not only this school year, but in the years to come, when we need to try to increase funding again.” …The public school superintendent in Falls Church City, a small, wealthy municipality just outside of D.C., wrote a similar note warning against “Pandemic Flight.” …Peter Noonan..warned parents that “disenrolling from FCCPS [will] have consequences. FCCPS receives funding from the local Government, the State Government, and the Federal Government based on the numbers of students we have enrolled. If there is an exodus of students from FCCPS, the funding of our schools will decrease.” Notice what’s missing in this letter? Any suggestion that your children will learn just fine through the public schools’ online learning system. …public school administrators know that they are offering an inferior product… Sadly, rather than wanting what’s best for their students, they ask parents to do what will bring more taxpayer money for their schools.

For what it’s worth, I also think teacher unions and school bureaucrats also don’t want parents to experience even a year of private schooling or homeschooling, lest they learn that there are better long-run options for their kids.

P.S. My criticism of the government school monopoly does not in any way imply that teachers are bad people (like all professions and groups, some will be good and some will be bad). It simply means they are in a bad system. Indeed, one of the benefits of school choice is that good teachers will flourish thanks to competition and innovation.

P.P.S. Yes, we have strong evidence from some states and localities in America that school choice produces better educational outcomes. But I always remind people that there’s also global evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands showing good results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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