Limitations of “School Choice”

Solving the problems facing public school systems is oddly complex.  The vast majority of public schools perform well; some of them perform exceedingly well; a minority of schools consistently underperform – chances are good if you are poor, black or latino you attend one of those schools.  The notion of “school choice” originated with Milton Friedman and has found favor among a wide array of people, but most especially social conservatives who seek to move resources out of public school systems and into private schools.  These same social conservatives tout the benefits of private schools as if they are the solution for troubled public schools – often acting as if the public school system is beyond repair, ignoring its successes while deliberately inflating the viability of voucher programs.

In response, many public school systems have created school choice programs within cities or districts (Salt Lake School District has a “choice” program). 

Fixing underperforming schools involves a wide array of questions, including but not limited to questions of funding.  Our system of funding schools through property taxes is paradoxical – both good and bad. There are questions of information and to whom it is available as well as realistic access to alternatives to local public schools.  None of the actual solutions to the problem of underperforming schools can or will be solved by failing to focus on those schools.  “Solutions” that simply move students to other schools won’t actually solve any problems since the analysis behind them asserts that students are in the “wrong’ schools rather than asking “What attitudinal and behavioral changes are necessary to improve this school?”

The fight over the division of Jordan School district into two districts provides a text book example of how these discussions seem to go wrong so very quickly.  This week, a school funding equalization bill failed in the lege.  What we saw in this fight is an exemplary example of the “Somebody Else’s Problem” mindset that characterizes too many public school fights:

The west-siders from Jordan claimed the Canyons kids get more money per child thanks to higher property values. HB 292 would even things out, they say, giving children in both districts even funds until their district can get on its feet.

“Jordan District needs this bill to allow us time to build up enough of a tax base to provide for our children,” another Jordan District supporter said.

But the east-siders argued their taxes have been sent West for far too long, toward new schools their children will never benefit from. They say they already pay a form of “child support” from a bond issue and their east-side schools are outdated and unsafe.

For east side parents, the attitude seems to be “Only in my back yard” – i.e. our tax dollars need to go to the school building I can see from my house.  The idea that a strong, well funded public school system benefits all of us failed to persuade east side parents.  This is a problem of our mechanisms for funding schools.

There is a problem, one that is more difficult to define.  For lack of a better term, I call it an “opt-out” problem.  Essentially, a child is enrolled by default in a public school according to where they live.  Such a system  requires parents to opt their child out of that school and enroll them elsewhere if they are not happy with the local school.  Such a system is simpler for parents and administrators, rather than using a ranking system or some other archane method to define enrollment, you do it by address.  A lot of parents will tend to simply go with the assigned school rather than buck the system.  Even ridiculously bad public schools will find a majority of students are simply re-enrolled.  People who study choice architecture refer to this as a default setting and faced with choices, huge numbers of people simply accept the default setting.

Perhaps the easiest difficult to solve problem concerns information.  Well-educated, upper middle class parents will, generally, have better access to the kind of information necessary to assess school performance (they will get it through both formal means and informal social networks).  Less educated, working class families will, generally, not have access to that information.  School districts can and should prepare an easy to read assessment for their schools; such a document should show test scores, graduation rates, college acceptance rates; I would also want to see some trend information – for instance I might look at a school with only 30% of their students going to college and be worried but if the five year change was from 11% to 30%, then I’d realize this is a school that is improving.  Providing that information in easy to read format would empower parents equally. 

Another problem of course concerns the reasons for moving.  Many students who attend parochial schools do so because their families value the faith formation aspects of Catholic school.  Many students who attend a variety of religious schools do so that for reason – the quality of public school in their area is irrelevant to their decision; in some cases, private Christian academies are academically inferior (teaching creationism and the Bible as history, for instance) to the public school options.  Some families choose to send their kids to private school because it is a family tradition (I had more than a few peers whose families had been attending Judge since it was founded).  In many cases, there is a sentimental attachment to public schools as wells, especially in small towns and rural areas where many a dad is still weaing his faded letter jacket at his son’s football games. 

A great many school districts across the nation have created “choice” systems within the district – parents can move kids from one school to another.  One of the most noted choice systems was created and used in Boston; under this system, students were given a choice of which school to attend in certain grades (1st, 6th and 9th IIRC); in between, they could move if they wanted.  The Boston system used a priority ranking system to assign students to schools in which they tried to match up student preferences with availble seats in schools. 

The Boston system was very interesting.  Students were given priority based on a set of categories; i.e. if they were already attending or attended a feeder school, if they if they had a sibling in the school and if they lived near the school, and if they had a sibling but didn’t live near the school, or if they lived near the school.  Students and their families also ranked their choice of schools 1 through 5.  The system then assigned students to their first choice schools until there were no spaces available, then assigned students according to priorty.  Where the system gets interesting is that if you chose the local school as your second choice, didn’t get into your first choice, you might not get into your local school since all the open spaces were taken by students who ranked it first.  The school district made available to parents information about which schools were most requested – in essence creating an incentive to misrepresent their preferences by ranking less popular schools first.  The combination of the priority and the ranking system (which at first sounds like it should work well) created incentives for families to try to game the system; it also worked to the disadvantage of working class families who were less likely to be given insights into how to game the system through social networks and less likely to know how to access the more formal information about school preferences.  (What would happen is that a working class family would try to get their child into a high profile school but be kept out by the priority system, then not get their second or third choice schools because the system allocated spaces to people who picked those as first choices and so on down.)  The result was a school choice system that ended up privileging the people who didn’t need and not helping the people it was intended to help.

Education is a limited commodity; available in highly specific times and places, and often to specific persons. 

All of the above factors complicate school reform efforts.  Diagnosing failing schools is complicated – we know low test scores, poor graduation rates and so on tell us that a school is failing but not why.  The “why” is the hardest part.  Certainly lack of adequate resources can be part of the problem, but parents who don’t care about education can undermine even the most well-funded school.  Even apparently well designed programs – the Boston program was very carefully designed – can create unintended incentives and consequences and create pressures to “game” the system.

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  1. #1 by A N O'Ther on February 26, 2010 - 5:06 pm

    Do you think those people who object to subsidizing west-side kids would agree that I and Mrs O’Ther (who have no children) should be able to opt out of supporting their’s?

    Hmmm… probably not.

    • #2 by Glenden Brown on February 26, 2010 - 10:09 pm

      Yeah, I’ll bet they’re hoping you don’t bring that up.

  2. #3 by brewski on February 26, 2010 - 11:49 pm

    Author/Source: Caroline Minter-Hoxby, working paper (Harvard University, 2004)

    Public schools do respond constructively to competition [from private and charter schools], by raising their achievement and productivity…. Not only do currently enacted voucher and charter school programs not cream-skim; they disproportionately attract students who were performing badly in their regular public schools.

    Study: The Education Gap
    Author/Source: William G. Howell and Paul E. Peterson (The Brookings Institution, 2002)

    The Education Gap is the first book to gather a significant body of data on vouchers in multiple locations, and it reveals startling new evidence that voucher programs benefit African-American students more than participants from other ethnic groups.

    Study: “School Finance, Spatial Income Segregation And The Nature Of Communities”
    Author/Source: Thomas Nechyba, research report (Duke University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, 2002)

    This paper focuses on the connection between the institutional set-up of education and the degree of residential income segregation implied by that set-up…. With increasing suggestions that such segregation plays a key role in long-run inequality by subjecting children in poor households to adverse neighborhood effects,… it may be every bit as important to eventual student outcomes as those factors within schools which are more typically analyzed.

    [A] purely public school system (regardless of the degree of centralization) results in substantially more spatial income segregation than a purely private system.

    The paper goes on to demonstrate how private school vouchers can further lessen residential income segregation and how these segregation results are robust to alternative assumptions about school competition..

    Title: Market Education: The Unknown History
    Author/Source: Andrew J. Coulson (Transaction Books, 1999)

    Parental choice has… proven to be the best way of dealing with the differences in values and priorities that have always existed among families. Rather than trying to stamp out this natural diversity as many government-run systems have done, educational choice has allowed it to flourish, permitting families of different creeds and views to coexist without conflict.

    Glenden, more shocking than just your various assertions which are not supported by the data, some of your assertions are truly offensive.

    The notion of “school choice” …has found favor among…especially social conservatives who seek to move resources out of public school systems and into private schools.

    You should have said,

    the notion of “school choice” has found favor especially from parents who want the best education for their children and are not receiving that at their local government monopoly school.

    • #4 by Glenden Brown on February 27, 2010 - 7:26 am

      since it’s painfully obvious you didn’t actually read what I wrote, I’ll limit my response to: that’s interesting but completely off topic.

  3. #5 by Cliff Lyon on February 27, 2010 - 7:35 am

    Could someone please reach over and slap Brewski for falling asleep in class again?

    • #6 by Glenden Brown on February 27, 2010 - 7:58 am

      I would but there’s some serious drool going on . . .

  4. #7 by Uncle Rico on February 27, 2010 - 7:58 am

    Hard-on Alert!
    Hard-on Alert!
    Hard-on Alert!

  5. #8 by glenn on February 27, 2010 - 11:55 am

    Better think of something to get the children out of 30th #$%^&* place in international competency testing.

  6. #9 by brewski on February 27, 2010 - 10:11 pm

    To keep it incredibly on topic I will address each sentence in your first paragraph alone:

    Solving the problems facing public school systems is oddly complex.

    Call me nit-picky, but I don’t see how it is “oddly complex”. It is predictably complex.

    The vast majority of public schools perform well

    Well? Well compared to what? 30th place is not “well”. Even our best schools do not measure up to international standards

    some of them perform exceedingly well

    Not really.

    a minority of schools consistently underperform

    Actually a majority of schools can be politely described as mediocre.

    chances are good if you are poor, black or latino you attend one of those schools.

    as well as middle class and white and in some cases affluent and white

    The notion of “school choice” originated with Milton Friedman

    The notion of school choice originated in common sense and the innate desire for parents to make sure their child has the best education.

    and has found favor among a wide array of people

    yes, parents

    but most especially social conservatives

    or parents

    who seek to move resources out of public school systems and into private schools

    or, parents

    These same social conservatives tout the benefits of private schools as if they are the solution for troubled public schools

    no, they tout the benefits of choice and empowerment

    often acting as if the public school system is beyond repair

    no, just unresponsive unless given a reason to be responsive

    ignoring its successes

    if the school their kid goes to is successful then there wouldn’t be a desire to choose someplace else

    while deliberately inflating the viability of voucher programs

    deliberately inflating? you mean like a vast right wing conspiracy?

    Warning Anecdote:
    I have two neighbors on my street who both would consider themselves to be far left on the political spectrum. They both have Obama bumper stickers and anti W bumper stickers and hate everything GOP. But they both have 8 year olds. So they both send their kid to the public school 3 blocks from our street. Both of them were appalled with the lack of education their kids were getting. They both first met with their kids’ teachers, and then getting to help, met with the principal. According to them, both the teachers and the principals sort of shrugged their shooulders and gave then some vague comments about how it wasn’t their fault and if you don’t like it go somewhere else. Well, so what is a parent supposed to do. Your kid is only in the 2nd grade once so its not like they can sit around and wait for the people who run the schools to have an epiphany and all of a sudden care about education. So both of them moved their kids to another school and are grateful that they can.

    School choice is not about conservative ideology or having some social conservative agenda. It is a basic civil right for parents to be able to choose what school is best for their kid.

    Is that on-topic enough?

    • #10 by Glenden Brown on February 28, 2010 - 7:14 am

      Still off topic.

  7. #11 by brewski on February 28, 2010 - 8:22 am

    Pretty amazing how I can directly address your actual words line by line and you still consider it to be off topic.

    • #12 by Glenden Brown on February 28, 2010 - 8:32 am

      yep, off topic.

  8. #13 by cav on February 28, 2010 - 10:12 am

    An educated public might break the chain, but corporations under stress are too frightened to support that. They invest their ad dollars and political cents in squeezing every last drop of profit from a failed economic model based on construction, development and housing growth. Let’s make as much as fast as we can, corporate America seems to be saying, before the public wakes up.

    So, by all means, let’s privatize in every possible area, cut all hours to part time – saving on insurance costs to the district, forget we’re in this together. That should fix everything.

  9. #14 by brewski on February 28, 2010 - 7:50 pm

    I think I heard the same comment from the cheap seats when that guy with the funny hat went off and waffled about “four score and seven years ago…..”

  10. #15 by Kevin Owens on March 1, 2010 - 10:29 am

    The idea that a strong, well funded public school system benefits all of us failed to persuade east side parents.

    How does that benefit east-side parents? Wouldn’t their own children fare better if the poor children from the west side were less educated, because there would be less competition?

    For lack of a better term, I call it an “opt-out” problem.

    You might consider using the term “adverse selection.”

    • #16 by Glenden Brown on March 1, 2010 - 11:07 am

      Wouldn’t their own children fare better if the poor children from the west side were less educated, because there would be less competition?

      Not exactly and for the same reasons that universal health care is a good thing. Adam Kahane uses the terminology of “dynamically complex” “generatively complex” and “socially complex” when assessing problems. Education is an example of a problem that is complex in all three areas. You may argue that if all my neighbors are poorly educated, I have a better chance of beating them out for jobs and so on; that’s true, but there is a cost to society as a whole that I end up paying. Society is less well off, health care systems are more burdened (if only because lower education translates into lower pay which means less ability to afford preventive care), overall lifestyle factors are negatively impacted. To put it more simply, I will face higher hidden costs. The reason strong public education is in everyone’s interest is that it improves overall societal health.

  11. #17 by Kevin Owens on March 1, 2010 - 10:29 am

    I suspect that the quality of a school has more to do with the students attending it than any other factor. Students who have well-educated, upper-middle-class parents who are actively involved in their children’s education will do well anywhere. Hence, schools with piles and piles of such students do better than schools with proletarian students. Add to this the fact that skilled teachers usually prefer to teach receptive students, and that schools in wealthy areas often have better facilities, and the difference becomes even more pronounced.

    If my hypothesis is correct, then “school choice” programs which encourage mixing of different classes of students will be bound to fail in the long term. Just like blockbusting, if too many minority students start attending a school, the more desirable students will leave for greener pastures.

    • #18 by Glenden Brown on March 1, 2010 - 10:47 am

      Kevin – no fair reading ahead!

      I’m working on a follow up post that discusses the ways in which school choice programs can shortchange students as well as looking at a model for fixing schools in trouble. The general sense I get is that the primary success factor in any school is parental involvement – showing up once a year for a bake sale doesn’t count as involvement. Although economic issues – i.e. a large tax base to pay for nice buildings and equipment – is always a plus, it seems to be secondary.

  12. #19 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on March 1, 2010 - 12:00 pm

    Allow me to pre-empt Kevin here:

    Yeah, Glenden, but who cares if everyone is poorer as a whole as long as you’re on top?

    Is that a good guess as to what you’re thinking, Kevin? 😀


  13. #20 by Kevin Owens on March 1, 2010 - 12:01 pm


    In reading your argument about social costs of poor education, there are a few implicit assumptions which I would like to question.

    1. That education can make people healthy and well off. There is certainly a correlation between education and being healthy and well off, but does that mean that education leads to being well off? Or does being well off lead to being well educated?

    Many people believe that attending an Ivy League college will result in a high income job and other desirable outcomes, because the education is very good. However, I believe I read somewhere that there is an even stronger correlation between those good outcomes and students who apply to Ivy League schools; these students are successful regardless of whether they attend.

    2. That it is possible to provide a good public education to everyone. Even if competent teachers, classrooms, books, and computers were infinitely available, there are some students who are simply incapable or not receptive to learning. Those students will be a burden on society anyway.

    3. That people on the east side and west side belong to the same society. If the east-siders were to have their own taxes, their own hospitals, and so on, then the health and wellness of those on the west side would be irrelevant to them.

    Of course, state and federal programs cover both areas, so east-siders would pay hidden fees in this way. (This is perhaps one reason why people who are well-off resent paying taxes to the state and, especially, to the federal government.) The key calculation, then, is whether those hidden state and federal fees are worth paying in order to have a superior local education.

    4. That people who are currently doing well would not be worse off if those under them were more powerful. In England’s Regency period, there was a high degree of inequality. You could hire a maid for about $2,400 per year (in today’s money) plus room and board, and she would work 16 hours per day. We are much more equal today, which means that few people have to work as domestic servants, but it also means that few households can afford to employ domestic servants.

    I think it is obvious that when we make society more equal, those on the bottom get better and those on the top get worse. If we took equality to an extreme and decided that we all wanted to live in a global middle class, what would that look like? Would we have electricity? Would we have clean water? Would we be able to eat a well-balanced diet?

    Some people are doing very well because of inequality, and I doubt that the elimination of hidden social costs would be worth it to them to give up their position at the top of the totem pole.

    • #21 by Glenden Brown on March 1, 2010 - 1:41 pm

      There’s an old joke – you can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think.

      It’s a question of where and to whom you wish to pay for things.

      Universal public education is expensive. But, don’t we pay for its lack in a hundred ways and hundred different places? More crime, requiring more policing requiring more jails and prisons. Every potential doctor or poet or teacher who we failed to educate is a lost opportunity – at a personal and societal level. I agree with President Eisenhower’s frame – that every bomber we build, every weapon system we build robs from human potential to do better and more.

      In the aftermath of WWII, the social democracies of Western Europe made a series of deliberate choices to reorganize their societies to reduce social inequality. They provided universal health care, generous social safety nets, improved access to public education. To borrow a phrase, the social contract they drafted asked everyone to pay higher taxes and accept stricter regulations in exchange for a more stable society, healthier society. The US did the same thing at one point then turned sharply away from it; throughout the 1950s, social inequality in the US was lower than today, and showed a general movement toward greater equality. The Great Society programs vastly reduced inequality in the US. For a host of reasons, the US turned away from such policies; today we have significantly higher inequality than do most of our peers in the industrialized world; we also have a less healthy and less stable society.

  14. #22 by Kevin Owens on March 1, 2010 - 12:08 pm


    Very clever, yes, you got right to the heart of it. However, I challenge the notion that “everyone is poorer” because of educational inequality.

    Social stratification is inevitable in a population as large, diverse, and complex as ours is. It’s impossible to make people equal except within small communities. Unless you can manage to neuter everyone, they will continue to vie for status and dominance.

  15. #23 by Kevin Owens on March 1, 2010 - 12:09 pm

    P.S. If we actually could make everyone better off by making everyone more equal, then we should do it.

  16. #24 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on March 1, 2010 - 12:49 pm


    “Everyone is poorer” means that society is less productive than it could be. As many people are not producing and circulating resources at their greatest potential, wealth is lost overall. Certain individuals, however, may do extremely well.

    To address your points:

    1. Interesting. A stronger correlation between applicants and success than between attendees and success would imply that you’re more likely to be successful if you apply and don’t attend than if you apply and do attend an Ivy League school. I’m interested to know what you think this information says about your question: “Does being well off lead to being well educated?” It would seem to imply to me that attitude is most important. Of course, attitude is best developed in an environment wherein it may be reinforced. Telling kids to do their best and they can succeed, and then surrounding them with reminders of the potential of failure, doesn’t seem to be a good way to reinforce an attitude of success to me. Success has to be real, to some extent, for people to seek after it, for many won’t even think to seek what isn’t concretely evidenced.

    2. I don’t believe we’re saying that a good education will guarantee success and a good attitude; Utopia is, as always, “no place” to be found. Rather, the argument for equality in education probably has more to do with the idea that those children which are limited specifically by certain aspects of environment will be freed from those restrictions. For example, some children (as in point #1) require tangible evidence of success in order to be motivated to seek it. Others require special help in certain areas (learning disabled children, primarily). With such help, they can be as productive as you or I. Without it, they’re an unfortunate burden.

    The point is to get resources to those who will use them well. Few would doubt, I think, that the success of Ivy League colleges and the like is partially due to their superior resources, as well as exclusivity. In such places, most needs may be met, so the particular stubbornness of certain students may be avoided, if it is ever discovered at all. Conversely, open-access, poorly-funded schools discover, and may even provoke poor reactions from students, as they are ill-equipped to meet those students needs, whether being ill-equipped means having fewer supplies, more students per classroom, or simply no time to investigate into their particular needs and learning techniques.

    3. But they do belong to the same society. If not the same society, then the same relational dynamic. Any separations between them are artificial. I will agree with you that “the health and wellness of those on the west side would be irrelevant to them.” I emphasize “to them” for a reason.

    “The key calculation, then, is whether those hidden state and federal fees are worth paying in order to have a superior local education.” Please explain that to me. I don’t believe this is an “opt-out” circumstance. It’s either share the wealth or don’t; the state and federal fees stand, regardless. The sharing of district monies are the variable.

    I would like to discuss more the reason why the affluent resent taxes, but somewhere else. Just to touch on it, I believe it has something to do with “imperception,” “unappreciation,” or a combination of the two.

    4. I suppose, Kevin, that the point is partially that the people of which you speak don’t have “to give up their position at the top of the totem pole.” Totem poles may be toppled.

    Another key issue is that few people expect that we’ll establish a “global middle class” today, if ever. Rather, by helping our fellow man to become more educated and capable (i.e. “empowering” our fellow man), we can help him rise to meet us. Most developed equality schemes aren’t grand redistribution dynamics so much as cancellations of current distribution policy. It would take time, but so will just living and going on the way things are. You might lose a little, but don’t you have a little to lose? We might have less electricity, we might have to devote more resources to conserving and cleaning water, and we might have to actually start eating a well-balanced diet (which are actually rather cheap, although not as cheap as tv dinners).

    Final thought: “Social stratification is inevitable in a population as large, diverse, and complex as ours is.” I agree. There are no easy solutions, and certainly no total ones. I pity those poor, misguided souls who believe that stratification can be entirely neutralized. For the considerate egalitarian, this has never been an issue, however. Truly, the focus is on as much equality as possible, according to specific, reasonable definitions.

    Marx’s theory, for example, only works in its final form as long as abundance (or at least subsistence) can be guaranteed. But I tire of people who want to wait for perfection before anything can be done. We have only to do with what we have before us, right here, right now. There are no tomorrows to wait for; no actors of the future to rely upon.

    You can do something today, Kevin. Or you can not. Whatever pessimism you select is self-validating. However cynical you are about the impossibilities of finding a better, more complete equality of opportunity, the state to which that cynicism directs is the state you will find and the state in which you most deserve to live. As always, the only way to guarantee failure is to not try at all–or, worse yet, to ironically work against the ideal instead of for it, out of fear that it can never be found.

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

    P.S. The biggest problem I see in dealing with whether we “actually could make everyone more equal” is that people don’t believe we can. When you set up a block (e.g. “It’s impossible to make people equal”) you neuter your social self and your own social effectiveness. Restrict your perspective to your own sphere of influence and no greater sphere will ever come to be but that which you can build yourself. Your cynicism is what blocks making things more equal, not impossibility.

  17. #25 by brewski on March 1, 2010 - 1:04 pm

    The funny thing about the discussions about education is that so little of it, or any of it, is based on evidence of what works and what doesn’t work. The three most common recommendations from the left and the education establishment are:
    1. spend more money per pupil
    2. pay teachers more
    3. have smaller class sizes.

    But when you compare the US to the rest of the world who beat us in education, we do not spend less, we do not pay teachers less, and we do not have larger class sizes. In fact in some cases we spend more, pay more and have smaller class sizes than those who beat us.

    Also, aside from international comparisons, even within the US there appears to little or no correlation between those factors and outcomes.

    It is funny that in the world of government so often the entire analysis is reduced just to how much we spend on something. The conversation is so often “we need to spend more” or “we need to cut spending” rather on how well we do something, or how well we spend that money, or whether or not the systmem in place (irrespective of the costs) is the best system.

    I would bet that if you went to 100 teachers and asked them to give you 10 ideas that would improve the quality of education that don’t cost anything, that they could give you some good suggestions. My mother, who is a retired high school teacher of the very old school, would say something like “yeah get rid of all the lazy teachers who hit the parking lot at 2:50 every day.”

    If you think about it, if you are managing any organization one of the first tasks is to hire the right people and to not keep the wrong people. This is free to do. All businesses do it every day and yet in education there is a huge reluctance to admit that any current teachers might not be a good fit for that career.

    We also make becoming a teacher difficult to do. There are highly qualified math and science teachers teaching right now at SLCC or the U who are not allowed to teach high school math or science due to certification requirements. I am not suggesting we do away with certification, but it should not be so burdensome to drive good people away.

    So the point here is that there are whole lot of ideas that are not being discussed, not being tried, not being put in place….which are all free. Why in the world does the conversation immediately turn to how much we spend rather than on how good of a job are we doing?

  18. #26 by cav on March 1, 2010 - 1:35 pm

    I read this a.m. about a school district that fired the entire staff of one of its schools. How they thought that action would provide better education for the liberated studentbody, is anybodys guess.

  19. #27 by glenn on March 1, 2010 - 1:59 pm

    cav; They superintendent fired all the union staff and hired qualified teachers who are non union willing to work with the school district in order to keep 50% of the students from the failing grades that are the responsibility of the now fired teachers.

    They did not wish to alter their schedules in order to facilitate this and were justly fired. When have your students are failing, it is time for a teacher to be fired. A 50% failure rate in any other job would get you fired.

    I say since our kids test in 30th @#$%^&* place in international competency testing, who would you decide to keep in the Loserland that is American public education?

  20. #28 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on March 1, 2010 - 3:20 pm


    One argument in response to your concerns is that a more equal society requires less funding per student. That argument is conceptual only–I have no evidence–but it makes some sense that students who feel valued and who have the resources at their fingertips will learn faster and better and contribute to the system more fully, actually decreasing the costs over time of managing the student body–especially when they teach their own kids to do the same.

    Maybe the U.S. spends so much because we have such a rebellious student body. On the one hand, the complacent students have no respect for their teachers or the value of education; on the other, students are plagued with learned hopelessness. Why try if you’ll succeed, anyway; why try if you’ll fail no matter what?

    I believe that this is one of the contributing factors in our society’s education problem–students don’t care because it doesn’t matter. In the case of the whole school getting fired, many of the students and parents said that the teachers shouldn’t be blamed–it was the students who refused to do their part. In a community with a median income at ~$22,000, is it any surprise that students wouldn’t see education–or anything else but stardom and windfalls–as a way out?

    I would be interested to see some of the studies you cite, regarding not just that schools in other countries cost less to operate (and this has to be compared to gdp per capita) but why and how these schools can outperform ours on fewer dollars.

    On that note, let me agree with your overall perspective. Throwing money at schools won’t solve problems, whether they be private or public. Money must be spent in meaningful ways, directed at specific goals.

    Perhaps you’ll understand a minor flaw in your overall “school choice” argument: if private schools suddenly have many students vying for a place in them, competition will actually be discouraged. What will the engine for public school improvement be when the private schools are bombarded with demand they can’t meet? I ask this because I want to find a solution, and I think the solution has to be more dynamic than simply sending public money the private school direction. Let’s not try to avoid throwing money at public schools by throwing money at private ones.

    Still, there would be one definite benefit which I can see: some teachers who are currently stifled by the public school system would find employment that better meets their needs in the private sector, and the same is true for students. Variability is a strength, but chaos is a weakness when it comes to what our children need. I think the standards you have proposed on previous threads generally mitigate that problem, though.

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

    • #29 by Glenden Brown on March 1, 2010 - 4:45 pm

      Discussions about public schools seem, naturally, to turn to questions of money because, at least in Utah, for as long as I can remember the public discussion has been “we don’t know have enough money for public schools” and it’s corollary, “Utah’s classrooms are overcrowded.”

      I don’t recall if I have blogged about my elementary school or not. I attended a public elementary school that had adopted a program that did away with traditional grading used some fairly innovative classroom methods – teachers rarely, if ever, lectured, students were encouraged to explore areas of interest and were encouraged to study on our own. Classrooms were generally set up so that students could sit and study in groups. As students advanced, they moved into “pods” – placed with a group of students with whom you spent most of your academic time working as a group. It was, I think, an attempt to move the teacher from the role of “sage on the stage” to “guide by the side.” I was in fifth grade before I took a traditional spelling test or got a report card. A program structure like this worked for a lot of students and really requires no resources to implement.

  21. #30 by cav on March 1, 2010 - 5:16 pm

    More on:

    The firings by the Central Falls school trustees made big headlines, not because reconstituting a school is new, but perhaps because it is the only school in the state’s poorest and smallest city, and because it was not reported as being the consequence of years of calculated efforts to fix the school (even if it was).

    the school board wasn’t able to deliver change, but, unfortunately, the school board didn’t fire itself. It fired all the administrators and teachers, as if they were the only things responsible for student failure.

    • #31 by Glenden Brown on March 1, 2010 - 8:08 pm

      cav – thanks for the link, I’ve been wanting some more information about the firing.

  22. #32 by cav on March 2, 2010 - 8:33 am

    You’re welcome.

    This as another area that’s swamping Obama, and while I imagine it must be practically impossible to attempt a rewrite of the entire U.S. government, it seems he’s missing another very important mark here. Perhaps even misrepresenting the facts. Certainly, while he would be the first to remind everybody that – he is the president, many a very qualified teacher will not believe it when he says such things as:

    “The jobs will go to the people with the knowledge and the skills to do them. It’s that simple.”

    These events, and others spawned by the No Child Left Behind Act, come along with the rise of enthusiasts like Willard R. Daggett and Phillip C. Schlechty who see the shaking up of the schoolhouse as an economic opportunity. Their quickly-written books present a negative assessment of public education and promote radical reinvention of schools.

    Proposals are consistently from the top down and begin with the premise that the NCLB and its state assessment tests are a trumpet call for redesigning the schools. Their true agenda is to publish and sell their products and books (and to break the unions).

    Many a great teacher is getting the shaft, because of structural / political misalignments caused, once again, by previous administrations, and poorly addressed by the present one.

    Getting it right after all the hard work to get it precisely wrong isn’t going to be easy, if it gets don’e at all, but pretending it’s not screwed-up isn’t going to accomplish anything at all.

  23. #33 by glenn on March 2, 2010 - 9:36 am

    It makes one wonder how America achieved any greatness at all from the humble beginnings of one room school houses, where the elder children were taught by 1 teacher, and the younger ones in turn in turn by the elders who understood the lessons.

    All the inventions, the philosophy, technical knowhow, values and ethics instruction, all came from these humble schools. The NEA is so wrong about how to truly educate it will be on out epitaph that the incompetents in their selfishness killed this country.

    No amount of money spent on a pupil matters, unless a teacher can discover a child’s interest and reason for learning. It is why we are in 30th @#$%^&* place in international competency testing. Bunch of fools are reading out of some comic book of history, or a Bill Nye type science book. Cheering when kids can make change…

  24. #34 by cav on March 2, 2010 - 9:59 am

    That was all before string theory. : )

  25. #35 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on March 2, 2010 - 10:36 am


    You forget a few crucial elements: parents and religion. The three most powerful forces in teaching children “philosophy, technical knowhow, values and ethics” came from school, home, and church. Those little one-room schoolhouses served largely to discipline children and teach them appropriate obedience (remember that the wealthy largely relied on tutors for everything from math to etiquette). In fact, modern public schools get their bell system from an attempt by mid-1800s schools to train students in preparation for working in factories and mines. Modern bells are reminiscent of lunchtime, break, and go home whistles.

    Your image of the old one-room school houses sounds strangely like a libertarian friend of mine’s dream of what education should be like. It’s a far cry from the slavish conformity and perpetual rote learning that distinguished education of the period. Community learning? Try corporal punishment.

    As my brother (who is a teacher) tells me frequently, these three greatest influences are being pushed aside by a new one: media. Now media is telling our children what to think, how to think, and what to do about what they think. Parents are backing off, by and large, from directing their children, and so teachers are being left with the burden of counteracting the whole influence of pervasive media from a position of disrespected authority. Our churches have become culturally irrelevant–an option fewer and fewer people are choosing because they don’t see any benefit in it. Social unity may be found elsewhere, and so can God, without nearly so many restrictions attached.

    But, hey, at least the school system is still trying. I know my brother is.

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

  26. #36 by glenn on March 2, 2010 - 11:03 am

    Not so Dwight, they were taught in schools as well. There was no lack of parents that did not care whether their child was illiterate years ago. Would rather have them on a farm a making a few dimes in a factory. Or parents of no faith.

    Some even feared it. The society was one of faith, and that was reflected in the schools. The basic reader was the Bible. Rote is required to establish competency, it is why it exists. As a kid we learned times tables by rote, and knew them at 6-7. Today I approach high schoolers and quickly ask them, say 8 X 7? They often don’t know. Civics? That is a Fast and Furious car(movie) down to the Honda dealership.

    I agree that in the best situations parents guidance and faith goes without saying as a means to offer a child a view of the world that is fixed and predictable enough to allow growth without fear of the unknown.

    I have been a sub, no more, and from what I see the little monkeys are running the zoo, and there are few disciplinary tools. It is little more than babysitting in the rural school I subbed.

    The whole affair combined with the abject waste of money reminds me of an LBJ quote…todays public education system “could not teach kids to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel bottom”.

    “Do, or do not, there is no try” Yoda.

    Is it true you are a Marxist? This is inconsistent with your religious stance. Communists hate the God fearing, and don’t believe in God, and went on to kill millions of the faithful in a sadistic effort to prove that God does not exist. Could be convincing to a young person that had seen his family slaughtered, and hucked into an open mass grave.

    Like the Czar.

  27. #37 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on March 2, 2010 - 10:26 pm


    Sorry, while I appreciate your last comments, they are disjointed enough that I don’t have much to comment on them. No disrespect intended. You make some good points, I just don’t understand enough of what you’re trying to say to really integrate it into a cohesive argument to which I could respond.

    As to my being a Marxist: sure. I’m also a capitalist. And a tribalist. And a Mormon. And an agnostic. Oh, heck, why not, I’m also a fascist.

    In case you can’t tell from most of my arguments, I have a serious problem with the oversimplifications of our system–and a huge part of my upset is directed at our national paradigm’s simplistic categorizations. You may recall me describing our national politics as false dichotomies extended to a system standard.

    So, yes, I’m a Marxist, just like almost everybody alive today. Only fools and the ruling elite are not. Most people just don’t realize it. I’m not an “out and out Marxist” as Emily accused on another thread. I’m also a firm believer in meritocracy and personal responsibility (the real kind, not the “blame the victim” crowd’s version).

    As for consistency with my religious stance: leave that up to me. It’s my business to guarantee it, and not yours to judge it.

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

  28. #38 by glenn on March 3, 2010 - 7:47 am

    You have no idea what a Marxist really is.

    What does not fit your preconceived view is of course disjointed. Things are pretty simple Dwight, you tend to complicate them with your focus of regurgitated theory which often has little bearing on the reality.

    How outside of family are most adults Marxists? This in turn is a gross over simplification.

    It is form of delusion to imagine yourself a Marxist and a Christian of true faith within any historical context.

  29. #39 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on March 3, 2010 - 8:41 am


    Calm down, boy.

    When I said your last comments were “disjointed,” I was referring to such artifacts of Glenn-speak as “Not so, Dwight, they were taught in schools as well.” Who are “they?” There’s no antecedent, therefore, I can’t place this statement in a meaningful context. And that’s just the first sentence. The first two paragraphs were fairly incomprehensible, but for the rote learning bit.

    Considering your past frustrations at not being able to self-edit after you’ve posted, I encourage you to be patient with your readers. It seems fair to say that, if you aren’t understood, it’s probably a “Glenn” problem and not a “Dwight” problem.

    Most people are Marxists for one simple reason: beliefs which, 100 years ago, would have been considered “Marxist,” are today ignored because they have been standardized. The influence of central government over the labor force has been expanded dramatically, and few complain. Oh, you’ll hear cosmetic complaints about the FDA, USDA, etc., but few of those complainers would argue that businesses should be able to sell tainted products, be lax on workplace safety, etc.

    But read my statements in context. If you take them in whole, I’m saying that everyone is “Marxist. . .capitalist. . .tribalist. . .agnostic. . .fascist.” I was commenting on how ridiculous our categorization system is. Political ideologies can’t be so neatly placed in Box A or Box B. Each of us is a conglomeration of ideas which originated (or at least passed through a transformational stage) in ideologies which, as a whole, we would disagree with or even find to be deplorable.

    But as should be clear, I don’t identify myself as a Marxist, or a capitalist, or any number of other things–neither do I have to. Just because I find Marx’s philosophy insightful doesn’t mean I agree with all of his conclusions; neither does my belief in altruism force me to deny all of Ayn Rand’s. Philosophies don’t need to be taken as a whole. History makes that abundantly clear.

    You, on the other hand, have a tendency to simplify to the point of easy condemnation. Take a look at the world around you, Glenn, and take a look again once you’ve figured out which perspectival lens you’re looking through. Self-awareness is a treasure to be sought, never to be totally obtained; you, so far, have consigned yourself to abject poverty.

    Do I imagine myself “a Marxist and a Christian of true faith”? That’s an attribution you selected, and not mine. I think I might be more foolish to deny each and every Marxist principle and consider myself a Christian–the truth of that, of course, depends largely on what you mean by “Marxist.” But hasn’t that been a chief point of my last two posts, anyway?

    So, Glenn, if this is really that important to you, then please, define for me what version of “Marxism” you want me to deny or affirm. Offer each principle you consider to be important, and I’ll be happy to let you know what I believe in regards to them. Until you can do so, your accusations mean very little.

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

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