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Government by Friedman



Betsy DeVos is a devotee of Milton Friedman and will be bringing his ideas about education into the Department of Education.

Milton Friedman, patron saint of the free market, died in 2006, but his ideas about public education live on in the thought and deeds of Betsy DeVos, likely the next U.S. Secretary of Education. The two are ideological soulmates—a fact that justifiably panics supporters of public education.

In a 1955 essay called “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman laid out his plan for K-12 schooling, which boils down to this: taxpayer funded but privately run. The government would provide each child, through parents or guardians, funds in the form of a voucher to pay for what the government considers the minimum adequate education. Parents and guardians would then choose what education services to purchase on the free market. For Friedman the choices included private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools, and “some even” run by the government. Today Betsy DeVos and other free-market education reformers add home schooling and private online schooling to the mix. They also support privately run charter schools, financed directly by the government, not by student voucher money.

It’s a wealth of privatized choices meant to squeeze out, as much as possible, the least appealing alternative for free-market ed reformers: neighborhood public schools.

Taxpayer funded but privately run is how “privatization” of the public sector works in the United States. In countries where the government owns major companies or industries—for example, Aeroflot in Russia or the UK’s National Health Service—privatization means selling off enterprises to new owners in the private sector. In the United States, the government hands over control to private entities, but the taxpayers keep on paying. The most familiar U.S. example is the privatization of federal prisons.

In 1996 Milton Friedman and his wife Rose (also an economist) launched the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice as “the nation’s only organization solely dedicated to promoting their concept of educational choice.” “Choice” is the ed-reform movement’s euphemism for privatization. All the tools used to create choice—vouchers, charter schools, tax credits for private school tuition, tax credits for individuals and businesses that create private school scholarships, “education savings accounts” (usually government-funded debit cards used for various private-school expenses, not just tuition)—siphon tax dollars out of the public school system and into private hands. DeVos has worked with and donated to the Friedman Foundation, recently renamed EdChoice.* Their visions for the future of K-12 education coincide.

There are massive problems with all of this course, including the neoliberal privatization of public goods, the looting it includes, and the anti-democratic tendencies. But the resistance to this faces another big problems–that the neoliberalization of education has been so embraced by Democratic Party elites, including Barack Obama and Cory Booker.

A useful model for DeVos comes from the outgoing ed-reformer-in-chief, Barack Obama. He allocated $4.3 billion from the 2009 “stimulus package” to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who used it to create the controversial Race to the Top program. More than thirty states competed for RTTT grants by committing to a detailed list of K-12 reforms—reforms that often required changing state laws. In exchange for money, resource-strapped states agreed to evaluate teachers, at least in part, according to student scores on standardized tests; raise or eliminate any caps on the number of charter schools; and “turn around” low-achieving schools by turning them into charters, replacing the teachers and principals, or closing them. Many states found that implementing the reforms cost more than they received in grant money. Much worse, the reforms undermined public school teachers, robbed many neighborhoods of their most stable institution, and introduced into the public system less accountable, often poorly performing schools and financial malfeasance by private operators. But the free-market ed reformers were thrilled. By opening the way for rapid charter school expansion, the Obama administration made the nation’s first significant progress toward privatization.

I have long said that education policy was Obama’s worst policy arena and the impacts of this and his henchman Arne Duncan are enormous. Cory Booker of course went down this road in Newark, bringing in Mark Zuckerberg, whose expertise on education consists solely of his wealth. How did this happen? How did we get to a bipartisan agreement on the neoliberalization of education? That’s a key question for us to figure out.

When did Americans stop talking about public K-12 education as the keystone of a strong democracy, as the incubator for citizenship, shared values, and social cohesion in a diverse nation, as the only educational institution obligated to serve every child who appears on the doorstep? Conservatives don’t bear sole responsibility for changing the conversation. The Clinton and Obama administrations reduced K-12 education to little more than the required stepping stone to a college degree that leads to successful competition in the global economy. That’s a meager sales pitch, making it all too easy for K-12 schooling to be chopped up into products sold on the market.

The only counterweight to “choice” is excellent public schools, and so the only way to save public education (which is largely very good in the United States) is to improve it where it needs improvement. Hundreds of thousands of public school teachers and administrators commit themselves to the task everyday. The job also belongs to everyone who sees the need to rebuild American democracy. In the face of privatization, we are all stakeholders in the public good that is public education.

The answer is rooted in the deregulation craze that began in the 1970s, the rise of the modern corporate lobby that began in the same decade, the concomitant reduction and erasure of American unions, the rise of the DLC and Clintonism as the central tenet of the Democratic Party that it is only just now recovering from, and the long-time American deification of the wealthy. But maybe it’s also rooted in white backlash and the desegregation of schools (even if actual integrated public schools rarely happened without busing). Like other public services, once the government was seen as working for black interests, white people turned on them with a fury with the self-privatization of the religious school or private school as a response to keep white children away from black kids. Combined with suburbanization, the withdrawal of tax dollars from urban districts, and media stories of the horrors of inner cities, it became all too easy to decide that public education was a problem that only corporations could solve.

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  • Marshall_timbers

    Well we know who Loomis will not be supporting in 2020.

    • ΧΤΠΔ

      The 2020 Democratic presidential primary deserves to be a three-way between Andrew Cuomo, Cory Booker & Kamala Harris, just so we get to see Fang, BONERS & Kilpatrick’s heads explode.

      • efgoldman

        The 2020 Democratic presidential primary deserves to be a three-way between Andrew Cuomo, Cory Booker & Kamala Harris

        Cuomo? Gakkk.
        I hold no particular brief for Booker. It’s much too early.
        However: reading electable candidates out of the party because of a position on one or two or three issues, is a recipe for loss, again.
        As I say, often, here, purity ponies will be the death of the Democratic party.

    • I think it depends on the situation, but Booker has a lot of explaining to do, and the drug importation vote, even if meaningless as law, shows that he doesn’t get that.

      • Marshall_timbers

        I think the only people giving a shit about that vote now are some of the more die hard Bernie supporters, and even a year from now no one will give a shit about it other than those same people.

        • Based on my small sampling (4, including myself) of Democrats, you are 100% wrong about who cares about that vote. Although we don’t want to start reading people out of the party because they aren’t liberal enough, we do need to hold their feet to the fire from now through 2020 for votes like this. They need to know that they aren’t getting a pass on these things, whether it’s Booker’s vote here, or Kamala Harris being soft on bankers.

          • Marshall_timbers

            Or Bernie being soft towards Trump?

            • EliHawk

              Funny how all the people who “need to know they aren’t getting a pass on these things” all happen to be people of color.

              • Dilan Esper

                This is a really bad form of reasoning that is engaged in way too often on the left.

                Anyone who understands random statistical distributions understands that even if nobody is EVER motivated by race in a particular situation, there will be some random correlations with race, the same way if you flip a coin 1000 times, there will often be some point where it comes up heads 5 times in a row.

                So it is with this sort of thing. It’s perfectly obvious that some people want the Democratic Party to move in this or that direction. There is a longstanding critique of corporate power in the party. Bill Clinton, who was white and from the South, got savage criticism from the left on this issue, for instance. So did Joe Lieberman.

                But suddenly, because we are in a particular moment where there’s a concern with a few minority politicians, someone implies this critique is racially motivated. Funny how they all happen to be minorities.

                No. Not funny. Not notable. You know damned well that this critique isn’t racist. So why go on a message board and lie and say it is?

                We need to have debates in this country without someone dishonestly using false claims of racism and shutting them down. If you don’t have any evidence of real racial motivation, and it’s perfectly clear the person would make the same critique of white people who do the same thing, don’t play the race card. You are misusing and appropriating a term that applies to real suffering and using it for the petty purpose of winning an argument. When minorities are actually being unfairly injured– that’s the time to talk about a policy or position being motivated by racism.

                • Nobdy

                  What? The point is that POC get more/harsher criticism in general, which is obviously true, not that there’s some other weird correlation.

                  Throughout society in every situation POCs are criticized more harshly than whitey, so why would politics be different?

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  I gotta go lock up the chickens

                • Abbey Bartlet

                  You’re in Iowa, so I assume this is a literal statement.

            • liberal

              Yawn. This was an actual vote; Harris’ demurring to prosecute banksters was the omission of an actual action. “Bernie’s soft on Trump” is, at this point, just a claim about propaganda.

              When Bernie votes the wrong way on something the resistance in Congress needs to hold firm on (which of course is possible), get back to me.

              • Bernie does get a lot of push back, notably on this block, for positions he takes. Aside from that, although there probably are people who consider him a potential POTUS candidate in 2020, I don’t, but I do think Booker and Harris will receive a lot of attention for POTUS in 3 years and deserve the extra scrutiny because of that.

        • FlipYrWhig

          It will matter as much as Rick Warren giving the benediction at the first Obama inauguration.

        • wengler

          Bernie supporters are steadily filling the lower levels of the party apparatus. What they care about will be what the party cares about.

        • ColBatGuano

          I was not a Bernie voter, but I intend to call my two Democratic Senators and let them know that votes like the drug importation one are completely symbolic as we know the Republicans in the House would never allow it, so let’s get the symbolism right.

      • liberal

        You’re not up on your apologetics, which is that he had to vote the way he did because of the Pharma presence in NJ.

        • MPAVictoria

          I thought it was because Canadian drugs, made at the same factory as American drugs, were INCREDIBLY UNSAFE!

        • mds

          Hey, Tester voted the way he did because of Big Pharma’s large footprint in Montana, so why wouldn’t it work for Booker?

      • mds

        Booker has a lot of explaining to do

        “I voted yes on the Wyden Amendment to lower drug costs – It mandated finding savings to drive down drug costs.”
        Cory Booker

        So, on the one hand, he (and all other Senate Dems) supported amendment #188 to mandate drug savings measures be included any healthcare-related bill. On the other hand, he voted against an amendment establishing a reserve fund to cover legislating drug price-reduction measures, most specifically importation of drugs from Canada. On the other other hand, the latter amendment was proposed by Senator Klobuchar, who also supported an amendment to repeal the medical device tax that helps fund the ACA. Since she did this at the behest of medical device manufacturers in Minnesota, she has a lot of explaining to do, too. Yet if we read her out of the party, how can her other amendment be a good thing? Oh, this gets confusing fast.

  • Nobdy

    Why does anyone think that removing 10-25% of the money from an institution in the form of profit and moving the focus of the institution from satisfying the public to benefiting shareholders will improve things?

    It is basically impossible to make up those losses through the benefits of “competition” and “cutting red tape.”

    Do hardcore market enthusiasts think that profit comes at no cost and that the marketing and related costs are also totally free?

    If something is subsidized at a flat rate per student by the government it makes sense to run it with minimum overhead and profit is more expensive than even the most annoying district supervisor making $135,000 plus bennies.

    • Somehow, by having lower entry standards for private school teachers and paying them less than public school teachers, the private schools will get better teachers.

      I don’t know how that’s supposed to work, but that seems to be the thinking.

    • They don’t care about any of those things. They just know that public school teachers are both public employees and heavily unionized. This is a war on an organized and effective voting bloc, that consistently votes Democrat. They want to see school teachers impoverished and broken.

      • nixnutz

        I think that’s a big one, for people like DeVos there’s also a religious angle, and also it’s a huge subsidy for rich people which also degrades the quality of public education thereby amplifying their kids’ relative advantage.

        But there must also be some believers, I don’t think any of those things motivate Obama or Booker but I can’t understand where they’re coming from.

        The one thing I’d say in Booker’s defense is that he basically took free money from outside for a pilot program which didn’t go anywhere, I still think it sucks that he was curious at all and it’s something to be on guard for but it wasn’t the full-on public-money-to-cronies grift that Trump and DeVos will be working on.

    • pianomover

      It’s almost like a pyramid scheme.

    • ringtail

      Exactly. It makes no sense to me. Why would the addition of a profit motive NOT lead to waste or even fraud and abuse to the taxpayer? It’s the very reason that cost plus percentage of cost government contracts are illegal. If the private sector was really so benevolent and efficient we wouldn’t have had to do that.

      Giant bureaucratic hierarchy organized for the public good and funded from the public fisc with no particular profit motive = evil! socialism!

      Giant bureaucratic hierarchy organized by a private group for the specific and overriding goal of making a profit for said group = freedom! American Dream!

      For the same reason it’s always seemed extremely hypocritical to love the military and also hate big government and socialism. But I guess bureaucracy is okay if it leads to awesome toys and youtube videos of things exploding.

      • Brad Nailer

        My conservative friend says competition in education is good because competition in general fosters improvement. Which is not untrue, except that the Rule of the Level Playing Field demands that both sides be treated equally and one side not have its funding reduced and its personnel demoralized while being exhorted to improve its performance.

        • Little Chak

          You can very easily determine what a student’s test scores are likely to be by looking at their parents’ wealth and the median wealth of the community they live in. Those test scores are used to determine teacher salaries.

          In my state, two GOP-governor-approved members of our county school board are fighting to get the salaries of the teachers at the various schools released, because they believe that the poor schools are underperforming because the teachers there get paid less.

          Which is true. But the salaries are lower at the poor schools because teachers do not last long enough at those schools to receive the pay increases that come with longetivity. And they don’t last because it is harder to work at those schools, and because they know that they are less likely to get merit pay bonuses if they work at a poor school, where scores are going to be lower.

          It’s a harder job. Everyone knows it. More stable home lives, parents with the free time to be engaged with their kids’ schoolwork, etc., make a difference. So why not just pay people more if they are willing to do the more difficult job teaching at the poorer schools, rather than insisting on merit pay, which just exacerbates the problem by driving teachers to the better-performing (richer) schools?

        • Linnaeus

          My conservative friend says competition in education is good because competition in general fosters improvement. Which is not untrue…

          It’s not always untrue, but I think conservatives’ idealization of competition leads them to believe that because competition can be healthy in some ways, that it’s always healthy in every context. I don’t think that’s true – maybe I’m being soft-headed here, but I don’t want to live in a society in which we’re all subjected to ruthless competition in all, or almost all aspects of our lives.

          ETA: Conservatives themselves are not always consistent about competition, either. They’re okay with cooperation in some cases, as long as it’s among the right people.

          • so-in-so

            In most cases their zeal for “competition” is cover for changing government services into private profit centers. Pretty much anything that can’t be “done with out”, be it education or health care, is NOT a good area for private competition.

            Also, the real “competition” is in extracting money from the business. Especially in the late 20th-early 21st century, improving customer service is only the last resort of companies that can’t squeeze money out of people any other way.

    • Jordan

      I’ve worked at a for-profit and a non-profit psych hospital.

      The for-profit one was a horror show. The non-profit isn’t great by any means, but it is better than *that* (and completely in the “spending for safety of workers and patients” sense.)

      • guthrie

        Here in the UK prisons and the probation system are currently being privatised, with a net reduction in quality of service, and much nastier lives for hundreds of people. As far as I have read, it isn’t any cheaper to privatise them.

    • Lost Left Coaster

      It makes no more sense for education than it does for prisons. And private prisons have pretty much shown that the only way that prison companies can make a profit is by cutting corners, having poorly trained, underpaid guards, cutting medical care and nutrition, and keeping the inmates in abusive and unsafe conditions.

    • efgoldman

      Do hardcore market enthusiasts think that profit comes at no cost and that the marketing and related costs are also totally free?


      • econoclast

        They think these costs are more than recouped when someone like them has the whip-hand.

    • Redwood Rhiadra

      “Do hardcore market enthusiasts think that profit comes at no cost and that the marketing and related costs are also totally free?”

      What they believe is that (a) government-run organizations inevitably create massive and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy whose sole interest is perpetuating themselves, and which cost vast amounts of money; (b) a competitive free market will eliminate those extra bureaucrats in order to lower their costs and compete, and (c) the final cost will be lower even with profit, marketing, etc.

      In some cases this is even true, which is why full-blown Communism fails so badly. But in a lot of cases it’s false – certainly in education and healthcare it’s false.

  • I was expecting Tom Friedman!

    • Just_Dropping_By

      No one expects Tom Fri… Actually, sorry, wait, check that. Everyone expects Tom Friedman.

      • tsam

        Like a painful trip to the bathroom after lunch at Taco Bell.

        • With a talkative cab driver in the next stall.

    • Vance Maverick

      The next six months will be critical in determining which Friedman predominates.

      • q-tip

        There are at least two terrible David Friedmans; one is Milton’s kid! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_D._Friedman

        A theorist of anarchocapitalism, an ideology that deserves not just spit-takes but actual loogies.

        He’s a frequent commenter on another blog I read; for a rational-minded economist, he sure is curious about the merits of a lot of bullshit theories (birtherism, human biodiversity, the massive corruption of the Clinton Foundation).

        The other awful DF is Trump’s ambassador-designate to Israel.

  • mearsp

    Illinois has a fantastic, progressive candidate running for Governor. Ameya Pawar has done a great job improving the local public schools in and around his ward in Chicago. I think he would be a great leader for reclaiming the cause of true public education.

    • brewmn

      “Ameya Pawar has done a great job improving the local public schools in and around his ward in Chicago.”

      Which are also among the wealthiest and whitest in the entire city.

    • wengler

      Never heard of him, but a potted plant is better than Rauner.

  • Kurzleg

    Seems to me the biggest bang-for-buck approach for improving schools is investing in teacher preparation. I can tell you from personal experience that some teacher prep programs simply do not prepare prospective teachers very well. One semester in a classroom w/ sole responsibility for teaching for maybe a month or two isn’t enough.

    The University of Michigan’s program stands out as one that understands this. I’d advocate for pushing teacher preparation to something along the lines of what they do. Prospective teachers end spending something like 2 years in classrooms and among other things have mentorship as a key component. If I had my druthers, that’s where I’d begin in the quest to raise the quality of public schools.

    • Ahenobarbus

      How does that work? Are they just mentored for a longer time (two years), or does it take longer to become a teacher?

      Is this one of those teach-for-free things?

    • jeer9

      Yeah. Is there some remuneration for the two-year teacher-in-training? Six months without pay was a financial hardship to me.

      And the larger question is how have they determined that this is a better approach? Have such teachers who have participated in this program stayed in the field longer than the average? (Not that hanging in there might mean anything more than economic necessity or time-serving.) How is their teaching success measured? Standardized test scores? (Please.) Mentor approval? (Not generally given much weight in my experience.) Administrative evaluation? (Surely, you’ve worked under people who have no business being in the position they’re in.)

      There’s no easy fix for teacher quality (not even better pay, though that wouldn’t hurt). The best teachers love their subject matter, know it well, and are able to convey their enthusiasm/curiosity to their students – or they love their students, empathize with their struggles, and enjoy almost every aspect of the interactions with them.

      Great teachers have both traits. Two years mentoring is not going to germinate either one.

      • Kurzleg

        It sounds like it’s oriented more around the practical than the theoretical. Also, it’s oriented around competencies that teachers should have before they get hired.

        I don’t know that there’s empirical evidence that this approach is better. I just know from my personal experience that I would really have appreciated having gone through a program like this as opposed to the one I did go through. Seems more rigorous, specific and practical.

        • jeer9

          Well, if we bypass the two-year and financial aspects of the training program, the core of the instruction sounds fine: help students to better solve problems; assist teachers in grasping what are the roadblocks to their comprehension. I think we’d both agree that weeks spent prepping students for bubble-in standardized testing is diametrically opposed to sound practice.

          My education school program, perhaps like yours, was a waste of time with instructors who were prudish, insecure, and incompetent. One prof repeatedly showed up five or ten minutes late to class and one time came in the room and handed me his car keys. “It’s right outside the door. Could you park it for me?” I tossed them back and replied, “I’m not your valet.”

          It was a state school, not a UC, but still …

    • Linnaeus

      I remember reading an article somewhere that teachers trained in Michigan have often been in demand in other states because Michigan’s teacher training requirements are comparatively stringent. The article went on to say, however, that fewer people are entering teacher training programs in Michigan (and elsewhere), leaving a lot of school districts facing teacher shortages.

  • Slothrop2

    Thank you for courageously using the word “neoliberal.”

    It’s worth noting that Eli Broad was cozy with HRC.

    • liberal

      Apparently, according to a thread here a couple weeks ago, it’s courageous to use the concept “party elites” (at least when applied to the Democratic Party).

    • Unlike you, I actually use the word correctly and not as a pejorative meaning “anything a Democrat to the right of me does that I don’t like.”

  • Cassiodorus

    Not that it’s even close to the most important issue, but also consider how it reinforces certain hierarchies even in the best case scenario. Who knows which schools are “good”? People with connections…

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Philadelphia’s incredibly stratified school system – longstanding elite private schools that are feeders for the Ivies, rampant charters, a handful of “elite” private schools serving primarily wealthy elites, with everyone else left to fend for themselves in increasingly underfunded public schools
      – show the corrosive long-term effects of this mindset, even in a “deep blue” city.

  • liberal

    The biggest problem with the school competition thing is rooted in geography.

    If schools didn’t have to be located within reasonable transportation distance of the children, then maybe there could be something to a competition model.

    But the fact that there’s at least some economy of scale with schooling, plus the fact that kids need to go home at the end of the day, means it’s a natural monopoly.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Desegregated busing is one potential solution, but it can often be politically unpopular (“just let me send my kid to the awesome school in my wealthy neighborhood!” I think proximity is an issue as well for attracting teachers.

      • vic rattlehead

        What were the time/distance limits on busing when it was more common? As long as the busing isn’t too long it seems like a good idea-the structural factors that lead to de facto segregation and shittier schools for less wealthy students can’t be fixed overnight, but we have plenty of buses!

        My high school was a 15 minute drive away and I think it would have been hellacious if it were a long bus ride away. Now that’s not always feasible but if we’re talking 45 minutes to an hour or more, you start to get diminishing returns surely? That’s even earlier a growing person has to wake up, longer to get home and do homework/work etc.

    • Dennis Orphen

      We must choose to preemptively educate the children in their own backyards before we are forced to educate them in ours.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    Who’s Mark Zuckerman? ;)

    • Ahenobarbus

      What would you rather, it were Mark Zuckerberg or Mort Zuckerman?

      • Nathan Zuckerman

        • Ahenobarbus

          I’d love to see those Sex Ed classes.

    • Marek

      Some pig!

  • Bitter Scribe

    Has there ever been a public figure with a higher ratio of positive press to actual achievement than Arne Duncan?

    • tsam

      I think John McCain has a lifetime achievement award in that category, but Duncan is a rival for sure.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      Erskine Bowles?

      • Abbey Bartlet

        I still don’t believe that’s a real name.

    • ΧΤΠΔ

      This unkillable douchefrigate, easily.

    • FlipYrWhig

      Colin Powell would have to be way up there.

  • Dr Colossus

    Michelle Rhee.

  • Linnaeus

    Somewhat related to this, via Vox, Cato Institute guy thinks liberals and libertarians should unite against Trump:

    In this dark and menacing environment, the liberaltarian idea is relevant again — with an entirely new sense of urgency. The first, immediate task is to forge a liberaltarian alliance that can defend American democracy from the depredations of Donald Trump. This ad hoc project requires no rethinking or blurring of existing ideological boundaries. Rather, it asks only that committed small-d democrats from the left, right, and center put aside their usual differences to stand together for basic liberal norms and institutions.

    Over the longer term, though, there remains a pressing need for a new and vital synthesis of liberal and libertarian ideas. The antidote to today’s populism and us-versus-them tribalism is a policy vision that focuses on what unites us — in particular, our common interest in reviving growth and brighter economic prospects for all, which is not going to be accomplished either by Trump’s protectionism or by Bernie Sanders’s socialism

    Yeah, I’m not convinced.

    • vic rattlehead

      I’m all for uniting with people (even libertarians) who are not completely loathesome to oppose Trump. Beyond that I have no interest in making common cause with libertarians other than maybe ending the war on drugs and more broadly criminal justice reform. Beyond those issues libertarianism (at least its American incarnation) is almost entirely antithetical to my political and moral beliefs.

  • jlredford

    Massachusetts voted decisively against expanding charter schools by 62% to 38% last November, even though proponents spent $26M on it. Opponents spent ~$15M. People were very aware that it was a takeover bid by outside for-profit entities, no matter how sleazily it was phrased as helping at-risk students. As more and more charters are shown to be scams, and as more and more data says that they do no better than public schools, they are getting less and less support from legitimate education reformers.

  • Davis X. Machina

    When did Americans stop talking about public K-12 education as the keystone of a strong democracy, as the incubator for citizenship, shared values,

    Right after Brown v. Board

    • Redwood Rhiadra


    • Bruce Vail

      Yes, Bingo!

  • Frank Wilhoit

    It is worse than you say. One of the primary purposes of education is to ensure a working consensus on the basic meaning and characteristics of civilization. In this time and place, that effort has been essentially abandoned: partly out of mischief, but more out of laziness and confusion and (evidently) some kind of fuzzy notion that it would happen of itself, whereas in fact it is every bit as difficult as it is important.

    So we wind up with a social contract that has not so much “frayed” as it has become a matter of fundamental disagreement. Absolutely any effort, any expenditure of resources, would have been justified to prevent this, because, now it has happened, it is intractable.

    And even though it was, in the last analysis, a failure of education, today’s debates about education are not about putting it right.

  • XerMom

    This is so much more complicated than just neoliberalism run amok. Charters and vouchers are quite popular with African Americans. In my neighborhood we have public schools that are between 40% and 70% White and a charter that is less than 1% White. That particular charter isn’t single-race, but there are many others in the city that are well over 85% one race/ethnicity. This is a city where no racial category reaches more than a third of students.

    It seems that once “parent choice” became a thing, nearly everyone wanted it. I listen to upper-middle class White parents talk about the lack of recess and too many standardized tests, and I can’t help but wonder if those are issues that even register among the refugee parents in the same school district. Each demographic has their own set of major priorities, and the explosion of charters now allows a separate school for each group.

    I wonder what it even means for a school to be “desegregated.” Do you have to match the neighborhood? The region? The school district? Is there some mix of racial percentages you can strive for that will suddenly flip you from segregated to desegregated? And do you count as desegregated if everyone is the same socioeconomically, but racially diverse?

    School desegregation is certainly not as simple as just busing kids across town (like they did with me when I was little). Now your choice of school involves major choices of pedagogy and practice, not just demographics. In my city you can choose schools that focus on a single ethnicity, or that immerse you in a particular language, or that focus on music, or engineering, or use strict discipline, or don’t, or blur the lines between grades, or keep a traditional schedule, or meet mostly online, or require uniforms, or encourage individual dress. Each of those choices is going to attract different demographics.

    I value diversity in the student body, and lo-and-behold, I “chose” a school that fits the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the city we live in (it’s not exact, but it’s closer than nearly any other school in town – I think there may be one or two that are closer). Yet there’s still plenty to criticize. I was told I’m crazy for not choosing a school that’s language immersion. Oh, well. You can’t win them all…

    • Just_Dropping_By

      I was told I’m crazy for not choosing a school that’s language immersion.

      Well, “crazy” is kind of harsh, but unless someone’s child has some sort of developmental disability or something that will require special educational accommodation, then I would unhesitatingly urge people to enroll their children in language immersion programs.

    • vic rattlehead

      I’m not a fan of this dishonestly framed emotional appeal-effete white parents vs gritty pragmatic refugees. I think you’re better than that. It’s not even an argument, it’s virtue signaling at best.

      And there is a vigorous debate re standardized testing that goes beyond the white upper middle class. It’s not just an idea of silly white elites. You are entitled to this perspective-this and Erik’s post are not mutually exclusive

      And of course I can’t blame parents for being charter school curious. If you’re in a district that has been crappy for years, and nothing seems to improve it, of course it only makes sense to be open to new ideas.

  • No Longer Middle Aged Man

    I have some sympathy for at least the concept of vouchers to the extent that they permit parental choice. Obvious immediate next questions include (1) voucher for real $ or some $2000 pittance? (2) how are vouchers going to magically create hundreds of thousands of wonderful new teachers and thousands of wonderful new schools to replace all the alleged awful ones today destroying public education, (3) how many of these wonderful new schools will spring up in poor neighborhoods, (4) what about the shit storm when some of these new schools teach Afro-centric history or are run according to various religious precepts? and (5) will vouchers be phased out or treated as taxable income for parents above some level of income?

    Maybe, or maybe not, these issues can be resolved for vouchers. I’m willing to consider trails with an open mind.

    Corporate charters, where government funnels money directly to the school rather than to the parents — nah, I’ll fight this tooth and nail.

  • Bruce Vail

    Let’s admit the ugly facts: It was the racial desegregation of the public schools of the 1960s and 1970s that destroyed the consensus in favor of public schools.

    I saw it as a kid growing up in Carmel, N.Y., a town about 60 miles north of mid-town Manhattan. Every school year the student population grew with a new crop of kids whose parents had fled the Bronx or Yonkers because they didn’t want their kids going to school with black or hispanic kids (in the NY area, the working class white flight from Brooklyn and Queens tended to head out to Long Island). In many other places, parents with similar ideas just transferred their kids out of public schools and in to all white Catholic schools. In the South, I would learn later, integration provoked the dramatic expansion of private Baptist academies.

    Once white working class parents started to abandon the public schools, the affluent (both Republicans and Democrats) were quick to follow suit (most were sending their own kids to private school anyway).

    How to fix this? I have no idea.

    • Lot_49

      Thought the same thing when I read this:

      When did Americans stop talking about public K-12 education as the keystone of a strong democracy, as the incubator for citizenship, shared values, and social cohesion in a diverse nation, as the only educational institution obligated to serve every child who appears on the doorstep?

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