kitchen table math, the sequel: if grocery stores were schools

Thursday, May 5, 2011

if grocery stores were schools

in today's Wall Street Journal:
Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—"for free"—from its neighborhood public supermarket.

No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.

Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families' choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned.


Responding to these failures, thoughtful souls would call for "supermarket choice" fueled by vouchers or tax credits. Those calls would be vigorously opposed by public-supermarket administrators and workers.

Opponents of supermarket choice would accuse its proponents of demonizing supermarket workers (who, after all, have no control over their customers' poor eating habits at home). Advocates of choice would also be accused of trying to deny ordinary families the food needed for survival. Such choice, it would be alleged, would drain precious resources from public supermarkets whose poor performance testifies to their overwhelming need for more public funds.
If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools
MAY 5, 2011
Having now spent a vast portion of my adult life dealing with public schools and the politics surrounding public schools, I believe every word of this!


Bonnie said...

I posted on why I used to be for school choice, and why I am no longer for it, a while ago under "sage on the stage". I don't want to repeat my post here. Succinctly, I think it would lead to a race to the bottom, much as it has already in higher ed (which is definitely a choice system).

I could be persuaded to support choice again if I thought there were enough oversight to ensure quality.

There are also serious logistical questions, though. Maybe because I am in the Northeast, the land of itty bitty school districts, but I can't see how it could ever happen here. My school district is only big enough to support one small high school. We simply don't have the numbers to support the progressive school that I would favor and the Catholic school someone else would want, and the Mandarin immersion school someone else would want. We could go over to the next school district, but the tuition money has to come from somewhere. Why would my town government want local taxpayer dollars to go to a school in another district?

So how do we fix that? Well, we could merge districts - but there would be SERIOUS opposition to that, much of it coming from conservatives. And you get into some of the root causes for our small districts - economics. Would we merge with the poor, black district that is near us? Probably not. We would love to merge with the very exclusive district that boasts some of the richest people in the country, which is also near us, but I suspect they wouldn't have us. To have meaningful choice, kids would have to cross district boundaries, which would mean merging school funds somehow.

And say we got the districts to pool their money. What if that really excellent prep school is just over the line in some other merged district, and all you have available are remedial type schools because that is what most of the parents favor? What now? OK, so we could argue that state money should be used to fund students who want to cross district lines. Now we get into a state rather than local system.

Ah, but what if you live in a state with lousy funding, and the excellent traditional direct instruction school is 5 miles away across state lines... Now what?

And that leads me to one of my central contentions - choice really only works well in a European style system, such as France, where school finances come from the national government, parents tend to prefer demanding schools, schools in the choice system are public, and kids can choose schools in any town.

Catherine Johnson said...

Our friends in France say French schools are a mess -- lots of constructivism, etc. They're paying for Catholic schools, same as us.

Catherine Johnson said...

My school district is only big enough to support one small high school. We simply don't have the numbers to support the progressive school that I would favor and the Catholic school someone else would want, and the Mandarin immersion school someone else would want.


that's why you have tax credits

Catherine Johnson said...

My district is now spending $30K per pupil -- this is deficit spending, let me add; we are borrowing to pay tax certs -- for balanced literacy, fuzzy math, and a winner-take-all high school.

I am forced by law to support a district that didn't work for my son -- and to pay out of pocket for a school that does work for my son.

So, bottom line, I support choice.


Catherine Johnson said...

A few questions (to calibrate the insanity).


Catherine Johnson said...

valedictorian with top SAT grades, had the highest AMC/12 score in the state, had lead roles in theater, won at track and field, won awards at piano competitions, did internships in science, and won science awards,

we are soooooo not in that category

Catherine Johnson said...

meanwhile I was talking to the man I buy my glasses from today

his daughter graduated from NYU with Honors last spring & hasn't been able to find the internship she needs to get into a good clinical psychology Ph.D. program

it's harder not to get into clinical psych programs than medical schools

she's working in a bank & can't afford to pay back her loans, so her folks are paying them

we lamented the economy, too

he said the total bill for 4 years of NYU was $225K & added that at the time people had talked to them about the option of attending a SUNY for two years, then transferring

of course, the SUNY tuitions are now going up

Crimson Wife said...

And the National Supermarket Association would oppose home gardening on the grounds that only state-certified farmers have the necessary skills to grow food properly...

Bonnie said...

You guys aren't answering my questions as to how this would be structured. Tax credits have to come from somewhere, and they would have to be big enough. What would you do with people who don't make enough money for the tax credits to apply? This only works if it works for everyone. Where would the money come from? It would have to be local districts.

So far, the only charter/magnet/voucher systems seem to be within large districts, or among districts that have grouped together,usually under a court order to ensure equal access (as in the Hartford area).

Allison said...


I agree the money issues are huge. But the real money issue is THAT THERE ISN'T ANY.

THERE IS NO MORE MONEY. The people don't have it. You cannot get blood from a turnip. We cannot pay for public sector pensions and healthcare and $4 or $5 a gallon gas and a 40% increase in food prices at the grocery store over two years and increase our school spending. It's not possible.

Charters, magnets and vouchers aren't all alike. A voucher system could work in a small district even if it directly lowers the money to that school because that school districts can lower their costs but choose not to. why do I say that? Because their supers are earning 200+k a year, their principals and asst principals too. Their health insurance is paid for, and that of their spouse too. Irvington is but one of many.

Can a magnet school work? Probably not without crossing town lines, but it's not clear to me why that's bad. It doesn't require losing townshipness to create a joint school. What about a charter? It depends on how the charter is funded and how the charter is attened. If the charter is open to anyone across the area rather than just the local town, it seems to could still work, for the same reason that vouchers could.

Ultimately, though, the best voucher is cash. If there were no public schools, but instead everyone who fell below a certain income threshold received a voucher for schools and the rest paid their own way, families in small towns like Irvington would have 30k or more money than they do now, as their property taxes could be refunded to them, and then they could choose which private to send their children to.

Allison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allison said...

I had a lot of problems with Boudreaux's piece, though. I posted about them on his blog, Cafe Hayek, where we posted a version of the WSJ piece earlier this week. You can read it there, but the gist was: the free market for food in stores has immediate transparency for the buyer so they can tell what value they are getting. There is nothing of the kind like that in the education system, and parents are forced to use proxies for that value all of the time. They choose the obvious ones: small class size, clean/well maintained facilities, cheerful teachers. Unfortunately, those aren't well correlated to academic excellence. While I believe that education shouldn't be state run, I have no illusions that suddenly the quality would improve if there was magically a market in place, because transparency would still be lacking.

He hit me with a couple straw men for my comments, and other commenter did the same. But the part that was so amazing to me was the passion with which the commenters disagreeing with me largely were sure they knew a good school when they saw one, and that their kids were all at them, and that it was easy to find such a thing. I would have thought economists were less susceptible to the need to claim higher value and utility of their choices after the fact than the rest of us mere mortals, but I guess not. They are just as human and need to feel they made good decisions and will selectively embrace reality in order to support feeling good about those decisions.

SteveH said...

"I could be persuaded to support choice again if I thought there were enough oversight to ensure quality."

There is quality now? By what standard, NCLB? Who gets to decide quality? Who gets to select the approach to education? Experts? Is the decision based on statistics or individual educational needs?

Our town spends more per public school student than it costs to send them to most private schools in our area. No more money is needed. Our town is so small that our students go to the high school in the next town. Our town writes them a check each year. They could write that check to any place.

"Where would the money come from?"

States are already shifting money away from the affluent towns to the poorer towns. Our town gets virtually no state or federal money for education. Overall, there is plenty of money. There might be arguments over how the money is spread around, but that's already happening. However, the money goes into a black hole. More money doesn't mean a better education.

What will create better education? What form of no choice can possibly be better than choice? One can point to charter schools that have worse NCLB scores than public schools, but is that caused by choice? There are many issues here and one can claim that choice is no silver bullet, but where is the silver bullet? What are we comparing?

"I have no illusions that suddenly the quality would improve if there was magically a market in place, because transparency would still be lacking."

I have no illusions either. Many parents love unschooling ideas where whatever happens is for the best. Choice might also create overachieving educational sweatshops. Who gets to decide success over the very minimal NCLB standards?

Parents. I trust them. What do we get from our proxy educational experts we have now? Statistical change might be very slow, but for many individuals, the benefit of choice is immediate.

Bonnie said...

"There is quality now? By what standard, NCLB?"

In my district, yes, there is quality. I'd like more quality, but our schools are FAR better than the Catholic school that my husband attended as a child, or the "elite" private school where my mother taught, which mainly served to prepare its students for polite Southern society - don't push the students too hard because Mommy and Daddy might stop paying tuition.

That's the thing - I haven't been wildly impressed by most of the private schools that I have seen. Some are good, but some of the well funded public districts, like ours, are good too. Private schools have to compete for students,which means making mommy and daddy happy with lots of sports, pretty buildings, and of course, never stressing the kids too much. That is what has happened in higher education, and I think the same phenomenon exists in private K12 as well. Vouchers for private schools may make some conservatives happy, but in the end isn't going to solve the problems in education.

SteveH said...

"Vouchers for private schools may make some conservatives happy, but in the end isn't going to solve the problems in education."

Choice would make a lot of liberals happy too, and not all private and charter schools are duds or exist to make elite parents happy.

Few expect choice will solve all of the problems in education, but it will solve lots of problems for many individuals right now. Most parents are able to choose between school A and school B. School B might be an unschooling one, but who am I to impose my views of education on others? What defines a good school? What, exactly, are the problems in education that are being fixed? Are we talking about a statistic based on NCLB scores or a better educational opportunity for each individual?

What choice might an urban parent face? Send their child to a public school where they don't separate the kids who are willing to work from the chair throwers, or send their child to the uppity private school where they make mommies and daddies happy with lots of sports, pretty buildings, and not stressing kids too much?

At KTM, I can advocate for quality K-8 math curricula and push for algebra by 8th or 9th grades. I can argue why that's important. I do not argue, however, that this should be imposed on everyone.

Part of this is a money issue. If people use their own money, they can do whatever good or silly educational thing they want. I don't hear any arguments about how our country is going downhill because we allow affluent families to make this choice.

With taxpayer money, there are lots of strings attached. Apparently, that transfer of money means that those getting the money are not smart enough to make educational decisions. Where has that gotten us? Who do we have making those educational decisions? Low NCLB cutoffs are now the maximum rather than the minimum.

So, is this a money issue or a choice issue? Are rich people the only ones who can make proper choices, or would people like to stop them if they could. Perhaps people just don't care about rich kids. What about homeschoolers? Perhaps educators should impose curricula on them.

For many parents who pay 2/3rds of their town taxes to the school budget year after year, this is really their own money. Why aren't they allowed choice? If this is not about money, but educational expertise, then why don't all families fall under that external control?

I don't (and didn't) want to send my son out of town to a private school. I want him to feel a part of our community. I want my local public school to offer a decent education without parents having to fix the damage at home. They think they already do that. What will change that?

Choice is not bad. Public schools could offer more choice internally, but parents constantly fight this turf battle and lose. Charter school and private school choice does provide leverage against this. In many ways, choice helps me fix the problems in our local public school. I've watched this happen. I've talked with the principal about how they don't like to see kids leave. It forces them to not blow off the kids at the high end of the differentiated instruction spectrum. Choice seems to be the only reality that penetrates their wall of ideology. I see no silver bullet in sight, but what is a good individual education, who gets to decide what that is, and how do we get there?

Hainish said...

Bonnie, a start in school funding reform is the idea to "fund the child," explained by the Fordham Institute in this publication:


"Public schools could offer more choice internally,"


Why don't they?

Linda Seebach said...

@Bonnie, "How could it ever happen here?" -- leave the districts, but take away their monopoly on the right to determine the education of the children who live in them. That is what has happened in Colorado, for instance, under a state law that guarantees full intra- and interdistrict choice for all public schools in the state, subject to some reasonable rules on space available. The state's part of funding follows children wherever they attend.
It would be easier, if anything, in a place with lots of little districts rather than a few big ones.

You're thinking about the difficulties of a transition year, but over time the Colorado schools have adjusted to a different steady state, which seems no less manageable than the old one.

Parents don't have to move to change schools, and the districts don't have to jail parents who send their kinds somewhere other than their "assigned" school.

kcab said...

Actually, there are inter-district magnets in CT. The one in my town draws from several towns around (all suburbs of a medium-sized city). There are also regional education structures set up to serve students that are not able to be served by their district, for one reason or another.

There are also regional, or combined town, districts for elementary and/or (more often) high schools in CT and NH. I think also in ME and MA. Again, no research here, just reading the paper over the time I've lived in these states.

What I find difficult though, is to find information on all the choices that are available locally. For example, here there are: town public schools, inter-district magnet, city magnets (I think that's the right name...), seats in some of the city schools, ACES, and some combinations. Plus privates, of course. I've probably missed some options. I wasn't aware at all that one of the options for high school was to attend both the public high school *and* an arts-focused high school until one of my daughter's friends applied for that program. There doesn't seem to be a central clearinghouse for this information, so it becomes more than a little confusing. It's very difficult to make a good choice between the options, and the public options (other than typical town school) are difficult to get into due to restrictions on number of students. In the absence of enough (and timely) information, it has seemed better to me to send my kids to the town public schools and advocate for appropriate instruction there.

Catharine, I think a couple of your comments were meant for the race to nowhere post.

Bonnie said...

The Colorado law makes sense, but it would never fly here in NY, nor in CT or MA. Local control, and tiny school districts are just too ingrained here. It costs us a lot of money, too, but still no one wants to change.

Given the reality that the state is not going to blow away local control, the only sort of choice we could get would be within our district. In my district, that would mean that most parents would stay with the public schools, because they are pretty good and most people are happy and like the traditions associated with them. Some parents would opt for a Catholic school. There is actually a Catholic school within the town, but it isn't in our district because it is in a village inside our town. In order for kids to go there, we would first have to get the village and the district to cooperate, and that hasn't been able to happen yet. Besides the Catholic school, it is unlikely there would be the numbers for any other school, so that would leave us with choosing between the public school and the Catholic school. That isn't a choice to my mind.

Unless you can get rid of the property tax system for funding schools (which is what drives local control), you can't get a real meaningful choice system going, at least not in the Northeast.

Bonnie said...

Yes, I know there are inter-district magnets in CT - my SIL teaches at one of them. They resulted from the big lawsuit over equal access to education, which was settled a number of years back. It was very difficult to get them set up - the suburbs resisted mightilly. It was only the power of the court settlement that made it happen.

Genevieve said...

Again, while I am attracted to school choice, I am a little concerned about what will happen.

If you look at early childhood care and education, to a certain extent we (at least where I live) are already working on a voucher, tax deduction and cash system.

Especially before 3, either a parent stays home, a parent pays for child care, or for the poor (primarily former welfare recipients) they can take a child care voucher to a child care that accepts the voucher. The result of this where I live is a few decent child care centers that are very expensive, and have long waiting lists. Some not very good child care centers that are very expensive. There are also many semi-regulated and unregulated home day cares that are a mixed bag. Overall, the quality of child care for children under 3 is mostly poor. There are also very few centers that accept the vouchers and almost all of the children that they serve are poor.

Now child care is different from K-12 in that you have to have very low student/teacher ratios. This makes the cost a large problem. However, there are enough parallels for me to be concerned.

Genevieve said...

I also wrote a comment about open enrollment that seems to have disappeared.

I live in a state, Iowa, that allows students to open enroll to any district within the state. Additionally, there is open enrollment within school districts for individual schools.

There are limitations. A district can close open enrollment if they decide that they are full. Several city districts are also under desegregation policies that limit minorities (now defined as students that receive free or reduced lunch) open enrolling into the city district and non-minorities open enrolling out of the district.

Additionally, open enrollment is limited because parents must transport their child to the out of district school. While the cities have buses, public transportation is limited. It is also a state that has large rural areas.
Despite all of this, there is the opportunity for a great deal of school choice, especially in the suburban areas. However, I don't see a great deal of difference between the schools. The majority of the area districts adopted Everyday Math over the last 5 years. Class offerings are similar across districts. Project Lead the Way seems to be the new thing, but this is also opening across districts.

The main difference between districts seems to be student demographics (the city districts serve students that are more likely to be poor, minority and learning English, the old suburban schools in the middle and the new schools have have very few students that are poor, minorities or learning English).

Allison said...


I am not sure if this is true: "Few expect choice will solve all of the problems in education, but it will solve lots of problems for many individuals right now. "

Boudreaux did--just read his responses on his blog. And Ravitch did. And the supporters of school choice in Milwaukee did. The pundits don't seem to have had paid much attention to reality here, though they are coming around.

A great article on this is in National Affairs:

As they say "To many who hold out hope that choice can help fix what ails America's schools, these hedges and reversals have been startling. And yet, looking back, it is hard to see how they were not inevitable. For decades, school-choice advocates have seemed bent on producing this hour of disappointment.

There has been, for instance, a tendency to vastly overpromise. In 1990, the same year that Milwaukee's tiny voucher program launched the school-choice debate, scholars John Chubb and Terry Moe argued in their seminal volume, Politics, Markets, and America's Schools: "Without being too literal about it, we think reformers would do well to entertain the notion that choice is a panacea...It has the capacity all by itself to bring about the kind of transformation that, for years, reformers have been seeking to engineer in myriad other ways."

"The search for that panacea, and the insistence that it must be just around the corner, have been destructive distractions. "

This is why it's dangerous to let Boudreaux's slick analogy go unanswered. Not because we shouldn't have more choice as parents, but because we shouldn't allow such glib people to lose the argument for us by overpromising.

Cranberry said...

The Colorado law makes sense, but it would never fly here in NY, nor in CT or MA. Local control, and tiny school districts are just too ingrained here. It costs us a lot of money, too, but still no one wants to change.

Massachusetts has choice. Each district must decide, and notify the state by June, whether they will be a Choice district in the coming year. (This is separate from the NCLB choice program.) A district may choose to open up only certain grades to choice students.

Districts may not prevent their own district families from choosing to send their children to choice districts. (The districts do not publicize this.) Families are responsible for transportation. The original district remains responsible for special ed costs. In the past, the required tuition (paid to the Choice district by the original district) has been $5,000 per student.

Once a district accepts a Choice student, that student may remain until high school graduation.

The patterns have been mapped: .

Many districts seem to send and receive students. Far from bringing down the system, many parents don't choose to participate. Those parents who participate do so for a variety of reasons. Our district is held to be very good, but I know some parents have chosen to send their children to other districts. Sports and social reasons seem to have been the primary reasons.

Choice can work. It is working in Massachusetts.

Administrators in the affluent suburban ring around Boston, are reluctant to open up their districts to choice. All the districts on the map above who are receiving students chose to receive them. It has helped them to balance their enrollment, and they have received tuition money. In effect, they have smoothed out their enrollment, and received money for services they would provide anyway. Perhaps the extra $25,000 for 5 students have helped some districts afford music or art classes, for example.

SteveH said...

Hess writes:

"It would seem, then, that school choice "works" in some respects and in some instances — but that choice alone could never work as well as many of its champions have expected, and promised. It is time for those who would like to transform America's schools to let go of the dream that choice by itself is any kind of 'solution.' The goal ought to be a much more serious agenda of school deregulation and re-invention."

"by itself" ... How many people fit that category?

What's the problem, school choice or overpromising? Is the goal to make arguing points with other pundits, or to find solutions. Does overpromising mean that choice can't be part of school re-invention?

The article spends a lot of time arguing about overpromising, but that happens for many things, like merit pay or some sort of vague teacher training. We can argue for Singapore Math, but is that overpromising. Our town would screw it up. (That doesn't mean that it isn't the start of a good solution.) People who claim that any one thing will solve everything are an easy target.

In the end, Hess says that ... "It would seem, then, that school choice 'works' in some respects and in some instances". And in those instances, the difference can be huge right now. I would also argue that 'works' is relative. Even minor amounts of 'works' is an improvement and puts pressure on schools to change.

The other question is whether all of this talk of choice distracts from ... "a much more serious agenda of school deregulation and re-invention." Talk of merit pay is a distraction. Limiting union power is a distraction. Algebra in 8th grade as a goal is a distraction. But after the entire article, Hess doesn't explain what his "much more serious agenda" is.

There is a problem with overpromising and a problem with the idea of "just one thing". There are lots of "just one things". That doesnt make them bad because they distract from some more serious agenda. Any sort of serious agenda will include many different factors. I can't imagine that choice won't be one of those factors.

I've complained over the years about what I call "brain research misdirection", where educators engage in serious pedagogical and scientific talk in the hope that parents will ignore the huge issue of competence. They explain it away by claiming that kids will learn when they are ready. They want to "trust the spiral" when, deep down, they just don't want to assume responsibility.

"Just one thing" is a big problem, not choice. It is also a big problem that many ignore the importance of ensuring mastery of skills. It's also a big problem that many talk in generalities and can never get into details.

Having only one thing as a solution is a distraction, not the idea of choice.

CA Teacher said...

It seems to me that one's choice of a school will always be limited to what is available in the immediate area, and whether there is space in that particular school (barring online learning, of course, which is essentially homeschooling). If families cannot pick up and move to a location within reasonable distance from their first choice (presumably due to pesky things like jobs and home prices), then how much choice do you really have, regardless of whether the proximal choices are public, private, charter, etc.?

In our case, we have 2 high school "choices": our "assigned" public HS, which is so tiny, it graduates less than 2 dozen kids each year and offers a severely restricted menu of courses and electives as a result; and the other choice: a larger, full-service high school in the next town, where I happen to work. We apply annually for an inter-district transfer, which so far, has been granted.

Any other "choices" for us are too far away, or would require major uprooting, and/or are too expensive for us to even consider. If I had my ultimate choice, it would have been to homeschool in the elementary years, but we could not afford to give up an entire salary (please, no snarky comments about lifestyle choices; we live very modestly in an extremely high cost-of living region: the SF Bay Area, our life-long home).

Our ideal choice for high school (an enriched arts & science school) does not exist anywhere within proximity, so we're left with what is available in the immediate area.

How then does the ideal version of "choice" as compared to grocery stores play itself out in the real world? And by the way, until a natural foods store opened up in the nearby town, I didn't like my grocery store choices much either, and would have to drive quite a distance to the stores I really liked to shop at... but that was just once or twice a month, not every day, like we do for school. Otherwise, it was weekly shopping at the same old supermarket with the same old selection of stuff.

Glen said...

The fact that choice alone does not solve all problems is not a valid argument against choice. A factor that is necessary but not sufficient is still necessary.

In China, people used to tell me all the time that "your so-called Western 'freedoms' are easy to talk about when you have plenty of food, but here in China, the government has a huge and difficult task feeding this many people, and we can't afford to let selfish individuals get in the way of the government doing its job."

I asked them how they thought the US government fed all of its people. They said it was easier for the US government to do it, because it had more land per person. So, I asked how Japan and Hong Kong did it, with much less land per person than in China. They had never thought of it (and this conversation happened on many occasions.)

I told them that the way the US, Japan, and Hong Kong (this was pre-takeover) governments "fed" their people was by not confiscating their families' food budgets and by not limiting private suppliers from competing with the government, thereby making it as easy as possible for people to buy what they wanted for themselves. Those who still didn't have the money to buy food got food stamps that they used in private stores of their choice, which had to compete for their business.

They didn't believe me. It violated leftist theory. Food was too important to be left to greedy individuals, which was why, I was told, so many people in the US were starving (this was in the 1980s, before they were allowed to travel and see for themselves.)

I agree with Mick that you can't always get what you want. I've lived in American towns that didn't have enough demand to support a Chinese food store. I can imagine towns with too few Chinese for a Mandarin program or so progressive that no knowledge-based school can survive. And I agree with Allison that just allowing the choice won't solve the problem for people don't know what to choose. But people with few choices never learn how to choose. The freedom to choose where to spend your own family education budget is a crucial step forward.

Allison said...

Again, my problems with Boudreaux's piece aren't statements that the status quo is good. Boudreaux skips admitting his analogy his flawed and often retorts to people who find his analogy flawed that they must like public schools.

To the claims by CA teacher: sorry, but we too lived in the SF bay area, my husband's and my home for over a decade, and we left. The choice to prioritize living there over you preferred schooling method is your choice. You are not entitled to having the Golden State be the way you want. People with out level of income, our level of skill set, our ability to be employed have enormous choices. What we may find is that the alternatives aren't worth making that tradeoff for, but that's not the same as not having choices. And if property values and schools were decoupled, many of us would lose home value in the short term, but it would make mobility for schooling's sake easier to come by.

Steve, the issue I think is to stop looking for "solutions" and start looking at tradeoffs.

Problems without solutions aren't problems--they're facts. We should stop looking at lousy k-12 education as a problem to be solved, but instead look at it as a fact, and start comparing tradeoffs. Parents having more choice in schools is one avenue, but until you specify how they will have more choice, the tradeoffs may still be lousy. Here in St. Paul, they created a district where you could choose ANY school in the district to send your kid to but one (the G*T school where you needed to test in), and that meant any neighborhood school, any of over 30 magnet schools, and statewide, you can still apply to any charter or any public school in another district, though you might be wait listed. And since that was district policy, the district mandated you would be bused to whichever school you attended.

Those choices sounded great, until it became clear that a) busing had become the cost center and the main lever for all sorts of other policies for the district--like start times, end times, after school programs, sports programs, etc. and b) the district had a high percentage of children who moved schools often because of the above system, as well as parental mobility issues--and it became clear that no one could ensure a child would ever receive a coherent education unless all of these schools were forced to teach the same lesson plan on the same day of the year. So much for choice.

The Hess piece answers your issue by saying deregulation is the answer. School "choice" can be a deregulated solution, or like in Indiana, it can be a regulated solution. In St. Paul, it was a highly regulated version of choice, and it had all of the problems that leaving a giant bureaucracy in charge were bound to create. A deregulated model, where private schools choose to test or not test, have cafeterias or not, have busing or not, teach social justice or not is a lot more real choice.

SteveH said...

"So much for choice."


"School 'choice' can be a deregulated solution, or like in Indiana, it can be a regulated solution."

Apparently not completely.

So, you're not arguing against choice; just where the money comes from.

"A deregulated model, where private schools choose to test or not test, have cafeterias or not, have busing or not, teach social justice or not is a lot more real choice."

But you want to talk about tradeoffs. How would this completely deregulated model work compared to one where the money (and some level of strings) comes from the government?

If you are against choice because you don't see how this can work in any fashion, then what is the other option? You would like to get the government out of our hair, but how would that be done?

The grocery store model is not very good because most people have the money to buy the food they need. But with education, most families with kids can't pay for them unless they start a a savings fund early and then take out loans to pay off later. That's what property taxes do, and parents are being subsidized by businesses and others who don't have kids.

How would a degregulated education solution work? I guess I don't see any tradeoff that would get the government out of the loop. Is choice not helpful in that situation?

I can see how many current implementations of choice might be a distraction or unhelpful if the goal is deregulation and some sort of pure choice, but I can't see that path. It's not just about tradeoffs in end results, but the process of how you get there; IF you can get there.

What are the tradeoffs and what is the process for deregulation of education?

Hainish said...

Another variation on choice is having real curricular options within a single school. This would bypass a lot of the busing and scheduling issues.

This would be great for teachers too, as they would be able to teach in a setting that matches their educational philosophy or preferred style of teaching.

Allison said...

"choice" is a useless word, Steve. What does it mean?

Does it mean "I get to use my own money to pick whatever school I want for my child, even if the govt disapproves of the school" ? Does it mean "I can choose one of 32 choices all of which use Everyday Math" ? Stop with the word which means nothing.

Shutter the public schools in X years and give back the property taxes. Then parents would have enough money to send their kids to privates. In that world, schools would pop up to meet the demand. And we wouldn't have public sector union problems with the schools because we wouldn't have public employees for schools. I know, this is why it's a pipedream, and you can't get from here to there.

What I claim is that the above is still better for parents and students than the current system. What i don't claim is that it fixes bad educational paradigms, or prevents parents from choosing academically poor schools for their children.

that's the tradeoff. You give parents more options but you can't force the schools to all be of a certain caliber. Some will be lousy. Some parents will simply make bad choices. It will be a whole heck of a lot more difficult to convince people what a decent math education looks like in K-8 when you have to convince every one of them individually, rather than just a few in power. That's the tradeoff: more in power, more difficult to sell your idea.

Another part of the tradeoff is that we lose any chance of maintaining the once obvious notion that schools were supposed to inculcate everyone into the same basic beliefs about their nation. That will be gone, and we'll just be fragmented. Now, I think that's much worse than most people think it is, because I think our culture needs to have one set of values in order to survive, but I think it's clear that ship has sailed already, and the cultural values being inculcated now are anti-Western civ anyway. But that's a tradeoff.

I am personally opposed to:

1. govt schools killing off privates by subsidizing the costs of education to where privates can't afford to compete. In that model, only schools with tuition below the voucher limit and schools with tuition WAY WAY WAY above the voucher limit will survive.

2. govt schools killing off privates by creating onerous regulatory schemes while parasitically leeching a better education out of it in the short term. They can't improve public schools with their regulatory schemes; how long before the privates are just as bad as the publics once they are subject to them?

Glen said...

It will be a whole heck of a lot more difficult to convince people what a decent math education looks like in K-8 when you have to convince every one of them individually, rather than just a few in power.

I'm not sure this is right. Those many individuals are parents who probably value their own child's math proficiency very highly, despite many mistaken notions about how to achieve it.

Those few are people with other priorities--avoiding political accusations of elitism or racism, promoting ed school theories, dealing with unions, CYA management practices, being portrayed positively by the press, keeping pesky non-professionals off their turf, etc.

Individuals are convinced "one at a time" by discussions in the mass media, word of mouth, and so on. This approach could ultimately reach more people who want what you want for their kids, but don't understand how to achieve it, than the strategy of going through "professional" representatives, who want very different things.

Anonymous said...

"Shutter the public schools in X years and give back the property taxes. Then parents would have enough money to send their kids to privates."

Many parents would not have enough money to send their kids to private schools.

Then what?

One can argue that if you can't afford children then you shouldn't have them, but I don't think this argument will carry the day when it comes to schooling.

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

for the poor, vouchers like food stamps and WIC and the like. this is not that hard.

Crimson Wife said...

To the claims by CA teacher: sorry, but we too lived in the SF bay area, my husband's and my home for over a decade, and we left. The choice to prioritize living there over you preferred schooling method is your choice.

Aren't you a math professor? That's a job with high geographic mobility, as there will always be some college somewhere that has a need for a math instructor.

Some industries are highly geographically concentrated. It's not so easy to just pick up & move if there aren't many jobs in the field outside a particular region. My family knows this from personal experience as the jobs in my DH's field are either in NYC or S.F., both of which have a horrendously high cost-of-living.

lgm said...

It really doesn't matter. Most of these stores don't have managers that will put the time in to figure out what products in what quanitity need to be on the shelves. The celiacs can come in and browse, but there will be nothing they can consume that will allow them to thrive. Those that want whole foods will be shouted out by those who think 'we can't afford whole foods, give us chips and soda'. You can't beat NY school budget politics. The people have no problem speaking up for their wants and denying others needs.

We do have some school choice in NY. Vocational can go to the assigned regional BOCES, and some special education can go to private school at the district's expense for transportation and tuition. Students who need more challenging classes can move or go to private school or attend another district. I've tried the latter, but the districts on the commute route are all full and not taking out-of-district tuition paying honors students. They are busy trying to get rid of students who are living with relatives or using a false address. The demand for honors classes is high, but NY schools don't have to offer them if they don't want to no matter how many customers picket.

SteveH said...

"...for the poor, vouchers like food stamps and WIC and the like. this is not that hard."

There won't be strings attached to this money? How many parents are we talking about? The affluent get no strings attached public schools, and the rest get:

"govt schools killing off privates by creating onerous regulatory schemes while parasitically leeching a better education out of it in the short term."

Aren't the voucher (stings attached) kids going to the same private schools? Are their numbers so small that the government strings won't be onerous?

K-12 schools in our area (public and private) cost about $17,000 per student. (When you hit high school, the day schools can easily get to $25,000+.) If you have 3 kids, that's 3*12*$17000 = yikes! You don't get that from savings on property taxes.

"Shutter the public schools in X years and give back the property taxes. Then parents would have enough money to send their kids to privates."

I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

Allison: "for the poor, vouchers like food stamps and WIC and the like. this is not that hard."

It is that hard.

The median household income in California in 2009 was $59K (according to Wiki).

Families in the middle quintile pay 9% of their income as income and local taxes.

9% of $59K is less than $6K. I doubt that the folks making $59K/household are paying more than $6K in property taxes.

Currently K-12 education is about 40% of California's budget.

So ... at *best* the median family will have $6K per year to pay for K-12 education. We'll wind up handing out "vouchers like food stamps and WTC" to much of the middle class as well as the poor if we expect these people to pay for educating their own kids.

As of today, we have socialized the cost of a major component of raising a child. The top 10% or so of taxpayers are paying for much/most of the state provided stuff.

Just letting people keep their own money and paying for their own education will leave most voters much worse off.

How do we get from here to there?

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

And most private schools in our area use a flavor of Everyday Math. That's a separate issue. It's not government strings that screw up schools. Schools should laugh at NCLB.

Allison said...

Look, even if the middle class has education subsidized through tax credits, or vouchers similar to SCHIP or whatever, it's still better than the money being laundered through govt and its schools in the first place. But there are many reasons to believe that schools would be cheaper if the govt weren't running them--just as most privates are now. Voucher schools run their schools for less, lots of parochials are run for less, charities would hit some of the need, etc.

Allison said...

I am at home with my kids. Highly mobile. Husband is an entrepreneur who does startup life for a living, commuting back to SFBA as necessary. It would be A LOT easier for his career if we lived there, but then it would be harder to own a home and have me at home. Yes, we made choices too.

Anonymous said...

"Look, even if the middle class has education subsidized through tax credits, or vouchers similar to SCHIP or whatever, it's still better than the money being laundered through govt and its schools in the first place."

Except that to pay for the vouchers, we still need something that collects roughly the same amount of taxes that we currently do.

I'm fine with vouchers, but this *still* launders the money through the government, just not the government run schools. This isn't the same thing as letting the parents keep their own property taxes and making them pay for their own kids education.

Even at ½ the current cost per student, we'd have more than half of the families with kids needing a subsidy of some sort, or paying a *LOT* less to educate their kids.

So, fine, lets support vouchers. But the money to pay for them is still going to get funneled through the state government.

-Mark Roulo

lgm said...

I think you'd have to look at the money flow by area. The law here seems to tax apt/condo complexes much much less than single family homes, even though the density of children and cost of educating the children is similar. Then you have all the illegal multifamily housing situations, where the home is generating 4-6K in school tax (or apt is generating less), but that's not for 2.3 kids; it for 3 families of 2.3 kids each.

Also note, my district only spends $6K per unclassified student. I've covered my kids' costs in the years I've lived here in my starter home. Most families who are following the zoning laws and not using an exemption (such as putting the home in the grandparents name and thus only paying 50% taxes) are doing same. The $28K avg spent on each classified student is the deal breaker.

Allison said...

There's a massive difference between the organizational spending needed to create something parallel to an EITC and a state's dept of education. Those are different orders of magnitude in cost. Adding a couple hundred lines of code to the software the state dept of revenue already uses is expensive only once, and still nowhere near as expensive as a dept of ed.

But I think even if you make $50k and have a family of 4, you should have skin in the game. That we've tipped the scales so far as we have is another reason why economically we're on the brink. A family at median income doesn't yet have parents who say "food is too expensive", and they shouldn't have been accustomed to saying that about education.

Some states have public ed written into their constitution. That seems a much bigger problem to me than working out a EITC like scheme. When the collapse comes, the constitutions will still be there.

SteveH said...

"Adding a couple hundred lines of code to the software the state dept of revenue already uses is expensive only once, and still nowhere near as expensive as a dept of ed."

Is this a money issue or a control issue? Do you really think that's all it would be for an education solution; no more strings than that? What will parents own money buy them? Will parents who contribute more of their own money have more control? Is this about saving money or choice?

In our state, they currently limit the number of charter schools and the types of charter. They don't like to have rigorous schools that siphon off the best or most willing students from regular public schools. With vouchers (or money that follows the child), the extra choice or control doesn't come from the source of the money. It comes from the government deciding to give up that control.

Do vouchers imply less government control? How about systems where the money follows the child? For more choice, the government has to decide to reduce control. There will always be reasons for government meddling, vouchers or not. Even with vouchers, I expect that the government would still impose a minimum testing requirement, even if it doesn't control the number and types of schools. I expect that the government would set tuition or acceptance rules for schools taking voucher money.

I don't see any method that will allow most parents to buy their way out of government control. The battle, and tradeoffs, have to be defined within that framework.

Catherine Johnson said...

The demand for honors classes is high, but NY schools don't have to offer them if they don't want to no matter how many customers picket.

I learned this when our high school principal was contemplating a plan to impose disciplinary rules on honors students that he would not be allowed to impose on "Regents" students. (The proposed rules were being advocated by some parents of honors students.)

When I protested, he argued that because the state doesn't require us to offer Honors courses, we don't have to treat Honors students the same way we treat all other students.

I pointed out that for $30K per pupil most parents wouldn't see Honors courses as optional.

Catherine Johnson said...

Vouchers for private schools may make some conservatives happy, but in the end isn't going to solve the problems in education.

Vouchers would help solve the problem of my family being able to save for retirement and to have money to leave to our two developmentally disabled children.

We have been forced by the state to pay many, many thousands of dollars for a school that failed to teach our one typical child spelling, writing, and math -- and to continue paying for this school while also paying for a school that **is** teaching him these things.

We are not wealthy people, and we have enormous financial responsibilities many other families do not have.

I believe that forcing people to pay for schools that aren't working for their children as unjust, regardless of whether choice would 'fix' the schools.

Catherine Johnson said...

As for the idea that private schools slavishly cater to the ideas of parents --- I wish!

I'd like to more know about the sociology of organizations one day.

One thing I do know: organizations have some kind of path dependency that keeps them doing what they do regardless of what the customer wants.

Bonnie said...

How would vouchers leave you able to save for retirement? More likely, you will end up in debt. Look what happened in higher ed, which is essentially a voucher system for the poor (and a free for all for the rest of use). The voucher (aka Pell Grant) is far less than the cost of educating students, leading to the system of differential pricing so that everyone can have some kind of access. For the middle class, that means taking out huge loans. The most important thing has been the never ending escalation of costs in higher ed, much of it driven by non-academic "essentials" that parents demand. My university, which is private, spends a fortune on landscaping, fancy dorms, food courts, student activities every day, and layers and layers of administrators who do "student services", and "international education", aka "party-in-Rome". Meanwhile, much of the teaching has been outsourced to adjuncts who make $2000 for an entire course. Not surprisingly, these people don't stick around on campus, so students can't find them for extra help or advising, so they had to create another layer of administrators to "advise" students (mainly misadvise them because they don't have a clue what is required in the majors). And then there are the for-profits. I was just reading that Kaplan charges $48,000 for a certificate program. Are you kidding me??? This isn't even a full degree. Higher education has become an overpriced mess, mainly because it is a free choice system.