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Quality teachers

2001-07-14 19:44:07+00 by Dan Lyke 29 comments

In that thread about parenting there's been some discussion of parental licensing. My second-hand experience with teacher and massage therapist certifications are that they're primarily ways to funnel funds towards the entrenched establishment, and are generally more a barrier to competent people engaging in the profession than a guarantee that the incompetent will be kept out. The SHADOW passed along a darkly funny story of an illiterate social studies teacher in New York who's been ironically complaining about the quality of teachers. I'm not sure whether this hurts or helps my cause...

[ related topics: Children and growing up Humor Current Events ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:11+00 by: dexev

This looks to me like the Post is being mean-spirited and deceptive. Calling this teacher 'illiterate' isn't any better. Yes, there were a lot of spelling and a few gramatical errors in the letter the Post published. But if you look further down, you'll notice that 1) the Post printed an excerpt from an *email*, not a written letter and 2) English is not this guy's first language.

There's nothing in the article to suggest that he isn't a good social studies teacher -- I doubt if the reporter even bothered to talk to his students or check past test scores. The fact that this guy took the time to write three letters to a newspaper suggests that he gives a damn about his students -- isn't that what we're looking for in our teachers?

In my mind, the response of the Board of Ed president is the greatest cause for concern. Instead of coming to this guy's defense, or even saying "Hmm...we'll look into it", the president tossed him to the wolves. If my boss gave me that kind of support when I made a mistake, I sure wouldn't stick around for long.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: ebradway

I've had the pleasure of working with many highly educated Chinese people and frequently found their English to be quite poor. I always attributed it to the fact that they were quite bright and probably got very high marks in their English studies in school. They probably feel my English is inferior!

One of the 'signs' of this is consistent misspellings that might be phoenetically correct if spoken with a Chinese accent. That's not a joke! One of the first times I encountered it was in some variables that colleague was using in his code. The code worked perfectly because he always spelled the word exactly the same way - and the compiler doesn't care.

I think the Post was really grilling this guy to make a point. Ironically, I'm sure the teacher would have agreed with Post 100% - except for calling him illiterate. After all his Chinese is infinitely better than mine and really, his English is only marginally worse.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: ziffle

One would hope that teachers who can not spell - for whatever reason - would be asked to leave - hopefully the teacher would leave voluntarily.

Of course the only answer to all of this is to do away with public schools altogether - and stop forcing everyone to support this nonsense through taxes extracted at the point of a gun.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think the mail versus email thing is an irrelevant difference. People who don't write email as carefully as they write mail should be banned from using computers.

As for the intelligence thing, he may be very smart. But what are you going to say to the kid who's failing his class because he can't follow this guy's English? Or worse, who fails the next class because of what was picked up from this guy? How many kids are going to have the guts to say "I'm sorry, but you marked my paper wrong because of your mistakes, not mine"?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: phoffman

>I think the mail versus email thing is an irrelevant difference.

>People who don't write email as carefully as they write mail

>should be banned from using computers.

So, you don't want parenting tests, but you want computer use tests?

>But what are you going to say to the kid who's failing his class

>because he can't follow this guy's English?

The same thing you would say to a kid who's failing the class of a teacher

with a strong accent but who is using perfectly good grammar and

spelling: try harder. Don't limit your hearing to the people who sound just

like you. Ask for things to be repeated and explained. Be thankful that the

people who couldn't pass the tests didn't, and the underpaid people who

are working the schools now still are.

If you don't pay { teachers | nurses | programmers } more money, don't

expect to get ones that are better than the folks you have now.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: Dylan

In reference to Ziffle's comments:

The idea that abolition of public schooling will produce a better-educated populace is crap. I'm sorry you don't like paying taxes, I'm not a big fan either. But most folks can't afford private school for their kids. And if you think that a low income equals a bad parent, I have nothing to say to you.

I think the whole "let's get rid of public schooling" thing is incredibly naive, and worse yet I think it's callous to children who might otherwise get no education at all. Yes, our public schools are in a disgraceful state. But denying education to at least 20% of the U.S. population isn't going to solve any problems. Vouchers cost money too. Tax money. So don't get off on that whole rant. If we all had to pay taxes to pay for all those vouchers, I daresay our taxes would rise, not fall.

Of all the things I'm willing to be taxed for, education (yes, of everyone's children) is definitely one of them. It's an investment. I'm willing to throw down some cash to ensure that I don't live in a nation of morons, or worse yet, a stratified society where a child never has a chance to be educated unless they're wealthy. I'd personally love to see the military budget cut way way down and the money used to pay enough money that good teachers would work in public schools. How much education bang-for-the-buck could we have gotten with...say...the $100 million the Bush administration paid for a single ABM test (which by the way, failed)? That's a lot of salaries. Decent salaries that would attract bright, qualified people to teach the kids who need help most desperately.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: ziffle

Regarding the Chinese: I spent a lot of time in China last year, and around Chinese natives since then. Generally they are very careful about their spelling, and have a strong desire to speak and write correctly. The real issue is do I want my children taught by people who do not know how to spell? No. They don't either.

As to public schools: Put your guns away, please. If you like the public schools then buy yourself one, but don't blithly assume you are authorized to force us all to fund their nonsense. This is the fallacy of an unlimited democracy. Thankfully we have a representative republic. Unfortunately we are slowly losing it to those fools who think they have a better idea. Maybe a nice vacation in a Marxist dictatorship like P.R. China would disabuse them of these foolish 'workers paradise' notions like collectivist 'public' schools teaching the benefits of an all encompassing, all controlling government.

We must learn to ask, not tell each other what we want. If you want public schools, ask me for my money - I might contribute - if I value what it is teaching. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: crasch

In reference to Dylan's comments:

"...But denying education to at least 20% of the U.S. population isn't going to solve any problems..."

But the public school system is already failing to educate at least 20% of the population. According to the The National Adult Literacy Survey (ALS) published by the Department of Education in 1993, between 21 - 23% (40 - 44 million adults) were at Level I, the lowest of five levels on the literacy scale. (See http://www.nifl.gov/nifl/faqs.html for more information).

Adults at this level "cannot usually perform" such functions as these:

  1. Locating eligibility from a table of employee benefits.
  2. Finding an intersection on a street map.
  3. Identifying and entering background information on a Social Security card application.
  4. Calculating total costs of purchase from an order form.

Folks at Level I literacy, though, "can usually perform" such functions as these:

  1. Sign one's name.
  2. Identify a country in a short article.
  3. Locate the expiration date on a driver's license.
  4. Total a bank deposit entry.

Another 25-28% (45 - 50 million people) scored in Level 2. According to the National Institute for Literacy "...Literacy experts believe that adults with skills at Levels 1 and 2 lack a sufficient foundation of basic skills to function successfully in our society..."

Adults in this survey were defined to be individuals 16 years or older. If you limit the population to those individuals still in high school, 16.7 percent are at Level I and 35.3 percent are at Level II. Among those with a high school education but no extra formal training, 18 percent are at Level I and 35.6 percent at Level II. See http://www2.southwind.net/~educate/bob237.html.

How does the U.S. compare internationally? The 1997 International Adult Literacy Survey, compared the literacy skills of adults in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. I'm happy to report that the U.S. is more literate than Poland.

Despite the U.S.'s dismal performance, according to 1998 OECD figures, the U.S. spends $6,812 on secondary education, the third highest amount, after Austria and Switzerland.

You compared tax-subsidized schools to an investment. Given the dismal returns that U.S. taxpayers are getting on their "investment" in public schools, wouldn't it make sense for them to be able to shift their funds to institutions that give better results? Especially poor parents? After all, wealthy parents can afford to move to wealthier school districts, or "double-pay" for an education outside of the state monopoly. Why should poor parents be forced to keep pouring money into such a dog of an investment?

(For what it's worth, although I think vouchers would be an improvement (at least it would break the monopoly), completely ending state-subsidies for schools would be even better.)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: Dan Lyke

phoffman: no, not licensing, just incarceration of repeat offenders. Make sending HTML email a felony, 3 strikes and it's life. You know, just simple solutions to the big problems. Because children still have a future, they have a potential. Get to adult-hood while thinking it's okay to waste my time with crap email and yer goin' down, pal.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:12+00 by: ebradway

> The same thing you would say to a kid who's failing the class of a teacher
> with a strong accent but who is using perfectly good grammar and
> spelling: try harder.

It is entirely becuase I am able to communicate effectively with intelligent people who don't have a strong comamnd of the English language that the .COM I've been working for over the past year still has a future. I'm not at liberty to expound too much, but one of our bigger clients has worked with a number of our competitors and none of them were able to work with their staff of advanced degree-holding Taiwanese and Indian analysts.

And yes, they appreciated it when I help them with their English, especially the Taiwanese analysts. The Indian analysts, from what I have seen, have impeccable written English but tend to have very thick accents. The Taiwanese analysts frequently misspelled words (actually spelling them correctly using the phoenetics of their speech - which was incorrect) and tended to drop articles. I think it's actually valuable to have teachers with poor English skills, assuming they understand their field well. After all, the US is the only first-world nation that doesn't require foreign language fluency.

The reason I insisted that my daughter attend public school despite my ex-wife's protests was that I wanted her to learn to interact with a more realistic cross-section of society than that provided by a $15K/year private school. And when my ex-wife complained about the poor organizational skills of my daughter's first grade teacher, I told her that it is goood for our daughter to learn to function in an environment that isn't 100% controlled. Someday she may have a boss who is just as disorganized.

Ziffle: Unfortunately we are slowly losing it to those fools who think they have a better idea. Maybe a nice vacation in a Marxist dictatorship like P.R. China would disabuse them of these foolish notions that our government is attempting to be all-encompassing and all-controlling.

It works both ways. Yes, I agree that an all-encompassing, all-controlling government is a bad thing, as is a laisez-faire society. I would be thrilled if enough people in the US were to take individual responsiblity seriously. Unfortuantely their lack of responsibility tends to result in children - who, if they aren't taught how to act responsibly, are going to follow in their parents footsteps. And you'd be surprised just how squallid living conditions can be and still sustain human life - enough human life that given a mob insurgency can inflict their lack of responsibility on everyone else.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:13+00 by: Dylan

Ok, to clarify:

I did not mean 20% of the populace getting a low quality education...I realize that is already the case. What I am talking about is 20% of the population getting NO education.

You say that the poor should welcome more than anyone the chance to invest their money elsewhere. The poor don't have money to invest anywhere, that's why we call them poor. Vouchers still cost tax money, and private school tuition costs more per student than public education. This is the thing that keeps me from calling myself a true libertarian. I think it's disgusting to suggest that the poor should just "solve their own problems" by paying more money that they don't have. These people (my own mother when I was younger is a good example) can't pay for clothing and sometimes food for their children. "Reinvestment" through a tax break or whatever else isn't an option. They don't pay enough taxes for a tax cut to be of any serious benefit, so let's not get started on that. Especially let's not talk about flat taxes, which amount to a tax hike for the poor.

Show me a proposal that is equitable to all Americans regardless of social or economic class and I'll buy in. Until then, I call it the usual lamentable bashing of the less-fortunate that most libertarian-minded people are all too willing to take part in.

To me, a part of the freedom I hold so dear is the freedom to know that my children (no, I don't have any, but I most likely will someday) have just as much chance to succeed as everyone else's. I don't believe that a child should be punished for the failings of its parents, whether those failings are moral, economical, or intellectual.

One other thing, crasch...you seem to be trying to say you give a rat's ass about the quality of education for all children. I'm afraid I don't buy it. You end state-subsidized education in all its forms and what you will have is NO education for those who can't afford pricey public schools. And don't give me the line about "if all schools were private, competition would ensure low prices"...that's a load of crap. I can think of a whoooooole lot of markets (oh, say...the energy market) where opening the market to additional competition has driven consumer prices through the roof. The good thing about capitalism is that it encourages competition. The bad thing about capitalism is that the players make the rules of the game as they go along, and if all the players decide to screw the consumer, then screwed is just what the consumer will be.

I realize I'm preaching to those already converted to the other side. But I don't much care. Personal responsibility is very important. But I'd like to hear from some single moms, maybe those who were raped, left by husbands while pregnant, or any of the other things that make women choose between their children and financial security. I think the "personally responsible" thing in that case is to raise your kids the best you can and do your best to get money.

As for the comparison with European school systems: Yes, they are more literate. Yes, a good number of those nations have a privatized school system. But what they also have is a MASSIVE socialization of other government functions, along with MASSIVE expenditures on scholarships to allow poorer children to attend school. This is why European countries have at least 20-30% higher income tax rates per capita as well. And if you don't like paying for schools now, boy I bet you really won't like it when you have to pay twice or three times as much towards them. What I'm really saying is that European schools and American schools are apples and oranges. The entire system and philosophy of government are vastly different from our own. Even in those countries with the most private-type school systems the taxpayer pays for most of it. I suppose that's the only similarity.

I guess what really sticks in my craw is the idea that a private school that costs $15000/year is affordable for people at the bottom of the economic ladder even if they're given a $10k voucher. What if you have more than one child? What if you have 10? Yes, of course the parents shouldn't have had 10 children...but can the children be blamed for their parents' promiscuity?

I guess I'm just pretty damn sick of the idea that in order to have personal responsibility in a society, we have to lose our morals. Even if their parents are deadbeats, are children responsible for that? Can you seriously believe that if the parents don't make enough money or aren't good parents or shouldn't have gotten pregnant, that's the child's responsibility?

I have to say it smacks of "I've got mine, fuck everyone else". And that to me isn't freedom of choice. That's just selfishness.

I don't think our public schools are healthy. I also don't think that abandoning innocents to the tender mercies of the free market is any way to improve the situation. Maybe we should just legalize selling babies so those nasty poor people won't keep them. Or have mandatory sterilization of the poor. Or mandatory abortion. God forbid a poor person with a good heart should have a child, and that child should have an education. That would be a tragedy, wouldn't it?

Yours Truly, One Such Tragedy.

P.S. I absolutely cannot believe I'm writing this sort of "won't somebody please think of the children" post...but somebody had to.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:13+00 by: dexev

Dylan said: Maybe we should just legalize selling babies so those nasty poor people won't keep them.

We already do this, but we call it "adoption". We take children from usually poor, young mothers, and we give them to older, rich couples. The rich couples involved give (tens of) thousands of dollars to agencies. The moms are often threatened by the same agencies with huge medical bills and the loss of their baby to CPS if they try to back out on the deal. I don't see how selling babies outright is any worse.

Ziffle said: The real issue is do I want my children taught by people who do not know how to spell?

If they're not teaching spelling, why not? The ability to use correct English spelling and grammar isn't correlated to much else -- especially when your first language is Chinese!

Dylan also said: I can think of a whoooooole lot of markets (oh, say...the energy market) where opening the market to additional competition has driven consumer prices through the roof.

First, the energy market was never opened to additional competition. At least, not in the sense of more producers entering the market. The existing producers had their price controls removed, that's it. The comparison would be if public schools were suddenly able to charge whatever they wanted, but their (near) monopoly was still guaranteed. Because of the time and capital needed to build new power plants, this is effectively what happened.

Second, energy and education are apples and oranges -- a megawatt is a megawatt, but a BA from Harvard is not a BA from Slippery Rock.

Third, you need more than one (poor) example to constitute a whoooooole lot. Got any more?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:13+00 by: Pete

I'd appreciate documentation for the assertion that private education of at least the quality level of the local public education is always more expensive per pupil.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:13+00 by: Dan Lyke

dexev: Maybe part of this is our respective philosophies of education. The system I went through 7th grade in has the same teacher follow the class through 8th grade. Even beyond that it was assumed that teachers had large cross-discipline knowledge so that students understand that the topics covered aren't isolated subjects but endeavours that cross into other areas (see the second lesson of John Gatto's The Six Lesson Schoolteacher). Assuming that you'd have a teacher specialize in "spelling" is like assuming you could get through life specializing in "spelling". Spelling and grammar are a tools to be applied, not ends in themselves.

Pete: Me too! I've seen plenty of documentation of counter-examples.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:13+00 by: Dylan

Other examples of deregulation resulting in either higher prices or shoddier product:

Airlines (shoddier product) Local telephone service (both) Long-distance service (both in varying quantities depending on the company) Medicine (not precisely deregulation as much as the swallowing of the medical profession by a few megacorporations who care a hell of a lot more about the bottom line than serving their customers...both price and quality of service have suffered)

The medical industry (shame to call it that) is really the best example I think. I seriously believe that if we abolished public schooling, schools would be run by three or four (ten if I feel optimistic)large corporations within a matter of years. Anyone who's worked for a large corporation or even a mid-size one knows that there are *many many* compromises in quality of service made to keep overhead in line. Try telling your VP that "the customers deserve better than this" sometime and wait for the laughter to die.

That to me is the nightmare scenario. I don't understand how people so concerned with individual rights can be so pro-corporate. I'm pro-business. But I'm against turning over basic human rights such as education to people whose bottom line concern is turning a profit. You don't turn a profit by having the absolute best product, the absolute best service, and the absolute best price. You cut corners. You compromise. And to me, this isn't a place where we should compromise. I still have not seen one statement that convinces me in any way that a free market education system will benefit children whose parents don't have money to spend beyond what they pay for food and basic necessities.

Show me one. I'm waiting. While you're at it, explain how private schools for all won't destroy what little is left of the "melting pot effect"...let's face it, if we all go to private schools, the poor will go to poor schools with poor teachers (like now) the rich will go to rich schools with talented, well-paid teachers (like now), and worse yet I think we'd see an awful lot of religious and racial separation in schools. Catholics in Catholic school, Mexican-Americans going to spanish-language-only schools in some cases, and I don't think I need to tell anyone here that there would be *very* little mixing of races in the southern states. The kids may not be bigots (as much) these days...but I can assure you that a lot of their parents are...and given the opportunity to resegregate the schools, an awful lot of southern whites would jump at the chance. Can you seriously think that can be a good thing? To encourage MORE racism than we already have? MORE religious bigotry?

I notice you picked the easiest of the three by the way when picking on the adoption question. But the fact remains that direct sales of children are illegal, and that adoption agencies who bully poor mothers are breaking the law, though of course they very rarely get called on it.

Bottom line, money does not equal good parenting. Yes, it equals being able to provide for your child's material needs. There are a lot of wealthy people who are completely unfit to be parents.

And by the way Pete, I don't really think it matters if it is more or less expensive per pupil, at least as far as this argument goes. Per pupil is, in this case, a crap measurement. Because it is an average. And my whole objection to this idea is that a large segment of the population simply wouldn't be able to send their children to school if there were no state subsidies. That has nothing to do with averages and everything to do with individual cases. As for vouchering: If vouchers will pay for EVERY SINGLE child to get the SAME quality of education, if little Johnny from Oaktown gets to go to prestigious schools with his voucher, I'm all for it. But let's be honest here. Vouchers for private schools are the same thing as public schools in the long run...and here's why: Everyone gets a voucher for school. All the children enroll in the various schools of their choice. Those schools are getting funded with tax money at this point. A few years pass. These schools are, by now, experiencing some of the problems that afflict public schools: Huge class sizes (all those public school kids are there now), overworked and underpaid teachers (after all, the revenue comes from vouchers, and government contractors in a voucher program can't just go raising their prices willy-nilly...and if they do we all get a tax hike), school violence as class size and individual attention deteriorate. To me vouchers are just a way of infecting private schools with the problems of public schools.

It amazes me that people think that the advantages of private schools could possibly persist if they had the entire public-school pool dumped on them. Like any other business, they would have to cut corners to make do on voucher tuition. Like any other business, they would raise prices whenever it was possible and legal, in this case the American taxpayer foots the bill. Public schooling in and of itself isn't the problem. I went to public school and I daresay I'm pretty well-educated. I know an awful lot of others (in fact, nearly all the geeks and writers I know were public-school kids) who did just fine. The problem isn't public schooling itself. The problem is a set of national priorities that sets missile programs higher than education. Bottom line, in government as in everything else, you get what you pay for. And the American mania for money and hatred of taxation are finally paying off in our schools, and we are Oh! so shocked. I think it's hilarious, really. So what do we do? Rather than say, "oh, geez, we should really pay those teachers something", we say "oh geez, government can't be trusted to administer education". Of course it can't when it is sent to Washington again and again with a single mandate: Do more with less money. Cut budgets, but somehow do a better job. Ignore inflation, we want a tax cut.

I don't like paying taxes but I, unlike many people I know, realize just how little I pay every year compared to my peers in other (often better-educated) nations because I am an American. I think that's pretty nifty. I also think that when tax rates were at their highest in this country was when we got something from our government. If we're going to *have* a government, they ought to be doing something for us. And that requires money. I'm all for abolition of government if you want the truth. But let's not pretend that that is going to make life better for a large segment of the population. I'm certainly not naive enough to think that anarchy is anything more than an extended game of king-of-the-hill. Or that if nobody paid taxes, somebody would fix the sewers and the roads out of the goodness of their hearts.

But I digress. I'm still waiting to hear ONE person explain to me how a poor family with four children educates said children in a system without public subsidies for schooling. And while you're at it, let me know how it is that vouchering won't deteriorate into just what we have now given time. Vouchering is a band-aid, IMO. Band-aids don't cure gangrene. Ending state subsidies entirely (unless somebody can refute this, and I've seen nobody even suggest that they can) just creates a new American aristocracy...the educated and wealthy lording it over the poor and uneducated. Whee. Colonial America here we come.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:13+00 by: Dan Lyke

Dylan, I think that a reasonable accounting of the true costs of private education might give us an appreciation for how paying the costs more directly, ala vouchers, might let poor parents who are still interested in following through with their responsibilities give their kids an education which will allow their children to transcend their roots, while reserving the public schools for warehousing those who aren't going to take an active part in their child's education.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:14+00 by: Pete

The goal of vouchers is to give the the child and his/her gaurdian the freedom to seek out the best educational opportunity in their area. If the public school is failing it's students, then the kids are empowered to move to another school without losing the subsidy that would have been squandered in the operation of the failing public school. More freedom for the students to pursue a quality education and more accountability for public schools. As far as fearing a reduction in common experiences, that's a valid concern, but not if the common experience is a crappy education. One's education is too high a price to pay for common experiences.

Then again, as Mark Twain is supposed to have said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education."

#Comment made: 2001-07-16 20:23:30+00 by: crasch [edit history]


First, let me emphasize that I agree with your goal -- that every child should receive a high quality education. Where I think we disagree is in our answer to the question: do state run monopolies help us achieve that goal better than a system of voluntarily funded schools?

You write:

"...private school tuition costs more per student than public education....I guess what really sticks in my craw is the idea that a private school that costs $15000/year is affordable for people at the bottom of the economic ladder even if they're given a $10k voucher..."

According to figures by the AFT (American Federation of Teachers, not exactly a hotbed of private school support), in 1996, private K-12 schools cost $4,547/year vs. $5,961/year for public schools.

Private schools cost less even though they have a lower student/teacher ratio (15 vs 17), which according to the AFT, is one of the principal determinants of school quality.

You write:

"...But what they [European states] also have is a MASSIVE socialization of other government functions, along with MASSIVE expenditures on scholarships to allow poorer children to attend school..."

Most schools in Europe, as in the U.S., are state-run. I was simply pointing out that even though the U.S. was already paying more per pupil, on average, than all but two European states[Wiki]. In other words, we are already paying[Wiki] more than European socialist states--and getting dismal results for our money.

It particularly seems to bother you that some children might not get an education in a market system. You assert that 20% in a free market system would get no[Wiki] schooling. Yet, as I pointed out above, despite the enormous amounts of money spent on state-run schools, 16 - 18% gradate without the ability to read a map, fill out a Social Security card form, or calculate the total costs of purchase. Given the already existing dismal results, it seems that we would have little to lose by giving parents greater choice about which schools to fund, even if your assertion is correct.

However, the historical evidence doesn't support your assertion that more children would go uneducated in a voluntarily supported system. Literacy rates rose throughout the 1800's, during a time when almost all education was voluntarily funded. By the 1870's and 1880's when state-run schools were first implemented, literacy rates comparable to modern rates had already been achieved. (This during a time when books were more more expensive, and a large fraction of the economy involved agriculture, which did not require a highly literate workforce.)

According to Himmelfarb (The De-Moralization of Society, pp. 6-7) charity schools and Sunday schools, primarily intended to provide religious instruction,

"....had the incidental effect of teaching children to read, so that long before the institution of free public education in 1870, there was a remarkably high degree of literacy among the poor....."

Also, according to Andrew Coulson,

"...Literacy grew rapidly among both men and women during the nineteenth century, with only one in ten people identifying themselves as illiterate on the U.S. census of 1850 (Kaestle, 1991). Allowing for the possibility that some people who could neither read nor write did not admit to their illiteracy, it is plausible to say that between three quarters and four fifths of the population was already literate before public schooling had gotten off the ground..."

As for racial integration, private schools are actually more racially integrated than public schools, as judged by where students sit by race at school lunches. See A STUDY OF RACIAL INTEGRATION IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOL LUNCHROOMS by Jay P. Greene and Nicole Mellow for details. Here's their summary of the reasons why the private schools are more racially integrated:

"...Our analyses suggest that private schools tend to offer a more racially integrated environment than do public schools. The primary explanation for private schools' success at integration is that private school attendance is not as closely attached to where one lives as attendance at public schools. Public schools tend to replicate and reinforce racial segregation in housing. Because private schools do not require that their students live in particular neighborhoods, they can more easily overcome segregation in housing to provide integration in school. The strong religious mission and higher social class found in most private schools are also factors that contribute to better racial integration...."

Some miscellaneous points:

Both airlines and long distance telephone service have become less expensive in inflation adjusted terms. For example, I think even before adjusting for inflation, $100 plane tickets from L.A. to San Francisco, and 10 cents a minute long distance are lower than prices for these same goods before deregulation.

I will concede that service on airlines may have dropped in absolute terms, but even so, I think that the price/unit of value has increased. Part of the problem stems from the antiquated air traffic control system, which is under the control of a governmental agency, the FAA. Even though the number of passenger's has increased manifold, the number of airplanes that can fly is limited by a system implemented in the 1960's. Hence, more passenger's per airplane == decreased service.

As for medicine, it is a highly regulated industry. Doctor's have successfully established a legal monopoly on the right to prescribe drugs, and treat patients. Also, as a result of FDA regulations, it now takes 10 years, and 500 million to bring the average drug to market. As a result, both new practioners and new companies (who might drive down costs) must overcome a very high barrier to entry. Large corporations (which you detest) tend to be the only one's who can afford to compete under these conditions.

Finally, I want to point out that small, but vocal minorities, such as religious fundamentalists, can block public schools from teaching subjects they don't like--like the parent training skills programs we've discussed, for example. Schools become embroiled in ongoing legal battles over curriculum: evolution, sex education, American history. As a result, only the most stultifying pablum makes it into the current curriculum. In addition, innovative education methodologies (night classes, extended study of a single subject, apprenticeships) are blocked by teachers unions who fear a loss of their authority and power. If parents could choose where to spend their school dollars, these conflicts could be avoided.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:14+00 by: sethg

My biggest fear regarding voucher-based school systems is that the schools that take vouchers will "cherry-pick", taking in only the students that are cheap to educate (well-behaved, in the middle of the bell curve, with parents who are likely to donate money or time to the school). The rest will either be stuck in the public schools or find that very few schools want to take their vouchers.

Note how when HMOs first came out, they marketed heavily to younger workers who were less likely to have serious diseases, they drove hard bargains with doctors and hospitals, they had low premiums, and everyone was happy. In areas where HMOs have pretty much driven other insurance companies out of the market, HMO members are a cross-section of the population, health-care providers are raising the rates they charge HMOs, premiums are up, and there's more concern about the quality of care that HMOs are willing to authorize.

Of course, I can imagine situations where a specific voucher program would be the best (or at least, the most practical) solution to the failure of a specific public-school district. But the devil is in the details.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:14+00 by: Pete

There are easy opportunities to place conditions upon vouchers at the policy level, i.e. only schools that comply with the ADA and accomodate the handicapped are eligible for vouchers, etc. Vouchers can be made to serve as a wonderful carrot for private schools at the same time that public schools see the loss of those students and their subsidy as a stick.

#Comment made: 2001-07-17 04:06:20+00 by: dexev [edit history]

Dan: point taken. I was originally trying to point out that the information in the article was insufficient to support the conclusions the author was leading to. The spelling samples in the article may or may not reflect on the quality of the guy's teaching -- we don't know. But now, as a result of the Post article, his job is jeopardy.

Dylan: All of your four examples (five, if you include energy) have one thing in common: HUGE financial barriers to entry. You need a LOT of money to start and operate an airline, a hospital, a telecom company, or a power plant. That fact alone tilts the playing field toward larger organizations. Education doesn't fit this pattern. Individual schools are limited in size by the number of families living nearby. Schools could combine in a McDonaldsesque fashion, but that would only get them more overhead and higher costs. Besides, where does this happen among private schools and universities? I have *never* heard of a chain of private schools. If anything, large metropolitan school districts are likely to *lose* administrative overhead (to save money) and splinter into smaller groups.

In addition, none of these industries is unregulated. That is, there are specific laws that apply *only* to people in these industries, and not to the general population.

Let's look at individual examples. Local telecom is still a regulated monopoly in most of the country. Check out this ten-year comparison of long-distance rates. Here's a twenty-year review of gasoline prices and DoE's thirty-year review of electricity prices. Airlines are cheaper and safer although quality is declining.

I'll offer a theory about why airline quality sucks. Perhaps travelers shop primarily for price -- the profusion of air travel websites would seem to support that. If so, airlines have no incentive to spend money on improving quality -- as soon as they do, their customers are going to abandon them for cheaper alternatives. In econo-speak, the demand curve is shallow.

In medicine, the consumer is generally not the one paying for the service. Their *employer* generally pays an *HMO* who pays the *provider* -- that's three steps of disconnect there, and at least two groups (employer, HMO) that are trying to minimize their costs. Our government encourages both employees and employers (through the tax code) to do it this way.

But we're talking about education. First of all, there's some evidence that small schools provide a superior education to large ones. One of the inevitable consequences of school deregulation would be more schools -- and, as a result, smaller ones. Of course, that doesn't automatically mean a better education. So let's assume that parents are willing to spend a little more (in time or money) for a better education for their children. (If that's not true then I suggest it doesn't matter what we do, cause the kids are doomed anyway.) In econo-speak, the demand curve is steep. There's now pressure on the schools to provide a better product, or face bankruptcy. The *average* quality of education will increase in response to competition.

Finally, we get to iniquity -- which is, I believe, what you're worried about. (I know, on average -- I'm getting there). Private school tuition runs between $9.4K ($2.5K for church-affiliated) and $20K/student for high school in Connecticut (the only state where I could find data). Public school spending in Connecticut averages $8.5K/student -- only slightly less than the lower end of the private school range. Certainly, there are some districts that are spending *more* per student than some private schools. Right now we have a continuum of spending, private schools clustering near the top end, public schools near the bottom.

There's no sense in preventing rich people sending their children to expensive, exclusive schools -- trying to do that is being willfully ignorant of reality. What you *can* do is provide every family who wants one with a decent educational opportunity. That's where vouchers help. Take a case where the existing public school is low-acheiving or violent. A student who *wants* to learn has to work hard just to get to where many others start. With a second (or third, fourth, ...) school in the area, student who wanted to learn wouldn't *have* to go to Cell Block D Junior High -- and their family wouldn't have to pay any extra for it. There would be plenty of schools charging at -- or *below* -- voucher cost to make this reality

Vouchers for public schools does *not* mean that private schools become just like public schools. For one thing, there would be *more* schools -- and less overcrowding. There would be more specialization -- some kids could go to "arts" schools, some to "science" schools, some to "thug" schools. Every kid would get more of the experience that they want and need.

And yes, this does mean less "melting pot", but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I don't believe that forcing groups of people to get along is effective. I think it's more likely to be counter-productive, actually. That's a very different debate, though, and this thread is getting long enough already.

Penultimately, a few miscellaneous bits. If you're "all for the abolition of government", then stop trying to make it larger and start considering ways it can be made smaller. It is impossible to provide any service without compromising in some way. If you're so concerned about voucher-fed private skimping on education, we can say that only individuals and non-profit organizations can accept voucher dollars -- I can live with that. I'm not sure what you mean by "the easiest of the three" with the adoption question -- can you explain?

Vouchers say that parents know better than the government what is best for their children. They allow families to explore non-standard educational options. They turn a government-regulated monopoly into a free market (with some wealth redistribution). They'll hopefully lead toward a smaller role of schools as we know them in kids lives.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:15+00 by: sethg

Pete: Providing for special-needs students in a school is a little more complicated than providing ramps and elevators. Suppose you have a student who is severely hard-of-hearing. It's not enough to provide the kid with a hearing aid and a seat at the front of the classroom. For starters, a person listening through a hearing aid has a harder time filtering out echoes than someone with normal hearing, so the kid's classroom has to have floors and walls that don't echo as much as linoleum and brick. The school may also have to install an FM-loop system (a microphone for the teacher with a receiver in the student's hearing aid). And the student may need speech therapy. And if the student can lip-read well enough to socialize, but not well enough to follow an academic lecture, the school will have to hire two sign-language interpreters (to prevent RSI, interpreters generally work in pairs and trade off every fifteen minutes).

Federal law requires public schools to provide disabled children a "free, appropriate, and public education in the least restrictive environment". It would be more efficient, economically, for a state to send every one of its deaf and hard-of-hearing students to a specialized school, and concentrate all the necessary resources in that school. However, unless such a school is the most appropriate choice for the student[Wiki], the school district is obliged to do the inefficient thing and make arrangements for the student to be educated alongside his or her hearing neighbors.

This legal requirement is sometimes abused, but I would rather correct the abuses than abandon the goal entirely.

Now, maybe it's possible to set up a voucher system that provides the same protection for disabled students as the current public-school system. (For example, you could require all schools that take vouchers to buy insurance that would cover the extra cost of any disabled students that enroll, and schools that have more assistive technology in place could get discounts on their premiums.) However, once you've taken those measures, will private schools still want to participate in the system? Will their costs still be lower than the costs of public schools?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:15+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger


My biggest fear regarding voucher-based school systems is that the schools that take vouchers will "cherry-pick", taking in only the students that are cheap to educate [...]

As I recall, the Catholic Parocial schools in NYC outperformed the public schools and the accusation was made that they could do this because they didn't have to take the difficult-to-educate.

The Church decided to prove them wrong and took on some difficult-to-educate students. They still did better than the public schools.


As for racial integration, private schools are actually more racially integrated than public schools, as judged by where students sit by race at school lunches.

Having not read the entire report, I think it is strange that this is an acceptable criteria for judging racial integration, especially given that races are not evenly distributed accross classes.

Finally, I think it is amusing that crasch uses the church-backed private schools of the 19th century to aim for the abolition of the (state-backed) public school system. I wonder what others here think of this? Are they willing to allow religion (mostly Christian, but surely other Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, etc. schools) to take over the process of educating our future generations. I have no qualms with it, but flutterby seems to have an anti-religious (or at least anti-christian) tone, so it seems strange that people here would want future generations to be more strongly influenced and, probably, more religious than the current one.

#Comment made: 2001-07-17 15:31:15+00 by: crasch [edit history]

I would guess that "special needs" students would receive higher voucher amounts than other students. As long as the amount is high enough, then some schools would take them.

I would note that money spent inefficiently by building accomodations for special needs students in every school (instead of a school specifically designed for special needs students), means less money available to spend on art programs, teacher salaries, playground equipment, etc. that would benefit a much wider range of children.

Special needs students probably lose as well, since dollars are spread out over a wide range of schools, instead of concentrated in one location, thereby preventing enough capital concentration to buy rare, customized goods/services.

#Comment made: 2001-07-17 16:05:22+00 by: crasch [edit history]


"Having not read the entire report, I think it is strange that this is an acceptable criteria for judging racial integration, especially given that races are not evenly distributed accross classes."

According to another report cited in the same paper, private schools, on average, have an ethnic mix closer to that of the population as whole than state-controlled schools. However that a school is racially integrated "by the numbers" doesn't tell you whether or not white and black students actually interact with each other (which is presumably one of the principal goals of racial integration). For example, even in college, much of the time the black students sat with black students, white students sat with white students.

"Finally, I think it is amusing that crasch uses the church-backed private schools of the 19th century to aim for the abolition of the (state-backed) public school system."

I used that time period because it was before state-controlled schools became prevalent, and most education was voluntarily funded. As it happens, churches were the primary source of education at the time. However, if schools were privatized today, although I expect religious schools would see some increase in enrollment, I think most students would go to secular schools.

(In any case, the nice thing about voluntarily funded schools is that you don't have to pay for a school that teaches something you think is wrong, whether it be evolution or the transubstantiation of wine and wafers).

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:15+00 by: ziffle

I agree with Crasch as usual - you write wonderfully.

But the issue is not[Wiki] whether one socially engineered system is better than another - it is a moral[Wiki] issue - we must be free to choose and asked[Wiki] what we want - not told what we will do - that is the essence of a free society. Of course a free society may not be the primary objective for some of us.

Pragmatism is the negation of ethics. First we find the ethical solution then we implement it, not the reverse.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:16+00 by: Pete

I would guess that "special needs" students would receive higher voucher amounts than other students.

That is an excellent idea.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:16+00 by: Larry Burton

Mark said: >> Finally, I think it is amusing that crasch uses the church-backed private schools of the 19th century to aim for the abolition of the (state-backed) public school system. I wonder what others here think of this? Are they willing to allow religion (mostly Christian, but surely other Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, etc. schools) to take over the process of educating our future generations. I have no qualms with it, but flutterby seems to have an anti-religious (or at least anti-christian) tone, so it seems strange that people here would want future generations to be more strongly influenced and, probably, more religious than the current one.

Actually, I'm all for folks educating their children in their own faith. What bothers me is another faith attempting to educate my children in a belief system that I can't believe in. Personally, I'm a Methodist that was raised Baptist and I wouldn't want to send my children to a Baptist school but I would be fine with sending them to a Methodist school or even a Catholic school. I don't think its so much people here at Flutterby being anti-Christian but rather anti-pushy or anti-proselytizing. I feel comfortable here and Dan thinks I'm a fundamentalist. ;-)

#Comment made: 2001-07-18 07:58:32+00 by: crasch [edit history]



I agree that how we fund our schools is also an ethical issue, and that a completely voluntarily funded school system would also be the most ethical system. However, the odds of changing someone's belief about a moral issue they feel strongly about are quite low, at least according to Jon Haidt's review, The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. According to Haidt, "...if both parties begin with strongly felt opposing intuitions (as in a debate over abortion), then reasoned persuasion is likely to have little effect, except that the post-hoc reasoning triggered in the other person could lead to even greater disagreement, a process labeled "attitude polarization" by Lord, Ross, and Lepper (1979)...."

Haidt's results hold true in my experience--I've found it much easier to persuade others that a free-market approach would better meet pre-existing values that I support (such as the desirability of better educating more children) than to argue against beliefs they hold that I believe to be immoral (such as using taxes to pay for schooling).

I also think that social systems don't generally fall into binary good/evil categories. Rather, I think that they fall along a continuum between good and evil, along a number of dimensions. So I think completely voluntarily supported schools are better than voucher-supported schools, which are better than state-run schools. As a result, I support measures that may not be optimal but are closer to the good end of the spectrum (such as vouchers), while also pushing for the most optimal solutions (completely voluntarily supported schools). For a discussion of some of the problems with vouchers from a libertarian perspective, see Vouchers and Educational Freedom: A Debate by Joseph L. Bast, David Harmer, Douglas Dewey.