There’s an awful Meatloaf song where he declares that he would do anything for love… but he won’t do that. It’s isn’t entirely clear what Mr. Loaf (as the New York Times calls him) won’t do for love. But it is clear that there is something he will not do even though he has just declared that he would do anything.
This incoherent, cheesy awfulness reminds me of the argument that we should support charters but oppose vouchers. I’m sure that’s what you were thinking as well. It’s like they would do anything for choice… but they won’t do that.
If one supports the view that expanding choice and competition help students who choose and either helps or does no harm to traditional public schools, why limit that support to charter schools? I know people say that at least charters are still public schools, but why exactly does that matter? There is no magic pixie dust in the word “public” that makes things good or serve the public interest. If we add the word “public” to vouchers so that we now call them “public vouchers” does that make them acceptable to pro-charter/anti-voucher folks?
I know that some suggest the important part of charters being “public” is that they can be regulated so as to assure public goals. But whatever regulations are really necessary for public goals can be attached as a condition to vouchers as easily as to charters. If we think teachers need to have certain credentials or students have to take certain tests, that can be (and has been) required of voucher-receiving private schools. It’s not clear what about the publicness of charter schools, or even traditional public schools, make them better suited to serving the public good or being regulated for that purpose.
I suspect that some of the real rationale behind supporting charters but opposing vouchers is an unstated uneasiness with vouchers supporting students in religious schools. But the U.S. Supreme Court has settled this issue as a matter of constitutional law. And if the objection is one of desirable public policy, why is there near universal support for vouchers (Pell Grants) to attend BYU or Baylor but not St. Thomas Aquinas High School?
This leads me to suspect that the real REAL reason for folks supporting charters but opposing vouchers is the political desire to appear moderate regardless of how incoherent and irrational it is. Today President Obama is going to tout his support for charter schools. And he’s going to tout his support for Pell Grants. But he will not support vouchers. Holding all of these positions make no logical sense, but they are thought to have some political appeal.
I guess I understand why politicians take these incoherent positions, but why do people in academia, think tanks, and the blogoshpere do this? Unlike politicians we don’t have to lie or make false distinctions for a living. So I challenge anyone to explain exactly why, other than for the political advantage of triangulation, people should support charters but oppose vouchers.