But I Won’t Do That

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.

My bet is that any argument will resemble the “look at the silly monkey” argument.  It’s even more powerful than the Chewbacca defense because it makes your head explode.

25 Responses to But I Won’t Do That

  1. matthewladner says:

    Meat Loaf…I shudder at the thought. During his completely inexplicable second 15 minutes of fame in the early 1990s, didn’t have a song about objects in the rearview mirror that got how mirrors work wrong?

    Despite having that crappy song in my head now, I agree with your overall point. I have yet to see a convincing case for charters > vouchers.

  2. DWPittelli says:

    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.

    If I recall correctly, the Supreme Court has ruled that religious private schools can’t be discriminated against relative to nonreligious private schools, if there is a voucher system. But this is precisely the reason that opponents of religious schooling have to fear vouchers. Even if they accept the constitutional argument (and not all do), that doesn’t mean they must accept as a matter of policy that we should be funding religious schools.

    I favor vouchers anyway, but I understand my father’s point when he says that, had there been vouchers when he was growing up, every ethnic and religious group would have gone to its own school, and “e pluribus unum” would have been out the door.

    The government can have certain workarounds, like requiring the school to take all comers, but there will still be a large amount of self-selection and indoctrination at schools run by religious groups. (I understand that even now some charter schools are arousing controversy for this.)

  3. […] he know that this weekend in the car, I sang the very Meatloaf song he blogged about today and thought about vouchers to religious schools (and being anti-union, for that matter)? But Greene […]

  4. Patrick says:

    I’m shocked, just shocked, that Matt does not like Meat Loaf. I mean how can you not like Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell?

  5. Stuart Buck says:

    Over on the Fordham Fellows blog, Catherine Cullen objects to Jay’s argument on several grounds. None of them work.

    First, she says that “Greene dismisses the importance of regulation and accountability (beyond the accountability of a market itself).” But Jay specifically said, “whatever regulations are really necessary for public goals can be attached as a condition to vouchers as easily as to charters.” Thus, it doesn’t make sense for people to say that they support charters-but-not-vouchers because of regulation: if that were the issue, then just say that you support vouchers as long as the schools are required to undergo standardized testing (or whatever regulation you think is so crucial to the success of charters).

    Second, she seems to suggest that vouchers don’t help kids with the tuition for a “top” private school. In that case, the remedy is simple: Increase the amount of the voucher. It always seems contradictory to me when liberals want to defund voucher programs on the theory that they don’t provide enough money.

    Finally, Jay made the excellent point that no one can identify any problems that have arisen when Pell Grants are used at religious colleges. Catherine Cullen’s response is this: “I’m having a harder time articulating the religion issue, and I see the argument about higher ed, but with a minor child it feels different in some significant way that’s important to me even if I can’t articulate it as well as Mr. Greene (and Dave) would like.

    I’d suggest that the difficulty in articulating a valid reason here is because there is none: there isn’t any serious argument for supporting Pell Grants for a 17-year-old to attend BYU while opposing vouchers for that same 17-year-old to attend a religious high school. Such a contradictory set of opinions seems to be based on nothing more than politics, i.e., it would be political suicide to oppose Pell Grants, but politicians and political analysts can (for now) get away with opposing vouchers (perhaps vouchers should be introduced as “Pell Grants for younger people”).

  6. Jeff says:

    I agree with Jay’s main point, and I think Cullen (cross-post above) fails to address it. Vouchers and charters are, in theory, regulatorily equivalent. Any regulations which can be given as conditions for a charter school to be open could in the same way be given as conditions for a school to accept vouchers. Transparency and accountability can be required in the same way of each: do A, B, and C, else you lose your (charter/vouchers). Any such desirable regulations could be executed by the State Board, or the Scholarship Fund, or whoever funds each, and any such regulator could be subject to the same laws of a Legislature. With this regulatory equivalence in mind, one would do well to separate it from the fact that, so far, charter schools have faced slightly stricter regulation than schools receiving voucher students. Regarding that fact, I would be glad to hear explanations.
    Among all possible regulations which could be applied to vouchers, there is one which we know is not permissible: they cannot be given only to non-religious schools. (Thanks, Zelman.) Catherine Cullen showed her concern about young children receiving public dollars and using them to attend religious schools. I think this is the deeper dividing issue, and not a red herring. This possibility makes many people uncomfortable, as negatively charged words like “balkanization” and “indoctrination” creep into the imagination.
    Is it right, or good, or legal, for religious schools to have access in any way to the same dollars to which non-religious schools have access? That seems to be the question, and that debate is for another day.

  7. Greg Forster says:

    Darn it, Jay, you made my head explode again.

    Do you have any idea how much that stings?

  8. Ryan says:

    I would guess that the main argument for allowing Pell Grants to higher ed but not supporting them at lower levels is based on how susceptible the student is to some form of “religious brainwashing.” A young kid is a tabula rasa to which any teaching may stick and become dominant, including (and especially worrisome) religion. College kids, on the other hand, are the epitome in most people’s minds of the non-religious lifestyle–excessive drunkenness, occasional drug use, and hyperactive sexuality being expected of college kids at any institution. Because of these different views, I think some people don’t care where the kid goes to college with public money because we can always count on their already being more focused on non-religion. For young students, however, they might be converted to a faith, possibly even against their family’s will, and using public money to allow that chance (far greater here than college) feels wrong. Thus we can quibble on the one level but not the other.

    The response, of course, is that parents make the choice of school to receive the voucher, so they implicitly are fine with taking the chance. If parents don’t want their kids to be converted, they must take a central role explaining to their children why the school’s faith isn’t right and why their personal beliefs are. Oh, and a nice side-effect of taking that time is that it makes the question “so what did you do at school today” so much easier to ask: “so what else did you do at school today?”

    The problem is that some people are more concerned with the institutions involved than the individuals involved. As an economist this is foreign to me–we almost always think of small units rather than large–but for some the primary concern is things like “the public” (note the importance of that word again) vs. religions vs. teachers, etc. For some of those types of thinkers, the fact that kids provide a more fertile ground for conversion means we might be subsidizing religious growth, and that is the most important concern.

    We have charters that divide our kids into groups (Japanese, Latino/Hispanic, Arabic, African-American, etc.). Thank goodness none of them have ever been found to be indoctrinating students into a religion.

  9. Having had two children enrolled in a charter school a few years ago, I’m in a position to raise an issue I haven’t seen broached elsewhere.

    By definition, all charter schools are start-ups, and start-ups are, also by definition, a risky proposition. The charter school my children attended experienced overwhelming political problems that damaged quality and led to our taking our kids out.

    One of my 3 children now attends a Jesuit high school that has existed since the mid-19th century. Administrators and faculty know exactly what they’re doing and they do it extremely well. And of course the Jesuits have provided excellent education in the liberal arts for 450 years.

    We need vouchers.

  10. Well Jay, the liberals are warming up slowly. The legislators can now say “charter” without being apostates to the Democratic party. Let’s thank “Democrats for Education Reform” and proven charter schools like Kipp Academy. So thank you for pushing them along the road to truth.

    Oh, but don’t let our kids near that awful religious indoctrination that teaches them that they are essentially different from cockroaches, that committed marriage is better for children, and there is a God who says, “Don’t murder or steal.” That indoctrination will turn them into religious lunatics and destroy our culture. How do you destroy something that is already destroyed?

  11. Ben says:

    “By definition, all charter schools are start-ups, and start-ups are, also by definition, a risky proposition.”

    SOME charter schools are start-ups and risky propositions, but to suggest that KIPP schools are a risky proposition is ridiculous.

  12. […] Jay Greene finds paradise by the blogboard light with a somewhat slippery post wondering again how anyone could possibly think that charter schools are OK but vouchers are not for anything other than nakedly political reasons.   The answer, I’d argue, isn’t that complicated and lies in the imprecision of words like “vouchers.”  At their core vouchers are just a method for funding schools.   As Jay notes, various requirements can and cannot be attached to that funding and therein lies the debate among people who are open to more intentional choice in public education than exists today and those who never met a choice plan they didn’t like.  That’s a vital debate because it’s about doing choice right and so the insinuations that anyone who is skeptical of some of these proposals and ideas is merely acting politically are hardly helpful.  Here’s a blast from the past considering some of those issues in relation to the D.C. voucher program when it was first enacted. […]

  13. Dave says:

    Surely you could have come up with three points so that one of us could have added: “well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad”

  14. Catherine says:

    While I appreciate the above posters sentiment that the controls that go with charters could go with vouchers, I’m struggling to find a voucher program that requires participating private schools to do the kinds of things I’m thinking about, like adhering to open enrollment,
    serving students for the amount of the voucher or provide financial aid grants to make up the difference, and testing students with the same state test and disaggregation requirements public schools face, even if for comparison/transparency and not accountability.
    If you did craft such a program, I suspect that the highest quality private schools would simply refuse to participate.

  15. Actually, I think the Milwaukee voucher program meets all of the requirements you describe. They have to accept all applicants or admit by lottery if over-subscribed. The voucher has to be accepted as payment in full for tuition. The voucher students have to take the state test or a national, standardized test, whose results are reported in aggregate for accountability purposes.

    You are right that not every private school in Milwaukee participates, but most do including some extremely well-respected private schools.

  16. Catherine says:

    Thanks for clarifying the rules in Milwaukee. Again, the more accountability and transparency, the more comfortable I think you’ll find people like me (I’d say “moderate,” but I’d just be pandering to my desire for political triangulation). But those rules are in sharp contrast to, say, Georgia’s new tax credit system, which appears to have no accountability built in at all. And out in the world when I talk to “voucher advocates,” they tend not to imagine accountability or open enrollment. Which is a main reason that I find myself for charters but not vouchers. It would be a mouthful to go around saying “I’m for charters and okay with vouchers when participating schools have open enrollment, participate in state test-based accountability schemes, and save enough kids from legitimately terrible public schools to overcome my icky feeling about sending kids to religious schools with public funds.” Especially since I recall some not so good stories about felons and crooks opening bad private schools in Milwaukee, and I’d imagine it would be harder to shut them down then it would be to shut down charters (though who knows). I’ll try out that line the next time someone asks me about vouchers at a party and let you know how it goes over.

  17. Your icky feeling about sending kids to religious schools feels like the heart of the explanation.

    If having government funds support the religious instruction that consumers select is objectionable to you, then why not also oppose Pell Grants? That program ought to give you an icky feeling. And colleges are certainly not open enrollment and have almost no accountability.

    Besides, some traditional public schools are also not open enrollment (they have test-based admission) and the amount and type of accountability required in traditional public schools has varied across place and time.

  18. Catherine says:

    Again, I think there’s something different about a minor child attending compulsory education and a college student. I’ll work on nailing down what it is. And you’re right that some public schools have test-based admission, and I’m not opposed to that, but I don’t think many folks are arguing that those schools are a panacea or a solution for all kids. Public school accountability has and does vary, but we also haven’t had uniformly good public schools, and if you’re a believer in NCLB-style accountability I think it’s hard to make exceptions for voucher schools. I’m not just looking for arbitrary ways around vouchers–even Florida’s CTC accountability scheme (which relies on a norm-referenced test, as far as I know, and only requires schools to test voucher kids) goes a long way with me. Even if my positions are flawed, I think it’s unfair to suggest that they’re based on political calculations. But thanks for taking the time to respond.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Catherine, I would add two further points to Jay’s:

      1) Virtually all private schools use standardized tests. The real issue isn’t whether there will be testing, but who decides what gets done with the results. You assert that if I think the government should control what gets done with the test results in government-owned, government-run schools, I can’t argue against having government also decide what gets done with the test results in other schools. That strikes me as a strange assertion. Can’t I believe that the government should be in charge of its own school system but not in charge of other school systems? In fact, the whole point of school choice is so that we can have (wait for it) a choice among school systems that are independently governed. If you’re going to make all schools submit to government control before they can participate in school choice, there’s really no such thing as school choice.

      2) The icky feeling you get about letting other people’s 15 year olds satisfy the compulsory education requirement by attending religious schools chosen by their parents sounds somewhat similar to the icky feeling many parents get about having their own children forced to attend schools chosen by a government bureaucracy – especially when those parents have strongly felt convictions that are at odds with the convictions that guide those schools. I personally don’t think we should make policy based on icky feelings. But if we’re going to, why should your icky feelings trump their icky feelings?

  19. Catherine says:

    I’d also point out that I didn’t chose my strange purple quilt logo, and I don’t like it. So there you go, maybe I can be brought around on choice after all.

  20. Hey Catherine,

    I think you can change your purple symbol by registering with WordPress.

    You can also change your mind about vouchers. Let me ask, does the Day Care Tuition Tax Credit give you an icky feeling? It is a federal voucher program started under the Clinton administration that subsidizes pre-school. Parents can use it at religiously-affiliated pre-schools where there is no governmental academic accountability and no requirement for open enrollment.

    Is there some logical reason that would make it OK to have vouchers for 5 year-olds for preschool and 17 year-olds for college, but not 15 year-olds for high school?

  21. Catherine says:

    I disagree with Mr. Forster that adhering to open enrollment and test-based accountability makes a school the same as traditional government run schools – charters demonstrate that lots of management variability is possible within that framework, and I want that accountability for all publicly funded schools (I know, I know, independent schools get tax breaks, but in this case I mean vouchers).
    I’ll work on the religious question, and I’m sure smarter folks than I could explain it better.
    As for tuition tax credits for religious pre-schools, it does make me a little uncomfortable, but since preschool isn’t required I don’t think it’s an apples to apples comparison. On higher ed, I think it matters that the student is making the choice as an adult, not the parent making a choice for the child. I recognize that that doesn’t work for preschool.
    Just to clarify, Mr. Forster describes “The icky feeling [I] get about letting other people’s 15 year olds satisfy the compulsory education requirement by attending religious schools chosen by their parents,” which isn’t totally accurate, because parents can do that now without requiring tax dollars to pay for it. Even though the inequity there is unfair, I’m not sure that fixing it with vouchers is an appropriate use of public funds. Private philanthropy, knock yourself out, but maybe not public funds (especially those set aside for education).
    Look, it’s a waste of your time to argue with me about this in the comments and I don’t in any way wish to be representative of anyone else’s position, because I’m sure there are much more thoughtful people out there. But I think it’s unfair to categorize everyone who’s pro-charter but uncomfortable with vouchers as having only political motives, and there are some places (accountability and transparency, switchers, etc) where various voucher programs differ, and voucher advocates might get more supporters on board by addressing those distinctions. Accusing me of political motives did not help turn me to vouchers. Discussing the specifics is a better strategy for me, and so it might be for others.

  22. I appreciate your willingness to discuss the issue, Catherine. And I think you are right in saying that the discussion is really about the specific regulations more than the overall categories of charters and vouchers. But I think that was my point originally. It seems to me that pro-charter/anti-voucher folks should be interested in vouchers with certain regulatory schemes. Going around and around on this with you and Andy Rotherham has, I think, made this more clear. Thanks again for being open to exchanging ideas on this.

  23. Stuart Buck says:

    As for tuition tax credits for religious pre-schools, it does make me a little uncomfortable, but since preschool isn’t required I don’t think it’s an apples to apples comparison

    What does compulsion have to do with it? It would be one thing if kids were compelled to attend religious schools that they didn’t want to attend, but no one is even remotely proposing that. With vouchers, more kids would be able to satisfy their obligation to attend school by attending a religious school but only if they and their parents so chose. So there’s no compulsion in any relevant sense.

  24. “It’s isn’t entirely clear what Mr. Loaf won’t do for love”. Are you kidding? He explicitly states it – but it is different for each stanza, and it isn’t what he “won’t do for love” but what he “won’t do”.

    “But I’ll never forget the way you feel right now… no I won’t do that”
    “But I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight … no I won’t do that”
    “But I’ll never do it better than I do it with you … no I won’t do that”
    “But I’ll never stop dreaming of you every night of my life … no I won’t do that”

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