The Bizarro World Prospect

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The latest issue of The American Prospect was apparently published on Bizarro World.

Charter schools and teacher accountability have now replaced vouchers as the new cause célèbre.

So nobody’s interested in vouchers any more, huh?

Today, even school reformers who promote charter schools and accountability still believe vouchers are a good third option because they give parents another choice. Republican governors Rick Scott in Florida, Chris Christie in New Jersey, and Mitch Daniels in Indiana have all appeared with reform guru Michelle Rhee, the nation’s leading voice for charter schools and teacher evaluation programs, to consult them on school reform. They all plan to use vouchers as one of many aspects of reform in their states. Rhee’s new organization, Students First, cites the Florida voucher program as a notable example of expanding parental choice.

Uh…okay. Guess my dinner with Jay Mathews is still safe, then.

“It’s an old ideology they’ve been interested in for a long time,” says Cynthia Brown, Vice President for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, “but they’ve lost a lot of steam. The notion of vouchers for all kids is almost dead.”

So I guess the dream of universal vouchers is dead, huh?

No matter, the infamous Scott Walker has put forth a proposal to dramatically expand Milwaukee’s program so that any child, not just low-income students, can get a voucher.

Uh…okay. As the Walker juggernaut – excuse me, the infamous Walker juggernaut – rolls over the last gasp of union hopes in the judicial election, I’d say this is a bad time to make big bets against universal vouchers.

Underwhelming studies of voucher programs have damaged their reputation, even among conservatives prone to liking them.

I’ll spare you the predictably mendacious, cherry-picking lit review that follows, in which the author goes over all the evidence on vouchers, except for the overwhelming majority of the evidence that supports vouchers. (For a complete research review, see here. For more on the use and abuse of evidence in voucher controversies, see here, here and here.)

Though vouchers are no longer a viable school reform strategy on their own, they did play a big part in shaping how we think about school reform. In short, rhetoric around reform is now discussed using a term that used to be synonymous with vouchers: “school choice.”

So vouchers failed, except for the fact that everyone wants to be them.

Still, the idea of choice itself as the mantra of reform is odd, and it’s disturbing that this is the aspect of the voucher-program idea that survived. Though it begins with progressive rhetoric about giving poor families the same choices wealthier ones have, the necessity for choice arises out of a situation in which public education is failing. The goal should be a system in which all schools are good schools, not creating a two-tiered system of good versus bad.

Yes, it’s very odd that school reformers focus on offering “choice” instead of on making schools successful – because in Bizarro World, monopolies always serve people best!

All the talk about choice rings especially hollow in D.C. No one in the city voted for or approved their new voucher program.

Yes, that’s right, nobody in D.C. approved the program. Except for, you know, the thousands of parents who put their kids into it.

If the left keeps this up, it’s going to wake up one morning and find out that it’s Bull Connor.

2 Responses to The Bizarro World Prospect

  1. Daniel Earley says:

    Of course, as we all know, at least half of all media effort is spent in hopes of creating self-fulfilling prophesies. While this occasionally works in politics and some markets, even the most skilled propagandist can only hold back the tide of awakening public demand for so long. Ultimately, all Iron Curtains fall. When this one comes down, the left will indeed discover Bull Connor’s image in the mirror.

  2. Patrick says:

    Dr. Forster,

    You must have missed the disclaimer on the American Prospect’s home page. It says “Liberal Intelligence.”


    Ok, I had to get that dig in after this article, I don’t really believe it…it’s just when it comes to education a large segment of that political philosophy tends to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the fact that their ideas have caused tremendous damage to issues like social justice, equality and civil rights that they (and others) care so much about.

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