(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The RedefinED team asked me to write a response to my friends Howard Fuller and Andrew Coulson regarding the means-tested vs. universal choice debate. Andrew and Howard, for different reasons, support a means-tested approach but I lay out my case as to why I think choice must be universal in scope and how we should approach equity and third-party payer concerns.
The issues raised by Howard and Andrew ultimately beg the question: just where is it that we are going with the parental choice movement? Success in passing some broad programs simply increases the stakes for being thoughtful about the details.
Where are we going? Milton Friedman once offered as a defense of radical or utopian thinking the observation that you have to have a goal to plan your path. Solzhenitsyn makes a similar point somewhere: without principle, politics becomes tactical maneuver, survival for survival’s sake. Where are we going? Ultimately, an unsubsidized, non-compulsory market in education services, regulated to the same extent that the State regulates the shoe industry and the cookware industry.
When choices outside of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools (the “public” schools) clearly outperform the cartel’s schools and subsidies for parents who exit the system cost less, per pupil, than the cartel’s schools, the system will leak students and resources. The path from the current State-monopoly structure involves:
1. Incentives for parents to prefer better, lower-cost options outside the cartel’s schools.
2. Incentives for individuals outside the cartel’s schools to offer better, lower-cost education services than the cartel’s schools.
The obvious problem: what incentive do legislators have to challenge the cartel?
Friedman’s end goal was a quasi-market system of public finance for schooling without exclusive public provision of such services.
Those who are interested in purely private approaches should be developing low-cost/high quality private school models that, among other things, substitute technology for labor to help keep costs down and make private education more accessible to the poor.
The Harriet Tubman Agenda (free the slaves!) is me, Malcolm Kirkpatrick.
Frank Knight once wrote: “What we should want is better wants”.
Friedman evolved. You can trace the arc of his thinking from the 1955 essay “The Role of Government in Education”, where he wrote of a government monopoly on “education” through the chapter in __Capitalism and Freedom__ where he substituted “school” for “education”, to his interview in __Reason__ where he says that E.G.West persuaded him that society would invest in education without compulsion. His last word on the subject, to my knowledge, appears in the Cato institute collection __Liberty and Learning: Milton Friedman’s Voucher Idea at Fifty__, where he clearly recognizes voucher support of schooling as an intermediate step on the road to educational freedom.
We need a new term. I suggest “evolutionary utopian” for people people who seek to advance radical change through incremental, evolutionary means. I believe that Friedman came to this position on school.
I would be interested to know what you think about the future of comprehensive school choice given likely forthcoming exposes like the NYT’s one up today: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/22/education/scholarship-funds-meant-for-needy-benefit-private-schools.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&ref=education
Documented patterns of misfeasance/fraud will damage the school choice movement. School choice supporters should push aggressively for reforms that address the problem. A major double standard exists and will not go away. Namely, examples of misfeasance/fraud in public schools will never be treated in a manner comparable to the NYTimes piece. Public school fraud will be framed as isolated, exceptions to the rule, etc.
I agree completely with George on this. I’ve seen these sort of stories before, and they are invariably full of half-truths and distortions, but school choice supporters need to vigorously stamp out fraudulent practices in such programs.
Parent Performance Contracting addresses concern.
Excellent piece. I am quite familiar with Howard Fuller’s approach. A bit surprised to learn about Andrew Coulson; I will need to read his observations.
child educational center…
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