Never Having to Say You’re Wrong

Some of you may remember the brouhaha caused by Sol Stern’s denunciation of vouchers in the pages of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal — an event which I suppose eventually led to my departure from the Manhattan Institute.  Sol Stern made a series of arguments that I argued were mistaken at that time, but subsequent events have further confirmed Stern’s errors.

In particular, Sol, like Jay Mathews more recently, declared that the political prospects for expanding private school choice were bleak: “taxpayer-funded voucher programs for poor children… have hit a wall….  Proposals for voucher programs have suffered five straight crushing defeats in state referenda.”  But with the Year of School Choice just completed, we’ve never seen so much growth in private school choice.

And another incredibly wrong claim that Sol made was that the demise of urban Catholic schools was pretty much inevitable, which would prevent students with vouchers from having quality options: “Even more discouraging, vouchers may not be enough to save the Catholic schools” and “Greene says that the school choice movement has little reason to be concerned about the closing of thousands of urban Catholic schools, a problem that can be alleviated, he believes, by pushing for more vouchers and tuition tax credits. This reflects precisely the approach that leads some school choice reformers to ignore reality. As I have previously written in City Journal, the demise of inner-city Catholic schools is the result of long-term and seemingly irreversible demographic and economic trends…”

Who exactly was ignoring reality?  The Wall Street Journal has an article in today’s paper that describes the resurgence in Catholic schooling as a result of voucher and tax credit programs.  The WSJ reports:

For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life. Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic Catholics and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from closures and declining enrollment…. Catholic schools are showing signs of growth even in cities without vouchers. But they are benefiting disproportionately from the rise of vouchers, available in 10 states and Washington, D.C., and tax credit programs that provide tax relief to individuals or businesses that donate to scholarships for low-income students.

Does Sol Stern or the folks at City Journal and the Manhattan Institute feel any obligation to admit that Sol’s 2008 article was a huge mistake?  And I’m not saying it was a mistake because it was politically hurtful (although it really was); but it was a huge mistake because the claims in it were grossly mistaken, which subsequent events have helped confirm.

(edited for typos)


6 Responses to Never Having to Say You’re Wrong

  1. The Common Core implementation looks nothing like the sales job or Fordham’s vision. The regional accreditors believed that there was nothing in their way to finally requiring the local schools and districts to move to finally adopting Dewey’s vision for education along with the UNESCO vision that guts the transmission of knowledge. Just basic skills and then an emphasis on desired attitudes, beliefs, and emotion. A correct disposition.

    Now it turns out there is a deliberate attempt to game charters that goes back to when Ted Sizer’s Coalition for Essential Schools first started hitting roadblocks in the late 80s.

    Plus these charters get sold by having governing councils in charge. The accreditors have stipulated that in a dispute the council must defer to principals or supers, as applicable, or accreditation is at risk.

    How can we not move towards vouchers when every aspect of public ed is being turned against the student, taxpayers, parents, and this country’s real future? Just pockets to be picked and minds to be pillaged and feelings to be manipulated and adjusted.

    But we need to be careful as right now all over the world the acceptance of vouchers at private schools becomes the rationale for spreading the poison to them.

    • matthewladner says:

      • So matt am I the one with the tin foil hat on in your mind?

        Free minds are unpredictable and fuel innovation. Which is unpredictable. So annoying to politicians, bureaucrats, and established businesses.

        I tend to see it more as chains or the central office hierarchy and principals all seeking their next promotion trying to vacuum out whatever knowledge makes it through these days.

        I was going through my notes this morning looking at Australia which as you may know has the Core Skills Framework on a comparable time frame as our Common Core. The author was writing about 10 years ago and complaining about the State of Victoria which was being intransigent about giving up subject matter disciplines.

        Lovely stuff awaits.

    • allen says:

      Your crime, Student, is couching your argument in terms of deliberate intent and calculation. That’s “conspiratorialism” with a capital “con”. Not that there aren’t real conspiracies and not that nefarious plans with a long term payoff can’t be effected but that’s not the way the smart money bets.

      There are other reasons why charters, and vouchers, would quite naturally be the subject of efforts to suborn them and that’s because human nature impels our actions in that direction.

      Lefties – “progressive” is the current term of art – want a centralized system because they see themselves as the proper wielders of authority and the more centralized the authority the more power those who control that authority have. Lefties see themselves as morally and intellectually superior and thus the proper rulers of their inferiors so a school system that takes little notice of the desires of the “common” folk is quite proper as far as they’re concerned. Consequently, they’ll resist any reforms that put more power in the handes of parents, necessarily extracting that power from education authorities, and try to suborn any reforms that get enacted into law.

      So yeah, there’ll certainly be efforts to rein in charters and vouchers, to expand government power over voucher-accepting private schools and to undermine at every point the power that charters and vouchers confer on parents. But what do you expect lefties to do? Shrug and say “gosh, we see the light now” and give up? It’s not who they are so they’ll fight these reforms and without the need to invoke shadowy figures lurking in the background pulling strings.

      Keep in mind though that those parents, the ones who are now getting used to the feeling of making decisions on behalf of their children and not just applying, imploring, begging, weedling, importuning and hoping, are unlikely to easily return to the time when that’s all they could do. The cat may not be well and truly out of the bag quite yet but I’d say the point in time is coming when there’ll be a much more general appreciation that the public education system’s being remade and it won’t just be us education-obsesses wonks who see those changes. You may think parents, once they shed the resignation and acceptance which the public education system inculcates and depends upon, will be easily led back to that state. I don’t.

      My view is that when the political pendulum swings back the other way the world, at least the education world, will be a very different place. Those who depend upon and desire the district-based status quo will find that they have few friends and that their efforts to reinstate the old regime will be swept aside almost contemptuously by the new rulers of the public education world.

      By the way, if anyone’s bothered to read down this far, it looks like one of *my* predictions may be in the process of coming true –

      The short form is that the Muskegon Heights school district is in financial trouble and the emergency financial manager wants to “charterize” the entire district. Cool, hey?

      • Well I read down this far because I was trying to give a heads up. What is supposed to be a way out is also being corrupted. Parents and taxpayers are being told this is a panacea. That expectation is being deliberately played.

        Now it was bad enough when I read the charter and identified every single function of Transformational outcomes based education back with new names but the same aim.

        If someone says this is what we are doing and why, we get to take them at their word. It’s OPM and political power. That’s not a conspiracy so much as classic rent seeking. People who would like to live at our expense or preserve what they currently have.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    While we’re looking back at the predictive claims that have since turned out to be false, don’t forget all the claims he made about the research on school choice that we already knew were false at the time!

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