Robb: Free Your Mind

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb provided an insightful summary of the choice debate overall while commenting on the ESA expansion fight here in the Cactus Patch, but with broad applicability:

….the debate about vouchers isn’t really about money. The argument that vouchers drain district schools of resources has always been a diversion.

Instead, the debate is rooted in different views of the role of government in educating children.

The government, through the coercive power of taxation, establishes a central pool of resources for the education of students.

Voucher supporters believe that the pool should be used to provide the best educational opportunity for each child as determined by their parents. A proportionate share of the common pool should be available irrespective of whether that choice is a district, charter or private school. The focus should be on what is best for each child individually.

Voucher opponents believe that some children should be used by the government as sociological chess pieces. Their access to the common pool should be limited to the schools voucher opponents believe they should be attending, even if their parents believe it is suboptimal.

As Morpheus put it “What is the Matrix? Control.”

In other words, some people view children primarily as funding units for a system that employs a large number of adults. The other side views students as human beings with a huge diversity of needs and aspirations, a large number of which will not be met in a 19th Century Prussian factory model of service provision with a monopoly on the common pool funds. We have very helpfully moved away from this in Arizona, but each new step seems to elicit a fresh burst of misguided outrage. Robb used the term chess pieces, I prefer “funding units” but “copper tops” might be the most apt term:




5 Responses to Robb: Free Your Mind

    • Greg Forster says:

      You write: “ESSA does not eliminate Common Core standards and tests. ESSA simply uses willing state employees to deliver in a State Plan what the Obama-led federal education department wanted in order to further federal control.”

      The article you link to support this says ESSA requires states to have “college and career ready” standards, but doesn’t define this term.

      You complain that ESSA “does not eliminate” CC because it allows “willing” (your word) states to adopt CC. That would seem to be correct as far as it goes, but it’s not clear how that constitutes “federal control.”

      Are you asking the federal government to forbid states to adopt CC? If so, aren’t you the one advocating federal control?

      Either way, how is school choice a distraction given that neither ESSA nor Arizona is exercising control over what happens in private schools?

  1. matthewladner says:

    I guess if we lived in France, where the Minister of Education can look at his watch and know exactly what every 5th grader was learning at that moment, we’d share a monomaniacal obsession with ESSA plans. Since we live in Arizona, where the Superintendent of Public Instruction can look at her watch and know approximately nothing other than what time it is, no one is much sweating whatever “planning document” ADE submitted to the feds. The main impact of such a document is to keep federal funds flowing.

  2. The debate over school choice is a distraction from the poor academic standards AZ is imposing on most of its students and using as the basis for state tests, no matter what the tests are called. A SBOE that invites reviews of standards by non-experts is a topic worth lots of public discussion. We still don’t know how much the SBOE paid for the Achieve, Inc. reviews (about 250 pages each).

    • matthewladner says:

      Arizona has been leading the nation in cohort NAEP gains continuously since 2009, meaning that Arizona students are learning more about math and reading in grades 5,6,7 and 8 than any other state. If the standards are terrible, they also seem to be delightfully irrelevant to progress.


      So…I don’t see any reason why I should care about ESSA plans or the standards adopted by the Board. These are tools of an antiquated accountability system that never much worked, while in AZ the parent driven accountability system is emptying and closing schools that parents don’t value.

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