Federal Choice Folly

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The arguments against a school choice program imposed on the states by the federal government, including by indirect means, remain as strong as they ever were, and we now stand to lose more from such a move than we would have three years ago, when it would have been merely a disaster rather than a catastrophe.

When the president decided to make the reopening of schools a culture-war football, no doubt with his own reelection in mind and obviously caring nothing about what will serve students well – or even what would be a tactically smart way to increase the chances that schools do reopen – a more skilled politician than Betsy DeVos might have been able to find a way to keep her job without beclowning herself. The threat to withhold federal funds from districts that didn’t reopen was obviously empty. Congress has appropriated the funds, and in spite of Arne Duncan’s best efforts, the secretary of education is not the dictator of U.S. schools. Look how much trouble the administration got into by attempting very briefly to hold up congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine, and in that case you had far fewer people watching (at least in the U.S.!), and you didn’t have one of the nation’s largest and strongest special-interest coalitions on the other side.

I don’t apportion DeVos a huge share of blame for having stumbled in this regard – she’s kept her head down and done good work for much longer than most high officials in this administration. That she has been demonized by all the right people for doing good policy work far outweighs this misstep.

But the new gesture in the direction of turning this flub into the springboard for a federal school choice program, if taken seriously, would be a significant danger to the school choice movement. Let’s hope this is just an inartful way of confusing the headline-writers long enough to make the story go away and not a serious initiative.

Imposing choice on states that don’t want it, including by the constitutional equivalent of crawling in through the air ducts, is a bad idea any time. To do it in the middle of an explosive culture-war meltdown involving everything from how much risk of disease we’re willing to tolerate for our children to how we handle the legacy of our greatest national sins . . . well, words fail me to describe the catastrophic loss of legitimacy the movement would suffer.

Legitimacy matters more than short-term power. Much more. One might even say that legitimacy is just another word for long-term power.

The arrogant child-progressives who have taken over the big ed-reform foundations are not the only people who need a copy of Political Science for Ed Reform Dummies.

43 Responses to Federal Choice Folly

  1. Shaughnessy, Michael says:

    Thanks !

    ________________________________

  2. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    President Trump is ideologically unmoored. Secretary DeVos is not. Secretary DeVos recognizes Constitutional limits and the advantages of federalism (subsidiarity), competitive markets, and school choice.
    The Constitution gives to Congress (and by extension the Executive branch) no authority over State education policy. The President needs no new power to transform the US K-PhD credential industry.

    1 Mandate that the two K-12 systems under legitimate Federal control (BIE schools, DOD schools) must open parallel online facilities which
    1.1 Admit anyone who applies
    1.2 Charge no tuition
    1.3 Employ no faculty
    1.4 Define courses by their syllabi
    1.5. Grant credit by exam, at any age and at any time of year
    1.6. License independent contractors to administer course final exams at a fee to be negotiated between the student and the testing agency.
    2. Authorize contract US Embassy schools to operate like DOD and BIE schools as well.
    3. Mandate that Federal agencies accept diplomas earned through exam as equivalent to diplomas earned through attendance at brick and mortar schools in hiring and promotion.

    Let competition between Sylvan Learning Centers and the University of Phoenix drive the cost of a diploma down to the cost of books and of grading exams.

    The Executive branch exercises legitimate control over five post-secondary academic institutions (the service academies). A similar policy would bust the post-secondary credential racket.

    • Greg Forster says:

      I don’t claim to know what DeVos thinks, but I can observe what she does, and both the threat to withhold appropriated funds and the threat to voucherize them are inconsistent with the Constitution.

      We are a long, long way from developing high-quality competency-based credentialing systems. Creating them through a highly politicized government fiat rather than through authentic market-based testing of alternatives would ensure the resulting systems were low in quality and even lower in legitimacy, poisoning the well for future reform.

      A universal school choice program for Washington, DC and/or for the other federal systems you mention would accomplish far more. An even more mischievous option would be to offer all federal employees an ESA as an employee benefit.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        “We are a long, long way from developing high-quality competency-based credentialing systems.”
        Does this relate to my comment somehow?
        Anyway, I suggest that the DOD schools and BIE schools enroll anyone who wants to apply. Wouldn’t it be cool if some kid in Malawi could graduate from the Navajo Nation BIE school just by reading the prescribed books and taking exams? Wouldn’t it be cool if some kid in Valparaiso, Chile, could get a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Air Force Academy on the strength of exams, at the cost of books?

      • Greg Forster says:

        What you are describing is a competency-based credentialing system, so yes, it relates to your comment.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        Fair’s fair. “I cut, you choose.”
        What I describe is the current system, with its current measures of performance, subject to the rule “bureaucrats cut (define the performance measures that apply to their institution and request a budget) and parents choose (decide whether to entrust their children to the bureaucrats or to take the contract)”.
        No new performance measure is implied or required. .

      • Greg Forster says:

        Understood. Unfortunately, the existing performance measures are not accepted by employers or schools as an adequate substitute for seat time, and reasonably so.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        “3.Mandate that Federal agencies accept diplomas earned through exam as equivalent to diplomas earned through attendance at brick and mortar schools in hiring and promotion.”

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        “The best is the enemy of the good.”
        Here, it seems, “the best” is the enemy of “the good” because “the good” would cut into the revenue stream of “wretched”.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        (Forster): “… existing performance measures are not accepted by employers or schools as an adequate substitute for seat time, and reasonably so.”

        Why “reasonably so”? Seat time has expanded steadily, with the age (start) of compulsory attendance dropping from 8 to 5 and the age (end) rising from 12 to 18. Across all US States, the correlation (age-start, score), where “score” is NAEP 4th and 8th grade Reading and Math percentile score, is positive. Later is better.
        According to Edwin West (_Education and the State_), juvenile crime rises as the age (end) of compulsory attendance rises.
        Roland Meighan
        Home-based Education Effectiveness Research and Some of its Implications
        Educational Review, Vol. 47, No.3, 1995.
        “The issue of social skills. One edition of Home School Researcher, Volume 8, Number 3, contains two research reports on the issue of social skills. The first finding of the study by Larry Shyers (1992) was that home-schooled students received significantly lower problem behavior scores than schooled children. His next finding was that home-schooled children are socially well adjusted, but schooled children are not so well adjusted. Shyers concludes that we are asking the wrong question when we ask about the social adjustment of home-schooled children. The real question is why is the social; adjustment of schooled children of such poor quality?”
        “The second study, by Thomas Smedley (1992), used different test instruments but comes to the same conclusion, that home-educated children are more mature and better socialized than those attending school. …
        So-called ‘school phobia’ is actually more likely to be a sign of mental health, whereas school dependency is a largely unrecognized mental health problem”…

        Clive Harber
        “Schooling as Violence”
        Educational Review, p. 9 V. 54, #1.
        “Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it.”

      • Greg Forster says:

        The answer to your question is that most of the educational outcomes people want are not captured adequately (or at all) by existing performance measures.

        I wrote about this at length in this series:

        https://www.edchoice.org/engage/next-accountability-getting-want-schools-without-technocracy/

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        (Forster): “I don’t claim to know what DeVos thinks, but I can observe what she does(1), and both the threat to withhold appropriated funds(2) and the threat to voucherize them are inconsistent with the Constitution(3).”
        1. You can also observe what Secretary DeVos says. She has advocated for parent control and has acknowledged the Constitutional limits on Federal power.
        2. I wonder. If Congress appropriates funds for, say, protection of cougars in Arkansas and the Department of Interior concludes that cougars are extinct in Arkansas, what does the Department of Interior do with the Arkansas Cougar Protection Act funds?
        Lawyers would call absence of cougars “a material change in the contract”. If an LEA no longer provides instruction, do its facilities qualify as “schools”?
        3. According to the 10th Amendment, the entire progressive agenda is inconsistent with the Constitution.
        Compulsory unpaid labor is slavery. Under the 14th Amendment, slavery is inconsistent with the Constitution.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        (Forster): “I don’t claim to know what DeVos thinks …”
        (Forster): ” … obviously caring nothing about what will serve students well …”
        This telepathy talent comes and goes, apparently.

    • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

      Okay. I agree. This observation undermines the argument for all school legislation (compulsory attendance laws, tax support of school, educational neglect laws, etc.).
      Someone around here (Jason? Jay?) has argued that expanded choice is, in itself, a good. Parent Performance Contracting expands choice with no loss of fiscal or performance accountability.

      • Greg Forster says:

        I’m one of several people who have argued here at JPGB that expanded parent choice is good in itself. Pretty sure everyone here thinks that, actually.

        I think the whole idea that educational outcomes don’t exist if we can’t measure them, which is implied by what you say in your last comment, is radically flawed – I discuss this in the series I linked. But that aside, measurements that are not adequate to bear the weight your policy would require them to bear may nonetheless be adequate for other, less ambitious policy purposes.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        Of course things exist that we cannot measure. The largest shark to swim in Kaneohe Bay last week exists. How long is it?
        “Ambitious” describes enslaving fifty million children on the justification that society derives from doing so some benefit that we cannot measure.
        “Compassionate” describes blowing holes in the prison walls through which some may escape.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Hence school choice that is not tied to educationally inadequate, government-controlled and politically driven outcome measures is the compassionate alternative!

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        –School– choice is politically controlled. System insiders dominate accreditation agencies. Yes, system insiders select textbooks. Bureaucrats cut, parents choose. Let’s see them compose tests of Algebra II that their students would pass and homeschoolers would fail.
        In any case, we know that this is possible, since children can pass out of school in England with the GSCE.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Not all school choice programs require schools to be accredited. Of course it is trivially true that school choice policy is political because it is a policy, but it decreases politicians’ control over education rather than increasing it, as your policy would.

        Here in the US you can also pass out of school, technically, by taking a test (the GED) but so long as employers and schools don’t regard it as equivalent – and they don’t – the issue remains.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        (Greg Forster): “I think the whole idea that educational outcomes don’t exist if we can’t measure them, which is implied by what you say in your last comment, is radically flawed.”
        You inferred. I implied no such thing.
        If you support parent control, and someone suggests a policy that parents may claim control over their children’s education if their children jump over a hurdle of height __X__, why wouldn’t you recommend the lowest bar possible?
        (Greg Forster): “… existing performance measures are not accepted by employers(1) or schools(2) as an adequate substitute for seat time, and reasonably so.”
        1. The Federal government employs tens of thousands of people.
        The President has the power to mandate acceptance of diplomas earned through exams.
        2. Homeschoolers get into Cambridge on the strength of GSCE alone. A homeschooler whom I tutored took the GRE (Math specialty) at 17 and attended grad school, without attending high school or college.

  3. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    (Forster): ” [school choice] decreases politicians’ control over education rather than increasing it, as your policy would.”

    Seems to me your objections keep shifting.

    I don’t see how expanding DOD, BIE and Embassy schools into the virtual school sector and mandating that those virtual schools (1) grant credit by exam and (2) enroll anyone who applies at zero tuition and (3) license independent contractors to administer course final exams increases politicians’ control over any extant school.

    Unlike vouchers. Vouchers invite intrusion in the name of “accountability”.

    Look, if someone opens a pizza eatery, does s/he increase the regulation of the hamburger joint across the street?

    The Hawaii DOE will not accept the GED below age 17. The GED publisher will not recognize exam scores for people under age 16.

    If the $700 billion per year K-12 budget is not an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, why cannot any student take an exit exam (the GRD, GSCE, SAT, or GRE will do) at any age and apply the taxpayers’ $13,900 per pupil-year education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified private sector employer?

    Compulsory unpaid labor is slavery.

    • Greg Forster says:

      I have offered multiple objections. None of them has “shifted.“

      There are now over 60 school choice programs in 30 states. Most are over ten years old. The theoretical possibility that choice would invite political meddling with schools has not been realized in any of them, because the existence of choice creates a political coalition interested in protecting the program.

      Your other points I have already addressed.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        “Your other points I have already addressed.”
        With irrelevant distractions(1) and mysticism(2).

        1. If you support parent control, why set a bar to access of escape options higher than a line of paint on the floor? How is it relevant that “outcomes people want are not captured adequately (or at all) by existing performance measures”?
        Revealed preference. Outcomes that –parents– want –ARE– captured when parents opt out of the State-monopoly school system for –ANY– escape option.
        2. (Greg): “the whole idea that educational outcomes don’t exist if we can’t measure them, which is implied by what you say in your last comment, is radically flawed.”
        How does any outcome that we cannot measure justify compulsory attendance and tax support of school?

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        (Forster): “There are now over 60 school choice programs in 30 states. Most are over ten years old. The theoretical possibility that choice would invite political meddling with schools has not been realized in any of them …”

        Christopher Bedford, “Inside California Democrats’ Hard Work To Deny The Poor, Middle Class, And Minorities An Education”, _The Federalist_(2020-08-12)
        “In mid-July, a new law took effect giving public school boards greater control over their charter school competitors, broadening the avenues to decline new charter school requests with the vague requisite the school “serve the interests of the entire community.” Additionally, boards can now decline requests for renewal from established charter schools for reasons such as that school’s choice of facilities. In California, it’s not difficult to foresee a solar panel, automatic door, or bathroom code going unmet.”

      • Greg Forster says:

        Charter schools are government-owned schools. That’s why I don’t normally include them as “school choice” programs. My statistics and claims here refer to private school choice, the only genuine school choice.

      • Greg Forster says:

        As I said before, I support universal school choice regardless of outcome measurements. I only discussed outcome measurements in response to your proposals for how we should use them.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        A. (Forster): “There are now over 60 school choice programs in 30 states. … The theoretical possibility that choice would invite political meddling with schools has not been realized in any of them,”
        (Kirkpatrick): “Christopher Bedford, “Inside California Democrats’ Hard Work To Deny The Poor, Middle Class, And Minorities An Education”, _The Federalist_(2020-08-12) …”
        (Forster): “Charter schools are government-owned schools(1). That’s why I don’t normally include them as “school choice” programs.(2) My statistics and claims here refer to private school choice, the only genuine school choice.(3)”

        1. Some crharter school buildings are government-owned. Some are not. Some States count charter school employees (or require that charter schools conform to regulations that bind the cartel’s members). Some do not. That’s not the relevant distinction.
        2. Seems to me, I provided contrary evidence for Forster’s claim that States don’t intrude on the operstion of alternatives to the cartel’s facilities. .
        3. No true Scotsman would say such a thing.
        The fundamental issue is the degree of control that individual parents ecercise over their own children’s education. Small districts provide more choice in –education– that large districts. Open enrollment across district lines enhances parent control. A later age (start) of compulsory attendance enhances parent control. Charter schools, tuition vouchers, education tax credits, education savings accounts, subsidized homeschooling, correspondence schools, Parent Performance Contracting, expand parent control.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        B. (Forster): “I support universal school choice regardless of outcome measurements(1). I only discussed outcome measurements in response to your proposals for how we should use them(2).”
        1. Me too. My ideal legal/institutional environment would not have compulsory attendance laws, child labor laws, or minimum wage laws. That’s not the environmant that we currently inhabit. School is a means, not an end in itself. There aare too many “r”s in “revolution”.
        2. Okay. What was Forster’s objection to using government schools’ performance measures? If accepting– their– measures will enhance parent control, what’s the problem? Forster said that many employers will not accept these measures (course final exams). So what? Some will. The President could mandate that the largest employer in the US (the government itself) must accept these measures.

    • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

      Thank you. Criteria for ethical experimentation on human subjects make explicit the requirement for informed consent. Both “informed” and “consent” are matters of degree. “Informed” may be difficult to assess. “Consent” is more clear.
      Saint John (Dewey) emphasized “inquiry”, the idea that every action is an experiment. Compulsory attendance at school violates a fundamental tenet of ethical experimentation on humans.
      Every expansion of parents’ options (and of children’s options, as children mature) increases the degree of consent.

      • sstotsky says:

        If public school parents were given no choice of curriculum to “consent” to after state education boards and governors et al adopted Common Core standards and aligned tests in 2010/2011, do their actions constitute a violation of “consent”?

      • sstotsky says:

        Does the adoption of Common Core standards and aligned tests constitute a violation of parental consent if alternative curricula (one set based on CC) were not made available?

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        When governments reduce the range of education options available to parents, they reduce the degree of consent to the remaining options. Seems to me, anyway.
        Abundant evidence from several lines of investigation supports the following generalizations:
        1. As institutions take from individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction, overall system performance falls, and
        2. Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically-adept parents.

      • sstotsky says:

        Where has overall system performance failed” because parents’ choices were reduced? (i.e., where is some evidence for the claim) Did urban schools become worse because urban parochial schools closed down? How does one establish causal relationships here? I also don’t see an answer to my question: If public school parents were given no choice of curriculum to “consent” to after state education boards and governors et al adopted Common Core standards and aligned tests in 2010/2011, do their actions constitute a violation of “consent”? Most schools have changed textbooks (i.e., the curriculum) in many subjects in the past 70 years. I don’t know of one law firm hired by any group that raised the issue of the lack or presence of parental consent. When Classical Greek and Latin disappeared from the high school curriculum (often to make room for science), how was it handled?

  4. sstotsky says:

    Where has overall system performance failed” because parents’ choices were reduced? (i.e., where is some evidence for the claim) Did urban schools become worse because urban parochial schools closed down? How does one establish causal relationships here? I also don’t see an answer to my question: If public school parents were given no choice of curriculum to “consent” to after state education boards and governors et al adopted Common Core standards and aligned tests in 2010/2011, do their actions constitute a violation of “consent”? Most schools have changed textbooks (i.e., the curriculum) in many subjects in the past 70 years. I don’t know of one law firm hired by any group that raised the issue of the lack or presence of parental consent. When Classical Greek and Latin disappeared from the high school curriculum (often to make room for science), how was it handled?

    • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

      As institutions take from individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction, overall system performance FALLS.
      1. Independent and parohial schools outperform government-operated schools. US DOE, Lockheed and Jimenez, Joshua Angrist, Herman Brutsaert, James Tooley, Andrew Coulson.
      2. The correlation (score, %15K+dist) is negative, where “score” is State-level NAEP 4th and 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math percentile scores and %15K+dist” is the fraction of total State enrollment in districts over 15,000.
      3. The correlation(age-start, score) is positive, where “age-start” is the age at which Statess compel attendance at school.
      4. Across US States, the correlation (crime, %15K+dist) is positive, where “crime” is juvenile arrest rate for murder, robbery, and aggravted assault.
      5. Across US States, the correlation (rape, age-start) is negative (later is better), where “rape” is juvenile arrest rate for rape.
      6. Caroline Hoxby found a negative correlation between district size and test score performance.
      7. Chubb and Mor found a strong relation between a composite variable that they called “the degree of institutional autonomy” and school-level standardized test performance. The more people above the Principal telling the Principal how to do her job, the worse a school performed.
      8. Across the US, across all districts over 15,000 enrollment, the correlation(enrollment, revenues per pupil) is positive. Per pupil costs rise and performance falls as districts increase in size.
      9. Hoxby, and Lovenheim and Willen find negative impacts on student outcomes from teacher unionization.
      10. In Hawaii, juvenile arrests FALL when school is NOT insession. Beth Clarkson, a statistician at Wichita State University, found a parallel relation between the school calendar and juvenile arrests in Wichita, Kansas.
      District size, age-start of compulsory attendance, availability of private school options, and teacher unionization all affect the degree of control that parents exercise over their own children’s education. .

    • sstotsky says:

      We’ve been told many times that correlation is not causation.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        According to David Hume and Bertrand Russell, “correlation” is all “causation” can mean. See the chapter on Hume in Russell’s _A History of Western Philosophy_.
        Every correlation I supplied summarizes many examples in answer to the question “Where has overall system performance failed” because parents’ choices were reduced?”

      • sstotsky says:

        Correlation doesn’t tell you “because”

  5. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    I dragged this argument (about reliable credit by exam) over to Joanne Jacob’s blog (“US needs GED for college degree” (2020-08-28)) and James Gu observed that people accept actuarial exams. Mark Roulo observed that employers accepted Cisco certification. Employers accept the LA city welder’s test. It’s a demonstration of skill. If you can weld, you can weld. No bluffing.

  6. sstotsky says:

    “School choice” is a distracting concept if it means simply a different building or a school under different management (from the public school district it would be part of), which most public charters are. If it means a curriculum for K-12 compatible with CC-aligned standards, tests, and textbooks, it’s a meaningless slogan. That has been clear from the beginning. Voc/tech high schools where welding is taught are part of a legitimate school choice (and were, in MA). If academic subjects are aligned to CC, then voc/tech high schools are not part of school choice.

    • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

      E.G. West
      “Education Without the State”
      “What is needed is choice in education. School choice has not and will not lead to more productive education because the obsolete technology called ʺschool” is inherently inelastic. As long as ʺschoolʺ refers to the traditional structure of buildings and grounds with services delivered in boxes called classrooms to which customers must be transported by car or bus, ʺschool choiceʺ will be unable to meaningfully alter the quality or efficiency of education.”
      See also
      Valerie Strauss, “Tribute to the late Sir Ken Robinson, renowned education reformer whose 2006 TED talk remains the most popular ever” _Washington Post_(2020-08-25)
      Watch the linked video for a great story about a professional dancer.
      The dominant model dominates most people’s conception of education and school.

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