Why Conservatives Lose in Education

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In case you missed it, Samuel Goldman had a great article in The Week about why conservative efforts to change the content of education always fail:

Laws and regulations aren’t self-enforcing, after all. They have to be interpreted at the district, school, and classroom level….A challenge to CRT bans in particular is that they’re unpopular among the people responsible for enforcing them. Although not uniformly liberal, teachers tend to support Democrats. Party leaning doesn’t determine opinions on any particular issue, of course. But Democrats report overwhelmingly positive opinions about CRT in particular and “structural” accounts of racism in general.

Raw numbers don’t tell the whole story, either. As Richard Hanania has argued, motivated minorities outweigh passive majorities. In particular, it’s likely that the teachers most active in administration, professional development, and union affairs are more left-leaning than their colleagues. Recent decisions by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers to emphasize “anti-racist” policies support this assumption.

Goldman correctly concludes that in education, there are only two realistic political alternatives for the right, if they are really interested in winning. One would be a right-wing reenactment of the left’s “long march through the institutions,” which would allow the great-grandchildren of today’s right-wingers to exercise the kind of cultural power progressives now wield. The other is “radical…educational pluralism,” by which Goldman means school choice as a revolutionary challenge to the very idea of monopolization of schools, rather than school choice as merely the welfare state by other means – an escape hatch for the most needy kids in the worst schools.

Goldman also correctly concludes that school choice is the more plausible option.

Milton used to talk about the stark difference between “charity vouchers,” offered only to the poor, and “educational vouchers,” offered to everyone: “Charity vouchers help the poor but will not produce any real reform of the educational system. And what we need is a real reform.”

Goldman has seen what Milton saw – the real value of school choice is that universal school choice makes the government school system accountable to parents, and nothing else will.

It seems like Goldman feels obligated to say some negative things about the prospects for choice, because he throws in some easily refuted canards:

  • There is, contrary to Goldman’s unsupported suggestions, no ambiguity about the legal status of school choice programs. Choice has won a long string of solid Supreme Court victories that have established its legal standing unambiguously.
  • School choice is popular, and growing more so.
  • Most egregiously, Goldman suggests that parents don’t want choice, because exercising choice is hard. But Goldman himself notes that the kind of educational pluralism he envisions is “common around the world.” Are U.S. parents uniquely lazy and/or stupid, incapable of doing what parents routinely do in the other countries Goldman mentions?

Still, the article is definitely worth your time if you’re interested in a close look at what doesn’t work to change education, and why.

20 Responses to Why Conservatives Lose in Education

  1. Insectman says:

    Public schools cannot be fixed.
    Whatever victories gained trying to fix public schools will need to be monitored beyond the capacity of hundreds of volunteers. The teacher unions and their allies such as the ACLU own government schools. They will quickly take back any lost ground and they will not hesitate to do it in an under-handed manner while your group operates honestly and ethically.
    I am a retired teacher and unequivocally proclaim that there is no hope for America as long as Christians and conservatives allow their children to be indoctrinated in the public schools. We must rescue our children!
    Please ask me for more information. I am not raising funds or selling anything.

    • Greg Forster says:

      This is incorrect! Choice programs have already proven that when schools that fail to respond to parental preferences actually lose students as a result, the schools become responsive to parental preferences. Not only because they care about their own money and power (that, too, of course) but because the whole plausibility structure that makes the ideological claptrap seem true and important collapses.

      • Insectman says:

        There is no real choice if the government is involved. It is “just the same dog on a longer leash.”

      • Greg Forster says:

        Also incorrect! Schools participating in choice programs are safe from government control. We’ve had 30 years of proof of this, with 70+ programs in 30 states.

        I explain why here: https://jaypgreene.com/2021/07/14/real-accountability-to-parents-trumps-fake-accountability-to-government/

      • Insectman says:

        I did not see an option to reply to your commnet: “Also incorrect!” So, this reply may not be in sequence.

        First, you said that I was incorect to say that public schools cannot be fixed. Are you trying to fix them?

        Second, you gave a link to your article about how parents in Oklahoma have had to fight for “choice.” I guarnatee you that the battles will continue because: “Charter schools are public schools operating under an independent contract or “charter” with an authorizing agency—typically a non-profit organization, government agency or university.” https://www.publiccharters.org/about-charter-schools/charter-school-faq

        Can charter schools teach the truth about evolution? If so, please provide links that proof it is done.

        Reality is that the only REAL choice is homeschooling.
        That said, the government will come after homeschoolers as the movement grows.

        I appreaciate your efforts for educational freedom.

        I am finsihed with this discussion.

      • Greg Forster says:

        1) Yes, I’m working to improve both government and private schools. I’ve spent almost twenty years advocating private-school choice, which now serves over 600,000 students in 30 states and has been proven (by a very large body of high-quality empirical research) to improve both government schools and results for the students who choose private schools, while no other strategy for improving schools has a track record of success.

        2) Charter schools are irrelevant here. All the blog posts and articles under discussion are talking about private-school choice. I agree with you that charter schools are an inadequate solution because they remain ultimately under government control, and I have been saying that for twenty years.

        3) I would say anything that involves parents choosing is a real choice. Your view implies parents who make different choices for their children either can’t or shouldn’t “truly” choose, which is basically the ideology of the government school monopoly.

        4) I’m glad you agree with the point I made in my article that the threat to educational freedom does not arise from school-choice programs (“the government will come after homeschoolers as the movement grows”). Choice programs don’t create the threat; what they create is a powerful political constituency that fights back.

        5) Sorry to hear that you decided to leave the conversation immediately after asking a bunch of questions; I guess you didn’t want to hear the answers. I’m disappointed you’re going, but have a good day!

  2. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    Compulsory attendance statutes mean litle unless, for all children whom all other schools reject, there is some school which must accept that student. Call these default-option schools “public schools” and put their operation out to bid.

    • Insectman says:

      The actual term should be “Governemnt Schools.”

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        When I want to annoy Education journalists (e.g., the Washington Post’s_ Valerie Strauss), I call government schools “the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s part-time juvenile detention facilities”.
        Give US parents twenty years of subsidized education choice and “public school” will have the same connotation as “short bus” or “juvie hall”.

      • Insectman says:

        I love the first paragraph.
        For the second, I must say that the government does not need to be in volved in education.
        We must breat free from socialized education.

  3. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    Why conservatives lose? Colleges of Education act as filters. Professors of Education are up there with Anthropology professors and English professors in contributions to Democrat politicians and in political self-identification.
    In the bad old days of the Evil Empire, every Soviet organization above a certain size had a political officer to oversee political loyalty. In the Soviet army this officer was called the zampolit. In the US school system it’s called “Social Studies teacher”. .

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        “I must say that the government does not need to be in volved in education. We must break free from socialized education.”.

        We agree. That is the goal. People properly suspect leaps into the dark. There are too many “r”s in “revolution”. I call my recommendation to wean society from government schools “Parent Performance Contracting”. Your legislature mandates that school districts –must– hire parents on personal service contracts to provide for their children’s education at some fraction 2/3 < a/b < 9/10 of the district's five-year average per pupil revenue. Parents could then homeschool, hire tutors, extend daycare to age 18, or supplement the contract and pay tuition to an independent or parochial school.
        I have read and recommend:
        Andrew Coulson. _Market Education: The Unknown History_
        James Tooley, _The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World's Poorest People are Educating Themselves_
        Edwin West, _Education and the State_

      • Insectman says:

        But, “He who controls the purse strings makes the rule”.’

  4. Richard Hawkins says:

    The proper worldview is the most essential element involving education. Unfortunately, the worldview of national and most local governments, all teachers colleges, teachers unions and professional organizations, the PTA, tech giants involved with education and textbook publishers is cultural Marxism both for content and method. Most “education reform” efforts involve minor aspects of content but methodology is seldom addressed. Using the cultural Marxist methodology will continue to produce socialists.
    Unfortunately, parents are unaware of competing worldviews and they themselves have been indoctrinated into cultural Marxism. Will they be able to make good choices?????

  5. Richard Hawkins says:

    The whole world transforming to a totalitarian dystopia…..We are getting closer

  6. Richard Hawkins says:

    I’ll assume you’re addressing the two political parties working for the same shadow government. As liberty becomes scarcer will there be enough We the People getting motivated to push back?

  7. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    (Forster): “… the two sides are becoming more like each other every day(1). Here’s to life on the moon!(2)”
    1. Really? Immigration and the open Deep State aggression against taxpayers have clarified political divisions and polarized politics, seems to me. The “two sides” are (a) net taxpayers and (b) net tax recipients.
    2. What? That’s more delusional than accountability through standardized curricula and testing.
    Unless that was sarcasm, in which case, what were you trying to say?

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