Saying Goodbye to a Flying Dutchman

April 3, 2016

(Guest post by Patrick J. Wolf)

Prolific Dutch education sociologist Jaap Dronkers died of a stroke on Wednesday at the age of 70.  Jaap (pronounced “yahp”) was the `James Coleman’ of European education research and a supporter of parental school choice for the simple reason that his exhaustive research demonstrated that it benefits families and the broader society.  More importantly, Jaap was a considerate colleague and a dear friend.  He will be greatly missed.

Among Jaap’s many accomplishments was his pioneering of the use of `league tables’ to measure school performance in the countries of Europe.  He then conducted a series of sophisticated school- and student-level analyses of demographic and achievement data to determine which types of schools were delivering value-added to students in terms of both test-score gains and civic outcomes.  Jaap’s conclusions, published in important peer-reviewed journal articles such as here and here, were that elite private schools produce better student outcomes because they surround students with advantaged peers.  Religious private schools participating in voucher-type programs, on the other hand, deliver positive value-added to students, net of peer effects, in terms of both achievement and civic outcomes.

I first met Jaap at a conference in London that I co-organized with Princeton political theorist Stephen Macedo in 2003.  The conference birthed a co-edited book by the Brookings Institution called Educating Citizens: International Perspectives on School Choice and Civic Values.  Steve and I had brought an A-list of scholars from the U.S., including Dave Campbell, Rick Garnett, Charlie Glenn, William Galston, Bruno Manno, and John Witte. At the opening reception, Charlie, who is better networked among international education scholars than any American I know, pulled Steve and me aside and said, “This is a very strong group of European scholars.”  Even so, Jaap Dronkers stood out from the rest.  He was the only participant in the project who we permitted to author multiple chapters in our book – one about how the Dutch education system manages school choice to promote civic values and another about how European religious schools tend to have a positive impact on student cognitive outcomes while equaling government-run public schools in generating civic outcomes.  Jaap concluded that second chapter with the statement, in his typical clear but scholarly tone, “Not enough is known about the effects of school choice in Europe, but what is known is generally comforting.” (p. 308)

In 2009 Jaap turned the tables and invited me to attend a conference in Geneva on school choice and educational equity. He then recruited my conference paper on what the DC Choice achievement effects suggest for social justice for review and ultimate publication in the special issue of Educational Research and Evaluation that he co-edited in the wake of the event.  Jaap was a skillful and demanding editor, even while operating in his fourth language of English (his primary languages were Dutch, German, and French).  At this time he was Professor of Social Stratification and Inequality at the highly prestigious European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

In 2014 Jaap traveled to Florida with his wife, Tonny, to deliver a keynote address at the Second International School Choice & Reform Academic Conference.  Far from simply beaming in, speaking, and beaming out, as keynoters so often do, Jaap hung around to attend all of the panels, asking piercing questions and breaking bread with new American friends he had made.  He returned for the third edition of the conference to present fascinating work that subsequently was published on Islamic schools in the Netherlands.

Jaap Dronkers was a five-tool social scientist.  He had a firm grasp of theory, refined empirical analysis skills, strong writing ability in four languages, solid speaking skills, and a delightful sense of humor.  I’ll always remember how Jaap introduced me to his European research colleagues.  “Patrick,” Jaap would say, “is from the U.S. where he can actually run experiments!”  One of my junior colleagues, Brian Kisida, upon meeting Jaap at an international conference in Belgium, simply said, “That is one cool dude.”  Indeed he was.

Rest in peace, Jaap Dronkers, European education researcher extraordinaire, supporter of parental school choice, citizen of the world and friend to many.  We know so much more about how to improve the education of children because of you.

AZ Governor Doug Ducey to Appoint Clint Bolick to the Arizona Supreme Court

January 6, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Outstanding choice by Governor Ducey, and it is exciting that Clint will get the chance to serve in this capacity. I had the chance to work for Clint at the Alliance for School Choice and with him at the Goldwater Institute and on the board of the Arizona School Choice Trust for over a decade. While I fear we may miss him in courts around the country, as an Arizonan I couldn’t be more thrilled to have someone of his caliber on our Supreme Court. Video here. With the recent retirement announcement by Chip, one may infer that the torch is being passed to a new generation of constitutional litigators.

I think they are ready.

Congratulations Clint!

Say it with me now: Justice Clint Bolick

January 6, 2016


[Guest Post by Jason Bedrick]

Yes, you read that headline correctly. This morning, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced that he was appointing famed school choice litigator and champion of liberty, justice, and the American way, Clint Bolick, to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Clint was one of the lawyers involved in defending Ohio’s school choice law before the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case, which the good guys won. His impact on the school choice movement cannot be overstated. He co-founded the Institute for Justice, which continues to defend school choice laws around the country, he was president of the Alliance for School Choice, and he has served for the last eight years as the head of litigation at the Goldwater Institute (where he is known for repeatedly suing the pants off the government), among many other important positions and accomplishments. Just a little over a year ago, he successfully defended Florida’s education savings account law.

You can get a taste of Clint’s style from this NYT profile:

 Clint Bolick looks like any other high-powered lawyer, for the most part. But glance down at his index finger, which sports a scorpion tattoo, for first-hand evidence of his unconventional streak.

Mr. Bolick has fought for the right of Arizonans to have their toes nibbled. After successfully defending a tattoo artist, he celebrated by having himself inked. From his perch here at the Goldwater Institute, a high-powered libertarian think tank, Mr. Bolick has even picked a fight with an entire professional hockey team.

From a conservative point of view, there is no end to the government interference in individual liberties going on around the country. Some emanates from Washington, but much of it, in the opinion of Mr. Bolick, bubbles up from the bottom, whether from a small-town school board or the Arizona Board of Cosmetology, which Mr. Bolick has sued twice. […]

“There are lots of cozy deals in Arizona, just like everywhere else,” Mr. Bolick said. “The last thing you want is for us to find out. It’s like a skunk coming to a picnic. We ruin everything.” […]

Local governments in Arizona now consult experts at Goldwater before embarking on financing schemes. Their goal is to avoid receiving a legal brief in the mail typed out with Mr. Bolick’s fierce right finger.

The only question is this: Is this a great appointment or the greatest appointment?

UPDATE: It’s only been a few hours since the announcement and statists are already wetting their pants.

Father Ted Hesburgh Passes Away

February 27, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A great man has been lost to us. Long time readers of JPGB will recall the passionate letter Father Ted sent to Senator Durbin and Secretary Duncan along with Father Jenkins and Father Scully during the attempt to destroy the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program in the early days of the Obama administration.

Dear Senator Durbin and Secretary Duncan,

Warmest greetings from the University of Notre Dame.  We hope this letter finds both of you well, and that the new year has been filled with grace and blessings for you and your families.

We write today because we are all deeply disappointed by the turn of events that has led to the imminent demise of the Washington DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), and we are gravely concerned about the effects that the unprecedented gestures that have jeopardized this program will have on some of the most at-risk children in our nation’s capital.   

For the past decade, the University of Notre Dame, through its Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), has served as the nation’s largest provider of teachers and principals for inner-city Catholic schools.  Since 1993, we have prepared more than 1,000 teachers and hundreds of principals to work in some of the poorest Catholic schools in the nation.  That experience, along with the research that we have sponsored through our Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, leads us to an unqualified conclusion: the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program provides an educational lifeline to at-risk children, standing unequivocally as one of the greatest signs of hope for K-12 educational reform.  To allow its demise, to effectively force more than 1,700 poor children from what is probably the only good school they’ve ever attended, strikes us as an unconscionable affront to the ideal of equal opportunity for all.

Three decades of research tell us that Catholic schools are often the best providers of educational opportunity to poor and minority children.  Students who attend Catholic schools are 42 percent more likely to graduate from high school and are two and a half times more likely to graduate from college than their peers in public schools.  Recent scholarship on high school graduation rates in Milwaukee confirms that programs like the OSP can, over time, create remarkable opportunities for at-risk children.  And after only three years, the research commissioned by the Department of Education is clear and strong with regard to the success of the OSP, as you both well know.  This program empowers parents to become more involved in their children’s education.  Parents of OSP students argue that their children are doing better in school, and they report that these scholarships have given their families an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.  If this program ends, these parents will be forced to send their children back to a school system that is ranked among the worst in the nation, into schools they fought desperately to leave just a few years ago. 

At Notre Dame, we have recently witnessed the painful but logical outcomes of your failure to save the OSP.  For the past three years, the University of Notre Dame has worked in close partnership with Holy Redeemer School, a preK-8 Catholic school community located just a few blocks from Senator Durbin’s office on the Hill.  In fact, Senator Durbin visited the school and expressed his deeply favorable impression.  We too have witnessed the transformative capacity of Holy Redeemer, a place where parents report feeling a sincere sense of ownership in their children’s education for the first time in their lives.  Indeed, over the past three years strong leadership, excellent academics, low teacher turnover, and committed parents have all contributed to truly outstanding gains in student achievement.  The children at Holy Redeemer were, unlike so many of their peers, on the path to college. 

So we were deeply saddened to learn that the impending termination of the OSP has put the school in an untenable situation, leading the pastor to conclude that the school must be closed.  Families are presently being notified that their children will have to find a new school next year.  The end of the OSP represents more than the demise of a relatively small federal program; it spells the end of more than a half-century of quality Catholic education for some of the most at-risk African American children in the District.  That this program is being allowed to end is both unnecessary and unjust.  

We—and many others in the Notre Dame community—are wholeheartedly committed to protecting the educational opportunity of these children.  We encourage you to reconsider protecting the OSP and the children it serves from this grave and historic injustice.  You are joined by Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, by the faculty and students on Notre Dame’s campus, by tens of thousands of Notre Dame alumni nationwide, and by millions of Catholic school families across the country in a steadfast commitment to ensure that these children continue to receive the educational opportunity that is their birthright.

Please know of our deepest appreciation for your consideration of this request.  We hope and pray that we can work together with you to save this program. 


Yours, in Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC 

President, University of Notre Dame                          

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC

President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

Rev. Timothy R. Scully, CSC


Father Ted’s lifetime of service meant that he spoke with authority when described educational opportunity as a birthright. Even oddball Anglican heretics such as myself found abundant reason to admire him. Father Hesburgh fought more than one good fight and has finished the race.


James K. Polk’s Way of the Future

September 15, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I am in the middle of reading a fascinating book about James K. Polk called A Country of Vast Designs. Stow that scoff soldier! Any reader of this book will quickly reach the conclusion that Polk has been hugely underestimated. This book details non-stop intrigue within Polk’s Democratic Party, political warfare between the Democrats and the Whigs, and Polk’s high stakes gambit to obtain sole possession of the Oregon territory (disputed by the world’s then preeminent military power), the Republic of Texas and the American southwest. Polk risked simultaneous war with both Great Britain and Mexico and national ruin in the process. Love him or hate him, Polk was a man of purpose and resolve that played a huge role in creating the country we live in today.

In any case, 132 pages in the book contains a striking passage describing a national zeitgeist that seems sadly diminished today:

The United States that accepted James Polk’s leadership in March 1845 was a nation on the move, animated by an exuberance of spirit. The population, having roughly doubled every twenty years since the Revolution, now stood at 17 million, equivalent to that of Great Britain. The national economy had been expanding at an average annual rate of 3.9 percent. Not even the Panic of 1837, for all of its destructive force, could forestall for long this creation of wealth. And throughout the land could be seen a confidence that fueled national success. “We are now reaching the very height, perhaps, to which we can expect to ascend,” declared the Democratic Wilmington Gazette of Delaware. “Every branch of industry is receiving its reward, and a just, settled policy…is all that is required to prolong, if not perpetuate, such blessings.”

The faith in the future produced an explosion of new technological developments, most notably steam power and Samuel F.B. Morse’s magnetic telegraph. Steam was propelling people and goods across the country at speeds never before imagined-over rails connecting more and more cities and through the waters of America’s many navigable rivers and man-made canals. By the 1830s, during Jackson’s Presidency, the country had 450 locomotives pulling trains over 3,200 miles of track. Now the country’s track mileage exceeded 7,000, and train travel over vast distances had become routine. Henry Clay’s first trip to Washington from Lexington Kentucky, in 1806 had taken three weeks; now he could make the journey by rail in four days-and with much greater comfort.

As remarkable as this was, it seemed almost commonplace alongside Morse’s ability to send information across vast expanses almost instantaneously-“the improvement that annihilates distance,” as Thomas Benton put it. Morse had strung his famous wires from Baltimore to Washington in time for the Democrats’ nominating convention the previous May, and had thrilled Washingtonians with the latest news of developments there. On the rain-soaked day of Polk’s inauguration, Morse had been on the platform, hunched over his little gadget, clanking out detailed descriptions of the inaugural events an expectant crowd in Baltimore and for subsequent readers of newspaper extras rushed to the streets with unprecedented immediacy.

Now the idea was emerging of those wires crisscrossing America along with the expanding ribbons of locomotive transport-connecting North and South and stretching westward with the human migrations then becoming an increasingly powerful element of the American story. All this served as a resounding reply to the hidebound skeptics who asked whether America’s expansionist impulse would eventually outstrip the country’s ability to govern itself. The answer was no: Just as America was encompassing ever greater distances, technology was obliterating the sluggishness of distance.

And so the impulse of exuberant expansionism continued-sending more and more citizens westward and into ever greater cities; fueling an entrepreneurial spirit and technological inventiveness that in turn generated an ongoing economic expansion; spreading a sense of national destiny. “America is the country of the Future,” declared Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844. “It is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations.”





Where Have You Gone Mr. Moynihan? Our Nation Turns its lonely eyes to you

March 12, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The lovely Mrs. Ladner gave me Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary for Christmas. Once I started reading it, a found it quite difficult to put down the 702 page tome. DPM’s career as advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ambassador to India and the United Nations and United States Senator is interesting in itself. The real value of the book however lies in the letters of the scholarly Senator providing a first hand account of how Washington elites wrestled with the issues that still consume us today.

Despite the fact that Johnson viewed DPM somewhat suspiciously as an Irish Catholic “Kennedy man” Moynihan’s memoranda to President Johnson especially jump off the page. Moynihan laid out in detail why the path to the Civil Rights Act was comparatively easy compared to what faced the nation going forward. Americans broadly support equality of opportunity he explained but the reform coalition would inevitably fragment over attempts to provide equality of condition.

Citing data from the United States Armed Services exam, he attempted to steel the resolve of the Johnson administration that American Blacks had been so profoundly damaged by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow that they were poorly situated to thrive in an atmosphere of free competition. DPM estimated that the nation faced a 50 year project to right this wrong, and that it would be enormously controversial, but that the administration may as well get on with it.  You can judge for yourself whether this was a wise course to follow, but Moynihan’s clear-eyed prescience regarding everything leading up to the Civil Rights Act having been the easy part of the struggle is breathtaking in its stark clarity.

During this same period however Moynihan began to sound the alarm concerning the dissolution of the Black family, predicting that the trend would ultimately undermine anti-poverty efforts. DPM gained lifelong enemies on the left for having dared to speak such a truth, only some of whom ever apologized to him years and even decades after it had become abundantly clear that he had been quite correct.

DPM’s cross-species jump to become a prominent policy advisor in the Nixon White House is amusing to watch. Many of DPM’s memos contain dark warnings concerning the New Left campus radicals. While DPM clearly viewed such people as illiberal thugs, as someone born in 1967 I can’t quite decide whether he genuinely viewed such people as a threat to democracy or whether he was simply manipulating a group of gullible Republicans.  Perhaps both and someone who lived through this era should let me know what they think. Regardless, Moynihan paints a vivid picture of a deeply chaotic and misguided America which I am quite happy to have left to others to endure.

DPM’s writings of the time reveals the Nixon administration as deeply concerned with issues of poverty and race along with Moynihan’s growing disenchantment with the Vietnam War. Repeatedly he warns Nixon that what had been Johnson’s War in the public’s perception steadily transforming into Nixon’s burden. DPM pushed Milton Friedman’s proposal for a negative income tax hard, hoping to defuse what he saw as a catastrophic cycle of resentment over welfare programs.

Welfare reform remained Moynihan’s white whale throughout his career in the Senate. He championed meaningful reform legislation in 1989, and led a desperate effort to get the Clinton administration to address the subject in the early 1990s. Moynihan seemed to carry the Hillarycare bill primarily to leverage stronger action on welfare reform, and eventually he turned on the administration. At one point he even set up a meeting between Hillary Clinton and economist William Baumol in an effort to explain the doom of the approach. Later to her credit Senator Clinton graciously admitted that she ought to have listened.

In the end, DPM passionately opposed the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996, coming across as misguided in the process to this reader. Unfortunately it does not come across clearly in the book exactly what sort of welfare reform DPM would have pushed in 1993 if given the chance. In any case, the country will once again be facing these sort of issues as we face the painful task of putting the nation’s fiscal house in order.

It is impossible to read this book without yearning for Moynihan’s trained mind, keen intellect and above all moral courage to return to our national politics.  Moynihan’s lifelong passionate support of parental choice served as simply one example of these towering qualities. Just in case no one else is going to suggest it, a Daniel Patrick Moynihan Institute dedicated to pursuing the still unfinished business of the Senator’s career could greatly enrich our public debate.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, Moynihan was one of the great figures of the United States Senate. When will we see another?

Happy 100th Dr. Friedman

July 31, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Milton Friedman. Thomas Sowell, a former student, has a column in the Investor’s Business Daily marking the event, as does Steven Moore in the WSJ.

I’ll never forget the single chance I had to meet the Friedmans. Dr. Friedman came to testify in favor of a school voucher bill in Austin in 2003. Out of respect to Dr. Friedman’s advanced age, the legislative committee allowed him to sit at the table with them.

The barriers to entry in the Texas legislature are fairly high, and some of the members are accomplished attorneys and businessmen-quite bright. Some members made the mistake of making ineffectual attempts to cross swords with the great man on the subject of vouchers, only to find themselves quickly dispatched. A large crowd of Hispanic parents cheered the aged intellectual gladiator on as he easily disposed of his foes.

A few years ago I had the chance to author a paper on Dr. Friedman’s influence on education policy, and then to attend a symposium with five other authors who focused on different policy areas. I did not fully appreciate Milton Friedman’s greatness until I participated in that symposium. Doug Bandow’s paper on Friedman’s role in ending the draft literally made me laugh out loud on my flight to San Fransisco.

Friedman was a determined opponent of the draft, and served on a commission appointed by President Nixon to study the transition to an all volunteer force. General Westmoreland took time out of his busy schedule of mishandling the war effort in Vietnam to vocally oppose an all-volunteer military. He made the mistake of asserting that he did not want to lead “an army of mercenaries” in a public forum. Dr. Friedman unloaded on him. Friedman described the scene in Two Lucky People:

In the course of his [General Westmoreland’s] testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I [Milton Friedman] stopped him and said, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?’ He drew himself up and said, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.’

I replied, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic  volunteers referred to as mercenaries.’ But I went on to say, ‘If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a  mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.’ That was the last that we  heard from the general about mercenaries.


Dr. Friedman showed us all how to go about our tasks-calm, rational and fearless devotion to logic and evidence. Happy Birthday Milton- we still need you, but will have to do our best on our own. We are in your debt.

Vaclav Havel, Hero of Freedom

December 19, 2011

Sworn in as president of Czechoslovakia

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s a busy couple days for death posts. Vaclav Havel is dead at 75.

I’ve already written my tribute to this hero of freedom – and what education reformers can learn from him – here.

If you want a great laugh and also a poinient deconstruction of the absurdity of trying to rule people by force, do yourself a huge favor and read The Memorandum. (Bonus: It’s short!)

Update: A few more links here.

School Choice Champion Ted Forstmann Passes

November 21, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Ted Forstmann, co-founder of the Children’s Scholarship Fund and Wall Street pioneer, passed away after a battle with cancer. Forstmann played a big role in the early stages of the parental choice movement and will be missed.

Jeb Bush wins Bradley Prize

April 10, 2011


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The good news just keeps rolling in: The Bradley Foundation has awarded former Florida Governor Jeb Bush a prestigious Bradley Prize.

“Governor Bush has been at the forefront of education reform,” said Michael W. Grebe, president and chief executive officer of the Bradley Foundation.  “During his administration and since, Florida students have made incredible gains.  He has also been a vocal advocate for school choice.”

Congratulations to Governor Bush and to the entire Florida reform team!

%d bloggers like this: