Enlow: It’s Bailout v. Vouchers

May 25, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Need an antidote to Whinegarten in the Journal? Try Robert Enlow in USA Today:

If this president and Congress really wanted to help children and benefit teachers, it would emancipate students so their parents could use their own tax dollars to obtain educational services wherever they wanted — at charter schools, virtual schools or with a voucher to transfer to the private school of their choice. But that’s not really what they want. Instead, they want to maintain a status quo that is designed to benefit the adults rather than brighten the future of children.

It’s not just this $23 billion bill, it’s the whole stinking system that’s one big slow-motion perpetual bailout. What are the odds you’ll get serious change without school choice? 3,720 to none.

Yet Another Dem for Choice

May 12, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In today’s Journal, a candidate for Pennsylvania governor offers a hard-hitting argument for school choice. And this is no “lifeboats for the worst off” argument for rinky-dink vouchers. He denounces the money myth and argues that every institution needs competition to thrive – the argument for universal choice.

Oh, did I mention he’s Democrat Anthony Williams?

The unions are still strong, but every day they’re a little bit less strong. And this is how it happens – the social justice folks are waking up to realize what the unions are all about, and they’re starting to contest the unions’ hammerlock on the Democratic party. What was it Danny DeVito said in Other People’s Money? “Obsolescence . . . down the tubes, slow but sure.”

Little Ramona Delivers the Fail

March 9, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

My response to the article in today’s Journal by Little Ramona is mostly the same as Whitney Tilson’s response to her book. From his e-mail blast today:

So far I’m hugely unimpressed.  She does a nice job of capturing the failures of the existing system and takes delight in poking holes at reform efforts over the past decade (while playing fast and loose with the facts and/or only presenting one side of the story), yet there is a shocking, gaping void when it comes to any thoughtful ideas for alternatives.

In other words, her attempt to say anything that is either new or interesting has failed.

Everyone Wins in the Wall Street Journal

November 4, 2009

Everybody Wins

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today’s Journal has a hard-hitting editorial on Marcus’s new study showing that competition from charters improves regular public schools in NYC.

Opponents of school choice are running out of excuses as evidence continues to roll in about the positive impact of charter schools…State and local policy makers who cave to union demands and block the growth of charters aren’t doing traditional public school students any favors.

And where did you read about it first? Oh yeah.

Death Panels for College Kids!

August 21, 2009

Monopoly - Pennybags

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Pardon me while I toot my horn that the editors of the Wall Street Journal have picked up on the story that federal student loans illustrate how a “public option” inevitably becomes a single-payer government monopoly. Remember, you read it here first! (Well, OK, not really. You read it on NRO first. But we had it before the Journal!)

And please please please do yourself a favor – read Andy McCarthy’s incisive NRO article today on the probability of, and implications of, an Obama victory on health care. It’s a sobering corrective to the undue optimism many of us (myself included) have begun to feel over the past few weeks.

The spectre of James Madison has been doing yeoman’s work in DC this summer. If you want to know why the Democrats had to neuter the early-year provisions of Cap and Trade and are now struggling so hard over health care, just read Federalist 10. Madison built the walls of the Constitution high and thick to repulse precisely this sort of assault. Thank God for that man!

But it’s all too easy to assume that justice must prevail when the facts and the rights are clear, and McCarthy’s analysis (though I don’t agree with every particular of it) has sobered me up.

People do, in fact, sell their freedom. It happens every day. And not just in far-flung corners of the globe but in your neighborhood, on your block. Why do you think the founders got so animated and hyperbolic about the monstrosity of selling your freedom every time the subject came up? Not because it couldn’t happen here, nor even because it could, but because it did. Repeatedly. To sell your freedom is the fundamental tendency of man’s fallen nature. (Read Federalist 8. Or Federalist 51. Or, for that matter, Federalist 4, 6, 10, 15…)

McCarthy is right: “We could still lose this thing.” And there is nothing to stop the consequences from being as dire as he foresees them being.

Correcting a WSJ Error

July 23, 2009

White out

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today I sent the following letter to the Wall Street Journal:

To the Editor:

I wish to correct a factual error in your otherwise outstanding editorial “Bashing Career Colleges” (July 22). You erroneously state that “Pell grants and other public aid can be used like a voucher for public or private colleges and universities.” In fact, Pell grants and other government-sponsored college scholarships cannot be used “like” school vouchers because they are school vouchers.

As long as we’re asking why school vouchers are wonderful for students at non-profit colleges but deplorable for students at for-profit colleges, let’s also ask why they’re wonderful for students at non-profit colleges but deplorable for students at non-profit high schools!

Greg Forster

Senior Fellow, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Detroit Public Schools Consider Bankrupcy

July 22, 2009


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

An enormous experiment in school choice is going on in Michigan, and it doesn’t receive a fraction of the attention it deserves. The Detroit Public Schools- perhaps the most dysfunctional of the nation’s large urban districts- has been bleeding students and is now actually considering seeking bankruptcy protection.

The Wall Street Journal lays it out:

DPS’s enrollment — which largely determines its allotment of state funding — is about half what it was in 2001, as suburban districts and charter schools have siphoned off tens of thousands of students. By this fall, DPS will have 172 schools open and more than 100 vacant. Meanwhile, the high-school-graduation rate is 58%; coupled with the enrollment losses, only about one-quarter of students who start high school in the district graduate from it in four years, according to outside estimates.

But DPS’s problems go beyond the type that sank GM and Chrysler. Wide-scale corruption has depleted district coffers, which held a $103.6 million surplus as recently as 2002. In June, Mr. Bobb’s new team of forensic accountants found DPS paychecks going to 257 “ghost” employees who have yet to be accounted for. A separate Federal Bureau of Investigation probe in May led to the indictment of a former payroll manager and another former employee on charges of bilking the district out of about $400,000 over four years.

Given the longterm academic results of DPS, shrinking it in half in 8 years should be considered a humanitarian triumph. Don’t cry for the people working for DPS- all that money has shifted to schools where parents would rather have their children. Instead- celebrate for the students.

In the late 1990s, state lawmakers abolished the Detroit school board and appointed a CEO. I recall that person studied the situation for a few months and concluded that not a single business function of the district worked as it should. Contractors were being paid for work they didn’t do. The reported high school dropout rate was around 75%.

The inescapable conclusion: DPS was a money trough for adults that might occasionally educate a student here and there, but only by accident.

Further- bankruptcy could be very much in the best interest of the students in the district. It would allow administrators to modify union contracts and perhaps, gasp, make it feasible to let teachers go for academic failure or professional misconduct. Perhaps even reward teachers for outstanding work.

An interesting set of dynamics led to this point. In 1999, I coauthored a study for the Mackinac Center exploring the dynamics of public school choice. I interviewed a number of inner-ring suburban superintendents, some of whom were quite candid with me.

The basic story is that initially, the suburbs were not interested in participating in open enrollment competition for students. One superintendent, when I asked him why his district didn’t participate, replied “I think the feeling around here is that we’ve got a pretty good thing going, and we want to keep the unwashed masses out.”

As the charter schools got into the act, however, it compelled some of the school districts to defect and begin accepting open enrollment transfers. This had a snowball effect- now districts were losing students to both charter schools and school districts. This motivated them to accept transfers themselves.

As more districts opened their doors to transfers, and more charter schools continued to open, the biggest opportunitity gains were realized by students in Detroit.

WSJ Dances Kabuki

June 12, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

First it was Mike Petrilli, now the Wall Street Journal joins the Obama/Duncan dance on charter schools.

Kids, simply having a charter law does not mean you actually have charter schools worthy of the name.

It can’t be! The Journal!

Jim, we knew this was a possibility when we first confirmed the presence of the kabuki phenomenon.

But . . . the Journal!

The Wall Street Journal is a newspaper, subject to the same political imperatives as any other. To expect it to be immune to kabuki would be illogical.

Oh, come of  it! This is the Journal we’re talking about, you green-blooded hobgoblin! Can’t you think about anything but logic at a time like this!

Shouting will not remedy the situation, doctor. I recommend we ask Mr. Checkov to arm the photon torpedoes.

Twin Editorials on Milwaukee Vouchers

June 4, 2009

Weasley Twins

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This morning the Wall Street Journal and National Review Online both take on the covert effort to destroy Milwaukee vouchers by political subterfuge.

From the Journal:

Because the 20-year-old program polls above 60% with voters, and even higher among minorities, killing it outright would be unpopular. Instead, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle wants to reduce funding and pass “reforms” designed to regulate the program to death. The goal is to discourage private schools from enrolling voucher students and thus force kids to return to unionized public schools.

From NRO:

Last week, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved a series of auditing, accrediting, and instructional requirements that will force successful voucher schools to shift resources away from classrooms and into administration. Several schools will have to comply with new bilingual-education mandates, even though many immigrant parents choose those schools precisely because they emphasize the rapid acquisition of English instead of native-language maintenance.

Both editorials also mention looming cuts in funding for vouchers, even though the program saves huge taxpayer dollars and the bloated government schools are getting increases in funding. Both editorials cite Robert Costrell’s calculation that the difference between private school efficiency and public school bloat has saved taxpayers $180 million – though only NRO mentions Costrell by name.

And NRO also gets a gold star for this:

Researchers say that the program is beginning to show systemic effects. In other words, it doesn’t merely help its participants. It also gives a lift to non-voucher students because the pressure of competition has forced public schools to improve.

C’mon, Wall Street Journal, get on the ball!

Quality not Qualified!

April 2, 2009




(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is planning on leveraging stimulus money for states to improve their collection and use of data demonstrating progress on student achievement and teacher quality.

How well states collect — and act upon — that data will determine whether they qualify for money, Mr. Duncan said. “In order for us to improve, we must be much more open and honest about what works in the classroom and what doesn’t,” he said in a conference call with reporters. Mr. Duncan added that the funding would be carried out with “absolute transparency and accountability.”

So far so good.

However, the article then says it wants states to track qualifications, especially in high-poverty schools.

There is of course a very large problem with that. Low-income students with high quality but “poorly qualified” teachers are lucky to have them. Far luckier than those with low quality but highly qualified teachers.

Overall, however, I like the direction they are going. If you are going to be doling out an absurd amount of money, you may as well try to get something in return for it. Participation is voluntary, and competitive, which is also good.

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