In Cincinnati, It's Like a Who Concert for Magnet Schools

For any of us who are perplexed and apalled by the unimaginable incompetency of many (if not all) large public school districts (we'll leave smaller districts for another time), take a gander at an annual ritual of idiocy in Cincinnati, Ohio, whose schools are even worse than its professional football team. That is, of course, despite spending tons of cash on a per-pupil basis—around $13,000 for the 2005-2006 school year, or about 50 percent more than the state average.

Like most big districts, years ago Cincinnati created a series of "magnet" schools, ostensibly as a means of offering specialized curricula equally to all students but in reality a way of keeping a dwindling handful of white parents from fleeing the district. Magnets, of course, require an application process, which already biases the programs to folks with more time, resources, and social capital. But unlike other districts that have somehow managed to come up with an application process that might be even semi-rational, the Cincinnati public school district (CPS) resorts to a bizarre first-come, first-serve setup that typically results in parents camping out overnight in front of their preferred venues, like teenagers in front of concert halls in the bad old pre-Ticketmaster days.

CPS officials are hoping to convince parents it simply isn't necessary to wait in line for days, despite the hype that builds up around the [magnet] schools with outsized demand.

It's impossible to measure this year's demand in advance, said district spokeswoman Janet Walsh, but last year, parents who stood in line for an entire weekend weren't substantially more likely to secure a spot than those who arrived just a few hours early....

CPS is not publicizing the number of available seats in advance as it did last year—something Walsh said may have created an artificially high demand.

"People saw (how few spots were open) and figured they better get there early," said Walsh. "When in fact, almost everybody who got there within a few hours of the actual start of the open-enrollment time got in."

Principals will not allow campsites to interfere with a school day either today or Tuesday, Walsh said. That could include simply banning camping altogether, Walsh said.

It's understandable why parents want to get their kids into magnet schools: Their kids get a much better education by virtually any measure. And if their kids don't get into a magnet school, they're likely to be sent to what the Cincinnati Enquirer suggests is a "struggling school that has repeatedly failed to meet federal and state achievement standards."

CPS, writes the Enquirer with hilarious understatement, "has struggled for years in finding an application method that doesn't give an unfair advantage to families with paid vacation time, traditional work hours and cars."

In fact, that gets it almost exactly wrong. If the district wanted to change the policy to help people without cars, traditional work hours, and personal transportation (i.e., the relatively poor and disadvantaged), they wouldn't require parents to show up early at schools during the work week. They would canvas neighborhoods, community centers, churches, you name it, on the weekends or the evenings.

More to the point, they would take a page from Rock 'n' Roll High School and blow the whole system up by, at the very least, turning every public school into a charter school that would need to compete for students (better yet, they would just give everyone a voucher they could use in any school, public or private). Such moves simply could not make the schools worse and they would certainly increase the opportunities that poor kids trapped in the current system have.

When I read stories such as this one about the CPS, I'm reminded of the basic Szaszian, public choice, and Marxist readings of "helping" institutions: Despite their rhetoric about uplift and opportunity, institutions such as public schools aren't there to shake up the social pyramid but to set it in frigging concrete. How better to punish the poor by creating a system that trains them in failure from the very beginning, all the while pretending to offer slim reeds of hope such as a handful of slots in "magnet schools"? Anything but actual choice because that could, you know, lead to actual choice.

As the father of modern school reform, Milton Friedman, told reason in 2005:

As to the benefits of universal vouchers, empowering parents would generate a competitive education market, which would lead to a burst of innovation and improvement, as competition has done in so many other areas. There's nothing that would do so much to avoid the danger of a two-tiered society, of a class-based society. And there's nothing that would do so much to ensure a skilled and educated work force.

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  • ||

    ... take a gander at an annual ritual of idiocy in Cincinnati, Ohio, whose schools are even worse than its professional football team.



    Bah! In Detroit we have worse schools and a crappier football team.

    When is Paulson going to bail out the Lions?

  • ||

    It seems that in order for vouchers to be effective, they would have to pay most or all of the tuition at a desirable school. But granting all parents vouchers in that amount might inflate the cost of elementary and secondary education, as public funding of college tuition seems to have done. Do any supporters of vouchers have some suggestions to deal with this possibility?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    It seems that in order for vouchers to be effective, they would have to pay most or all of the tuition

    Certainly debatable. Vouchers could break the public schools' district-based monopoly even if only covered an average of 25% of the cost.

  • ||

    empowering parents would generate a competitive education market, which would lead to a burst of innovation and improvement

    Or, it might lead to a burst of frantic wagon-circling and defensive lobbying by the Degreed Educator class to bar such insanely destructive changes to a successful and well honed system.

  • ||

    Well how else will these future criminals be comfortable in prison unless the school system mimics it?

  • Abdul||

    I'm reminded of the basic Szazsian, public choice, and Marxist readings of "helping" institutions

    Is this "sneak a Szazs into every post day" at H&R?

  • ||

    When is Paulson going to bail out the Lions?

    As soon as he sees them play, from Bill Ford's our skybox.

  • Kolohe||

    Is this "sneak a Szazs into every post day" at H&R?

    I fear the day that Chapman writes about Szazs.

  • ||

    Thanks, Abdul. I've been wondering the same thing.

  • Russ||

    Milton Friedman ... school reform? This is the wizard whose ideas have all - ALL - come crashing to earth of late. Haven't you seen the news?

    Whatever the problems in public schools or in any other aspect of our national life, the one thing we know will not work is to throw more ideological at it. This article offers no evidence based solutions to anything. Just an anecdotal described problem solved by discredited Randian aphorism.

    "Sorry I can't read, Ma. The Dogma ate my homework."

  • Another Phil||

    Milton Friedman ... school reform? This is the wizard whose ideas have all - ALL - come crashing to earth of late. Haven't you seen the news?

    Have you every read anything written by Friedman?

    ...the one thing we know will not work is to throw more ideological at it.

    An excellent example of joez law.

  • ||

    Have you every read anything written by Friedman?

    His books have been banned.

  • Giant Mother Mouse||

    More to the point, they would take a page from Rock 'n' Roll High School and blow the whole system up

    Help! My babies are in there!

  • Bob Szasz||

    What's up with Nick's man-crush on Thomas Szasz? It seems like every post he's written in the past few weeks has mentioned him, and there's two in a row this morning!

  • ChrisO||

    When is Paulson going to bail out the Lions?

    All of the T-Bills in China couldn't fix that mess.

  • robc||

    I was expecting stories of parents getting trampled to death. The headline is a LIE!!!

  • Pendulum||

    Can anyone offer a good defense of why public school enhance class divisions, rather than reduce them?

    Frankly, I find the progressive point that public schools reduce class divisions to be a good one. I'm happy to be talked out of it if someone can offer a proper argument to this effect.

  • Pendulum||

    >What's up with Nick's man-crush on Thomas Szasz? It seems like every post he's written in the past few weeks has mentioned him, and there's two in a row this morning!

    Yes, what is up with that? Szasz' ideas, while provocative, reduce to anti-scientific dogma and feature a bizarre aversion to making value judgments of any kind. Were his ideas to gain widespread currency, the results would be horrifying.

  • rhywun||

    "Such moves simply could not make the schools worse and they would certainly increase the opportunities that poor kids trapped in the current system have."



    It would make some schools better and some worse, like any private venture. Uninformed people should realize that before they form an opinion on the matter.

  • Abra Cadaver||

    "like teenagers in front of concert halls in the bad old pre-Ticketmaster days."

    And people complain about Ticketmasters' fees. Back in 1979, I actually waited in line for ten hours in order to get Who tickets. I'll take fees over a ten hour wait any day.

  • ||

    Certainly debatable. Vouchers could break the public schools' district-based monopoly even if only covered an average of 25% of the cost.

    Do public schools enjoy a monopoly now? What percent of the market do private schools have? In any case, if every parent got a voucher that covered an average of 25% of the current cost, why wouldn't existing schools increase tuition fees by 20%? For the current customers of these schools, it would mean a net savings, so the increase wouldn't likely decrease the number of students they currently serve, but wouldn't it greatly diminish the effectiveness of vouchers in providing an alternative for families who can't afford private schooling now?

  • SIV||


    Is this "sneak a Szazs into every post day" at H&R?


    I'm all for it. Enough Szasz references and citations just might scare off the undesirable elements around this joint.

  • SIV||

    And what is this bs about Szasz being "anti-science"? He writes about liberty, the State,and medicine.I don't recall him addressing science, either positively or negatively, very much at all.

  • Andy||

    Why don't we just ask parents if they want vouchers?

    "Can anyone offer a good defense of why public school enhance class divisions, rather than reduce them?"

    My ignorant of the real world ass can take a shot if no one else will.

    It's not so much public school itself, more the system of education we have. The rich can afford to send their kids anywhere. Meaning the best schools they can find. And the best colleges like kids from the best high schools (they also like the children of the rich). So the sytem keeps at least two tiers, arguably three since the poorest (read: minority) areas have the shittiest schools. Fewer kids graduate, fewer go on to college, learn more about the system, gain influence to change it.

    The voucher system isn't designed to destroy public schools, it's designed to help kids in the worst schools get out, and the middle tier schools to improve due to competition for kids. Again, the rich will always find ways to come out on top.

  • ||

    What percentage of congresscritters, GS-12s and up, generals, cabinet assisstant secretaries, congressional staff members, lobbyists, foreign diplomats, and the like send their kids to DC public schools?

    I'm certain the number approaches zero. That is all of the evidence I need to blow up the fucking public school system.*

    Maybe it's not their fault the system produces such poor results. That is no reason to keep the system around. If I hire a cow to prevent flooding on my farm, it is not the cows fault when my farm floods. But I'd be pretty foolish to keep paying the cow, even giving her a raise, to continue the effort.

    * That's figuratively of course, we'll save the literal explosives for the AFT union hall.

  • zoltan||

    I attended Cincinnati public schools in my first and second grade years. In one school I was basically called a social outcast by one of the teachers and one of the other schools didn't even have walls, just bulletin boards separating the "classrooms." The third school did have a playground in our own classroom though. I guess that makes up for the other suckiness.

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