Schoolhouse Crock

I just read Lisa Snell's article about my brother's plan to improve public education ("Schoolhouse Crock," August/September). While she made some important points, I do think she discounted the trials and tribulations of being in the arena, trying to make reforms against significant opposition. I did not see in the article any realistic alternatives to his proposal or what we are trying to do here in Florida.

Our accountability efforts have yielded rising student achievement across the board with even better results in the lower performing schools. In Florida, we also allow for vouchers for all ESE [special ed] students. Next school year, a corporate tax credit will allow low-income parents to send their kids to private schools. Each incremental reform creates the opportunity for another one. If Snell has a realistic alternative, this governor would love to learn about it.

Gov. Jeb Bush
Tallahassee, FL

One need not be a Pollyanna to see optimistic signs to balance Lisa Snell's well-crafted cover story on why federal dollars can't buy true school reform any more than true love.

First, tiny though it may be now, the new Title I provision allowing families in failing public schools to purchase private tutoring services does establish a beachhead for expanded private choice.

Moreover, while lobbyists for the education monopoly were gunning for Title I vouchers, President Bush quietly used the tax bill to advance the principle that families should be free to direct their education dollars as they see fit. The expansion of tax-sheltered Education Savings Accounts to K?12 wipes out the monopoly's irrational contention that tax breaks should be reserved for students fortunate enough to go to college.

Finally, the Bush administration's biggest boost for school reform may have come in Solicitor General Ted Olson's call for the U.S. Supreme Court to use the Cleveland case to uphold the constitutionality of free-choice vouchers. If vouchers are sustained by the nation's highest court, that will open the door to hundreds of locally devised initiatives, such as Louisiana's plan to aid 600 poor New Orleans preschoolers in enrolling in parochial schools this fall. And, after all, that's where true reform must blossom—at the grassroots.

Robert Holland
Lexington Institute
Arlington, VA

We live in the "highly regarded" suburban school district of Plano, Texas, where over 90 percent of all students passed all the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) tests last year. We have 40 "exemplary" campuses and 21 Blue Ribbon schools, myriad awards, and a reputation that brings thousands to town every year because of the "quality" of the education.

Imagine my surprise when I found out achievement at my daughter's elementary school and the district in general wasn't all it was cracked up to be. According to the Just For the Kids Foundation (www. Just4kids.org), while 93 percent of third graders managed to "pass" the mathematics TAAS in 1999, only 44 percent managed a higher "proficient" standard determined by the foundation. That led me to look into just exactly what it means to "pass" the TAAS. A few years ago a third grader had to answer about 75 percent of the questions correctly in order to pass. Now it is closer to 50 percent of the questions.

I am dismayed when news reports show record numbers of parents giving their public schools terrific ratings. Why? We can't even teach our children to multiply! Change will not occur as long as school districts and state education departments and even the Department of Education are allowed to send out what amounts to propaganda about student achievement without being challenged.

Susan Sarhady
Plano, TX

Just because Lisa Snell's son is attending a school with sub-par reading scores doesn't mean he has to be a sub-par reader. Parents, not the school system or the government, are ultimately responsible for their children's education.

Snell is right in saying that the president's plan is doomed to failure. But not for the reasons she cites. This new plan will fail for precisely the same reason all the previous plans failed: because there is nothing the federal government can do to substantially improve the nation's schools—except, perhaps, get out of their way. Our poor schools are not so much a sickness themselves as they are a symptom of the greater epidemic: Individuals don't want to take any responsibility. Parents won't take responsibility for what their children learn (much less what they do); they expect the schools to take care of that. And communities won't take responsibility for their failing schools. That's government's job, isn't it?

Rob Jenkins
Lawrenceville, GA

While at my children's school registration, I had to complete an Emergency Contact Form. I noticed that, for the first time, it has a spot for cell phones.

My peers in the mortgage processing business have been busy reformatting interest rate calculations, reports, and systems to translate between American currency and European currency. Meanwhile, my kid's school just made a leap to acknowledge cell phones—kind of. You see, the fifth grade teacher said she thought cell phone use was a sign of self-importance. This is the person preparing my child to join the global economy 10 years from now?

Lynne Sommer
Jacksonville, FL

To Lisa Snell, it seems that choice in schooling can only exist if government provides it. After complaining that her local government schools are low-performing (surprise, socialism doesn't work), she complains that her "only options are relocation, home schooling, or…investment of a small fortune in private school tuition."

This sounds like a fine set of choices. In reality, Snell's complaint is that the improvement in her child's education from one of these alternatives is not worth the cost to obtain it. She wishes the state would reduce the cost/benefit gap with a voucher. The voucher movement is not talking about choice per se, but government subsidized choice. As Snell implicitly acknowledges, the market is already providing school choice. In most locations there are numerous private school options and they don't all cost "a small fortune." In the Raleigh, N.C., area, for example, tuition ranges from $2,000 to $10,000 a year. Even in the relatively expensive suburban Washington, D.C., area, there are private schools with tuition as low as $4,000 to $5,000. Parents often pay more than this for pre-school or daycare.

If parents don't think their children's education is worth the cost associated with private or home schooling, then the government already provides them with one cheap out—that's more than enough.

Roy Cordato
Angier, NC

Lisa Snell replies: While I applaud the incremental reforms that Gov. Bush has implemented in Florida, politicians discount the trials and tribulations of parents who actually have to enroll their children in failing schools.

As for a realistic alternative, give parents the right to exit to a better-performing public school. Open enrollment between public schools should not be optional.

Robert Holland is right—for a few lucky parents, there are a few more modest choices. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of vouchers, there should be more grassroots school-choice experiments.

I identify and sympathize with Susan Sarhady and Lynne Sommer. Yes, these are the people preparing our children for the global economy. Rob Jenkins is right on target, but until you give parents the opportunity to exit the public schools in a cost-effective manner, most parents will continue to shrug off the responsibility for their children's education.

Finally, Roy Cordato is partly right. The three choices are a "fine set of choices" for some parents. My son Jacob is enrolled in a small high-quality private school. I can afford to pay twice. Too bad all the other El Cerrito Elementary school parents cannot afford to pay twice and leave the school and its 36th percentile reading scores.

Criminal Profiling

Gene Callahan and William Anderson's otherwise excellent article, "The Roots of Racial Profiling" (August/September), failed to expose the role of race in America's first drug laws. Drug war apologists typically describe the disproportionate impact on minorities as "unintended consequences." That's not entirely true. The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 was preceded by a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. Opium was identified with Chinese laborers, marijuana with Mexicans, and cocaine with African-Americans.

There is a strong case to be made for the argument that America's drug laws were once intended as a means of disenfranchising minorities.

A review of the testimony that led to the passage of early drug laws like the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 reveals a racist intent on the part of many politicians. Keep in mind that Jim Crow was very much alive in the early 20th century. Racial profiling was both expected and encouraged by the white majority.

Granted, modern day drug warriors are (hopefully) not out to incarcerate as many minorities as possible. Nonetheless, the racist intent on the part of early drug warriors is very much relevant to today's outcomes.

The drug war has evolved into an intergenerational culture war. Members of the '60s counterculture are all grown up, and now youth rave culture is the latest target. It's not health outcomes that determine America's Draconian drug laws, but rather cultural norms.

Robert Sharpe
The Lindesmith Center?Drug
Policy Foundation
Washington, DC

"The Roots of Racial Profiling" reminded me of an experience I had in 1994, while in college. As a white man living in Cornhill, a nearly exclusively black, crime-ridden neighborhood in the throes of the crack epidemic, in Utica, N.Y., I was headed out my driveway on a weekend night to my job in a convenience store. A police car's lights flashed as I pulled onto the street.

The officer, who was black, came up and asked me for my license and asked a few questions. The last two stood out. He asked why I looked familiar and I told him it was because I give him coffee, wherein he recognized me from the store where I worked. The second was whether I knew why I had been pulled over, to which I replied I did not. He said, "Well, we don't get too many white boys down here this time of night."

It was a few days before it hit me I had been pulled over because of the color of my skin, and years before I heard the term "racial profiling." But one thing was clear: This officer was completely professional and honest, and he was no racist, the conventional wisdom be damned.

In a neighborhood rife with murder, crack whores, and gunfire, that officer was merely playing the odds that after dark a white person was even money for picking up a hooker, buying drugs, or otherwise breaking the law. I appreciated that he wanted to clean up the area.

And as Cincinnati residents found out, he could have taken a nap instead, rather than take the chance that some self-righteous international studies student would call the American Civil Liberties Union whining about rights.

Greg Smith
Chazy, NY

Drawing Fire

I found it interesting that in "The Great Gun Fight" between Robert Ehrlich and John Lott Jr. (August/September), evidence from other countries was never considered by either side. I understand that the incidence of gun-related crime in countries such as Britain and Canada is a fraction of that in the U.S., presumably due to gun control. Control of hand guns limits the number of guns available to criminals, whether acquired through purchase or theft. And don't most shootings occur between people who know each other? Surely gun control would limit this.

John Lott poses a hypothetical in which a mass murderer starts shooting people at random and several bystanders pull out their guns. In such a scenario, we have to hope three things to be true: (1) the bystanders have enough skill to hit what they aim at; (2) the bystanders can accurately identify the bad guy/girl and not target each other; and (3) the police, when they arrive, know whom to shoot.

Godfried Pimlott
Victoria, British Columbia

Robert Ehrlich believes that deterrence is ineffective for mass murderers because "these psychos" would "relish the idea of going out in a blaze of glory." He cites the prevalence of "suicide by police" to bolster his contention.

However, suicide by cop is easily distinguishable from "suicide by armed citizen." The former occurs after the killer has accomplished his self-assigned mission; the latter is either mid-massacre or, with luck, before innocent life is lost. Hyper-motivated killers may not fear death, but they do fear failure. By increasing the probability of failure and bringing a swift end to any incidents that occur, armed citizens perform a double service to their communities.

Still, I doubt that right-to-carry laws have much direct impact on aggregate crime rates. Most predators are reckless opportunists. The critical metrics are probably the proportion of armed to unarmed citizens, and the likelihood of apprehension.

But this is academic. The bottom line is the individual's right to be armed. If our leaders really wanted to cut crime, they would legalize drugs. This would gut crime syndicates, greatly reduce robbery and theft, and totally eliminate over a third of all current arrests in one fell swoop. There would be no need for statistical chicanery to tease out the results.

Ken Lynch
Huntsville, TX

Imperial Poverty

L.E. Birdzell Jr. may or may not be right about why Third World countries are poor ("How the East Grew Poor," August/September). But in his haste to debunk Mike Davis' theory on that subject, he neglected to mention a central theme of Late Victorian Holocausts, a theme which is also central to the work of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen: During famines, there is nearly always enough food in a country to prevent anyone from starving.

The starvation of tens of millions of people in India during famines under British rule was partly caused by adherence to laissez-faire ideology. The comparison to the horror of Mao's Great Leap Forward is entirely appropriate. Even Robert Nozick in his libertarian days held to a Lockean proviso that human life takes precedence over property rights in times of emergency.

Donald Johnson
Nyack, NY

L.E. Birdzell Jr. replies: I offer three observations. First, it is commonplace that crop failure is often local or regional, so that food may be in surplus in close geographical or political proximity to starvation. But where relief food can best be procured is immaterial to the government's basic responsibility. For the many famines, from North Korea to the Horn of Africa, where relief food has been imported, government obstructionism has been neither more nor less reprehensible than in famines where food might have been procured locally.

Second, laissez-faire "ideology" taught reduced government interference in market exchange. Gifts of food to starving people without money to pay for it are not exchange transactions and encountered no effective ideological opposition, laissez faire or other. Though Britain repeatedly acknowledged government responsibility for famine relief, it failed in the funding. Its inadequacy of funding is amply explained by political traditions much older than, and entirely unrelated to, laissez faire.

Finally, nobody questions the emergency powers of government to requisition or destroy property to save lives. However, the circumstances where their exercise would be appropriate need not arise in a famine unless the government has failed its primary responsibilities.

Southern Redemption

I have noted Charles Oliver's review of When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession, my book on the Civil War ("Southern Nationalism," August/September). In the interest of fairness to your readers, to me as the author, and to 30 years of research on the matter, you should know the book was given the 2000 Paradigm Book Award.

I wrote the book hoping to help heal the breach between the North and South, which I thought was a worthwhile objective. I am not a Southerner. I received my history training at Whittier College, with post graduate work at the University of California and the University of Southern California.

I also have the suspicion that your reviewer did not study my text carefully, which seems to be common for reviewers these days.

Charles Adams
Cato Institute Adjunct Scholar
Washington, DC

Dead Serious

I enjoyed Jacob Sullum's citing "Rave Rage" (August/September), but I do have one small quibble with the lede: "Despite all the pot and LSD consumed at their concerts, no one ever tried to ban the Grateful Dead."

Not true. Not only have many tried, but in the city of Syracuse, N.Y., they succeeded. After a Carrier Dome concert in 1989 that spawned more than 100 drug arrests, the city council passed a resolution permanently banning the Dead from ever playing there again. The ban was still in effect when Jerry Garcia died in 1995 and the band's touring legacy ended.

Ray Lehmann
Union, NJ

Quality Time

Should working mothers rejoice in response to Michael W. Lynch's piece "Kiddie Time" (August/September), which concludes that "children in today's fast-paced America are getting 10 more hours of parental attention each week than they used to?" Statistics don't lie, but conclusions can perhaps be a bit misleading or downright wrong.

The data shows that stay-at-home mothers spent 26.06 hours a week dedicated to parental attention between 1981 and 1997. Meanwhile, in 1997, working mothers spent 26.54 hours. Is this difference significant? All these numbers seem to show is that working mothers today spend about the same amount of time with their kids as stay-at-home moms of the past.

The claim that mothers are now getting 10 more hours with their children is absolutely wrong. According to the numbers presented, working mothers are spending about 4 hours a week more and nonworking mothers about 6 hours more than in 1981. Did Lynch perhaps add these two numbers?

It is amusing that given the same statistics, one could imagine a headline claiming, "Working moms today spend even less time with their children relative to stay-at-home moms than ever before." In 1981 the gap was about 3 hours but today it's about 5 hours—almost a 60 percent increase!

Mark G. Kuzyk
Pullman, WA

Michael W. Lynch replies: There are many ways to cut up any data set, and I thank Mr. Kuzyk for alerting us to perhaps the most negative. I didn't add 4 and 6 to get 10. I simply added something that is often overlooked by people obsessed with professional motherhood: time fathers spend with their children. For children in two-parent families, the increase in parental attention was 10 hours per week. The figure for all children is 7 hours. The study can be found on the Web at www.psc.isr.umich.edu/pubs/papers/rr01-475.pdf.