Milton Friedman Guest-Edits the New York Times

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That's one way of explaining this sunshine and lollipops report on the school vouchers experiment in Washington, DC. Reporter Diana Jean Schemo tackles the subject with a mix of understanding and pathos.

In one sixth-grade classroom, two of six students said they would probably go to charter schools next year, unless Adams could get its seventh grade started.

"I'll probably go to Washington Latin," said Jhontelle Johnson, setting her sights on a new charter school opening in August. If not, she said, "I'd probably be home-schooled."

A teacher's aide, Sheonna Griffin, looked askance. "You don't like public schools?" she asked the child.

Jhontelle turned back, her young eyes flashing. "You can't make me go," she said.

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  1. “They’re really about subsidizing private schools, not about improving schools for all children,” Mr. Weaver [NEA President] said in an interview.

    That’s such a crock of crap. And people wonder why school choice supporters have such a negative opinion of teacher’s unions. Statements like this give serious substance to the idea that they fight vouchers simply to shore up their own power base.

  2. MP-I wasn’t aware that there is any question about that. Making sure that students are educated is clearly not the aim of the NEA.

  3. you thought that one was bad?

    “We’re about educating everybody,” [principal] Ms. Parker said, dismissing vouchers and charters as “a way of raping the public schools of students and resources.”

    That’s me, all about raping public schools. But have you seen the way they look with their pipes and wiring exposed, just asking for it?

    DC public schools are a pro-voucher advocate’s wet dream. We pay so much and get so little and on top of that you have stuff like the DC Teacher’s Union scandal or two students shot yesterday at Roosevelt High.

  4. sunshine and lollipops report
    Reading it gave me a bad case of the warm fuzzies.

    Do school vouchers do any good?

    +++
    http://www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/EPRU/documents/cerai-00-31.htm#_ednref7
    To date, the evidence for this has been mixed at best. The outcomes in Milwaukee, for instance, have been hotly debated. One researcher found no difference between the performance of Milwaukee Public School children and those using vouchers.2 Others found differences favoring vouchers in both reading and mathematics,3 while a third found an advantage only in math.4 This last researcher also observed that the voucher children were in small schools andsmall classes, conditions known to improve achievement.5 Moreover, in evaluating each of these divergent conclusions, it should be noted that, even if the choice and public school students were the same at the start of the experiment, they certainly were not after four years: the choice students included in the survey had been in one school all four years, something quite unusual for poor, inner-city children.6

    In another recent, widely reported study that purported to show students who used vouchers to enroll in private schools did better than a control group of public school students, the company that gathered and analyzed the data disputed the researchers’ public statements about the conclusions. Analysts at Mathematica Research said the researchers’ announcement of such results was premature and exaggerated the findings.7

    In the study, which examined privately funded voucher programs in New York, Washington, and Dayton, data were extremely mixed. In New York, African-American students showed gains in both years of the study, but other ethnicities showed small, but insignificant, losses.
    +++

    Sounds like a wash to me. I predict that long term results will show that vouchers don’t make any significant difference.

  5. >ahem<<br />
    I predict smart kids will succeed no matter what school system they go to, and stupid kids will fail and blame the system.

  6. I had a discussion about this with my boss recently, and we came to the conclusion that the one problem you can’t solve is peole not being involved or not caring. Kids whose families don’t value education probably won’t care about school either, and you can’t MAKE people learn if they don’t want to.

    This is why I’m in favor of vouchers: they might improve the lot of the kids of parents who care, or just of kids who care despite familial/cultural difficulties, and I don’t think the kids who aren’t going to give a damn would be any worse off. We’ve tried the top-down centralized approach, it’s an abject failure, time to try something different. Regardless of what those happiness researchers say, more choice is always a good thing.

  7. Mr. F. Le Mur,

    The problem is that there are no true Friedman voucher programs. Existing programs are income based, and thus will never lead to the end of the monopolistic status of public schools. Also, there is a high amount of variability between programs, making it near impossible to do valid comparisons across programs.

    I don’t expect to ever see true Friedman vouchers in my lifetime. Until it happens, the various current efforts are simply putting fingers in the dyke.

  8. Even if vouchers are a mixed bag, does it matter? The real question is whether it’s fair to insist that parents pay into the public schools if, given the opportunity to choose, they’d select a private or parochial school. Vouchers obviously aren’t the perfect, non-coercive libertarian solution, but as alternatives to the current system go, they’re not the worst.

  9. Even if vouchers are a mixed bag, does it matter? The real question is whether it’s fair to insist that parents pay into the public schools if, given the opportunity to choose, they’d select a private or parochial school. Vouchers obviously aren’t the perfect, non-coercive libertarian solution, but as alternatives to the current system go, they’re not the worst.

  10. I predict the poor kids will end up being “home schooled” just like Jhontelle. I predict the children of families with more money will continue to go to schools of some sort. I predict the wealth distribution in the US will become more skewed because of this. I predict that all the people posting here will be on the happy side of these changes.

  11. I predict that the above troll will be well fed.

  12. “I predict that all the people posting here will be on the happy side of these changes.”

    Well, I’m sure that makes sense in some alternate universe where our primary objective is to make sure that everyone has exactly the same amount of everything.

  13. One of the big problems in evaluating any voucher program is selection bias.

    What kinds of students are likely to engage in a voucher program? Probably kids who are doing badly in their current environment, (if things weren’t going badly there wouldn’t be an impetus to change).

    So even a program showing no deviation in performance between voucher students and some grand average is positive, since you are taking under performing kids and bringing them up the average level.

    These affects are separate from the very good points made earlier by MP.

  14. monopolistic status of public schools

    so long as at least one private school exists, there is no monopoly. I learned that at HnR!

    Besides the public schools charge the students too little to really be a monopoly.

  15. The “S.R.” above is not me, by the way. (And maybe the damn server will work this time.)

  16. Sorry, SR #1. I will change my posting name, since you were here first.

  17. …this sunshine and lollipops report…

    Now I have that f’n song in my head. Sung by Chief Wiggum, no less.

  18. so long as at least one private school exists, there is no monopoly. I learned that at HnR!

    And as long as Lindows and Mac OS X exist, there is no Microsoft monopoly.

    Besides the public schools charge the students too little to really be a monopoly.

    Please elucidate. How is the 13K/year/student (if memory serves me correct) paid to the DC school system “too little”?

  19. MP,
    I think they said the same thing about Marxism.

    S.R., (I posted earlier, but it was eaten)

    “The real question is whether it’s fair to insist that parents pay into the public schools if, given the opportunity to choose, they’d select a private or parochial school.”

    Only if you are a libertarian — not currently a majority of voters. For most people, right or wrong, the relevent information is the practical results of the policies in question.

    [with more depth in the eaten post] – voucher programs will probably have much more viability above a threshold density. It may be effective in some urban areas, but counterproductive in rural ones.

  20. Please elucidate.

    Public schools are not market actors. They are a socialized government program.

  21. The real issue isn’t getting rid of public schools. The Teachers Unions have a death pact with the United States, nothing is ever getting rid of the public schools, until the system collapses.

    The real question, is given that A) The best public schools are the equivalent of the worst schools in Western Europe B) That vouchers, privitization, etc., will never be possible until the U.S. collapses like the Soviet Union C) People will pay more and more taxes, and private schools will come under more and more attack… What can we do as citizens to save our own children? I mean, most children are gonna get fucked over. Is there some way to make home schooling economic for people who don’t have a stay-at-home parent?

  22. What kinds of students are likely to engage in a voucher program? Probably kids who are doing badly in their current environment, (if things weren’t going badly there wouldn’t be an impetus to change).

    This is far from obvious. If my child was doing well in the context of a failing school and I was given the opportunity to move him/her to a more conducive environment, I would certainly do so. Many have argued that under a voucher system, the most motivated parents–generally the ones with the most “successful” kids–would be the ones to go through the effort of “school shopping,” thus removing most of the “good parents” and “good kids” from the failing schools, further stratifying the school system.

    I can see many problems with that argument, but I just wanted to point out that what kinds of kids will take advantage is not an easy question.

  23. A) The best public schools are the equivalent of the worst schools in Western Europe

    Gimme a break. I find that very difficult to believe. This is based on what?

  24. “Sorry, SR #1. I will change my posting name, since you were here first.”

    Thank you, although I wasn’t trying to pressure you.

  25. Even if vouchers are a mixed bag, does it matter?

    You’re right that more freedom is better than less freedom, but the gov’t will insure that the freedom is mostly illusory by requiring that all schools be very similar to each other.

    The problem is that there are no true Friedman voucher programs.

    I agree that’s part of the problem, but I think that the main “problem” is/are:

    – The currently accepted school curriculum and format (for below HS) is really designed for teachers, who want full-time semi-cushy jobs, and not for students, who’d turn out mostly-the-same in the long run if they went to school for just a few hours a week, if at all: the smart kids would read and learn anyway, and the dumb kids don’t read no matter what. Reference: the division between the educated and the uneducated in western societies is still about the same as it was before there were public school systems, as are literacy rates.

    – The other main purpose of the current many-hours-a-day school curriculum is: babysitting.

    – When people say “school performance” they really mean “student performance” because the schools are far more similar to each other than are the various schools’ student bodies.

    – Within reasonable limits, the type of school (curriculum, class size, time spent in class, etc) doesn’t make much difference, especially in long-term results (which is why “school reports” focus almost exclusively on extremely short-term results).

    – Kids who don’t go to school at all are *very* grossly over-represented as winners of national Spelling, Geography, Etc. Bees. There’s probably a lot of reasons for that, but it doesn’t make our current education systems, or the generally unquestioned assumptions behind those systems, look good at all.

    I think public schooling is:
    – Bad for smart kids (see quotes from Einstein).
    – Mostly busy-work (babysitting) for average kids.
    – Almost a complete waste of time for dumb kids.

    IOW, “universal education” is just as much an egalitarian fantasy as any other Marxist crap, and THAT is the real “problem.”

    Now I have that f’n song in my head. Sung by Chief Wiggum, no less.
    Now I do too, DAMN YOU!

  26. Is there some way to make home schooling economic for people who don’t have a stay-at-home parent?

    Yes, self-study. If the child is old enuf, then she can self-study at home. For the younger ones they can provide some kind of secure facility to which the parent can bring the child along with any self-study aids the parent can afford to purchase. If the parent cannot afford self-study aids, then the child can take a more philosophical, self-starting approach to learning and think about things like math and reading in her head.

    You guys want to make school into some big expensive deal, but I think vouchers will help us get away from that, especially if we make the vouchers small enuf.

  27. Mr. F. Le Mur,

    I would argue (as I believe you would) that the root of all those issues is the lack of competition for funding. Thus, my support for vouchers.

    I also happen to agree with Uncle Miltie that providing all young citizens with the resources that enable them to get a good education has such overwhelming societal benefits that it negates your “egalitarian fantasy” point. It’s how we go about doing this that is the sticking point. Right now, for the most part, the current method sucks.

  28. One important thing to keep in mind with studies of voucher programs: You don’t need for the private school students with vouchers to be doing better than the public school students for vouchers to be a success. One of the wonderful things about competition is it spurs everyone to do better. This holds true for public schools too. If they must compete for students, they will tend to perform better, and the article hinted at that a tiny bit.

    In other words, if all students overall are improving as a result of vouchers, then vouchers are a success.

    If you could send your kid to a city government-run school, or a private school without it costing you any more money which would you choose? 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed said the private school.

  29. A few autobiographical tidbits relating to education in the Olden Times-

    I was bored out of my skull every single day in school. And that was in the “smart kids” classes.
    I “dropped out” of high school in order to go to college a year early, but I could just as easily have dropped out of high school to run a backhoe. Or a teenage gang.

    The best teachers I had were the ones who realized that everyone might be happier if, rather than keeping me in the classroom, either staring out the window daydreaming (better) or bothering everybody else (not better), they shipped me off to the library to independently pursue my interests, academic-wise.

    I learned a lot of cool, totally extraneous stuff, hanging out in the library, reading my way around the room. I read the encyclopedia (encyclopediae?). I remain to this day a vast repository of obscure, little known facts.

    Could it even be possible for a teacher in this modern “No Child Let Ahead” nation to do that? I wonder. I don’t believe that my academic “successes” could have been properly captured by the standardized tests in use today.

    What is the best solution? Aside from executing all the Assistant Principals, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve central planning directives from the Nannytariat, and it definitely will not be “One Size Fits All.” Plant many seeds and watch them grow. Including vouchers and charter schools.

  30. Jhontelle turned back, her young eyes flashing. “You can’t make me go,” she said.

    At least someone gets it.

  31. I also happen to agree with Uncle Miltie that providing all young citizens with the resources that enable them to get a good education has such overwhelming societal benefits…

    You know who should provide all those budding young minds with the “educational resources?” Their parents. The people who chose to breed and grunt them into our world, that’s who.

    I favor abolishing government-paid education entirely. Close to 50% of my state’s budget goes to fund education. My property taxes are almost $3K a year, and I neither have nor want children. And you know what, I really doubt I’m getting my money’s worth. Less than half of the nasty little piss-ants even bother to graduate. The ones that do manage to stumble into their diplomas can barely express themselves or write a coherent sentence.

    Two weeks ago, I patronized the local drive-thru espresso shack on the way to work. They have a “Trivia Question of the Day” posted on the whiteboard outside the order window. That day’s question was “Where is the Gobi Desert located?” I answered “Mongolia,” and the perhaps-19-year-old female working the window clucked apologetically, and said, “No, I’m soorrryyyy! The answer I have is central Asia!” Momentarily stunned, I said, “Yeah, that’s kinda what I said. That’s where Mongolia is.” She responded perkily, “Oh, really? I didn’t know! Well, in that case, you’re the first person of the day to have the correct answer! That means you get a free drink today!” Jeezus H. Kee-ryste in a biker bar.

    That’s what I’m getting out of my investment in “young citizens” and their “good education.” A free mocha. There’s your “societal benefit” right there. Now if I could just get my $3K a year back, please?

  32. “Where is the Gobi Desert located?” I answered “Mongolia,” and the perhaps-19-year-old female working the window clucked apologetically, and said, “No, I’m soorrryyyy! The answer I have is central Asia!”

    Not really on topic, but I had a similar experience- in a college European History class, the semester started off with a map test. For the item just off the west coast of France, I indicated Bay of Biscay, since the number on the map was tucked right in there in the bay and not out at sea. When he was soliciting answers after the quiz, I answered that one, and the whole class and the teacher laughed at me, “no, that’s in Florida, ha ha.” (confusing it with Biscayne Bay). Correct answer was “Atlantic Ocean.”

  33. I can’t help it.
    “The Problem” with any and all educational reform ideas is that they address “the problem” with public education. In fact there is not a single monolithic educational system in the US (as much as Bush and NCLB want there to be one). Since there is not a single system or issue, no single solution solves the myriad of problems. Since the details of how public education is funded rarely touches on the issues that create educational failure the results comparing their success of programs based on how they are funded will vary according to factors that are not addressed. The problem with the competition model is that education isn’t really a competition once you make it universal. What would a better school get out of winning the competition? More customers just might ruin your school, and someone has to take the failures as long as compulsory education is the rule. Vouchers, in most cases, will end up being nothing more than an additional layer of paperwork… the last thing schools need.

    In some places, to address specific problems, they might work. But they will fail more widely the more they are used to solve issues that are not funding related. School reform involves individual parents engaging the system around the specific problems facing their school community. To the extent vouchers encourage that engagement, they work. To the extent they don’t they won’t.

  34. “Where is the Gobi Desert located?” I answered “Mongolia,” and the perhaps-19-year-old female working the window clucked apologetically, and said, “No, I’m soorrryyyy!

    The correct answer is… the Moops.

  35. I also happen to agree with Uncle Miltie that providing all young citizens with the resources that enable them to get a good education has such overwhelming societal benefits that it negates your “egalitarian fantasy” point. It’s how we go about doing this that is the sticking point. Right now, for the most part, the current method sucks.

    I think the solution will always be a sticking point because the goal is impossible.

    One inherently bad thing about “free” and/or universal education is that people don’t appreciate things that are “free,” or that they feel they’re “entitled to.” Education should be treated as something of a privilege, at least to the extent that one has to work and/or pay for it. How about “free cars” or “universal cars” for everyone?

    I was bored out of my skull every single day in school.

    So was I, and also dropped out, in the middle of my senior year of HS, to work. A year+ later I went to college, majored in psych for one semester (what a joke) then ended up with a BS math – (after getting a “D” in HS trig!), and later a masters in physics (and did homework for the first time). Despite that, I can honestly say that I learned FAR more in that year between HS and college than I did in any given year of official schooling.

    I learned a lot of cool, totally extraneous stuff, hanging out in the library, reading my way around the room.

    That also sounds familiar; I used to go to random parts of the (university) library, grab stacks of books and pour through them.

    Jeezus H. Kee-ryste in a biker bar.

    I luv it.

  36. I also happen to agree with Uncle Miltie that providing all young citizens with the resources that enable them to get a good education has such overwhelming societal benefits that it negates your “egalitarian fantasy” point. It’s how we go about doing this that is the sticking point. Right now, for the most part, the current method sucks.
    What is the best solution?

    I think the solution will always be a sticking point because the goal is impossible.

    One thing about “free” universal education is that people don’t appreciate things that are “free” or that they feel they’re “entitled to.” Education should be treated as something of a privilege, at least to the extent that one has to work and/or pay for it. How about “free cars” or “universal cars” for everyone?

    I was bored out of my skull every single day in school.

    So was I, and also dropped out, in the middle of my senior year of HS, to work. A year+ later I went to college, majored in psych for one semester (what a joke) then ended up with a BS math – (after getting a “D” in HS trig!), and later a masters in physics (and did homework for the first time). Despite that, I can honestly say that I learned FAR more in that year between HS and college than I did in any given year of official schooling.

    I learned a lot of cool, totally extraneous stuff, hanging out in the library, reading my way around the room.

    That also sounds familiar; I used to go to random parts of the (university) library and grab stacks of books and pour through them.

    Jeezus H. Kee-ryste in a biker bar.

    I luv it.

  37. I also happen to agree with Uncle Miltie that providing all young citizens with the resources that enable them to get a good education has such overwhelming societal benefits that it negates your “egalitarian fantasy” point. It’s how we go about doing this that is the sticking point. Right now, for the most part, the current method sucks.
    What is the best solution?

    I think the solution will always be a sticking point because the goal is impossible.

    One thing about “free” universal education is that people don’t appreciate things that are “free” or that they feel they’re “entitled to.” Education should be treated as something of a privilege, at least to the extent that one has to work and/or pay for it. How about “free cars” or “universal cars” for everyone?

    I was bored out of my skull every single day in school.

    So was I, and also dropped out, in the middle of my senior year of HS, to work. A year+ later I went to college, majored in psych for one semester (what a joke) then ended up with a BS math – (after getting a “D” in HS trig!), and later a masters in physics (and did homework for the first time). Despite that, I can honestly say that I learned FAR more in that year between HS and college than I did in any given year of official schooling.

    I learned a lot of cool, totally extraneous stuff, hanging out in the library, reading my way around the room.

    That also sounds familiar; I used to go to random parts of the (university) library and grab stacks of books and pour through them.

    Jeezus H. Kee-ryste in a biker bar.

    I luv it.

  38. Damned server. First “connection closed,” then “You can’t post because you just did,” then … nothing, then … everything.

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