The Agony of American Education

Thanks for another great article on school choice (?The Agony of American Education,? April). In the ?80s I spent a lot of time in Edmonton with Michael Strembitsky, who introduced decentralized management to Edmonton. I took his model, revised it, and implanted it in the Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia, in 1988. I believe it was the first comprehensive school-based management system in the U.S. I wrote the book School Based Management: A Detailed Guide for Successful Implementation and gave seminars across the country to help introduce this style of management.

In working with school districts around the nation, I learned there were a number of problems with this approach. School-based management is still under the control of state regulations and local school board policies designed for centralized control. Federal intrusion has added another layer of bureaucracy. Those educrats are unwilling (and often unable) to give up their power.

Furthermore, even with training, most principals are not by nature prepared to run a school independently. They are administrators who simply carry out the orders of the central office. Principals do not generally have an entrepreneurial character.

Most important, I found that the unions were infiltrating the site committees to take them over and stop any real progress toward putting education in the hands of the main stakeholders, students and parents. I have a confidential memo from the National Education Association describing how concerned it was in the early days of school-based management. The monopoly unions are against any real change in government schools that might enhance student learning if such change disturbs the status quo.

School-based management is better than central dictatorship, but it?s a far cry from real choice without double taxation.

Richard G. Neal

Winston-Salem, NC

My local newspaper constantly runs chirpy feature stories about public school parents but never mentions the great sacrifices made by private school parents and the huge subsidies they are coerced to give to public schools. ?The Agony of American Education? was just as one-sided in its praise of two public-school parents in San Francisco.

In my hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, a husband and wife with two children in Catholic school will pay private tuition of approximately $130,000 over 12 years, plus another $190,000 in public school taxes over their adult lives. That?s a big price to pay to exercise their constitutional right of religious freedom. Worse, if they dare to question the fairness of this or, heaven forbid, ask for a rebate of their public school taxes for the years their children attend private school, they are called mean-spirited, greedy, and selfish by public school parents who drive Hummers and live in million-dollar homes. I hope that in a future story on K?12 education, you will give as much space to subsidy payers as you did to subsidy takers.

Craig J. Cantoni
Scottsdale, AZ

The Mobility Myth

Thank you for Alison Wellner?s great article on ?The Mobility Myth? (April). One more point is the telecommuting revolution and the ability of millions of workers to live where they want to live for the duration of their natural lives. I am part of the 2.7 percent of American households that moved across state lines in 2004. We?empty nesters, age 60, married 38 years?moved from Northern Virginia to Lopez Island, Washington, where I do the same work (editing financial newsletters and research reports) via the Internet. We intend to live here the rest of our lives.

Given a choice, most people like to stay put, and we love our new small-town community and big-city connections (via DSL technology). We also tend to leave high-tax or rising-tax states like Virginia to live in no-income-tax states like Washington. States had best treat their high-income taxpayers well?there are 49 other choices.

Gary Alexander
Lopez Island, WA

Are We Ready for the Next 9/11?

Surely Veronique de Rugy could have come up with a better example of homeland security waste than the ?$38 million to fully cover all remaining fire claims from the Cerro Grande Fire in New Mexico? (?Are We Ready for the Next 9/11?,? March).

The Cerro Grande Fire was a disaster caused by the federal government. Bandelier National Monument set the fire during our driest and windiest season, and a lack of coordination amongst various federal agencies allowed it to get out of control. Ultimately it cost taxpayers more than 10 times De Rugy?s lamented $38 million figure, but it could have been much worse with only a slight change in wind direction.

Since the federal government set and failed to control this ill-conceived ?controlled burn,? it clearly had an obligation to make right the consequences to the extent such a thing is possible. Fortunately there was no loss of life?only irreplaceable heirlooms, businesses that couldn?t recover, and magnificent scenery reduced to black sticks on the mountainsides.

This is actually an example of the Federal Emergency Management Agency mostly doing its job right. Shame on you for mischaracterizing it as a boondoggle.

Dave Kloepper
Los Alamos, NM

Why Poor Countries Are Poor

Foreign aid money might be lining the Cameroonian despot?s pocket and perpetuating his rule (?Why Poor Countries Are Poor,? March), but that hasn?t stopped us from sending more. In 2003 dictator Paul Biya received $200,000 under the International Military Education and Training program of the U.S. Department of Defense. If you are wondering why, consider a White House press release from March of that year, which reported a meeting at which George W. Bush ?congratulated President Biya on Cameroon?s successful record of reform, and encouraged him to continue to tackle sensitive issues, such as governance and privatization,? and (more important) that ?President Biya has been supportive of U.S. effort to combat international terrorism.?

Nimish Adhia
Chicago, IL

The Wal-Mart Crusade

Julian Sanchez failed to mention an important part of Richard Greenwald?s documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price?the segment on Wal-Mart?s use of sweatshop labor in China (?The Wal-Mart Crusade,? March). Despite Wal-Mart?s $7 billion in annual profits, it continues to depress wages and working conditions in its factories in China. The pay rate for production work in its Chinese factories is 13 cents per hour (below China?s 31-cent minimum wage), and the mandatory 13-to-16-hour workdays are enforced under horrific and extremely dangerous conditions. There is no health and safety enforcement, no medical treatment, and immediate dismissal if a worker cannot work due to illness, which often happens thanks to temperatures above 100 degrees in an environment saturated with toxic chemicals.

Just because we libertarians support free markets doesn?t mean we should become apologists for companies that run contrary to all standards of ethical conduct?companies that care only about maximizing their profits at the expense of all else. I encourage everyone to boycott this despicable company.

Josh Corn

Seattle, WA

CORRECTION: ?Persian Letters? (February 2006) mistakenly stated that Hossein Kharrazi, a senior commander of Iran?s Revolutionary Guards, was the brother of the country?s former foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi. In fact, the two men are not related.