Thursday, December 18, 2008

public for life




So there's this funny new show on HBO called Summer Heights High, about an Australian public high school. One of the characters on the show is Ja'mie, a private school girl on a sort of private/public exchange program. Ja'mie is very privileged, and very sheltered, and is constantly making this kind of cringe-inducing, off-hand insult to public school. It's really funny, and for me, uncomfortably true. I've encountered a lot of private school kids like Ja'mie, and while it's satire, it's actually verrrrry close to reality. You kind of get used to it, but you kind of don't, and for people like me who are not only not ashamed of our public education, but actively proud of and happy with it, it can be unbearable. To put it to you as simply as I can, I am the person I am in large part because I went to a public school. My education is imprinted on who I am, over and over again.

What I was really thinking about, when watching the first few episodes of that show, was bloggers.

It's interesting that people who spend so much time in introspection and thought can be so unthinking sometimes. You often find yourself, when reading blogs, saying "how can a person who wrote post X, which was so smart, write something so dumb?" This is almost a constant complaint in my comments, so it's not like I don't know the other side. I just find, over and over again, that dependably smart, respectful people treat public schools and those of us who are products of them with the most callous, casual degradation you can imagine. It's like the character Ja'mie, a combination of extraordinary lack of tact and respect with an almost sublime lack of self-knowledge. Over and over again, when discussing any kind of educational policy, bloggers make off-hand insults that really sting, without seeming to understand that anyone could take such a thing personally. It's not so much the disagreement about the value of public school, but the inability to understand that there are people who prize their public school educations. I suspect, actually, it's similar to the feeling many religious people have when they feel that their religion is being casually or thoughtlessly disrespected. Added to the insult is the assumption that no one could be insulted.

Because of the vast diversity of opinions and ideologies represented online, we tend to forget that there are certain demographic trends within blogs, particularly among the blogs who have been given the legitimacy and weight of establishment media. Many bloggers, to be blunt, grew up in privilege, and many people who grew up in privilege went to private school. I don't begrudge anyone having gone to private school at all; that would be stupid, particularly considering very few of us get to choose where we go to school. But going to private school, particularly an elite private school, does create the conditions necessary for someone to have the kind of boneheaded conception of public schools that you see a lot online. And I do see it alot, even among bloggers I generally respect. It's pretty simply a matter of the unknown and bad press, and you end up with a cadre of smart people who think every public school has crumbling buildings, shoddy books, legions of gangs and violence and a crack pipe in every classroom. It's ugly.

All of this has policy ramifications. As someone who is an ardent supporter of public education, and a committed opponent of vouchers, one of the most frustrating aspects of the conversation is the amount of work done by completely unfounded and unsupported notions about widespread public school failure. Simply put, a huge difficulty in our discussion on education is really paralyzing lack of reliable data on which schools are succeeding and which are failing. We just don't know, really, how many school districts are reliably good, how many reliably bad, and we really don't know about individual school quality within those districts. But when I argue education policy, again and again I find foes of public education allowing the assumption that any given public school has to be shitty to carry their water for them. This is made especially frustrating by the fact that these are often people who are usually very circumspect in the way that they construct data, and would never countenance an opposing argument that relied on so much assuming and anecdotal evidence. But when it comes to public school, where it benefits them, they can just talk as if it's safe to assume that any given public school is probably no good, and certainly worse than a private alternative. It's a failure of elementary good faith argument and analysis.

Well, you can support any policy position you want, and if you think public education is filled with criminals and failures, you can argue away. But when it comes to more personal dimensions of judgment, let me say to you: if you aren't one of us, you can't understand us, you don't know us and you can't judge us. I'm glad people are happy with their private education and I'll never assume that anyone who went to private school has any particular failings at all. But when people intimate, even without meaning to, that public school kids must be more violent or less intelligent or less achieved, they're just wrong, and I'm here to say so. I think about my public high school-- cheerful, racous, alive, diverse in every sense, smart and capable, and filled with dedicated employees, and I couldn't be happier. So there!

41 comments:

raft said...

couple quick hits:

1) i didn't realize there was such a thing as a private/public exchange program... kind of an indictment all by itself.

2) "Ja'mie": lol.

3) Yes Freddie, you are "so smart" =D

3) i've personally never noticed *that much* prejudice toward people who went to public secondary school (college, definitely). So i'm surprised when you say that you see this a lot. Now, i probably don't read the same stuff you do (generally i stay away from the wingnut blogoshere), but I really have not encountered many people who thinks that "any given public school has to be shitty." Stuyvesant is shitty? it seems to me that everyone recognizes there's a huge VARIANCE in the quality of public schools. my parents moved our family out of NYC to a highly ranked suburban public high school for exactly this reason.

4) that said, if you mean that lots of people believe that the public school system is fundamentally broken and in need of a radical overhaul... well, then i plead guilty! there are a lot of suburban, middle-class or up school districts which are basically fine. But go into the cities. A large percentage of the schools there are populated with gangs, pregnant girls, illiterates, desperately poor people, etc. i speak from personal experience.

5) what kind of public school did you go to? that's important i think. I went to both really good and really bad public schools and they were totally different experiences--i suspect the former was closer to an elite private school while the latter was, well, not like that.

raft said...

More quick thoughts!

6) Statistic: Only 8% of high school freshmen in Chicago earn a college degree by their mid-20s.

http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2008/12/chicago-the-dun.html

7) there is nothing inconsistent about being both a strong public education supporter and thinking that a lot of school districts are incredibly broken. i'd argue that those who are MOST passionate about public schools are the ones working the hardest to try to save it.

8) probably there are a bunch of wingnuts who want to destroy public education. These are the voucher people. Fuck them and their ignorance/greed/douchebaggery. but don't lump genuine education reformers in the same category.

Joseph F. said...

Some of this, I have to confess, probably comes not from sheltered privately-schooled elites, but from people like me whose success was as much in spite of as because of their public school experiences.

My high school was a hellhole. I'm still somewhat surprised that I survived it and actually graduated. I very nearly dropped out twice, and wanted to kill myself more times than I want to remember.

The buildings were crumbling (until they were torn down during my senior year and then rebuilt). There was lots of violence - I got beat up repeatedly. My classes regularly had too few chairs and desks for the number of students. Many of my fellow students couldn't read at an elementary school level but were passed along anyway.

But the worst part of it was the sense we got from the higher-ups, from the prison-warden deans to the in-over-her-head principal to the petty school board to the state to Jeb Bush that we were worthless except as machines to fill out standardized test forms and mindlessly consume, or as pawns to be used to bash our teachers, that we were lucky to even be there, that if we ever dare question their absolute rightness we'd be punished.

Unless of course you were one of the special kids, already set on a career path, who got into one of the the "magnet" programs. They/we (I was kicked out) at least got good equipment and plenty of space and freedom to work (thanks to private donations), but even they were only lured there to inflate test scores.

Miraculously, in spite of this, my teachers were generally excellent. Though I did have one who would sarcastically rant about at us about how we were all stubborn and willfully ignorant, and a couple with no control whatsoever over their classrooms, many of my teachers were not only smart and dedicated to thankless jobs, but determined to actually make us think, even if to someone like me most of us seemed like lost causes. These teachers, the ones who wouldn't take the screwing they were being given, the ones standing up for the art classes that may well have saved my life, were the first ones to be fired when standardized test scores hit a low.

So you say your high school was "cheerful, racous, alive, diverse in every sense, smart and capable, and filled with dedicated employees"? You have no idea how much I envy that. Which I guess proves raft's point about there being a huge variance there. A few years ago, I wouldn't have believed schools like that existed outside of Disney Channel movies.

Sorry, I'm rambling and oversharing and I've been up all night. But I guess I want to finish up by saying that as much as I may criticize schools like mine, it's out of a feeling of frustration and wasted potential. I had great teachers that did the best the could, all while facing undisciplined and unprepared students whose parents still treated them like babysitters and a fundamentally hostile political establishment that sees them (not poverty and mismanagement) as the problem. And maybe I need to think more before stepping up to criticize schools again, lest what I say be used as an excuse to worsen these very problems.

raft said...

Joseph F: where'd you go to school?

Anonymous said...

Strawman alert! Obviously, there are some very high-performing public schools. Who ever said otherwhise? The public school in my neighborhood was downright luxurious compared to the religious school I attended down the block. My school was "private," but spent $4,000 per pupil, and used trailers as classrooms, and had no gym. Both schools were excellent.

The problem exclusively involves children who happen to attend the crappy public schools (let's be generous and call them 1% of public schools). In such situations, the kids have absolutely no way out. Many of the worst-performing schools get the most funding. The problem is lack of accountability.

By the way, I know some snotty people who went to public school. And they use the fact that they went to public school as evidence that their ascendance from the deprivations of youth was all the more spectacular.
Most Americans live very well, and SHOULD be reasonably well-educated. They shouldn't pat themselves on the back for this, because a quality education has been always available to them. It's only those kids who happen to be stuck in the crappy schools whom I worry about.

ryan said...

Freddie, I think the most interesting aspect of your post is that you compare public education to a religion. I think that's actually quite a revealing descriptor that's true in more ways than you give it credit for. The fact that you could even compare the two says a lot.

I also think you're completely wrong about a "paralyzing lack of actual data." Hello? Or maybe you'd like something more granular. That last link has an analysis by the 50 largest districts in the country. It ain't a pretty picture. Nationwide about 68% of students manage to graduate. White students graduate at higher rates but black students barely crack 50% most of the time.

This took me about three minutes to find, so it isn't as if this data is ungathered or hidden away in academic dungeons. It's out there, and there's lots of it.

I'm with you on the unacceptable prejudice with which many people who didn't go to public school discuss public schools. It's gotten me in trouble before. But education is one of the single most studied policy issues in contemporary America, and you're kidding yourself if you think we don't have the data to conclude that things are broken.

We do have the data. The public school system is in crisis. You and I may differ about what might be the best solution, but I don't think you can get away with denying that there is in fact a problem without turning a blind eye to an absolute mound of data.

BP said...

You should have let some quotes in here. The casual insults. Give it some air.

I went to state school in my country, and then to oxford, so I know what you're talkin'.

Anonymous said...

Everyone thinks their middle and high schools are the shittiest places on earth and venue of the worst days of their life. But public school people are the ones who constantly hear this confirmed for them on TV.

Freddie said...

I went to a public school district that was designated urban by my state, one of 8, I believe, in the state, though I certainly wouldn't consider my hometown urban. I've been told that's code for "high minority population, high poverty population" district. It was about 55% white, 25% black, 15% Hispanic and 5% "other". There were some desperately poor kids, but also many wealthy kids-- my hometown is large, land area-wise, which permits major socio-economic diversity in a way that isn't possible in smaller towns and cities.

ryan: No. I'm just going to have to listen to someone like Jim Manzi, about as smart and thorough a blogger as there is, and a vocal proponent of vouchers, actually. Indeed, many of the brightest voucher supporters are the first to admit this.

http://theamericanscene.com/2008/12/10/foundation-and-earth

The fact that you really think something is true, ryan, doesn't make it a fact, as I will continue to insist.

E.D. Kain said...

Public school is an American tradition, and should be funded and supported. I went to all kinds of schools. Montesori, Catholic, public, and was home-schooled, and I gained something from each of them.

The conservative approach, in my humble opinion, would be to go with the tradition this country has set forth--that of a robust public school system--not to act rashly and attempt to gut the public school system through vouchers.

What's conservative and what's become "conservative ideology" are two very different things in my mind.

Joseph F. said...

Forest Hill Community High School, West Palm Beach. There was a great article about the troubles my school went through when given an F from the state in the Palm Beach Post.

I actually hear it's gotten somewhat better since they replaced the building.

As long as we're giving demographics, it's a majority-Hispanic school.

Friar Zero said...

I just read an article in the American prospect about the factors involved in Finland's high education rating and thought it my be apropos:
http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=no_education_silver_bullet

Mark said...

Freddie:

I've got a lengthy response to this up at my site. I was going to leave it as a comment here, but I think it was deserving of a little more attention and elaboration than would be appropriate in a comments thread.

SB said...

Freddie --

I appreciate your passion on education, but as is always the case when you talk about this issue, you just don't have any idea what you're talking about.

Like this: "really paralyzing lack of reliable data on which schools are succeeding and which are failing."

Sorry, the fact that you can say something like this marks you as a complete ignoramus. Read up on the education literature . . . you might hear of something called NCLB, which has led to the provision of overwhelming data of just the kind that you say is missing.

For example from a poorer state, check out Arkansas' site here: http://normessasweb.uark.edu/schoolperformance/ You can look up the history of test performance for every single school in the state, right there from the comfort of your computer.

Go ahead: Just pick a high school at random. You’ll be directed to a page that tells you attendance rates, graduation rates, remediation rates, number of students taking the ACT, percent of teachers who have Masters degrees, percent of highly qualified teachers (in high poverty schools, where that’s an issue), percent of poor students, how well students from different demographic groups did on state exams, how the school is doing under NCLB, and more. I mean, far from there being no data (as you ignorantly claim), there is way MORE data than anyone can even make sense of. And again, that’s from Arkansas, a relatively disadvantaged state. I’m not going to bother going through all the data that is available on other states, but that you never think to look up before making wild-eyed claims.

That's not even considering how you always blast vouchers and private schools. When you do so, you never show even the slightest sign of being aware of the ten voucher studies using random assignment and finding mostly positive effects (on test scores, that is). News flash: When random assignment of inner-city kids is involved, you don't get to claim that the voucher advantage is because they're all rich white kids selecting into private schools. That's not even remotely true.

E.D. Kain said...

The question also is not whether or not some public schools are succeeding and some aren't. It is widely acknowledged that this is the case. The question is whether or not we as a nation preserve our public school system or decide to take another path. We can improve the system we have, or we can trash it.

We cannot maintain the status quo of poorly funded education.

I'm not for leveling at higher levels (college is not for everybody, after all) and I do think we need to be innovative with our schools (trade school, anybody?) but I also believe that widespread use of vouchers will put the nail in our public schools' coffin. To me, that is totally unacceptable.

SB said...

I also believe that widespread use of vouchers will put the nail in our public schools' coffin. To me, that is totally unacceptable.

Look up a country called Belgium. They've had a completely voucherized system for 50 years -- all students get funding to use for schooling wherever they want. There are still some government schools. There are also private schools. Lo and behold, the world didn't end: students still manage to get themselves educated in Belgium (indeed, better than they do in the United States, given that Belgium beats us in international assessments, although that's not an entirely fair comparison).

It's just amazing to me that so many liberals are so parochial about education: Just because someone thought up an education system in America in the late 1800s, they think that's automatically the best way for all time, and they never show any sign of knowing that people in other countries manage to educate themselves without our system.

Liberals think of education the way that conservatives think of health care. In both cases, liberals or conservatives act as if whatever system exists in America right now MUST BE PRESERVED, and they show zero interest in knowing how other Western countries do a better job. It's like you're speaking ancient Greek to them . . . they just pause in complete bafflement that anyone could disagree that America has a good system.

Freddie said...

Ahem.

As is usual from conservative commenters, SB, you don't seem to understand that simply asserting something is true doesn't make it true, and the fact that you heap invective only demonstrates your utter inability to argue on merits. Try this on for size: not even the most zealous principled defenders of vouchers claim that we have good data on the subject. None of them. The studies on vouchers that haven't been dismissed as too filled with statistical noise, as most of the ten you are so confident in have, have shone no reliable major advantage. Whats more, even if the tiny voucher programs had reliable positive data, which they certainly don't, which people incredibly antipathetic to public schools agree they don't (because they are interested in understanding the truth, not winning the game of blog), it would not in any meaningful way tell us about voucherizing tens of millions of students. You're really sure you can upwardly scale from a few dozen or a couple hundred students, to tens of millions? I'm supposed to be impressed by your grasp of data when you don't even consider that possibility?

Principled, intelligent voucher supporters make arguments that have caveats, provisos and an understanding of limited data. When anonymous commenters drop evidence-free screeds that lack all of those things, who do you think I'm going to privilege? SB from blogspot? Or Jim Manzi?

The truth it, the data on vouchers is incredibly small, it shows very little positive benefit, when it's corrected for socio-economic status it shows even less, and anyway, all of that data itself is filled with selection bias, because these are opt-in programs-- meaning the most dedicated and forward-thinking parents are the ones signing their children up for them. Or don't you think the degree to which parents give a shit might matter?

And, though you are desperate to eliminate single most powerful correlative factor in the discussion, it remains germane: the child poverty is what in Belgium, SB?

Now go sit in the corner, all of you.

E.D. Kain said...

SB--

I'm extraordinarily weary of the "small-European-country-did-it-so-why-can't-we?" argument. Sweden has socialized medicine, but do you really think that their system will work just the same in America? We are a tiny bit different, both in terms of demographics and basic geography.

We are a much larger country, and what works in tiny European nations (which are by and large monoracial, have more uniform wages, more welfare nets, etc.) does not necessarily work here.

Finland is often lauded for its exceptional public schools, so one could counter that that method must be the best. Then again, can we replicate Finland in the States? Probably no better than an attempt at replicating Belgium.

Now this is not to say that we shouldn't use models in our discussion of what direction to take--be it health care or education reform--but to simply say that it's been somewhere doesn't really properly address the question.

Take the Kash said...

Careful with those "everyone" and everybody descriptions Anonymous. I teach history at a large suburban high school in Kansas City, on the Kansas side. Good school in a good district. I can tell you first hand that a lot of my students really like the school. The situation is not perfect, but I enjoy teaching and the students. The people that have commented have been students, have any of you been on the other side of the desk?

Anonymous said...
Everyone thinks their middle and high schools are the shittiest places on earth and venue of the worst days of their life.

E.D. Kain said...

I see Freddie has cut me to the quick in responding to SB. I also wanted to address SB's disregard for preservation of American traditions.

It is interesting to me that so-called conservatives can have such disregard for tradition. Isn't that just the thing that conservatives are supposed to revere? It is certainly the aspect of conservatism that I hold most dear.

And so, when I hear this call for vouchers, and when I really sit down and think about what they will mean for our young people, all I can do is stand athwart history and yell "stop!"

(..and THINK, damn it.)

E.D. Kain said...

One more thing. In my home town one of our three high-schools is shutting down next year due to the loss of enrollment to charter schools. I am not against charter schools because they are still public, and though they do suck funds out of the mainstream public system, they at least maintain that public (non-merit-based) access to education. And even they come with a price.

Here is more on privatization of our education as I feel I am taking up too much space on this thread....

E.D. Kain said...

Did we just lose a comment to the memory hole?

Freddie said...

Sorry, yeah, here it is, had to check something.


So I just spent the better part of the hour reviewing SBs claims.

1. It simply isn't true that you can just Google around and find all of this data. In fact I'm finding it difficult to find any schools with that kind of information publicly available on a website.

2. The schools that do have it, of course, are public schools. Private schools are enormously resistant to any kind of standardized testing. Indeed, that's supposedly part of the "educational advantage" for private schools; when they talk about eliminating bureaucracy, what they're really talking about is eliminating accountability through standardized educational data. That data isn't just not available, it doesn't exist. How can you make meaningful comparisons without one half of the relevant data?

3. Again-- these aren't wild claims. The most vocal private school voucher proponents constantly lament the lack of workable, objective data to attack this problem. People who have every reason to just argue by assertion don't. And then there's the people in this comments section who continue to point to zero actual widespread data of value. Who would you privilege?

4. I think SB, by the way, demonstrates the emotionalism that surrounds a lot of this "private school is just better" talk. Strongly held beliefs that have no evidentiary support to generate that kind of thing.

E.D. Kain said...

I lived in Canada for a while and all the schools there, including the Catholic school I attended, were public schools. As such, none of them were merit-based, and all were publicly funded. That's another form of school choice...

Just a thought.

Freddie said...

I lived in Canada for a while and all the schools there, including the Catholic school I attended, were public schools. As such, none of them were merit-based, and all were publicly funded. That's another form of school choice...

Right. That's part of why we need magnet schools and charter schools. But magnet schools and charter schools generate the same data that other public schools do. They take the same tests, they supply the same information on grades. And still, I would argue, the average parent just doesn't have enough information. A lot of that is intrinsic-- there are simply too many barriers to understanding the relationship between educational input and educational output. Private schools exacerbate this by refusing to provide or even collect such data, and through a selection bias so powerful it erases meaningful comparison.

Now, if you decide you want to send your kid to a private school, go right ahead. But you can't have public money to do it, just like you can't take "your share" of public money to use a private subway, or a private fire department, or a private police force, or a private military, or a private water department. Sorry. It just doesn't work that way.

SB said...

1. It simply isn't true that you can just Google around and find all of this data. In fact I'm finding it difficult to find any schools with that kind of information publicly available on a website.

Any schools? I already gave you one state that puts every freaking school in the state on its website. Sure, the unsophisticated person might not find all the data on Google, but neither will the unsophisticated googler find the best medical data. That doesn't give complete novices the right to yell about how about how no one has any medical data anywhere. Clue: Start with state department of education websites. Read. Follow links.


3. Again-- these aren't wild claims. The most vocal private school voucher proponents constantly lament the lack of workable, objective data to attack this problem.

Wait, are you just saying that there isn't enough data on private schools? OK, that's a more limited and defensible claim. But that's not what the post said: You claimed that there isn't any educational data, period, as to districts or as to schools. That claim was just bullshit. There's an enormous literature analyzing precisely that data. You have access to a library, right? Look it up: There are actually scholarly journals, running back several decades, with titles like "Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis" or "Sociology of Education," that analyze educational data.

4. I think SB, by the way, demonstrates the emotionalism that surrounds a lot of this "private school is just better" talk. Strongly held beliefs that have no evidentiary support to generate that kind of thing.

Look in the mirror. Every single post you write about education is full of emotion, with nary a citation in sight. Right here in this comment thread, I've cited 11 external sources that people can look up.

SB said...

not even the most zealous principled defenders of vouchers claim that we have good data on the subject. None of them.

That's just silly. I linked to a post by a voucher defender claiming that we have 10 randomized studies on vouchers, and that these are pretty good evidence -- by the way, a damn sight better evidence than exists for just about ANYTHING in education.


The truth it, the data on vouchers is incredibly small, it shows very little positive benefit, when it's corrected for socio-economic status it shows even less, and anyway, all of that data itself is filled with selection bias, because these are opt-in programs-- meaning the most dedicated and forward-thinking parents are the ones signing their children up for them. Or don't you think the degree to which parents give a shit might matter?

Given your complete refusal to discuss ANY scholarly evidence until now, you should know that "selection bias" isn't an automatic get-out-of-jail free card that lets you wave your hands and ignore all of the evidence that does exist. Anyway, suppose selection bias explains why vouchers lead to small educational improvements. That proves what . . . that the poor inner-city parents in DC who have been desperate to get their kid out of a rotten school should be squashed in that desire, because after all, we're not GUARANTEED that their kid will move up 15 percentile points next year?

And, though you are desperate to eliminate single most powerful correlative factor in the discussion, it remains germane: the child poverty is what in Belgium, SB?

I'm not trying to eliminate poverty from the discussion -- indeed, if you can read what I wrote, I expressly said that it's not quite fair to compare Belgium's test scores to the US. I was thinking of that very reason, although the sentence was already long enough and I had to end somewhere.

Anyway, you have a nice way of ignoring the obvious: Voucher systems work just fine in Europe. The world doesn't end. Kids do fine. And the fact that fewer of them are poor is completely irrelevant to THAT fact. More poor kids in America does not lead to the conclusion, "VOUCHERS MUST BE STOPPED." Complete non sequitur you're implying there.

SB said...

By the way, the overwhelming evidence shows that 1) vouchers and private school competition actually force public schools to improve, and 2) private schools do a better job of inculcating civic tolerance and democratic values.

And before you return to your hobbyhorse about private schools, you should get a clue: The overwhelming majority of private schools in America are not ultra-rich white institutions. They're small-town Lutheran schools that cost maybe $300 a month, or urban Catholic school serving poor black kids, etc. (The average family using the Washington, D.C. voucher program earned about $17,000 a year, for example. See Table 2-3 here.)

SB said...

Returning to the school data point, it took me about 10 seconds to find a New York website listing schools and districts in need of improvement.

SB said...

Returning to the school data point, it took me about 10 seconds to find a New York website listing schools and districts in need of improvement.

E.D. Kain said...

SB--Indeed, many private schools aren't terribly expensive. As such, I see little reason nor necessity for them to be subsidized by the government, or to have the government's nose in their business whatsoever, a natural outcome of government funding of just about anything.

SB said...

Another 15 seconds (I've done other things in the meantime, BTW), and I found a Texas webpage that lets you download into an Excel file all data on all public and charters schools in Texas for the past 6 years. More Texas data is here.

And a California data website is here.

This isn't that hard.

SB said...

Freddie --

Wanna see something that will totally blow your mind? You've said that private schools don't educate "special ed" students. In fact, the most prominent voucher programs in America are designated PRECISELY for special ed students (and no one else), for the very reason that those kids often are better served by private arrangements than by what the local public school can provide.

ryan said...

Freddie: I'm afraid I just don't understand your response to me. The link you gave me isn't at all relevant to what I said. I wasn't actually advancing an argument for or against school vouchers. In fact, I didn't make any suggestions whatsoever about what, if anything, ought to be done to "fix" the public schools. I was merely pointing out that the national graduate rate is something like 68%. By grading standards that's what, a D+? The only argument I made is that 1) This Is a Problem, and 2) we have the data to reach that conclusion. Do you have anything at all to say to that?

Anonymous said...

I have nothing to add to the (rather great) discussion here, but wanted to note that watching the HBO clip was one of the more painful activities I've done this month.

SB said...

So Freddie. Clearly you're not convinced by (or even familiar with) the scholarly evidence on vouchers. Clearly you're being swayed by a melange of emotional prejudices against private schools.

Put all that aside, if you are able, for just a moment. Use your imagination. Imagine that you're sitting across the table from a black mother from Washington, D.C., who earns $14,000 a year (a typical voucher recipient, in other words). Imagine that she says to you, "I love this voucher program in DC. My kid was getting involved in the wrong crowds in the public schools, but thanks to the voucher, I get an extra $400 a month to send him to a Catholic school where gangs are not tolerated, and where I don't have to worry as much about his classmates selling him drugs."

What are you going to tell that poor black mother? This isn't a strawman, by the way: I've just described the prototypical voucher recipient. So what do you tell her? What grand rhetorical flourish will you come up with, what facts are you going to pull out of your ass to convince her that her son is NOT better off, and that she should have to send her son back to the public school because in 2030 (or sometime way after he has graduated or dropped out) society will finally have "fixed" the problem of poverty.

SB said...

And by the way, your appeal to Jim Manzi's authority -- saying that you trust him more than me -- is typical BS. As Jim Manzi has said:

The impact of school choice on program participants is a subject on which some of the most certain conclusions about causal impact can be made, since we have repeated random assignment trials due the lottery selection of participants. A couple of excellent papers that review specific expeiments in detail and reference numerous other such studies are:

http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/PEPG_03-14.pdf
(This is a classic paper from the Harvard group that looked at the NYC experiment)

http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/PEPG_03-15.pdf
(This looks at a national experiment with 40,000 participating families across the US.


But in that comment thread, you didn't pay the slightest whit of attention to the scholarly works he cited.

E.D. Kain said...

SB, the principle of vouchers is not based on economic need. It is based on the essential right to school choice. Hence, while you describe your character as prototypical, I say that there is no such thing as a prototypical recipient of a voucher. All would be entitled, regardless of merit or need. Such is the guiding principle of this argument, and its greatest flaw.

Can't have one without the other, though, or this would turn into private school welfare, not school choice.

Mark said...

E.D. - just as a clarification, although the argument for vouchers is based on a concept of a right to school choice, most forms of that argument accept that wealthy and upper middle class families already effectively have that right. Just about any thoughtful advocate of vouchers of whom I am aware also advocates some form of means testing for the voucher.

By the way, this whole thread seems to prove the point I was making in the post I referenced above, i.e., the way we frame this debate prevents us from discussing the topic in a way that we can all understand.

SB said...

Hence, while you describe your character as prototypical, I say that there is no such thing as a prototypical recipient of a voucher.

The example I gave is most certainly prototypical right now -- every voucher program in existence in America is designated either for poor people or for special ed kids.

Anonymous said...

It's not so much the disagreement about the value of public school, but the inability to understand that there are people who prize their public school educations.

This is conservatism at it's sickest--if I speak ill of the status quo (even as a public school graduate myself), that that becomes an insult against everyone who participated in the status quo. Support the troops, support the war. If was good enough for me, so it's good enough for you.

My public school experience was actually reasonably decent, and I think a lot of the arguments for vouchers are overblown. (Comparing performance in lotteries is problematic, as it means comparing people who lost a lottery and are therefore stuck in a school they hate to those who won and get to switch to a new one.)

Nonetheless, my experience wasn't so amazingly wonderful that I'm going to be insulted by someone who thinks it can be improved, and I find it hard to relate to someone who feels that way.

One of the most appealing things about liberalism is that it answers "so you think you're too good for this, huh?" with "I think everyone is too good for this."