The Liberal Assault on Vouchers: A reply to an opponent

Note: On occasion, I’ll engage others online in a discussion on an issue of interest to me. I hope that my response to an opponent of the D.C. School Voucher program is sufficient to inform you on the opposition’s talking points, which will make my comments more clear to you. I’ve changed the name of my correspondent as it is not my desire to attack him personally.

Re: Choice and Charter Schools - Democratic Disrespect

Rev. Doe, I am disappointed that a gentleman such as yourself with the title of Reverend would resort immediately to disparaging me & my intentions without any knowledge of me. That's not particularly Christian, is it?

Never in my comments did I advocate a select few children being rewarded at the expense of others. In fact, I believe I stated the proper response is to expand choice, not limit it. I want every child to have an opportunity. I also want every child to have an opportunity now, not when the public school system gets its act together.

I live in Calvert County where the schools are generally excellent, and Maryland as a state gets high ratings for their public schools. I won't rest, however, until Prince George's County and Baltimore City can give their children the best possible education. We should never be satisfied until everyone is lifted up.

So your public presumption that I am ordaining some kids to succeed while others fail is unworthy of your station. Anyone who has read my postings on these boards knows of my passion for educating all of our children.

As for the information I cited, if you have a problem with my facts, take it up with the researchers and editors of the Washington Post which is where I derived my information. I figured I'd use the paper least disposed to school choice by ideology so no one could accuse me of using GOP talking points. Regrettably, that assumption was flawed.

Anne Arundel County has a charter school which is working wonders with minority children, and they are among the state's best in math and science. Yet the public school officials there have subjected them to continued harassment and false accusations despite their success and their parents' desire to have their children learn there. I have no tolerance for the education bureaucracy because it places self-preservation before the education of our children. I don't care who gets the credit for making our kids a success - public schools, charter schools, private schools, home schools - it's the success part that's important.

One last thing - it's not fighting fair to cite an article in today's paper to rebut comments I made before the article came out. That point wasn't made clear to your audience in your comments. As I read it, I reach the following conclusions:

1) You quote the current Secretary of Education who is on the record as opposing vouchers. Aside from his obvious bias, his argument against vouchers is flawed. He complains that only a few benefit while the others are left behind, yet he supports charter schools which essentially have the same selection process and can only accommodate some students, not all. If that is the sole rationale for opposing vouchers, his argument is intellectually flawed or dishonest.

2) Students reported no change in their satisfaction levels although parents are happy. And the point...? With few exceptions, kids aren't going to be effusive about school, particularly when they go from an undemanding school to a more challenging one. Someone has to be the adult and I wouldn't build my argument on whether or not children who are in schools that challenge them for perhaps the first time in their lives "like" school.

3) I cited a range of cost figures, starting with a generally accepted cost figure that even the local school district endorses, $13,000 per student, to a high end figure whose formula is presented here:

"To calculate total spending, we have to add up all sources of funding for education from kindergarten through 12th grade, excluding spending on charter schools and higher education. For the current school year, the local operating budget is $831 million, including relevant expenses such as the teacher retirement fund. The capital budget is $218 million. The District receives about $85.5 million in federal funding. And the D.C. Council contributes an extra $81 million. Divide all that by the 49,422 students enrolled (for the 2007-08 year)
and you end up with about $24,600 per child."

The Center for Education Reform puts the cost per student at private schools nationally at $4,689, $3,236 for Catholic Schools. This isn't a surprise to anyone and it's an apples-to-apples comparison.

The difference is that many of these failing school districts have an inordinately high ratio of non-teaching to teaching staff. In fact, the U.N. states, "of the eight countries for which data were available, the United States had the largest nonteaching staff in education as a percentage of the total labor force (3.1 percent) and also was the only country in which nonteaching staff made up a greater percentage of the labor force than teaching staff." (Note: The source I cited was incorrect; it’s the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), another international organization, that is responsible for this data).

Who is the winner here, our children or the education bureaucracy?

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent.

The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

I believe you when you say you've cast your lot with the children and their well-being. I hope you will extend to me the same presumption of good will, even if you disagree with the information I've presented. I don't believe in republishing dubious data, Rev. Doe, and I do my homework. I'm happy to cite sources if you'd like them so you can investigate their claims for yourself.