Young minds, bureaucrats and union bosses

By Larry Sand
August 28, 2018

School choice is advancing, but the monopolists continue to defend a failing system.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, the latest bogus anti-school choice study being touted by the National Education Association was released in June. The report from the Network for Public Education (NPE) and the Schott Foundation contains all the usual gasp-worthy but ultimately empty verbiage we have come to expect from the public school monopolists. Perhaps the sales pitch masquerading as science can be best summed up with this: “Privatization in public schools weakens our democracy and often sacrifices the rights and opportunities of the majority for the presumed advantage of a small percentage of students.”

The reality is privatization strengthens us by giving the ultimate power of a child’s education to his mother and father, instead of some distant bureaucrat with a political agenda that may be at odds with the parents’ beliefs. The NEA website inadvertently gets it right when it says, “Private schools and charters are not designed to serve all students.”

That statement is correct, but public schools certainly don’t serve all students either. And that is just the point. For example, the government school faithful insist that any reference to God be omitted from school campuses, yet many have no problem with forcing sex education on kindergartners. While I certainly don’t want my five year-old learning about sex, I have no problem at all with her hearing references to God.

The NPE report claims that private schools will lead to a return to racial segregation. However, as EdChoice’s Greg Forster reported in 2016, just one out of ten studies done on the subject showed that when a student moves from a public to a private setting there was no difference in integration levels, while all the others revealed they were going to a more integrated setting when they went to a private school.

The NPE report also suggests that poor kids get shafted by a voucher system, and that privatization is a scheme to make the rich even richer. However, researcher Patrick Wolf explains that private-school-choice programs disproportionately attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds. “Choice participants are considerably more likely to be low-income, lower-achieving, and African American, and much less likely to be white, as compared to the average public-school student in their area.” The Cato Institute’s Corey DeAngelis reports on ten studies, and two showed that indeed students applying to the programs were, on average, more advantaged. But four of the studies found that applicants were less advantaged than the eligible population and the other four showed no difference. DeAngelis also finds that “11 rigorous studies link private school choice programs to students’ levels of tolerance and civic engagement,” with the majority of them finding large positive effects.

And what would any ed establishment privatization study be without the “vouchers drain funding from public schools” mantra? While it is true that schools do have certain fixed costs, most outlay is variable, meaning expenditures are reduced when students leave, and increase when new students enroll. Therefore, if a child leaves a public setting for private, the money follows the child, so proportionately, the same amount of money remains with the public school.

There is nothing in the NPE report about the effect of school choice on teacher pay. But writing in the Washington Examiner just last week, Cory DeAngelis reports that of six studies on the subject, five show that where there is competition with private and charter schools, public school teachers salaries increase, while one study shows no effect.

And the general public? The most recent Education Next survey shows that 54 percent of those polled support “wider choice” for public-school parents by “allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition,” a 9 percent increase over last year.

Perhaps most importantly, kids do better in a private setting. Greg Forster looked at 18 empirical studies of choice programs and found that 14 found of them improve student outcomes, 2 found no effect, and 2 reported a negative effect. Both negatives were from Louisiana, whose voucher program is poorly designed and over-regulated.  Forster has also shown that vouchers make public education better. He writes that out of 33 studies examining the effects on public schools where choice is in play, 31 have shown an improvement in public schools and one study showed no effect. Only one revealed a negative effect on public school students.

Not only do private school choice programs have a positive effect on students’ academic outcomes in public schools, they do taxpayers a big favor at the same time. Forster looked at 28 empirical studies that examined choice’s fiscal impact on public schools. Of these, 25 show school choice programs save money. Three find the programs to be revenue neutral. None of the studies reveal a negative fiscal impact on public schools.

So just about everyone benefits from school choice except the educrats and the teachers unions. But, undaunted, they continue to flail away. As Michael McShane writes, school choice is the all-purpose bogeyman, whereby every problem in education is the fault of school choice, and traditional zip-code-mandated government-run schools are the answer. “School choice becomes the bogeyman, but the nightmare for most families is trying to raise children in a system that looks at them as numbers assigned to a school building instead of young minds in search of a better education.”

Young minds in search of a better education. Yes, that’s what education is really about. Not propping up a gargantuan monopoly for the benefit of government bureaucrats and agenda-driven union bosses. Parents and taxpayers are getting the message and that scares the unions to death. It’s about time.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.