Public School Hypocrisy

When Democrats go to Washington, they inevitably face criticism for refusing to send their kids to the public schools. And they should. Here's some bile on the matter from Megan McArdle:

Here's what I don't understand though:  how come the Obama girls benefit from leaving the DC public school system?  Surely, if it doesn't make any difference, the Obama girls would do just as well in ordinary, democratic, thoroughly American public schools as in an elitist Quaker institution.  Wouldn't it bring wonderful diversity to both the school, and the Obama daughters, to have the children of the president rubbing shoulders with the children of the district's more ordinary residents?  What is it about the Obama girls that enables them, nearly uniquely, to benefit from school choice?

If you know me on this issue, you know that I am very, very upset.  And that I think that there is probably a special place in hell reserved for politicians who betray our nation's most helpless children for the benefit of a sullen and recalcitrant teacher's union.  There they spend all eternity explaining to their victims why they couldn't possibly have risked their precious babies' future in the public school system, yet felt perfectly free to fling other peoples' children into it by the thousands. 

I actually think the every politician should do more than send their kids to public schools. They should use public transportation, sleep in public housing for a month, eat off food stamps for a month, wait on line for a green card, and sleep in a prison for a week.

17 thoughts on “Public School Hypocrisy

  1. “They should use public transportation, sleep in public housing for a month, eat off food stamps for a month, wait on line for a green card, and sleep in a prison for a week.”
    Can I add ‘And pay their taxes before they are nominated’ to that list?

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  2. All of this reminds me that in 8 days I have to vote and there will be only one name on my ballot for school board.

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  3. There’s more than one way to learn things, you don’t have to learn them from experience.
    And I think of public school as a minimum, I don’t even have the goal of it being the best; I don’t think less of people who advocate for providing that minimum to everybody while using their personal resources to supplement or replace that minimum for their own family.

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  4. Mark Kleiman doesn’t have much time for the main argument:
    “Any time libertarians want to replace public education with a voucher system under which each child gets a voucher that would pay the $30,000 annual tuition at Sidwell Friends, they’ll have my vote for it, and for the huge tax increase required to pay for it. …
    “But let’s not pretend that private-school voucher plans can provide Sidwell Friends for all the poor kids in the DC public schools. And since they can’t, I don’t see any contradiction between Barack Omaba’s belief that his daughters will get a better education at Sidwell than they would in the DC public schools and his belief that the private-school voucher system won’t, on balance, improve the education of DC pupils.”

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  5. I can’t imagine what she means by “nearly uniquely.” Surely every (upper and upper-middle class) parent that she personally knows is exercising the same choice, by their house location if nothing else.

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  6. I get annoyed at politicians who serve up a weak gruel for the public that they wouldn’t be caught dead eating themselves.

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  7. Doug, I meant it was an uncontested election. But, just for that, I’ll write-in my own name instead of “Tom Murphy’s Toe Warts”.
    As for your second comment, basically the argument is “if vouchers can’t make things perfect they aren’t worth trying.” By that standard, nobody would try anything new and it is basically an excuse for the teachers union to continue to resist any attempt at improvement.
    Our school district has resorted to bribing parents with funds for college. On the one hand, I’d like it to work as the city needs to find some way to retain population. On the other hand, I’m very doubtful it will work. Basically, people with an interest in their kids education either get them into the right program at the public schools or they use private schools or they move to suburbs with better schools. I can’t see the bribe working as there isn’t actually more room in the programs people want to get into and the amount of the bribe is too small to influence people who can pay for private schools or buy in Fox Chapel.

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  8. “And I think of public school as a minimum, I don’t even have the goal of it being the best;”
    Yup.
    I think Megan is irrational on this issue and ignores all the arguments of those who oppose vouchers (and, especially those who believe that they have the right to use private funds for whatever purpose they choose, while also paying for public schools for everyone). And, I would support a complete dismantling of our educational systems before I’d support vouchers. If we’re not going to offer a public service of education, to everyone, we might as well close down all the schools, and let people educate their own children. Then, we don’t have to deal with the mess of private/public partnerships that public funding would necessarily entail.

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  9. BJ,
    Just out of curiousity, what are you supposed to do if your district isn’t providing a minimum standard of education and school board elections are not contested? Would you allow charter schools so long as they were open to all in the district with a lottery for those that are over-subscribed?

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  10. “And, I would support a complete dismantling of our educational systems before I’d support vouchers. If we’re not going to offer a public service of education, to everyone, we might as well close down all the schools, and let people educate their own children.”
    That’s pretty extreme. Do you really think that the UK or Canada or Sweden or Germany would be better off just shutting down their entire school-funding apparatus, rather than continue to fund non-state schools?
    I’m beginning to think that there is a case against state funding for private schools in the US, but it also applies to state funding of higher education and medicine. As people have argued here before, the subsidy inflates prices.

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  11. The UK doesn’t fund non-state schools. It funds state schools which are managed in cooperation with religious institutions, and subject to the same national regulation as non-religious schools (and almost all regulation is national). The regulation vis-a-vis curriculum is far more extensive than public schools in the US endure (but also, in my opinion, better!)

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  12. “Would you allow charter schools so long as they were open to all in the district with a lottery for those that are over-subscribed?”
    It would depend on what one means by “charter school.” I think there’s a certain level of regulation (of both the treatment of the staff and the children, and of access that must be guaranteed). So, if “charter” means “choice” school, to which one is not automatically assigned, that’s fine. If it means a school that is permitted to violate rules that applies to other schools, no.
    [I’m not a rabidly “union-yes” person, so the esoterica of charters and unions is not something I really understand, but the critical question is whether the standards we apply to other schools also apply to the charters].

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  13. “I’m beginning to think that there is a case against state funding for private schools in the US, but it also applies to state funding of higher education and medicine. As people have argued here before, the subsidy inflates prices.”
    I do think this is true, and it’s one of the reasons I oppose vouchers. I think the public/private intermingling of funds is problematic, and creates bad outcomes. Now, unlike others, this realization doesn’t mean that I think the government should get out of the public school (or public transportation, or public health care, or public war) business. I just think that public funds means public control. Public control, in turn, means other things, like non-discrimination, and in the US (though not necessarily in the UK), separation of church and state.
    So, I’m not actually in favor of dismantling the public education system, but I would support that in preference to sending government vouchers to private religious schools.

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  14. “The UK doesn’t fund non-state schools. It funds state schools which are managed in cooperation with religious institutions, and subject to the same national regulation as non-religious schools (and almost all regulation is national). The regulation vis-a-vis curriculum is far more extensive than public schools in the US endure (but also, in my opinion, better!)”
    So there is the sort of canoodling between state and private entities that bj would like to avoid.
    My husband attended quite a number of schools in Canada and he says there wasn’t a huge difference between the public and the state-supported religious schools. State support seems to have a homogenizing effect. We’ve already seen a similar homogenizing effect in US private schools, thanks to state-provided textbooks.

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  15. The Obama girls were never students in the DC public schools, so they aren’t “leaving the DC public school system.”
    “What is it about the Obama girls that enables them, nearly uniquely, to benefit from school choice?” Their parents are willing to pay tuition.
    There are private schools which are better than public schools, but there are also private schools which are worse. Leaving the public system doesn’t mean that children receive a better education, with the exception of those children who are leaving absolutely dysfunctional public districts. I am under the impression that there are good public schools in the DC area–mostly in Virginia, though.
    I do not think that requiring politicians to send their children to the public schools would improve the quality of the schools. The politicians’ children would never be subject to enrollment lotteries, nor would they be required to spend 2.5 hours on a school bus each day. Somehow, they would end up with the best teachers, and all of them would qualify as gifted, don’t you know.
    There are good schools in the public systems, particularly the exam schools. Allowing school principals more control over those who attend their schools would improve public schooling. I notice that the politicians who require schools to seat disruptive students in public school classrooms choose to send their children to schools with stringent entry requirements, which schools also have the power to expel any incorrigible child.
    I think the lurking requirement to send one’s children to local public schools would mean the end to political candidates who care about education. Most politicians want good public schools. The state of the nation’s schools is a lesson in the unintended consequences of good intentions.

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