What Kind of Choice and Accountability?

Mary McConnell starts off a recent book review with an excellent anecdote. (If you don’t subscribe to First Things, try here.)

“Catholic schools reap one benefit from poverty,” the high-school principal hiring me commented ruefully (I’d just glimpsed my pay package). “By the time we’ve scrounged up money for the latest educational innovation, everybody else has figured out it doesn’t work.”

Only systems in which money is ultimately no object (indeed, in which failure often leads to more money) could tolerate public education’s oddly combined tendency to leap on fads and to reform slowly. The factor that makes sense of the paradox is a desire for more public dollars and for less accountability. A new method of teaching math, for example, requires money for training and materials, while also creating the perennial excuse of adjusting to a new system.
This observation is in keeping with the subject of McConnell’s review, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by Diane Ravitch. The title of the review is “Apostasy Sells,” because Ravitch is a former advocate of “school choice” and “accountability” who has changed her mind.
Unfortunately, as even occasional followers of the choice and accountability debates should have observed, those who oppose such reforms tend to attack the principle on the basis of a particular policy’s results. Consider:

Enter choice. Ravitch contends that voucher programs and public charter schools have failed to demonstrate measurable educational gains. Putting aside the surprising reemergence of test scores as the preferred standard of performance, I wondered what she would say about Catholic schools. The data on charter-school performance is perhaps mixed, but a half century of research proves, as Ravitch acknowledges, that “minority children in Catholic schools are more likely to take advanced courses than their peers in public schools, more likely to go to college, and more likely to continue on to graduate school.”
Claiming that she initially supported vouchers to “help Catholic schools,” Ravitch now contends that charter schools are forcing Catholic schools to close. A strange complaint. Eight hundred of the 1700 poor children who receive District of Columbia vouchers attend Catholic schools. If, now that Congress has killed the program, their parents flee to charter schools, “choice” will not be the culprit.

The allusion to “the surprising reemergence of test scores” refers to McConnell’s prior explanation that “accountability” has become synonymous with “standardized testing,” which (whatever its merits), Ravitch finds herself using again and again as necessary evidence for her other arguments.
Those of us who support reforms in the mold of “choice and accountability” can only continue restating that we’re not talking about “charters and tests.” We’re talking about a systematic rethinking wherein families can use at least some portion of the tax money allocated to the education of their children in order to help send them to any school that they would pick were money not an issue (although they’d remain responsible for whatever cost exceeded the program, of course).
Then, school districts need to be reworked to ensure that public schools can hold their own in the ensuing competition, which requires teacher pay and promotion based on individual merit, not seniority, and administrators’ reclamation of the authority to make significant decisions and responsibility to accept the consequences when results are negative. You know, sort of like the working world that most of us in the private sector encounter.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
13 years ago

Katz writes this: “We’re talking about a systematic rethinking wherein families can use at least some portion of the tax money allocated to the education of their children in order to send them to any school that they would pick were money not an issue.”
were money not an issue
when is money not an issue?
Then this ..
“You know, sort of like the working world that most of us in the private sector encounter.”
Where money is not an issue?
Do you want me to work in my world where money is most definitely an issue so that I can support the education of your children in a Catholic religion school. Do you want my money to be used to support a religious organization?

13 years ago

As a taxpayer in the State of Rhode Island I would adamantly do everything in my power to deny the use of my tax dollars to support a private religious education system.
My tax dollars go to supporting free the public education system.
If a parent does not like the free public education system and pulls his/her child out placing the child in a private education system that is their choice and I as a taxpayer should not be obliged to provide support.
If the private school is religious then there is separation of church and state so public tax dollars cannot be used to support the religion.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
13 years ago

Perhaps it wasn’t as well stated as it would have been had I not written the post during the non-eating portion of my short lunch break, but what I meant to indicate with the reference to money not being an issue was that whatever money parents might get through a voucher program — even if it’s just the portion of their own taxes that would go to the public schools, or something — should be available to send them to any school that they would choose if public schools weren’t free. The phrases “some portion of” and “were money not an issue” should have been clues.
To transport that phrase to the reference to working — clearly a reference to the accountability portion of the prior paragraph — just illustrates the ill will that you bring to these discussions.
Be that as it may, I’ve made some minor changes to increase clarity.
A system that denies parents the choice of religious schools simply because they’re religious is manifestly not a separation of church and state. It’s the establishment of the church of the state.
Allowing parents to use vouchers for religious schools is no different than allowing welfare recipients to use the money for religious items, food stamp recipients to use the money at religious food shops, and so on.
At any rate, you’re being short-sighted. The objective, here, isn’t to funnel money to religious organizations; I already believe that it does damage to those organizations to seek such funds. The objective is to create a climate of competition such that, when public school departments think of how to expand their resources, they don’t first think of begging for more from higher governments or tricking residents into taxing themselves more, but rather of attracting more students.

13 years ago

No ill will. It’s called deconstruction.
More important though is the fact that the moon will be full in only two days. The “bearded one” may soon make an apperance with his multiple blood red links in a post that resembles a fresh kill. Have your garlic at the ready. This is an actual LUNAR ALERT.
By the way Katz, I have no problem with Catholic education. Having grown up in this region I could not escape knowing those who have benefited from their Catholic schooling. And I do understand the reason why I am already paying my taxes to support those in my public school district who bus their children to Catholic schools. They (the Catholic schoolchildren’s parents) also gain through the public school structure further by having access to programs offered at the public schools that is not offered to their children at their Catholic schools. So I already have to pay for your children.
Also you may consider in the future eating something during your lunch break.Most public school graduates could tell you that proper nutrition is the key to a strong body and mind. Both of which we may all need in this current lunar cycle particularly with the “bearded one” on the loose.

13 years ago

I am paying taxes to support public schools.
If a parent decides to remove his/her children from public school that is a voluntary action on the parent’s part.
If the children are home schooled or sent to a private school non-religious or religious my tax dollars should not be used to support the voluntary action of removal of the children from public school because that is totally undermining the free public school system.
In Hawaii there are about one private non-religious or religious school for almost every public school. No one is asking for vouchers. Also in Hawaii there is no free public school bus system. If parents want their children riding the school they pay $1.75 per one-way else it is up to the parent to get their children to school in the morning and pick them up at end of school day. Also the school year in Hawaii is 12 months a year with holiday breaks.
I’m finding out how easy parents and children have it on the mainland and still crying for more freebies and less accountability! Free breakfast, free lunch, free school bus, and free afternoon babysitting and still blaming everyone else for the child not doing homework and failing in school because you purchased the X-box that the child plays all night. Now you want us taxpayers to pay for you putting your child in private school!
Get real Justin! You sound like a bleeding heart from the RIC welfare supporters.

13 years ago

If the private school is religious then there is separation of church and state so public tax dollars cannot be used to support the religion.
If you consider math and science textbooks as “supporting religion,” well, ok, but don’t be surprised if the rest of us think you’re a looney.
Let’s also try to remember that the current per-student cost of a public school education usually rivals anything in the private sector, and yet when you look at the numbers compared to private school students, most public school students aren’t even in the same universe scholastically.
It’s almost like an absurdly inordinate amount of the public per-student cost is being used for something that has zero bearing on the quality of their education….

13 years ago

EMT, What you fail to point out is the majority of educational costs added onto the current public school cost of doing business of educating the children are caused by bleeding hearts and welfare hacks demanding extra services above and beyond what the schools should be supplying (free breakfast, lunch and soon to be dinner). Also the bleeding hearts and welfare hacks some never ever stepping into a classroom to educate 15 to 30 per classroom mommy’s and daddy’s little never can do wrong darlings seem to know more than a certified licensed and degreed plus advance degree educator. The GOP “No Child Left Behind” created an enormous strain on the nation’s states, cities and towns financial ability to provide for the unfunded educational liabilities. But what is really worrisome is the whole validation of the “No Child Left Behind” law was based on falsified documentation just like the Iraq invasion justification. The only person openly financially benefitting from the “No Child Left Behind” law is former President George W. Bush’s brother with his computerized reading program because he is barred from doing what he normally does due to heavy involvement in the perpetuation of the “Savings and Loan scandal” that rocked the nation and pretty much devastated RI. I like the blame it on the “teacher salaries and pensions” game as they are the ones pumping the most money into the RI pension fund and oh they only work 180 days!!!!! They also only get paid for the 180 days they work and do you understand what happens to your Federal and state taxes when you compress the salary down by three months? I believe more is taken out. There are a lot of false and misconstrued facts that are projected on Anchor Rising to justify the so called… Read more »

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.