February 8, 2017

AT THE END OF THE DAY IT'S JUST A FIGHT OVER UNIONIZATION:

The Comforts of the Betsy DeVos War (Ross Douthat, FEB. 7, 2017, NY Times)

Never mind that Trump's logorrheic nationalism barely has time for education. Never mind that local control of schools makes the Education Department a pretty weak player. Never mind that Republican views on education policy are much closer to the expert consensus than they are on, say, climate change. Never mind that the bulk of DeVos's school-choice work places her only somewhat to the right of the Obama administration's pro-charter-school positioning, close to centrist Democrats like Senator Cory Booker. None of that mattered: Against her and (so far) only her, Democrats went to the barricades, and even dragged a couple of wavering Republicans along with them.

DeVos did look unprepared and even foolish at times during her confirmation hearings, and she lacks the usual government experience. But officially the opposition claimed to be all about hardheaded policy empiricism. A limited and heavily regulated charter school program is one thing, the argument went, but DeVos's zeal for free markets would gut public education and turn kids over to the not-so-tender mercies of unqualified bottom-liners. Just look at what happened in her native Michigan, her critics charged, where the influence of her philanthropic dollars helped flood Detroit's school system with unsupervised charters run by incompetents and hacks.

But the empiricists' argument wasn't particularly empirical. There's no evidence that DeVos-backed charters actually visited disaster on Detroit's students. Instead, the very studies that get cited to critique her efforts actually show the city's charters modestly outperforming public schools.

That "modestly" is important, because it tracks with much of what we know about school choice in general -- that it offers real potential benefits without being a panacea. Decades of experiments suggest that choice can save money, improve outcomes for very poor kids whose public options are disastrous, and increase parental satisfaction. (The last is no small thing!) But the available evidence also suggests that choice alone won't revolutionize schools or turn slow learners into geniuses, that the clearest success stories are hard to replicate, and some experiments in privatization (like Louisiana's recent voucher push) can badly disappoint.

So in DeVos, we have an education secretary who perhaps errs a little too much on the side of choice-as-panacea, overseeing (with limited powers) an American education bureaucracy that pretty obviously errs the other way. And wherever you come down on striking the right balance, it's hard to see this situation as empirically deserving the level of political controversy that's attached to it.

So why did the Democrats fight so hard? Because in this particular case, the rules of normal pre-Trump politics still apply.

First, when interest groups talk, politicians listen -- and the teachers' unions are simply more powerful in Democratic circles, with more money and leverage and clout, than most of the groups leading the charge against other Trump policies or nominees. 






On school choice, wise words from the advocate you would never expect (Elizabeth English, Sean Kennedy, February 8, 2017, | AEIdeas)


Warren would be wise to re-read the words of a committed advocate for school reform and choice from back in 2003.

That thoughtful policy leader wrote:

An all-voucher or all-school choice system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shake out might be just what the system needs...But over time, the whole concept of "the Beverly Hills schools" or "Newton schools" would die out, replaced in the hierarchy by schools that offer a variety of programs that parents want for their children, regardless of the geographic boundaries. By selecting where to send their children (and where to spend their vouchers), parents would take control over schools' tax dollars, making them the de facto owners of those schools.



Posted by at February 8, 2017 4:41 AM

  

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