October 24, 2007
I sort of want to outsource this post to Dana Goldstein, but white parents fleeing pockets of poverty is not an argument for school vouchers. What they're fleeing is the poverty -- which, at a certain density, dissolves just about any school. If everyone had a voucher, there would still be concentrated poverty in DC, and thus in its schools, and white parents would still move away so they could easily send their kids to other schools. What they're seeking is economic segregation, not school choice. And the way you achieve that is move away from poor areas. Which is something that school vouchers would not, sadly, allow poor families to do.
Of course, this argument would fall apart if voucher experiment had actually been shown to improve student scores. But that hasn't happened. In fact, it hasn't happened multiple times. But don't get me wrong: I take very seriously the inequity of rich families just wandering off from pockets of poverty, leaving the areas all the worse off for their increasing economic homogeneity. So I support a broad range of economic integration measures, ranging from housing vouchers to legislating integration into appropriate school districts. But school vouchers don't show much hope as the answer to that problem.
Incidentally, Greg Anrig has a terrific chapter on the disappointing results of the voucher and charter experiments in his new book, which you should all buy.
Update: Woohoo! Dana intervenes!
So I support a broad range of economic integration measures, ranging from housing vouchers to legislating integration into appropriate school districts.
I agree with your goal, but am appalled at the methods you would support, especially dragging the schools off mission to achieve your social goal. It's not like they don't have enough problems doing their job as it is. Can't you find another way to achieve your goal?
Posted by: El Viajero | Oct 24, 2007 3:47:05 PM
Can't you find another way to achieve your goal?
How do you feel about state socialism?
Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Oct 24, 2007 3:54:28 PM
The schools are there to educate the children attending them. How would changing the racial balance of those kids "take them off mission?"
Posted by: Ezra | Oct 24, 2007 3:55:32 PM
Might school vouchers, even though they do nothing to improve education in general or economic segregation in schools, nevertheless have the positive benefit of reducing economic segregation in neighborhoods?
Once where kids go to school is less tied to where they live, and rich parents place their kids in good by paying extra money directly to the school instead of extra money on their mortgage note, that's one less reason for them to move out to the suburbs.
Posted by: Brock | Oct 24, 2007 4:05:26 PM
"rich parents place their kids in good" s/b
"rich parents place their kids in good schools"
Posted by: Brock | Oct 24, 2007 4:06:52 PM
Ezra, your statement that parents are merely "fleeing poverty" is really at odds with the reality. Parents will move from any neighborhood purely in search of better schools. Quite honestly, I think the possibility that vouchers would keep parents in their same neighborhood is a good argument in favor of vouchers, even if the quality of the education does not objectively improve.
Personally, I think an argument can be made that vouchers can be used as a middle class entitlement/bribe to keep families in cities/neighborhoods rather than having them move in search of better schools. Parents move in search of schools. How to prevent them from leaving? Give them some kind of school-related incentive to stay.
Posted by: Tyro | Oct 24, 2007 4:09:02 PM
I was so writing the same post. The only thing you don't mention is that private schools, as we think of them, have tuition three or four times what public schools spend per pupil. Vouchers wouldn't accomplish that.
Posted by: Sam Boyd | Oct 24, 2007 4:13:19 PM
Tyro: They are fleeing poverty in the schools. Which they will continue to do (for fully rational reasons!). The point is that vouchers won't -- and have been proven, at least so far, to not -- help the urban poor. Or really anyone at all. So getting pissed about the uality of high-poverty schools does not, naturally, lead to a call for vouchers -- particularly as poor parents generally can't send their kids terribly far anyway...
Posted by: Ezra | Oct 24, 2007 4:29:00 PM
If everyone had a voucher, there would still be concentrated poverty in DC, and thus in its schools, and white parents would still move away so they could easily send their kids to other schools.
This is a pretty basic misunderstanding of Megan's argument. She isn't arguing that vouchers are going to get rid of poverty, or that white parents would stop moving away. Instead, she's arguing that the poor black family who is dismayed at the moral and cultural environment in DC public schools should have the same opportunity to seek an alternative as do the white liberals who can afford to move to better neighborhoods (and who do so in droves once they have children). It takes a twisted soul to say to that family, "Too bad, your kid has to stay in the drug-ridden school where the principal won't even meet with parents; after all, if your kid went elsewhere, he might not get higher test scores."
Posted by: John Dope | Oct 24, 2007 4:29:45 PM
Actually, I really like the idea of "housing vouchers" instead of school vouchers. Combine that with some targetted re-investment in certain residential areas of the city (what is commonly known as "gentrification") and we might finally have a system where upper middle class, middle class and lower class folks all live in the same area. Which would mean better public schools for all involved, and probably a better overall standard of living for the city as well.
Do you have any links for people floating the idea of "housing vouchers"? I don't think I've ever really heard anyone seriously proposing it before.
Posted by: NonyNony | Oct 24, 2007 4:31:27 PM
Speaking of which, what the hell is the problem with liberals who focus on test scores as the be all and end all of vouchers? Everywhere else -- for example, as to No Child Left Behind -- liberals are always like, "There's more to education than such a technoratic focus on test scores. Isn't it horrible how No Child Left Behind makes teachers spend all their time teaching to the test, while eliminating art and history classes?" But as soon as the magic word "vouchers" is uttered, they flip on a dime and say, "Oh my goodness, we shouldn't be helping poor people in this way. It might not raise test scores. QED."
Posted by: John Dope | Oct 24, 2007 4:34:23 PM
Well, one thing that would help the urban poor would be to ensure that there are stable, integrated communities. Why are communities segregated? Because people flee neighborhoods that they are perfectly happy to live in because they need to find better schools. This, in turn, causes the number of middle class families to crater. Which hurts the urban poor because it turns their neighborhoods into a ghetto.
"School choice" already exists-- it's called "moving." It's the reason why so many parents are satisfied with their local school district-- because they moved specifically because they wanted to live in that school district. It strikes me that it would be in the interest of cities to create an incentive to get families that would move out of the city to stay. Vouchers -- allowing parents in these cities to live in the city while sending their child to a school that they're satisfied with -- seem like a reasonable way to address this issue.
Posted by: Tyro | Oct 24, 2007 4:35:39 PM
Instead, she's arguing that the poor black family who is dismayed at the moral and cultural environment in DC public schools should have the same opportunity to seek an alternative as do the white liberals who can afford to move to better neighborhoods
My prediction: Under the voucher scheme, the poor black family then gets priced out of the good schools. The rich family no longer needs to pay a higher mortgage note to put their kids in the good school, so that money is redirected to extra tuition payments on top of the voucher payment.
The problem is this: One of the things that makes a school "good" is that its price (whether paid to the mortgage company or as tuition) is high enough to keep the poor kids out. It's a recipe for economic segregation in schools, and I doubt anything can be done about it short of reducing economic inequality in general.
Posted by: Brock | Oct 24, 2007 4:39:10 PM
"What they're seeking is economic segregation"
The question is why are the seeking is economic segregation.
Could crime be a factor?
Would more police help?
Notes to consider:
Crime in America increased in the 1920s (prohibition). Fell in the 1930s (prohibition ended crime falls despite a rise in poverty) and then rose greatly in mid 1960s (big fall in poverty). And has been slowly falling since.
Do poor people commit more crimes than rich people (white collar crime) or only more violent crime?
Do poor people commit more crimes because they are poor. If so why do they continue to commit a high rate of violent crime if and when they become profesional football and besketball players?
If educational opportinities prevent violent crime why do college football and basketball players commit crimes at high rates.
Lots of question few answers.
One pretty reasonable answer end prohibition of drugs.
Posted by: Floccina | Oct 24, 2007 4:39:23 PM
What would home schoolers get in educational voucher system?
Posted by: Floccina | Oct 24, 2007 4:44:14 PM
I went to a bad high school but got a good education there. Mainly the teachers there were so delighted to find a student who wanted to learn that they bent over backwards to teach the few if us in college prep. We were such a delight to teach in comparison to the majority.
I think that I saw an NBER paper a while back that said good students do very good in bad schools. This is in keeping with my experience. Does anyone else here have a different or same experience? Sorry I did not retain the link.
Posted by: Floccina | Oct 24, 2007 4:50:12 PM
Brock -- if I'm not mistaken, there's already a modest voucher program in D.C., and it's therefore possible to check if your "predictions" are true. Actually, they're not: As I recall, DC vouchers are limited to poorer families (which means rich families don't get any benefit), and there are at least some Catholic private schools that are less the voucher amount. In fact, the same thing is true everywhere that vouchers have been tried, which is precisely why one of the top five complaints about voucher programs everywhere is that too many of the voucher kids end up in Catholic schools. Maybe you dislike Catholic schools, but it's just not true to predict that they're too expensive for a voucher program.
Posted by: John Dope | Oct 24, 2007 4:54:26 PM
My own controversial view on this is that a lot of the poor kids and certainly their teachers, are more than happy to not have the upper income kids around. The joke around teaching circles is that all upper income children are either LD or AG (learning disabled or academically gifted). Their helicopter parents demand oh so much extra attention because it couldn't possibly be that little Connor is, God forbid, AVERAGE. So they pay all the right docs to say all the right things to get whatever extras they think they need. Frankly, keeping these kids out of the lower income schools frees those teachers to focus on the kids who need the help rather than those who can afford the diagnosis.
The real problem in lower income schools is the difficulty in discipline and respect for teachers. I don't have a good answer for that, other than instead of NCLB, we need SCLB. Some children just don't have the life skills or inclination to learn; after a certain age they just drag down the other kids. Keeping disruptive kids in regular classrooms just robs the education of those kids who want it. But good luck sorting out that mess. . .
Posted by: Scott | Oct 24, 2007 4:55:04 PM
"Do you have any links for people floating the idea of "housing vouchers"?"
Housing vouchers have already existed for a very long period of time. (Section 8 housing, among numerous other things, which originally began in the Great Depression). The problem is more with the low level of Section 8 funding overall and the reality that suburban landlords (those in the better school districts) will often not take Section 8 vouchers.
Posted by: burritoboy | Oct 24, 2007 4:56:26 PM
Housing vouchers have already existed for a very long period of time.
Well, for heaven's sake! Liberals should be outraged. Poor people shouldn't be getting vouchers for housing unless it improves test scores. Until that's proven, poor people should have to live in drug-infested and gang-ridden shacks on government-owned property.
Posted by: John Dope | Oct 24, 2007 4:58:23 PM
"Of course, this argument would fall apart if voucher experiment had actually been shown to improve student scores."
Err, Sweden. Since 1992. Impeccably social democratic country, pure voucher system since then.
They're very happy with it.
I look forward to the day that the US becomes more like Sweden. As, of course, do you Ezra.
Posted by: Tim Worstall | Oct 24, 2007 4:58:49 PM
Floccina, I was giving you a pass because I thought it was very clear that English was not your native language. If you're telling me that you went to an American school where you claim to have received a "good education," you'll have to forgive me if I find that quite difficult to believe.
Your poor writing, penchant for run-on sentences, and inability to use punctuation to improve clarity was not pertinent to any of your previous arguments, so I didn't mention it. However, it seems to be quite pertinent now. Either you're being dishonest about your background or your "bad high school" was, in fact, pretty bad, regardless of how much you might claim that the teachers made a special effort to teach you simply because you were willing to learn.
Posted by: Tyro | Oct 24, 2007 5:00:46 PM
I think vouchers are a useful tool beyond just test scores. They allow parents that want to put their kids in a better environment to do so. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a nice area, but I can image it fairy frustrating to live in an area with a crappy school thinking there's no way out. Sure, as Tyro mentioned, one can move; but moving comes with high transaction costs that are likely prohibitive in many cases.
Posted by: DM | Oct 24, 2007 5:20:27 PM
These people aren't fleeing poverty--they're fleeing blacks and hispanics.
Posted by: rea | Oct 24, 2007 5:52:54 PM
This is a pretty basic misunderstanding of Megan's argument. She isn't arguing that vouchers are going to get rid of poverty, or that white parents would stop moving away. Instead, she's arguing that the poor black family who is dismayed at the moral and cultural environment in DC public schools should have the same opportunity to seek an alternative as do the white liberals who can afford to move to better neighborhoods (and who do so in droves once they have children).
No, that's exactly what Ezra is responding to. I live in one of those "concentrated poverty" school districts in Los Angeles, but an odd one. Most of the elementary school district (by geography) consists of million and multi-million dollar homes, but there are a lot of Section 8 apartments in the North and East end. So the local school has a ton of ESL and school lunch recipients, and is 98% hispanic. The school is, to say the least, troubled, so anybody who can scrape up the money goes to private school.
Let's say there's a voucher system, and initially a great school opens in our neighborhood. It will either:
a. Fail, b/c all the kids from the public school are now going there; or
b. Succeed, b/c a small fraction of the kids from the public school go there.
So that's what will happen. The new school will either set tuition above the voucher level, or have admissions so that the voucher kids stay out, or somehow keep out most of the impoverished kids.
Anybody who thinks that won't happen really should look at private schools in Los Angeles. There are "good" private schools, and "bad" private schools. Rich kids go to "good" private schools. Poor kids go to "bad" private schools. Don't think the same thing won't happen under a voucher system.
Posted by: tydanosaurus | Oct 24, 2007 5:53:57 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.