22 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving 2007 II

And the Fair Land

Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.

His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.

How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places -- only to find those men as frail as any others.

So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere -- in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

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Happy Thanksgiving 2007 III

The Stuff of Democratic Life
By Allen Guelzo

On Nov. 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the dedication remarks at the opening ceremonies of a cemetery for soldiers of the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pa. This "Gettysburg Address" -- a gem-like model of conciseness, passion and political eloquence -- quickly became a fixed feature of McGuffey's Eclectic Readers and triple-decker Fourth of July orations, even the soundtrack of the first "talking" motion picture in 1922. It was read once again to dedicate a block of burnt earth in Manhattan during the solemn first anniversary of 9/11 at Ground Zero.

Lincoln wrote a great many other memorable speeches, from his two inaugural addresses to the proclamation that, a week after the Gettysburg Address, made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Why was the Gettysburg speech so much more important? The answer would be easier if his words had not become so worn with familiarity. Time has done more than just heal the wounds of the Civil War. It has grown moss over prose that captured, in a shorter compass and with greater power than any others, the three fundamental challenges of the American experiment.

In 1863, the United States was the only significant democracy in the world. The French Revolution had drowned itself in blood; the democratic uprisings of the 1820s and 1840s had been easily and successfully repressed by kings and emperors; and everywhere, it was power and hierarchy rather than liberty and equality which seemed the best guarantee of peace and plenty. Americans remained the one people who defined themselves by a natural proposition, that all men are created equal, so that no one was born with a superior entitlement to command.

But this republic of equal citizens had two basic weaknesses. The first was its tolerance of slavery, which drew the line of race across the line of equality. The second weakness was the question of authority in a democracy. In a society where every citizen's opinion carried equal weight, decisions would have to be made by majority rule. But a citizen whose opinion carries such weight might find it difficult to submit to the countervailing vote of a majority which thinks differently, and the result is likely to be a simple truculent refusal to go along. Refusals make for resistance, and resistance makes for civil war. Is there, Lincoln asked in 1861, some deep flaw in popular government, some weird centripetal force, which inevitably condemns popular government to whirl itself into pieces "and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth"?

To that question, every king and autocrat in 1861 -- and every fuehrer, duce and president-for-life since -- has answered, smirkingly, yes. And the American Civil War looked like the chief evidence that this was so. Which is why, as Lincoln looked out across the thousands who had gathered on that November day, it seemed to him that what he was viewing was more than just another noteworthy battlefield. It had fallen to him to argue that the Civil War signaled not a failure, but a test, to determine once and for all whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

We pass this test, Lincoln said, not by dedicating cemeteries, but by dedicating ourselves. That dedication lies first in seeing that equality is an imposition of self-restraint. It means refusing to lay upon the backs of others the burdens we do not wish laid on our own. Slavery was an outrage on the notion of equality, not just because it treated members of a different race as unequal, but because it allowed one race to exploit another without any restraint at all. "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master," Lincoln explained in 1858. "This expresses my idea of democracy." Popular government is not about what we want, or about our demands for ourselves, but what we should not want and not demand of others.

Dedication lies, second, in the enforcement of self-restraint. Democracy is a discipline. One cannot opt out on the plea of liberty whenever the political score goes against us. The Southern secessionists imagined that they were protecting their liberty by seceding from the Union, but they were in fact negating it. Secession, Lincoln argued, was the essence of anarchy, not liberty, since the only liberty the secessionists had in mind was the liberty to do what they pleased, without restraint, and to people whom they deemed unequal. Against that, a democracy must take up the sword, or cease to be a democracy at all.

But dedication also comes, third, in understanding how to sustain a fervor for democracy's defense. It was the complaint of Francis Fukuyama that the triumph of democracy had only managed to produce a "last man" who had no other reason for being free than the satisfaction of his own interests. It was Lincoln's words at Gettysburg which invested the triumph of democracy with a transcendent meaning, as a good based on natural law rather than on personal comfort. It was because these honored dead were witnesses to that kind of democracy that we could take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.

The turn of the 9/11 ceremonies to the Gettysburg Address was instinctively correct. But Lincoln's words are more than just a tonic for crises. Self-restraint, self-enforcement and the recollection that democracy has a transcendent core arching far above our poor power to add or detract -- these are the stuff of democratic life, and the Gettysburg Address is the reminder of Lincoln's prescription for government of the people, by the people and for the people. If we forget it, it may be because we have forgotten all the other things that democracy demands.

Mr. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College and the author, inter alia, of "Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America" (Simon and Schuster, 2004).

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Happy Thanksgiving 2007

The Desolate Wilderness

Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits. [Desolate Wilderness]

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other's heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

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13 November 2007

Giuliani & Abortion

Last night we finished reading Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' memoir, My Grandfather's Son. Thomas has always been our favorite Supreme Court Justice and reading his memoir has made us admire him even more. He is very honest about his struggles with depression, alcohol, divorce, education--everything.

But the thing that stood out to us, and the reason for this post, was his description of his Senate confirmation hearings. We remember watching these hearings on TV. It was where we first learned about sexual harassment. We remember asking our father (though we doubt he'll remember) why the guys on TV seemed to be attacking then Judge Thomas. Our father, who'd voted for Bush Sr. and supported his nomination of Thomas explained that some people had said things about Thomas that weren't true and that before he could join the Supreme Court, they needed to make sure everyone knew it. We'd never watched C-SPAN before, didn't really understand what they were talking about, but we recognized a good man when we saw him (Thomas) and what Thomas in his book calls a "high-tech lynching" when we saw that, too.

As we read the book, we learned what it cost Thomas, his wife, family, friends, the Bush Administration--everyone who supported him--to be drug through the mud by the cabal of liberal Senators, groupthink Civil Rights organizations, pro-choice women's groups, and their willing echo chamber/propaganda machine, the mainstream media. "Ludicrous" does not even begin to describe the shameful event that played out on C-SPAN and in the press.

Suffice it to say that My Grandfather's Son is one of the best books we've read in some time.

The next President will nominate 1-2 new Supreme Court justices. If nominated by a Republican, they could conceivably change the future of American jurisprudence--abortion, property rights, affirmative action--all these and more could and probably would be reconsidered by a newly conservative Supreme Court.

Rudy Giuliani has admitted that his personal beliefs are pro-choice. In order to placate social conservatives and win the Republican nomination, he stated that he would nominate judges in the mold of Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia. While somewhat comforting, the experience of Judge Thomas illustrates why this may not be enough. The most recent justices nominated to the court--John Roberts and Samuel Alito--replaced conservative William Rehnquist and nominally conservative Sandra Day O'Connor. Though they were opposed by Democratic Senators and the aforementioned interest groups, because it wouldn't change the balance of the court, they largely got through without a fight.

However, if a Republican somehow manages to win the next presidential election, John Paul Stevens, who seems to be awaiting a Democratic president, may not live long enough to see one and could be replaced by a conservative judge. As this would upset the "balance" of the court, you can expect a fight on the scale of Clarence Thomas, with the same amount of dirty politics. Such a fight requires especially a President who principally believes in and would support a nominee who would face the sort of character assassination faced by Clarence Thomas.

Giuliani has made no secret of his personal pro choice beliefs. We're afraid that when push comes to shove, a President Giuliani would quickly back away from his justice "in the mold of Alito & Scalia" and instead nominate someone more palatable to the angry lynch mob of liberal interest groups.

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11 November 2007

Weekend Conversation - Referendum 1 & School Vouchers - Part 2

Yesterday we posted one part of a discussion thread from cougarboard.com about Referendum 1 and school vouchers. This post includes the rest of the thread.

(cougarboard.com question/contention in italics, OL&L response in regular type):

There are a lot of good reasons for vouchers, but I cannot see that vouchers will help motivate people who cannot or will not find their way to school. I wholeheartedly support vouchers, but I don't see where the race card fits in.

It's a valid question, and the answer is, that everywhere vouchers have been tried--Milwaukee, Washington DC, Florida--they are overwhelmingly used by minority students and have resulted in higher test scores and grad rates.

The same is true of Utah. Utah public schools have about a 13% minority population. Utah private schools are around 25%. Even without vouchers, the parents of these students recognize that a private education--for whatever reason--offers their students, their children, a greater chance to learn and eventually graduate.

If it works, it should be used. Practical solutions should be the end of public spending. If you have proof it will work, then all the better.

There is definitely another side to the Milwaukee program, which has been around for 17 years. It isn't all roses.

I'm for vouchers, but there are still some serious issues with it.

Voucher programs aren't perfect. But unlike public schools, they are willing and able to change and evolve to respond to the needs of their students. Schools and their overlords, teachers unions (the real bad guy here) resist any attempt to change or improve *their* territory.

Simply sticking with the status quo of public education is the classic example of insanity: same behavior and we expect a different result.

It's time for change.

Check the stats -- the large % of those failing will be boys. For most of them it's not that they aren't capable --- They simply won't/don't do the work. And their parents don't care enough to MAKE them do the work. So they sit there for 4 years, take up space, cause disruptions, waste money and then drop out as a jr. or sr. My wife's a teacher (not in UT, thank goodness) and sees this day in and day out. Kids that refuse to turn in any work at all. It's much more common than one would think. They can't be forced to work and the school districts are not allowed to kick them out. Sad.

If someone told your wife that they would pay her an additional $5k per year if she could figure out a way to turn these "problem students" into "productive students," do you think she'd be interested? How about an additional $10k?

All teachers and all schools are not created equal. Some of them figure out ways to teach these students. A voucher system would allow them the flexibility and set up the incentives and penalties to encourage them to succeed in finding ways to teach problem students. Simply saying that it is the parent's problem and can't/wont be corrected is a cop out.

I don't know, maybe someone will set up an Army run high school with strict rules, codes, punishment, etc. Maybe that type of system would work? I don't know. But you know what? I don't have to know. All we can do is support a system that allows people to be creative in solving the problem. Public education doesn't do that.

For example, teachers unions in Utah refuse merit pay. In other words, whether they teach well or not, they are compensated similarly.

I know, I know, many teachers teach out of the goodness of their hearts(!) and insist that their teaching has nothing to do with money. Right. Teachers are the only segment of our population to whom money means nothing. I suppose if you believe that then you will also believe all the other anti-Referendum 1 drivel.

There are good teachers out there and they should be getting paid double or triple what they're getting paid now. But there are even more bad teachers and they, in turn, should be fired. Neither one of those two things happens under the current system.

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10 November 2007

Weekend Conversation - Referendum 1 & School Vouchers

We realized, after linking to it in one of our recent posts, that unless you, dear reader, are a member of cougarboard.com, you would be unable to access the discussion thread. Since many important questions were raised and addressed in that thread--questions which we continue to be asked in person and email--we thought it would be worthwhile to copy and paste at least part of that dialogue here, at OL&L.

To draw traffic to OL&L, we posted posted the following at cougarboard.com (cougarboard.com question/contention in italics, OL&L response in regular type):

43% of minority students--primarily African- and Latin-American students--fail to graduate from high school in the state of Utah. Meanwhile, student test scores fail to match those of students in states with similar demographics.

Vouchers probably wont affect your students, but they could give less fortunate students a real chance to succeed.

How does someone not graduate from high school? I don't care if you are black, pink, purple, striped, or polka dotted. How on earth does someone not graduate from high school? All you have to do is show up and do a minimal amount of work and you are good to go. What on earth could cause 40% of any group to drop out?

How DOES someone not graduate from high school? "All you have to do is show up and do a minimal amount of work and you are good to go."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for public education anywhere.

I'm not trying to say it's hard or endorse public education. It seems to be that a high school diploma is just the absolute bare minimum that any competent person could accomplish in their life. I live a pretty sheltered life, but I don't know anyone who failed to graduate from high school. I just can't imagine what on earth could cause any group to fail to graduate 40% of it's members.

Your response reads like the response of teacher's unions. Clearly they haven't been able to discover what it is that causes over 40% of a certain demographic to fail AND more importantly, they have been unable or unwilling to do anything to rectify it.

But then, it isn't your job to figure out what the root cause or causes are, so your incredulity is understandable. What's infinitely more frustrating and not understandable is the inability of public education to figure out the problem.

Clearly the one-size-fits-all of public education *doesn't* fit all.

What's your reasoning? I'm inclined to say that it is the students fault. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to get a degree. The school district can't drag kids to school. At some point they have to value themselves and their future lives enough to put forth the basic effort to get a degree.

I have a hard time being sympathetic to anyone who is to lazy to put for the minimum effort required for a HS degree.

I refuse to believe that 43% of all minority students fail to graduate because they are lazy. Sure, this is a popular excuse, but it's also too lazy.

But you know what? Neither you nor I need to figure out why it is that 43% of all minority students fail to graduate. It's as simple as looking at the status quo--public education--recognizing that it doesn't work, and demanding a change in the form of vouchers.

One additional point: monopolies are bad for a number of reasons. One of them is because they do not meet the needs of consumers. Because they control the market, they decide what to provide and for what price. There is no incentive for them to improve or lower their prices. Thus, the problem with public education and minority students.

Vouchers and privatized education overcome this problem because they are directly answerable to their students and the students' parents. If a voucherized school underperforms, the parent can immediately remove their students from the school--the threat of lost revenue and school closure will motivate those teachers and schools to succeed. Furthermore, the incentive of increased revenue will cause these schools and teachers to find a way to reach the minority students failing in the status quo. They want those students to succeed because they want their money.

Why they fail is not the question. Why we continue to permit a system that allows them to fail is the relevant question. And the answer is to set up a system that rewards those teachers and schools who find a way, despite the long odds, of helping those now failing students to succeed.

Vouchers do that.

Do other systems truly work? Perhaps those minority students who attend private schools currently come from more affluent families or have more parental involvement. I'm not convinced that taking the thug out of the ghetto will automatically take the ghetto out of the thug.

It appears that you are simply here to spout off political rhetoric and try to support vouchers. I'm not interested in that.

I'd love to discuss the reasons that minorities don't graduate as that is a huge mystery to me. I'd love to get some different viewpoints on your statistic. However, to simply say that public schools fail minorities is a pretty "lazy" argument as well.

Your question is far more important than anything you typed.

"Do other systems truly work?"

For the most part we don't know because of the stranglehold monopoly that public education has in the United States. Those programs I cited--Milwaukee, DC, Florida--have only been able to offer vouchers in a very limited form and even then, they haven't been around for very long.

Like you, public schools have been "discussing" why minorities don't graduate for a long time. Unlike you, our political correct culture causes them to refrain from referring to all those who fail as "thugs."

Stereotypes like these are a "lazy" way of abdicating our responsibility to these failing students.

Furthermore, advocating for positive change and supporting it with logical, cogent arguments is not, as you suggest, "spout[ing] off political rhetoric." On Tuesday, I see an opportunity to make a lasting positive change in the state of Utah. Arguing in favor of that change is far more productive than yet another pointless discussion that blames minority failure on their "thug" status.

So you're for change for the sake of change? Look, I support vouchers as does my entire family (including my mother who is a school teacher). I'm not convinced they will benefit very many people (can a minority student's family afford $4500 tuition any better than they can afford $7500), but I do believe that it will save some money in the long run even if only a few children are able to use them. Also, I support alternatives to government monopolies even if my children won't be able to take advantage of them. The less control government has in our lives, the better off we all are.

However, it seems to be that you are throwing out vouchers as the solution for minority graduation rates. How can you fix a problem if you don't know what the problem is? Creating or funding another program won't necessarily solve your minority graduation rates. Again, I don't know what the underlying issues are. However, I would be very surprised if a simple change of scenery was enough to solve the problem.

Also, what responsibility do I have to these failing students? They have the exact same opportunity that I had. They can choose to make the most of their public education or they can choose not to. It's their choice, their opportunity, and their life.

I believe that vouchers will solve the problem you outlined--minority graduation rates--in the same way a business finds ways to meet the needs and desires of consumers. It's in their best interest to come up with a solution. Because they must be more responsive to students and parents, they will try anything and everything to solve the problem. If they don't succeed, the student will leave and they will lose money. The best teachers and best methods and best schools will be rewarded with more students.

We all went to public school, we know there are a few really really good teachers, lots of middling ones, and a handful of poor ones. Rather than compensating them all the same the way the current system does, a voucherized system will encourage and reward those who find ways to reach every student--including the "lazy thugs." Some teachers are able to do this; finally, we will reward them for their efforts rather than overworking them and underpaying them along with their subpar coworkers.

Regarding your responsibility to these students: I guess you could say that it is in your self interest to see that they are educated and become productive members of society. High school graduates earn more money, pay more taxes, are less likely to commit crimes and have children out of wedlock. A more educated populace makes us all better off. Though unfamiliar with your situation, I doubt many of these students "have the exact same opportunity [you] had." Unfortunately, many of them come from low income, single parent homes. As you must know, these two factors increase the "difficulty level" of graduating from high school significantly. A voucher system will reward those teachers and schools who have found ways to "reach" poor and minority students rather than doing as public school system has done: simply shrugging their shoulders and exclaiming that "it's their parent's fault for not being more involved."

We can't find and force every absentee father to go home or the mother to quit working two jobs to support her family, but we can create an education system that gives those disadvantaged students a chance by rewarding those teachers and schools that have found a way to educate them against the odds.

FYI: the median cost of private school in the state of Utah is $2500.

Tomorrow, the rest of the conversation.

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08 November 2007

Referendum 1 - School Voucher Follow Up

Though the polls leading up to the voucher vote were not encouraging, we held out hope that perhaps they had been wrong, that perhaps vouchers would win out. Regrettably, we were wrong.

It seems parents in suburban Utah believe their schools are good enough and care little for those attending failing schools. They bought the disingenuous ad campaigns funded by teachers unions that insisted that public schools would suffer as a result of this legislation.

As Paul Mero told us after the debate at Provo High School, this isn't the end of vouchers. He and others like him have been fighting these battles to improve education for 20+ years and along the way they've accomplished a lot--charter schools, magnet schools, intra-district transfers--and they'll keep on fighting. The potential of vouchers is far to great to be ignored and slowly but surely, the evidence in favor continues to grow.

This paper is especially worth reading. It's by Caroline Hoxby, a Harvard Economist, and represents the very latest in education economics (hat tip: Matt Lybbert): School Choice and School Productivity (or Could School Choice be a Tide that Lifts All Boats?)

The abstract from the article:
A school that is more productive is one that produces higher achievement in its pupils for each dollar it spends. In this paper, I comprehensively review how school choice might affect productivity. I begin by describing the importance of school productivity, then explain the economic logic that suggests that choice will affect productivity, and finish by presenting much of the available evidence on school choice and school productivity. The most intriguing evidence comes from three important, recent choice reforms: vouchers in Milwaukee, charter schools in Michigan, and charter schools in Arizona. I show that public school students' achievement rose significantly and rapidly in response to competition, under each of the three reforms. Public school spending was unaffected, so the productivity of public schools rose, dramatically in the case in Milwaukee.
This issue wont go away. We certainly wont let it die here at OL&L. Good things are worth fighting for.

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05 November 2007

We Like Oreos and Vouchers

A recent ad by the pro-voucherers uses oreos to illustrate a basic fact about Referendum 1: the state of Utah spends roughly $7500 per student, per year. The largest voucher is $3000. Even assuming that every student received the largest voucher possible (the average voucher is estimated to be just $2000), that would still leave $4500 in the system. That's $4500 dollars for fewer students.

Let's also assume, as one friend who opposes vouchers suggested, that 30-50% of the $7500 paid per student went to some fixed cost like utilities or facilities. In fact, let's use the larger number--50% of the original $7500. Halving our $7500 leaves us with $3750. Even if every student took the largest voucher amount possible--$3000--that still leaves public schools with an additional $750 after allowing for fixed costs. But all of this is a waste of time in debunking the deliberate deception of teacher's unions. They know that for at least the first 5 years, the money for vouchers will come from the general fund, and not from monies allotted for education in the state of Utah. So when students leave their public schools, they aren't taking any of the $7500. Every last cent stays behind to fund a behemoth monopoly which has no incentive to change or improve and, as we cited in our last post, educates Utah's children worse than any other state with similar demographics.

We suspect that the real reason teachers oppose vouchers--you know, besides the fact that it threatens their monopoly--is because after 5 years, when the results of Utah's vouchers begin to be known, parents of children will wonder how it is that private schools, operating with far fewer dollars per student, far out performed the still failing Utah public schools. They'll wonder why they're still paying in excess of $7500 per student, only to see the same old poor test results and the same grad rates for minority students. Remember the minority students? The ones who really want this measure to pass? And why do they want it to pass? Because 43% of their children don't graduate from high school. And that's just completely unacceptable.

The time has come for Utah voters to say with one voice to their failing public schools: You've had your chance and you failed our students. It's time to give vouchers a chance.

*Additional reading: Professor Clayne L. Pope - Educate, don't brainwash
**Even more reading: The Wall Street Journal - The Union Libel (subscription required)

***Update: Cougarboard discussion thread.

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02 November 2007

Referendum 1 - School Vouchers

Last night we attended a debate about Referendum 1 (school vouchers in Utah) at Provo High School. We've written about it before--here and here--so frequent readers will know we favor vouchers--indeed, we favor free market reforms generally.

A few observations:

- 43% of minority students in Utah do not graduate from high school. Voucher programs in Milwaukee, Washington DC, and Florida have all proven to aid primarily minority students. With a sliding scale, progressive voucher award in Utah ($3000 for the poorest students; $500 for the wealthiest), Referendum 1 appears geared to help minority students.

- Statewide, Utah schools have about 13% minority student populations. Private schools are nearly double that. This is significant because the anti-voucher crowd insists vouchers would result in increased segregation.

- Utah test scores, while good compared to the rest of the nation, don't compare well to states with similar demographics--especially similar levels of college educated parents. Apples to apples, Utah schools underperform.

- Paul Mero, President of the Sutherland Institute (a SLC based think tank) and Dr. Patrick Byrne (CEO Overstock.com) represented the pro-voucher side at the debate. They did a fair job of arguing in favor of vouchers--Mr. Mero was especially sharp. Though we understand the issues surrounding vouchers, we were sometimes confused by Dr. Byrne's analogies. We wonder what a public that is undecided and unfamiliar with the issues thought of Dr. Byrne's comments.

- To those familiar with the literature and research regarding vouchers, the supposedly neutral researchers from the University of Utah revealed their true colors. They were selective in their use of evidence and their opposition to vouchers was thinly veiled.

- The grade-school teacher/teachers union rep and "concerned mother" representing the anti-voucher crowd were very effective debaters. Polished and prepared, they came off well. Initially we thought that perhaps the crowd was largely anti-voucher, the Q&A session revealed exactly the opposite as the vast majority of questions were rhetorical critiques of the anti-voucherers.

- To our mind, the most revealing exchange came near the end of the debate. The "neutral" researchers acknowledged the desire for choice in schools and suggested that there were alternatives to vouchers. the anti-voucherers seized on this and insisted that the debate was a waste of time, that instead they should have been discussing ways to improve schools and bring more choice to public education. They highlighted the choice that had been introduced in Utah in recent history. They listed charter schools and magnet schools as some of the best.

This was all the opening the pro-voucherers needed. The pointed out, rightly, that these reforms had only come about because of outside agitation and that furthermore, the teachers union establishment had fought against these reforms tooth and nail, as they were now fighting against vouchers. They concluded it was wrong for their side to claim credit for something they vociferously opposed.

They should have added that public schools had been at this for x amount of years and results were still poor. That if change was going to come from within, it would have by now. They could point out that money has been thrown at public schools (55% increase under Bush) and yet test scores have not improved. The only reason the teachers union was willing to even discuss reform is because they were facing a mortal threat--vouchers.

Notice that vouchers aren't a mortal threat to teachers or students, but teachers unions. This is an important distinction. Teachers unions use "the children" as a political tool. Yet they oppose simple reforms like merit pay which would reward better teachers.

No, teachers unions act like any government-imposed monopoly would behave--they are fighting to the death to defend their privileged territory.

None of this should be interpreted as ingratitude or lack of respect for good teachers. We agree that teachers aren't paid enough--good teachers that is. Meanwhile, the poor teachers should be fired. The current system makes no distinction between the two and compensates them equally.

- One more canard we want to debunk: certification. As a barrier to entry, teachers unions have established a "certification" process that supposedly guarantees the ability of teachers to teach. Anyone who has attended public schools knows that no amount of "certification" can improve many teachers ability. Indeed, many of the best teachers in our societies have received no certification whatsoever. Consider that experienced and educated members of the general publich--a retired civil engineer, builder, businessman, social worker, someone with a master's degree or PhD--cannot teach at a public school simply because they do not have the required "certification." That private schools can hire teachers with no certification, say anti-voucherers, is a sure sign they will fail our children. Right. Vouchers mean that parents are in charge of guaranteeing their children's education. If a school fails to teach their child, they can simply take them to another school. Parents talk to each other. Information is and will be widely available about the performance of these schools. If private schools fail to teach children necessary skills, they will lose students and fail. Successful ones will succeed.

Contrast that with public schools. If they fail to teach, there is no option for students. They fail along with the school. And in the case of minority students, they are failing at a ridiculous rate that bears repeating:

43% of minority students in Utah do not graduate. Vouchers gives those students a chance.

*Additional voucher reading: George F. Will, Utah's Voucher Vote Most Important Of This Year And Next

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