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Defending Obama for Sending his Daughters to Private School.

On the NY Times blogs, Sandra Tsing Loh is depressed to discover that Barack Obama sends his kids to private school, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (tip to Tim Blair). She asks: Why can't he send his daughters to public school?

Personally, I compliment the Obamas for not using their children as political pawns to get elected or to reform society two children at a time. In my opinion, that makes the Obamas good parents.

By the way, Sarah Palin sent her kids to Iditarod Elementary School.

Ms. Loh at the Times blog:

I do not know why Barack and Michelle Obama cannot send their children to a nice public school in Hyde Park. You understand that I am a bit unstable this election season (I voted for Hillary) and I do my research by erratically Googling from home. And all I know about Hyde Park — and, readers, I'd love to be corrected if I'm wrong — is that even though real estate prices seem high, the brave little public schools in its ZIP code seem to be flailing. Their scores on www.greatschools.net are largely 2's and 4's (on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best). When you read the tea leaves as manically as I do, those low numbers suggest that few children of educated, middle-class children are attending the local schools. Rather, they've withdrawn, with nary a ripple, into their whispery private enclaves.

Let us not even touch the term "community organizer," so buffeted about, by both sides, like a balloon at a rock concert. Let us just say that if Mr. and Mrs. Obama — a dynamic, Harvard-educated couple — had chosen public over private school, they could have lifted up not just their one local public school, but a family of schools. First, given the social pressure (or the social persuasion of wanting to belong to the cool club), more educated, affluent families would tip back into the public school fold. And second, the presence of educated type-A parents with too much time on their hands ensures that schools are held, daily, to high standards. . . .

So it is with huge grief-filled disappointment that I discovered that the Obamas send their children to the University of Chicago Laboratory School (by 5th grade, tuition equals $20,286 a year). The school's Web site quotes all that ridiculous John Dewey nonsense about developing character while, of course, isolating your children from the poor. A pox on them and, while we're at it, a pox on John Dewey! I'm sick to death of those inspirational Dewey quotes littering the Web sites of $20,000-plus-a-year private schools, all those gentle duo-tone-photographed murmurings about "building critical thinking and fostering democratic citizenship" in their cherished students, living large on their $20,000-a-year island.

Meanwhile, Joseph Biden, the Amtrak senator, standing up boldly for the right to be a Roman Catholic, appears to have sent all three children to the lovely looking Archmere Academy in Delaware. Archmere's Web site notes some public school districts allow Archmere students to use public school buses. Well, isn't that great — your tax dollars at work in the great state of Delaware because with $18,000 a year in tuition, they can't afford their own buses.

Then again, a spot of happy news for the Democrats: not only did John McCain's four children attend elite private schools in Arizona, but collective donations to their children's private schools between 2001 and 2006, totaled $500,000.

And yes, I know I appear to be ranting on like a pit bull without lipstick, which brings me to the final nail in the coffin in this sorry election year. As a Democrat I am horrified that Sarah Palin is the one who snagged the deeply profound — and absolutely ignored by professional smart people — emotional real estate of "P.T.A. mother." I too am, in fact, not just "my kids' mom" but their Title I Los Angeles public school P.T.A. secretary. This unheard female howl is, for better or worse, what Ms. Palin has set out to tap into; it is real, and I am sick that we've let the Republicans charge this ground.

Sarah Palin's children went to what looks like a humble little public school: Iditarod Elementary on Wasilla Fishhook Road. The school's score on www.greatschools.net is a 4. That's a lot of street cred, for a gun-totin', snow-mobilin' creationist-lovin' lady.

Oh, I'm such a depressed, Democrat P.T.A. mother.

First, the UC Lab Schools should be forgiven for quoting John Dewey. It was his school; it was his "laboratory"; he founded it.

Second, one of the things I admired about Bill Clinton when he became President in 1993 is that he refused to give in to the pressure to send Chelsea to a mediocre public school, sending her instead to a good private one. A president might have to miss a lot of important events in his daughter's life, but at least he needn't use her as a political pawn to the detriment of her education.

I went to public schools in Rockford, Illinois until I went to Yale College. If the public schools are good, why not? If they are poor, then send your kids to a private school. If they are close in quality, I would lean toward public schools.

Third, I should disclose that i sent my daughter to the Lab School from nursery school through high school. Academically, it was excellent. It was, however, a bit cliquish and very left wing.

Fourth, why does Ms. Loh consider it a bad thing for the McCains to be generous with charitable donations to private schools?

Dave N (mail):
I agree. I always thought it was idiotic for Jimmy Carter to send Amy to public schools in the District of Columbia as some kind of political statement to the NEA. The Clintons did the right thing with Chelsea.

And frankly, if Barak Obama is elected President or if Sarah Palin is elected Vice President, I would hope that either family has the sense to find the best possible school in the District of Columbia for her kids, and not feel the need to make any kind of political statement.4
9.11.2008 1:45am
Mike& (mail):
It's a test of sincerity. "I believe in public schools.... So much that I send my own kids to private schools."

Also, it's anti-egalitarian. Why should rich people have school choice, but not poor kids? Shouldn't poor kids have equal opportunity? If so, give parents vouchers so they can make the same choices as the rich people.

When you claim that public schools are great, and that people should have equal opportunity; but then refuse to send your own kids to the great schools, and deny poor people equal opportunity.... Well, what do you expect people to think?
9.11.2008 1:49am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Sadly, at that school, the Obama girls will learn the name of those chairs, rendering them each unfit to govern large western states.
9.11.2008 1:49am
Redlands (mail):
Concue with Mike&. It seems that everyone is against school vouchers except for the inner-city parents who would gain the option of finding, if available, a better private school for their children. Are teachers genuinely interested in their students? If so, stop opposing school vouchers. Hey, the school voucher system may not be all it's cracked up to be, but at least give it a try.
9.11.2008 1:59am
Tony Tutins (mail):
The tuition bite isn't as big as she says. Like other U of C employees, the Obamas get 50% tuition remission as a fringe benefit. Further, nursery school tuition is only $10K or $11K, I believe.

I believe commenter David D. Friedman went to the U of C Lab schools. I wonder if he would discuss his experiences there.
9.11.2008 2:07am
Joe Kowalski (mail):

Hey, the school voucher system may not be all it's cracked up to be, but at least give it a try.

Several teachers I've spoken with about vouchers think they are a decent idea, but on the contingency that the private schools would have to follow the same admission standards that the public schools do: take any kid that walks through the door up to capacity, first come, first served, and sorry, no prioritizing based on who's attending on voucher or not. Without this, these teachers argued, the "competitive" field that the pro-voucher folks want, would be anything but.
9.11.2008 2:09am
one of many:
Absolutely agree with you on the school issue ("If the public schools are good, why not? If they are poor, then send your kids to a private school. If they are close in quality, I would lean toward public schools." with one addendum. If you live in a small enough school district that you (yes, you) can improve them you should do so and send your children there. Too bad there isn't a significant trend towards smaller school districts, but some still exist, and moaning long and loud enough can improve them. Your post reminded me of the one Jew in my Catholic HS class (of almost 150) all those decades ago, when asked why he went to a Catholic school, and not even a top drawer one, he answered: "you're the cheapest private school within the distance my parents were willing to drive and, unlike the public school I'd have gone to, your graduation rate is higher than your pregnancy rate."
9.11.2008 2:12am
Tony Tutins (mail):

stop opposing school vouchers

Good private schools like the U of C lab schools, cost $20K a year. Are you willing to write a check for $20K for every kid in America? And don't forget that the parent who's shelling out $20K is highly motivated to make sure the kid does his homework, get to school on time, and otherwise make good use of the money. Take that incentive away, and you've just wasted $20K of tax money.

The schools with the best kids have had the best parents: modeling reading and intellectual curiosity, taking an interest in how well the kids are doing, prodding them to excel. Vouchers will not help kids whose parents don't care.


As a practical matter, vouchers would be only a fraction of that money. The low cost inner city alternative has always been Catholic school. Do you really want to build up the Catholic schools at the expense of the public schools.
9.11.2008 2:14am
anonn (mail):
Who wants the public schools and opposes the vouchers? The democrats -- as long as their children don't have to go to the public schools that they force the proletarian children to attend. That's real concern for the working people!
9.11.2008 2:15am
Tony Tutins (mail):

as long as their children don't have to go to the public schools that they force the proletarian children to attend.

CPS has magnet schools for top students; Michelle Obama went to one. Then it becomes a logistics problem of getting your kid there in the morning and home at night.
9.11.2008 2:19am
Gabriel Malor (mail):
Good private schools like the U of C lab schools, cost $20K a year. Are you willing to write a check for $20K for every kid in America?

Indeed, because we cannot help some people, we must help no people.

Your answer also assumes that the number of private schools and the number of students they can accept are fixed. If we make it possible for more students to attend private schools...we may just see more private schools after a few years.
9.11.2008 2:22am
one of many:
As a practical matter, vouchers would be only a fraction of that money. The low cost inner city alternative has always been Catholic school. Do you really want to build up the Catholic schools at the expense of the public schools.

You couldn't even if you wanted to, the Catholic Schools were only able to manage the good&cheap education through extremely low cost labor (nuns &brothers) which are in limited supply. The expansion of Catholic education currently depends on lower cost non-union labor and produces good¬-too-expensive to mediocre¬-too-expensive education.
9.11.2008 2:28am
Nate in Alice:
Everyone knows school vouchers are simply government subsidization of elite, expensive education for upper-class taxpayers--you know--the same people who can't spare a dime more for healthcare or other social programs.

When conservatives get behind a social program, there's only one reason--it helps the rich at the expense of the poor. This may be a bit of Democratic propaganda red-meat, but it's born out to be more true than not.
9.11.2008 2:28am
theobromophile (www):
Last point first: I admire people who give money to excellent private schools. Far from continuing to foster elitism, such donations ensure that the schools can offer extremely generous scholarships to talented students who could not otherwise afford to attend. The dual effect is to improve the educational opportunities that are available to the poor and middle class, and to expose upper-class children to their less-wealthy peers.

As for public v. private school: depends on the area. Massachusetts, for example, has some top-notch public schools, at which a child can get a fine education. (Personally, while I may have preferred private school, I felt fortunate to go to a school that had a host of exceptionally talented teachers who were committed to pushing their students. The greatschools website gives my middle school a 10 and my high school a 9 - reasonable, IMHO.)

In other areas of the country, though, the difference between public and private school can be enormous. No amount of PTA involvement can change the quality of instruction - and it certainly cannot break the union stranglehold on many schools that prevents districts from dismissing bad teachers. The PTA can't make teachers push students, nor make bad (albeit intelligent) instructors into good ones.

One final issue: race. There is some evidence to suggest that teachers treat African-American students differently than their other students; the expectations are a bit lower, and they are less likely (even with the same grades) to be placed in challenging courses. This happens even when the students have highly educated, articulate, and involved parents who advocate for their children. The Obamas may find that their children are less likely to experience that at a private school. Far from using their children to advance a public school, the Obamas - and other families - may find that their children are treated as underachievers.
9.11.2008 2:35am
Tony Tutins (mail):

Your answer also assumes that the number of private schools and the number of students they can accept are fixed.

Nope. My answer assumes only that any new good private schools would cost the same as the old, established ones do.

Further, a failing school fails all students. Everyone must be able to get into the voucher lifeboats, not just a few.
9.11.2008 2:44am
David Warner:
I believe our schools should public. Publicly traded.
9.11.2008 2:48am
trad and anon:
Fourth, why does Ms. Loh consider it a bad thing for the McCains to be generous with charitable donations to private schools?

Is it really that difficult to see why making schools for rich kids even nicer might not be the worthiest use of one's charitable dollars?
9.11.2008 2:50am
A. Zarkov (mail):
According to the demographics listed in Wikipedia, Hyde Park is 56% non-white. This is why the Obamas and other liberals don't send their children to the Hyde Park Public School System.

Here is the dirty little secret that liberals won't talk about: they believe in school integration for other people, not themselves. Look at the DC public school system which ranks third in per pupil expenditures at $13,446 behind only New York ($14,884) and New Jersey ($14,630) as of 2006. Yet very few DC parents (white and black) who can afford private school or a move to the Virginia suburbs (Fairfax, Oakton etc) send their children to the DC public school system. Liberal white parents who live in expensive enclaves will either send their children to a private school or move to a nearby suburb where the schools have less than 20% non-whites. Of course conservatives do the same thing, but they don't rant about supporting the public school system.
9.11.2008 3:02am
Tony Tutins (mail):

According to the demographics listed in Wikipedia, Hyde Park is 56% non-white. This is why the Obamas...

But the Obamas are 75% non-white themselves.
9.11.2008 3:08am
BillW:
I wonder if liberals would like vouchers better if they were pitched as 'single-payer education'?

Tony Tutins:
As a practical matter, vouchers would be only a fraction of that [$20k/yr].

The notoriously bad Washington D.C. school system spends ~$15k per student. I remain unconvinced that you couldn't run a decent school for less than that.


Joe Kowalski:
Several teachers I've spoken with about vouchers think they are a decent idea, but on the contingency that the private schools would have to follow the same admission standards that the public schools do: take any kid that walks through the door up to capacity, first come, first served, and sorry, no prioritizing based on who's attending on voucher or not. Without this, these teachers argued, the "competitive" field that the pro-voucher folks want, would be anything but.

Why should private schools be crippled by such rules? Why should the government-owned schools, for that matter? Let schools use whatever standards they like (except maybe race) to accept and expel students.

Given the voucher, there'd be some school willing to take every student. Some kids would wind up at Joe Bob's Day Care Center for Teens (Mission statement: "We guarantee that your child will be prevented from committing violent felonies during school hours.") They won't be getting an education, but at least they'll no longer be preventing their classmates from doing so.

The New Orleans experience is likely to have a significant impact on the education debate ... if the city doesn't get wiped out by another hurricane first.
9.11.2008 3:19am
Milhouse (www):
I don't see why believing in public schools means one must send ones own children there. After all, one can believe in public housing without living there, and one can believe in same-sex marriage or abortion without wanting one. As for why rich people have school choice, but not poor kids, it's for the same reason that rich people have food choices and housing choices and entertainment choices and travel choices that poor people don't. Because they can't afford it. Even welfare supporters don't claim that the poor must at public expense be put up in mansions, fed at five-star restaurants, and sent on holidays to Aspen or Cannes. So, as long as they have adequate education and health care, why must they be as good as the ones available to the rich?
9.11.2008 3:20am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"But the Obamas are 75% non-white themselves."

Both whites and blacks, even 75% blacks, share at least one desire: they don't want to send their children to integrated schools if "integrated" means more than 20% black.
9.11.2008 3:27am
one of many:
I don't see why believing in public schools means one must send ones own children there.

It doesn't in all cases. It depends on what you mean when you say "believing in public schools" and what policy options with regards to public schools you demand others to adhere to or support. I

f you be believe that public schools provide all the education that is necessary for children, then you should probably be sending your children there however, since they will be getting all the education they need and you won't be wasting your money on a private school. Likewise if you believe public schools are just as good as private schools. If however you don't believe in public schools, for instance you don't believe they provide all the education children need then sending them to a private school is a good choice.
9.11.2008 3:28am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"The notoriously bad Washington D.C. school system spends ~$15k per student. I remain unconvinced that you couldn't run a decent school for less than that."

Why is the DC school system "notoriously bad?" It's not money because only New York and New Jersey spend more per pupil than DC. Is it the administrators? Then fire them and get a whole new set. Are the DC teachers worse than say the one in the Oakton VA system?
9.11.2008 3:32am
A.S.:
It's the chickenhawk argument. The Obama's believe in the worthiness of public schools - as long as somebody else's kids are going to them.

Prof Lingren completely ignores Loh's entire argument. By refusing to send their kids to mdeiocre public schools, they deny those schools the benefits that come with the presence of children of smart, affluent parents. If they really want to make a difference in the public schools, they would send their kids to them.
9.11.2008 3:33am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Personally, I compliment the Obamas for not using their children as political pawns to get elected or to reform society two children at a time. In my opinion, that makes the Obamas good parents.

I agree. Simultaneously, I also condemn Barack Obama for using other people's children as political pawns to get elected or to reform society thousands of children at a time. In my opinion, that -- plus his apparent culpability for wasting somewhere between $50 million and $150 million on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge without benefiting schoolchildren -- makes Barack Obama a poor planner and implementer of public policyl.
9.11.2008 3:38am
LM (mail):
SG:

You honestly don't think he intended both meanings? Look at the video - that's a prepared line.

I've seen the video and I do think he intended two meanings. Just not the ones McCain supporters claim. If you put yourself in Obama's position, you'll see how you might make that comment while intending no insult to Palin apart from ironic criticism of her convention speech.
9.11.2008 3:50am
LM (mail):
Hoosier:

So you're saying that Obama is talking over our heads, and we aren't sophisticated enough to understand him. Therefore, we mistakenly think he's an elitist who looks down on us?

Yes, Hoosier, because overestimating your audience's intelligence is exactly the same as looking down on them. Except it's the opposite. If you want to accuse Obama of being an elitest, have fun with that, but please don't suggest it's what I said. You know it's not. You could accuse me of being an elitest for saying a lot of people aren't smart enough to see through the demagoguing of Obama's comment. I'd disagree, but at least that would be a more plausible accusation based on what I actually said.
9.11.2008 3:53am
LM (mail):
Jim Lindgren, Sorry for carrying those last two comments over from the lipstick thread. As you can see, they were questions, and I was working too late to answer them before you closed the thread. It's not something I make a practice of, but if you say you'd prefer I not do it at all, please say so and it won't happen again. LM
9.11.2008 3:53am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Let's do a school budget at $15,000 per student. A class size of 30 means we have a budget of $450,000. To make things simple let's stick to elementary school.

Teacher salary and benefits= $90k per year

Space charge = $45k per year (900 sq ft @ $50)

Books and materials= $7.5k

Furniture= $900 per year (amortized over 10 years)

Computers= $7.5k (one per student amortized over 4 years)

Misc costs $10k

That totals $160.9k. What did the other $289.1k get spent on? Even if my budget is low by a factor of 2, that still leaves $130k. Obviously $15k per pupil implies an overhead rate of about a factor of 3. That's administrative costs + extraordinary costs. Now you know why public schools cost so much. Private schools also have excessive overhead.
9.11.2008 3:55am
theobromophile (www):
A. Zarkov,

An increase in overhead costs may also be driving the dramatic increase in college tuition. Administrative bloat, once instituted, is almost impossible to eliminate.

To all,

The whole "If the Obamas support public schools, they would send their children to them" rhetoric smacks of the rhetoric of sending one's children off to war if one supports that war. In both situations, it seems as if people think that one's children should be punished for that parent's viewpoints. Personally, I hate the idea of holding children - individuals in their own right - hostage to the whims of their parents' political opponents.
9.11.2008 4:07am
Mike& (mail):
Simultaneously, I also condemn Barack Obama for using other people's children as political pawns to get elected or to reform society thousands of children at a time.

Genius point.

Why is it fair to use my kids, but not his? Where is the justice in that?
9.11.2008 4:21am
Greg Q (mail) (www):
The whole "If the Obamas support public schools, they would send their children to them" rhetoric smacks of the rhetoric of sending one's children off to war if one supports that war. In both situations, it seems as if people think that one's children should be punished for that parent's viewpoints. Personally, I hate the idea of holding children - individuals in their own right - hostage to the whims of their parents' political opponents.

The US Army is a volunteer institution. Public schools are not. So your argument fails.

Obama claims that he cares about "the poor". But when push comes to shove, what's "good enough" for them isn't good enough for him.

Which shows that his claim is utter crap. In the fight between "the poor" and "the powerful" (the teacher's union), he sides with the powerful. He doesn't opposed vouchers because he thinks they'd be bad for the poor, he opposes them because the powerful interests of the Democrat Party are opposed to them.
9.11.2008 4:31am
theobromophile (www):
The US Army is a volunteer institution. Public schools are not.

Um, if the public schools were mandatory, without an opt-out procedure, this wouldn't be an issue, because Barack Obama's children would be in public school. I'm not sure that the opt-in v. opt-out nature of each institution changes the fact that some people demand that their political opponents demonstrate their commitment to certain issues, not by their own actions, but through their children.
9.11.2008 4:41am
FE:
My favorite part is her outrage that some Archmere Academy students can take public buses to school -- as if Archmere Academy parents don't pay taxes that support the buses.
9.11.2008 5:27am
Ainola (mail):
"Both whites and blacks, even 75% blacks, share at least one desire: they don't want to send their children to integrated schools if "integrated" means more than 20% black."

The Obama girls' school is one where 35 percent of students are "of color."
9.11.2008 5:33am
jgshapiro (mail):
I think Jim misses the point by saying that Obama is a good parent by sending his kids to private schools. Of course he is. He is also a hypocrite for opposing vouchers and touting the value of puclic schools for other children.

That is what the criticism is based on: hypocrisy. Not his concern for his children, but his lack of concern for mine and yours.
9.11.2008 5:48am
Hoosier:
theoromophile //I'm not sure that the opt-in v. opt-out nature of each institution changes the fact that some people demand that their political opponents demonstrate their commitment to certain issues, not by their own actions, but through their children.//

In the days of the Iron Curtain, we had a phrase: "People vote with their feet." In cases like this, people vote with their kids.


The Clintons' choice to send Chelsea to Sidwell Friends was frustratingly hypocritical, due to their continuous attacks on GOP proposals for vouchers. Add to that the fact that these attacks were couched in the language of brave Democrats trying to protect these vitally important institutions from conservatives who didn't value them and what does one have? A bit more than mere inconsistency.

I haven't been hearing this sort of stridency from the Obamas. Perhaps I've missed it. But if not, then there isn't much of an issue here. It would be nice to think that this decision indicates a willingness on their part to consider options other than the same-old same-old in urban education.

In any event, it tell us something we already knew about them as a couple, namely, they are good parents. Like the Palins.
9.11.2008 6:33am
Hoosier:
theo--spelled your name wrong. Apologies.
9.11.2008 6:40am
LM (mail):
Hoosier,

In my futile rush to get my last comment on the other thread, I may have misinterpreted yours. If it was snark-free, please consider mine revised accordingly. If I got it right the first time, pretend I never wrote this.
9.11.2008 7:44am
paul lukasiak (mail):
If the Obama's lived in some really bad neighborhood where the schools were little more than dangerous warehouses for children, I'd understand the need to send their daughters to private school. But they don't, they live in Hyde Park -- an upscale neighborhood, and the schools there are not wastelands.

But the piece really wasn't about who sends their kids where, it was about the power of the "PTA mom" concept. And while Obama's defenders say that Michelle Obama is a PTA mom herself, you can't be a "PTA mom" if your kids are in private school because being involved in the PTA is civil engagement.

PTA's represent an alliance of parents and teachers in individual schools within a larger school system that is run by "politicians". There is an oppositional quality to genuine PTAs that doesn't exist in private schools. Moreover, private school administrators are much more vulnerable to pressure from parents groups -- administrations are often directly accountable to the parents who pay the bills. In public schools, Boards of Education administrators are either elected by the public at large, or appointed by elected officials -- and are thus insulated from parental pressure. Parents in private schools are part of the system, PTA moms are outside the system.

And it is for this reason that the PTA mom concept is so powerful -- parents involved in PTAs understand that they are bucking a system that is not responsive to the needs of their children, and when you tell these parents that Sarah Palin was a "PTA mom", it tells them a lot about who Sarah Palin is.
9.11.2008 7:46am
just me (mail):
The Obama girls' school is one where 35 percent of students are "of color."

I wonder what their definition of "of color" is? I can't help but think there are some asian students tossed into that definition, and it misses the point that those people have parents who can pay for the tuition.

But then the problem with public schools isn't the racial make up it is the poverty factor. I work in a very poor school district in a state that is predominately white-we don't have too many minorities. If I could afford to sent four kids to a private school I would do it, but Mr. Obama thinks the public school is just fine for my kids.

Parents in high poverty schools are usually apathetic-attendance even at the elementary level is poor. If even half the parents show up for a conference a teacher is lucky. It is sometimes difficult to even reach a parent with concerns. I worked with a teacher who tried to have a meeting with a parent for almost 7 months because she was concerned her daughter wasn't going to make outcomes to move on to third grade. The parent never answered the phone and never responded to calls or notes (not even the three certified letters sent home). She learned her daughter wasn't going to third grade when her child took home her report card with the placement for the following year on it.
9.11.2008 8:08am
guest:
Anyone who has any experience with the Delaware public schools would understand why Biden doesn't send his kids to them. Archmere is definitely at the expensive end, but many of the public schools pose physical danger risks (in addition to educational issues).
9.11.2008 8:22am
Relativity (mail):
"the deeply profound — and absolutely ignored by professional smart people — emotional real estate of "P.T.A. mother."

I suppose it was not profound enough to say that it was profound. She had to say it was deeply profound, reaching a subterranean level of profundity that professional smart people didn't even know existed.
9.11.2008 8:32am
Big E:
By the way, Sarah Palin sent her kids to Iditarod Elementary School.

Of course she does. The question is how is that relevant to what Obama does? Does Lindgren have to slip Palin into every post now?
9.11.2008 8:37am
Mike Keenan:
I don't understand the original post. The reason why someone might be upset at him sending the kids to private school is not even discussed. Why did you bother?
9.11.2008 9:02am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The issue is that most of the people in politics--dems anyway--who send their kids to private schools are against school choice and vouchers.
The dems even opposed a bill to provide vouchers for poor kids in DC when the money DIDN'T come out of the district ed budget.
It's the hypocrisy, see.
Surprised that anybody had to mention this, but apparently it's still necessary.
9.11.2008 9:08am
hawkins:

The issue is that most of the people in politics--dems anyway--who send their kids to private schools are against school choice and vouchers.
The dems even opposed a bill to provide vouchers for poor kids in DC when the money DIDN'T come out of the district ed budget.
It's the hypocrisy, see.
Surprised that anybody had to mention this, but apparently it's still necessary.


Not sure of the details regarding the plan in DC, but I fail to see any hypocrisy in opponent's of school vouchers sending their kids to private schools. When they send their kids to private schools, it does not decrease the funding going to the public schools. Every parent using vouchers would decrease the funding for public schools.
9.11.2008 9:21am
A. Zarkov (mail):
'The Obama girls' school is one where 35 percent of students are "of color."'

Some public schools have a significant non-white student body, but are nevertheless remain effectively segregated. For example the Shaker Heights school in the affluent Cleveland suburb is integrated at the school level, but not at the classroom level. This happens if the school has selective honor classes. While the classes are open to all, they end up being mostly white and Asian. Unlike a public school, which must admit all the students in their jurisdiction, a private school can be selective. A private school can also expel problem students more easily than public one. As to the Laboratory School, we need to know if "people of color" includes Asians.
9.11.2008 9:22am
Franklin Drackman:
Well here's one Conservative whos not for School Choice. I like $20,000 annual tuitions for Jewish School, keeps out the Riff Raff. And the only "Magnets" in Atlanta Public Schools are in the Metal Detectors you have to go through to get in.
9.11.2008 9:36am
SailorDave (www):
Please do not make the mistake of thinking a few "type A" parents can fix a school. A group of educated, type-A, white parents in my neighborhood banded together to send their kids to the local (80-99% black and mostly low-income) public school. After five years and many fundraisers, the principal won't meet with them, the teachers were ordered not to talk to them, and they are now sending their kids to private school while investigating charter school options.

And honestly I sympathize with the teachers! It is politically naive at best and offensive at worst for a few rich, white folks to expect an old, mostly black institution to immediately roll over and do everything the rich, whites want, especially not in a city with a history of slavery, segregation, and bitter conflict over civil rights.

The advantage of vouchers is that they (1) put power in the hands of the low-income/minority parents already involved in the school and (2) markets are usually better than political guestures at figuring out ways around political minefields. That is, of course, only if vouchers do go primarily to low-income parents instead of serving as a subsidy for the upper middle class.
9.11.2008 9:40am
ReaderY:
A basic problem is that in a place like New York and Chicago, things have moved to the point where the public schools are so bad that essentially nobody wants to send their kids to public schools, and the only people who do so are those unfortunate enough to have no other choice or bad or naive enough parents not to take it.

There used to be people who disparaged those who put locks on their doors as insufficiently trusting of their neighbors. Society has so changed that outside of the most tranquil of rural areas, if even there, few even remember that such people ever existed. The disparity between ideals of how society might be and how it is is simply too great for people to ignore the latter. Ms. Loh may be a similar reflection, and perhaps relic, of hopes of a more ideal society.
9.11.2008 9:45am
Cornellian (mail):
If I had kids I'd send them to a private school.
9.11.2008 9:52am
titus32:
When you claim that public schools are great, and that people should have equal opportunity; but then refuse to send your own kids to the great schools, and deny poor people equal opportunity.... Well, what do you expect people to think?

Who does the "you" refer to? Not Obama, presumably, as he's on the record on the need to reform the school system.
9.11.2008 9:57am
Sarcastro (www):
Obama's sending his kids to a private school? Watch as I make deductions:

1. Obama hates black people. It's only reason Democrats go to private school. Obama also looks black (but he's not!) This makes him a hypocrite

2. School vouchers rule! Rich people who send their kids to private school had better be for a program allowing slightly less rich kids go to private school. Obama isn't so he's a hypocrite.

3. He is rich. All rich democrats are hypocrites. I'm on to you now, Mr. Obama!
9.11.2008 9:57am
Sarcastro (www):
I do hate that upper middle class "Riff Raff!" It's a well kown fact that if you make less than 6 figures, you shoot people all the time.

[Full disclosure: I went to a private Jewish school on scholarship.]

[Brackets: Back by popular demand!]
9.11.2008 10:00am
Jane (mail):
The Obamas' should be able to chose the school for their daughters - But so should others. What is outrageous is for politicians to be against vouches and school choice while sending their own precious kids to an expensive private school. Elitism! (if I can make this charge without being called racist. Oh, go ahead and call me racist - I'll just laugh at you!)
9.11.2008 10:07am
Dan M.:
I'd rather just home-school.
9.11.2008 10:11am
Nifonged:
"Is it really that difficult to see why making schools for rich kids even nicer might not be the worthiest use of one's charitable dollars?"

This has to be parody, is it that difficult to see that its no one's business as to the worthiness of other people's chartiable contributions? Are people that insistent on being busybodies?

Should people not donate to their undergraduate colleges or law schools? Both of my degrees came from institutions with endowments in the BILLIONS (and many students were from "rich" backgrounds), I was under the impression that donations helped increase financial aid for non-affluent students, among other "worthy" uses.
9.11.2008 10:14am
Milhouse (www):
one of many, what does "all the education they need" mean?

just me, how do you know she found out then? If she didn't read any of the other stuff, what makes you think she read the report card, or has any idea what grade her daughter is in?
9.11.2008 10:16am
Fedya (www):
The fundamental problem, of course, is that we effectively have a monopoly in the education system. Just because it's a government-sector monopoly doesn't make it any less bad.
9.11.2008 10:22am
pauldom:
The chief objection to vouchers, for me, is not that they could increase school choice (though I seriously doubt that vouchered private schools would become any less selective than they are now). My chief objection is that vouchers, at least where I live, are a disguised effort to starve public schools by diverting current funding, not adding to it.

I'm involved in the PTA at my kids' public school. This organization by no means has the "oppositional quality" toward politician administrators that lukusiak praises--it's all about fundraising. We organize skate night, gift wrap sales, book fairs, holiday shop, snack sales, t-shirt sales, etc. We do share a growing sense of desperation as voters (many of whom complain "why should I pay for schools if I have no kids in them")continue to support tax "reform" that forces cuts in teachers, "frill" programs like music and art, libraries, and so on. Well, I guess there is opposition to the folks who complain about "waste" based on imaginary figures (cf Zarkov) despite the fact that budgets are publicly available, that admin costs are <9%, that per student cost is about $8000. The much maligned teacher's union doesn't keep incompetents around for decades--we worry about keeping good teachers as 80% of teachers quit within 4 years (usually citing low salaries, though the sneering attitude of the anti-government-schools crowd doesn't help either).

I don't send my kids to private school because we can't afford it, the commute would be 50 mins each way, there's great diversity at the public (English is not the dominant language; the majority qualifies for free lunch), my kids can more easily make friends w/other neighborhood kids, my kids feel "rich" now but they would feel "poor" at the private. They have friends who attend the private school--I am reasonably familiar with it &not relying on stereotype here.

However, my univ has a private preschool that my kids attended because it was affordable, I could easily visit them during the workday, our commutes were shorter, the student body was very diverse, &the teachers were excellent (the newest had been there 9 years). Since the preK helps make it possible for student-parents to finish college, and since it provides internship/research opportunities for students in some of our degree programs, supporting that school also serves the community.

If my univ had a comparable private elementary school, I'd enroll my kids for those same reasons AND I would continue to support local public schools in other ways, and to vote against voucher measures that would starve them further. No contradiction.

I can support public housing, too, without moving there.
9.11.2008 10:27am
Hoosier:
LM

If it was snark-free, please consider mine revised accordingly.

All I know of snarks I learned from Lewis Carroll. "For the snark was a Boojum, you see."
9.11.2008 10:29am
ejo:
forget school choice and vouchers-they won't even touch the teacher's unions in public schools. reforms that are simply common sense fall by the wayside because public schools are for the teachers, not the parents or children. Obama made a good choice for his kids. He did nothing for anyone else's. What, exactly, was his role in the Annenberg Challenge again? wasn't it improving public education?
9.11.2008 10:32am
ejo:
for any of those unaware, Chicago Public Schools are, to put it mildly, somewhat underperforming.
9.11.2008 10:34am
smitty1e:
A well regulated double standard, being necessary to the hypocrisy of a socialized State, the right of the people to keep and bear Alms, shall not be infringed.
9.11.2008 10:44am
Curt Fischer:
I don't understand the theory that if Obama sent his kids to public school, it would improve those schools. Can someone explain?

Does the school have to be so small that adding only two good students bumps up the performance? Or is there some sort of reason to expect all of the (presumed) smartness and dedication of Obama's kids to rub off on everyone else around them?
9.11.2008 10:48am
yarrrrr (mail):

Personally, I compliment the Obamas for not using their children as political pawns to get elected or to reform society two children at a time. In my opinion, that makes the Obamas good parents.


Of course, this is the guy who hung out with Ayers trying to reform public schools...
9.11.2008 10:54am
Joe McDermott (mail):
Loh is weapons-grade stupid here. That a parent would not understand that her first duty is to her kids and their education and not to the public schools is appalling. Has anyone investigated her for child abuse? Why not?
9.11.2008 10:56am
CatoReansci (mail):
The real issue is not that the Obamas send their kids to private school, it is that they support efforts to maintain the teachers' unions' monopoly over public schools and oppose efforts to introduce more local control and choice into public education.

Public education in this country is -- certainly in the major cities -- a disaster today, whereas 100 years ago it was the hope of immigrants and the poor. It does not get much respect or support because it by and large does not do a good job of educating.

So those who can, vote with their feet.

The simple fact is that everyone who can comfortably send their children to first class private schools, and who has first class private schools conveniently nearby, does so.

The only real alternative (unless you're making a political point with your children, which I think is irresponsible) is to move into a town or suburb with first rate public schools.
9.11.2008 11:02am
Bart (mail):

Personally, I compliment the Obamas for not using their children as political pawns to get elected or to reform society two children at a time. In my opinion, that makes the Obamas good parents.

I agree.

However, the Obamas would compel those with fewer means to send their children to bad government schools. In my opinion, that would make them a bad (not to mention hypocritical) President and First Lady.
9.11.2008 11:03am
Paul A'Barge (mail):
Prepare for cluebat.

You? You're not a politician harping constantly and taking the Teachers Union party line. You're not the politician out there telling us what's best for our children. And then sending your children somewhere else.

It's pretty simple really. Troubling that you would be so dense.
9.11.2008 11:05am
hawkins:

The simple fact is that everyone who can comfortably send their children to first class private schools, and who has first class private schools conveniently nearby, does so.


Wow. I havent seen a more inaccurate statement in a long time.
9.11.2008 11:05am
Saladman (mail):
F*** Obama on this. He, and Democrats in general, are the ones backing the public school monopoly, even in inner cities where the schools fail the worst. I don't really want to see his daughters punished for that, but it does expose his hypocrisy on the issue.
9.11.2008 11:09am
hawkins:

but it does expose his hypocrisy on the issue.


Is the issue you refer to school vouchers? If so, could someone please explain the hypocrisy. By sending his daughters to private school, Obama is not reducing the funding available to public schools. Allowing parents to use vouchers for private school would directly reduce public school funding. Or at least this is how I understand it. Am I wrong?
9.11.2008 11:13am
hey (mail):
Of course we want to threaten public schools with lack of funding - that's the only way they'll change and actually TEACH again.

The hypocrisy of Obama is almost as bad as of those politicians in Canada who support keeping private health care ILLEGAL but then use connections and alternative providers (military hospitals, out of country ones) for their own needs. Obama wants to sentence EVERYONE's children to a pathetic and faulty education to shore up his support in the teachers unions. If he wants the rest of the nation to be ill-taught in dangerous classrooms then he had better put his own daughters through that hell too.

I detest the teachers unions and what the public education system has become. I will endeavor to never send my children to a public school at any level. But I don't believe in shackling any children to a shoddy desk solely for the benefit of a union and I want all children to get the best education possible. The insane amounts of money that Chicago, DC, and NYC spend could cover wonderful schools if no money was being sent upstream.
9.11.2008 11:15am
Hoosier:
The low cost inner city alternative has always been Catholic school. Do you really want to build up the Catholic schools at the expense of the public schools.

I "really want" to educate the inner-city kids whose family/home circumstances give them a fair shot of escaping heritable underclass status. Since Catholic schools can offer this, and do it much more cheaply than public schools, then they should certainly be an option.
9.11.2008 11:21am
Matt_T:
Ms. Loh seems to be unbalanced - mentally more than politically. For example:
Let us just say that if Mr. and Mrs. Obama — a dynamic, Harvard-educated couple — had chosen public over private school, they could have lifted up not just their one local public school, but a family of schools. First, given the social pressure (or the social persuasion of wanting to belong to the cool club), more educated, affluent families would tip back into the public school fold.

This is a totally unproven assertion. I went to very, very good public schools and private schools were still a strong signifier of affluence and/or influence in my hometown and the surrounding area.

And second, the presence of educated type-A parents with too much time on their hands ensures that schools are held, daily, to high standards.

No. It only ensures that their own children are held to high standards.

But the significance of educated families opting in to their local public schools goes deeper than that. Research done by Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, indicates that poor children benefit hugely by mixing, daily, with middle-class children (particularly those from families who value education).

Oh, perfect, let's trot out the same tired rationale looked to prop up "diversity" to support overriding parents' and childrens' choice to spend their money and time as they please. It's not enough to work hard and send your kids to a good school - you have an obligation to use your kids to improve the lot of the worthy proles, comrade!

Conversely, as long as the deleterious effects of poverty, like rampant absenteeism and serious health issues, do not overwhelm the school culture, middle-class children suffer no ill effects.

No comment other than to say I wonder which public school the columnist went to.

Furthermore, studies have shown that new immigrant children learn English faster and master the complex linguistic skills they need to succeed on standardized tests when they are in classrooms with native English speakers.

Studies (and common sense) have also shown that slowing the pace of the class to keep up with non-English speakers reduces the volume and quality of instruction that native English speakers receive. I guess dumbing down education is fine as long as every child is equally deprived of a worthwhile education.

Sadly, because of the widespread flight of higher-minded families, ethnic segregation (not to mention class segregation) in public schools today is so extreme that only one in five immigrant children will have even one native English-speaking friend.

Translation: You have no right to flee the crime-infested inner city for the sanctuary of the suburbs, you bourgeois pig! You and your children are responsible for the education of new members of our glorious nation - hopes and dreams be damned.
9.11.2008 11:25am
Hoosier:
Nate in Alice:
Everyone knows school vouchers are simply government subsidization of elite, expensive education for upper-class taxpayers--you know--the same people who can't spare a dime more for healthcare or other social programs.

When conservatives get behind a social program, there's only one reason--it helps the rich at the expense of the poor.


"Everyone knows" usually means "I have no evidence." As in this case. I have two children in an "inner city" Catholic school. It is far more integrated than the public school our boys would have attended had we gone that route. And my income puts us in the lower middle class, not among the wealthy at all.

It is a significant hardship to pay for the failing public schools and to cut a check for parochial school. There are people who can't do it, but who would if given the chance. Why do you want to deny poor people that option?

You really need to spend more time in our cities learning about these things, and less time in Alice. Whoever she may be.
9.11.2008 11:27am
Dave D. (mail):
..Tony Tutins : Mr. Friedman may well have gone to U. of C. Lab school, but this Dave D. went to public schools in the San Joaquin Valley. Want me to discuss my primary education ?
..It seems that the Democrats arguments against school vouchers boil down to ; if we give them a choice, most will leave and our constituant group, the NEA members, will have to take lower paying jobs at the private schools these kids flee too. The second argument is that only the least motivated and stupid kids and parents will stay with the public schools.
..I think both arguments are correct, but doesn't giving wealthy parents and home schoolers the choice to opt out of public school attendance have the same effect ?
..I say MANDITORY public school attendance for all school age children as a minimum. What does Mr. Friedman say ?
9.11.2008 11:33am
Sarcastro (www):
Vouchers are kind of magical, in that they would allow everyone that wants to to go to private school!

The only problems will be the constant exhortations to "Clap your hands if you believe in vouchers!"
9.11.2008 11:36am
anon:
Prof. Lindgren,
I don't believe Clinton sent Chelsea to Sidwell because the local public school was mediocre. According to my Washington-raised wife, the public schools around the White House are excellent because they draw much of the diplomatic children. Second, I believe Cinton's stated reason was that it was a personal security matter.

Substantively, I agree that politicians should not be required to compromise their children's education for the symbolism of public school. Families are off-limits, remember?

That said, it is still disappointing when politicians tell us to how much they support public schools and yet are still unwilling to lift a finger to do anything about actually making them better.
9.11.2008 11:39am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
I don't see any hypocrisy in supporting public schools and at the same time sending your kids to private school.

I want all kids to have the best education possible. So I indeed support public schooling. However, I also, even more desperately, want the best for my kids. Unfortunately, public schools have serious problems that are probably unsolvable - starting with the fact that many parents are idiots and have not taught their children self-discipline and/or given them a love for learning.

There are good parents and there are bad parents across socio-economic lines. However, because we live in a (largely) merit-based society, those people who have a work ethic are likely to earn a good living. Those with a good work ethic are likely to transfer that work ethic to their kids.

Parents who don't care about education won't send their kids to private schools - or use vouchers or any other form of school choice.

Parents who don't have a work ethic (which means their kids don't either) are unable to afford to send their kids to private schools.

So the very fact of a school charging tuition and accepting students on some basis other than parental inertia will weed out many of the kids I would not choose as a peer group for my kids.

Private schools are also likely to have some chuckleheads - but fewer of them. Plus, disciplinary problems can be dealt with more easily - it is much easier to remove the bad seeds.

It is true that dedicated parents can make a public school a better place. BUT - I refuse to harm my children for the benefit of other people's children.

Unfortunately, I'm a public school teacher and can't afford to send my kids to private school. But you better believe that if I could I would. This doesn't mean that I don't spend every day trying to make at least one public school as good as possible.

On the side note of desegregation. Although many people are racist and don't want their children to go to school with "others," it is entirely possible to want to move your kids to a new school because you care about their academic success. Some of the white flight from inner city schools wasn't anti-black - it was pro "my kids." (the two could overlap)

The same goes for the voucher debate - it is entirely possible to be pro-voucher without being anti-public school.

I wish folks could look at the issue dispassionately - as Micheal Levitt and Steven Dubner point out in Freakonomics, we actually have a wealth of data regarding school choice's effectiveness.

Levitt argues that school choice doesn't have much impact - the greatest predictor of student success was whether or not parents wanted to utilized choice - those kids who entered the lottery and didn't "win" and were forced to stay in their neighborhood school did just as well as those who got to go somewhere else.

If parents are concerned in their children's education, the kids will do well. The real problem in American education is the kids who have poor parents.

Poor parents will not use school choice or vouchers. And even if they were forced to do so, the parental attitudes at home would be the same and their kids would still do poorly.
9.11.2008 11:40am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
hawkins.
This may vary by state, but in our state, sending your kids to private schools does decrease funding for public schools. The schools get state money according to student count.
So...you're wrong as regards at least one state.
Keep in mind that when the kid goes, the school no longer has to educate him, thus reducing expenses incrementally. Of course, one kid leaving doesn't allow for firing two or three useless 'crats, but the point is when twenty percent leave.
Most voucher schemes I've seen involve considerably less money than the per-pupil funding the school gets from the state. So the state keeps the difference and has one less kid to educate.

Also, public schools are, by design, utterly impervious to parents' input.
9.11.2008 11:42am
ruralcounsel (mail):

Is it really that difficult to see why making schools for rich kids even nicer might not be the worthiest use of one's charitable dollars?


The whole point of private charitable dollars is that the private fund-owner gets to choose what is worthy to them. This isn't tax dollars distributed by the collective, it private money.

What kind of obscene arrogance gives one leave to tell other people what charitable values to have?

Why does self-interest taint charity? So if you contribute to a non-profit for environmental or artistic pursuits, because you like undeveloped spaces or art, that isn't really "charitable"?
9.11.2008 11:51am
Matt_T:
Is it really that difficult to see why making schools for rich kids even nicer might not be the worthiest use of one's charitable dollars?

Can you foresee which students will do something to benefit society and which will not, o omniscient one? Bill Gates is the son of William Gates of K&L Gates and had a privileged upbringing, attending a private high school supported in part by alumni donations - charity. Bill Gates is also one of the most important private people in terms of international aid through his work for and funding of the Gates Foundation. Whatever benefit he enjoyed from charity has been returned a million-fold to the world at large, and mostly the world's poor. Even by your own charitable criteria, categorically stating that giving money to the poor is always more worthwhile than giving money to the rich is fallacious.
9.11.2008 11:59am
Ben Franklin (mail):
Obama gets no credit because he would not allow the people who are paying for the schools to decide which one they will attend. He can afford to pay twice... once through taxes to the public school system and then again for the private schools his children attend. Anyone who doesn't support vouchers doesn't get any points for anything other than being a cad.

He also wants to institute an involuntary servitude program for children where they are required to provide services to the community. I bet he doesn't force his own children to do such things either.
9.11.2008 12:05pm
Hyde Parker:
Not that this makes it any better, but as a senior administrator at the U of C (Michelle at the U of C Hospitals) the Lab School is probably free or extremely subsidized and close to it.
9.11.2008 12:10pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
My mother, God rest her, was a career public school employee, rising from teacher to principal, earning one school state recognition and turning another around from awful test scores and conditions to above-average ones. Yet she sent me to private school starting in 6th grade, because my parents decided that was the best environment for me, an intractable lazy slob. (And it wasn't like my local public schools were bad -- this was La Canada, California.)

They did it because they had money and could do it. I suppose this was un-egalitarian, in the same sense that we could afford to live in a nice neighborhood was un-egalitarian. Tough shit. They were smart and hardworking enough to get into good schools, worked their way through them, got good grades, got into good grad schools, worked their way through those, got good jobs, and then worked hard to earn enough to afford the best for their family. That's the way it works. My mother routinely worked 16 hour days to keep her school in shape, and I have nothing but contempt for anyone who thinks she owed "the system" the right to dictate where she sent her child to school.
9.11.2008 12:17pm
ruralcounsel (mail):
The only trouble with vouchers that I see is that the people who care enough about their kids education to use them are only the tip of the iceberg.

Most public schools flounder when the kids come from families with socioeconimic and cultural values or backgrounds that prejudice them against education in the first place. Unfortunately, that describes a lot small rural and large inner city schools.

Vouchers are only going to skim off the better students out of the public schools. Which is good for those students. But makes the public schools even worse. Face it, public education is a form of involuntary social insurance, like mandatory health insurance. It is kept afloat academically (in some collective sense) by those kids who need it the least. The ones who need it the most, can't afford it on their own. The big difference that I see is that those who need school the most are likely to be the ones who least want to be there.

Vouchers are only going to help rescue the kids whose parents already care AND are economically disadvantaged ... which is not an unimportant segment of society. Of course, vouchers are politically dead if they can't be used to help parents who care and are NOT economically disadvantged too. Taxes for schools are already so high, nobody in their right mind is going to want to pay to give someone else an educational opportunity that their own children might not have.

We haven't come to grips with the fact that there is still a large segment of our society that cares nothing for education, and their children are likely to care nothing for education, and by forcing them to attend school only degrades the school experience for those who want to be there. Face it, not all of our population values learning. At least not until its too late to do much about it.

It sounds lofty to try and educate everyone. A nice egalitarian goal. But there needs to be a way to filter out those who really could care less, because they corrupt and ruin the public system. At least beyond the 5th or 6th grade. Maybe it needs to become a competitive entry system beyond the 6th grade, instead of a public right. Schooling needs to be seen as an earned privilige, not a mandated torture. And tie it to something like getting a drivers license... if you graduate high school, you can get a full license at 18, if not, then nothing until you're 21. That would provide an incentive to some teenagers I know.
9.11.2008 12:17pm
Rix (mail):
As a graduate of the U.C. Laboratory Schools from the mid-90's, let me mention a few points:

1. The local elementary school in their area probably is not that good. They would have to move South to get into the Ray elementary school catchment district, which goes from 53rd-61st Street. The luxe part of Obama's Kenwood neighborhood goes from 47th to 51st street. So Obama's local school would not be good, unless he pulled strings to get his kid into the magnet school program. As a Chicago pol, this would be normal and doable.

2. His wife, as a University sr staff, gets a 50% discount on Laboratory school tuition.

3. The local high school used to be terrible and probably hasn't improved. In 1992 a police car was overturned at homecoming, white students were subjected to Racial harassment and white flight generally occurred in the context of the decline of the local magnet program.

4. The Laboratory School is frankly not that great a school. However, with hundreds of motivated type A professor parents it has a good reputation. Good protoplasm and lots of cash can overcome a lot of mismanagement and stupidity.
9.11.2008 12:21pm
Mad Max:
Should people not donate to their undergraduate colleges or law schools?

Not just no, but hell no. They got enough of my money the first time around. I paid for my education, the transaction is complete, and I owe them nothing more.
9.11.2008 12:32pm
CJColucci:
I know I'm echoing what Milhouse said earlier, but nobody is engaging him. Why is education a special case? Since when did most of the people who post and comment on this blog come around to the idea that when people without money can't get a share of the better things in life, like good food, travel, and health care, comparable to what better-off people get, then the government should step in. And why is it hypocrisy when people with more pay more to get more -- especially when they're also paying taxes (and often advocating even higher taxes) to fund a system they don't use?
Maybe vouchers or school choice would be a significant improvement. I'm agnostic about that, especially when I see that in the entire borough of the Bronx, where I live, there are no more than 2 or 3 public schools that are any good -- and the reason they're good has mainly to do with who's in them -- but I'm not opposed to the experiment. Some people are. They probably have good-faith reasons. They may be wrong, but it's not "hypocrisy."
9.11.2008 12:33pm
trad and anon:
This has to be parody, is it that difficult to see that its no one's business as to the worthiness of other people's chartiable contributions? Are people that insistent on being busybodies?
Unlike J. Sydney McCain III, most other people are not running for President. We voters are free to judge them based on the values demonstrated by their charitable donations. You may think we have no right to criticize the acts of our betters but I think we plebes have every right to do that.
9.11.2008 12:39pm
Spitzer:
Sorry Jim, but I'm afraid you flat wrong on this. Yes, candidates should be applauded when they don't use their families as political pawns, but frankly, the hypocrisy on the left just rankles. Why can the Clintons and the Obamas play politics with the kids of poor and middle-class families who cannot afford private school tuitions, and so are stuck in "mediocre" public schools, while the children of rich politicians get to go to fancy private schools - the better to prepare them for lifelong membership in the ruling caste - while their politician parents get to obtain the support of the teachers' unions by imprisoning less-fortunate children in public school gulags?

It's hypocritical, and it's foul. Anyone who sends their children to private schools - and particularly those who have political power - should at least be in favor of policies that might allow less-fortunate American children the same opportunities as their own brood. If education is truly the civil rights issue of this century - and I do not disagree with that notion (although I thought that education was supposed to the civil rights issue of the 20th century too, but it just didn't turn out that way)- then the lack of school choice is the new Jim Crow, and the rich who send their kids to fancy private schools while obtaining the foul support of the teachers' unions are just supporting the erection of a true caste system in this country. Shame on them!
9.11.2008 12:40pm
trad and anon:
Should people not donate to their undergraduate colleges or law schools?
Not just no, but hell no. They got enough of my money the first time around. I paid for my education, the transaction is complete, and I owe them nothing more.
Amen, brother! They already have enough of my money.
9.11.2008 12:42pm
harlemghost:
Great parents those Obama folks. I'm sure the Rev. Wright kept the hatred down when they brought those children to his sermons. Typical hypocritical liberals, fight alongside the entrenched Teachers Union to preserve the staus quo (just with more money) and send your kids to private school.
9.11.2008 12:49pm
Sarcastro (www):
You can't be against vouchers unless you go to public school.
You can't be against terrorism unless you've been in the army.
You can't be for wellfare unless your poor.
You can't be an environmentalist unless you live in a tent and bycicle everywhere.

Why don't people take the positions they should?
9.11.2008 12:50pm
Nifonged:
"We voters are free to judge them based on the values demonstrated by their charitable donations."

Would the same voters be up in arms if the Obamas donated to Harvard ($35B endowment)?

You can put lipstick on a snarky comment by Loh, its still a snarky class-envy comment. I'd love to hear a rational argument that donating to an educational entity is a bad thing.
9.11.2008 12:55pm
Lily (mail):

You can't be against vouchers unless you go to public school.

Not if you are a Public Official who can control or at least strongly influence whether or not other people have the same access to choice that you do.

What is profoundly hypocritical is to make a non-public choice for your own daughters all the while blocking the choice of others.
9.11.2008 12:57pm
GD (mail):
"Are you willing to write a check for $20K for every kid in America?"

Yes, as long as it isn't going into a black hole controlled by the public employee unions. Let's combine vouchers with increased per pupil spending.
9.11.2008 1:01pm
CamarilloBrillo (mail):
I personally believe that the best solution would be to jack up salaries for public school teachers to a level that makes them competitive with other professional careers, and then seriously reform the tenure system. Plenty more people would probably consider teaching a viable career if they could make a respectable salary and have the summers off. I'd quit practicing law and go teach American Lit right now for $75k/year and a summer vacation.

If the difference between educating a kid in public school ($15,000/year) and sending him to private school ($20,000/year) is $5,000, then it takes 10 vouchers (or less, since this is probably not a zero-sum game) to boost each teacher's salary to a competitive level. I can't do all the math right now, but I would be interested to see someone break down the costs and benefits of vouchers vs. better salaries for better teachers.

The trick is to get the best and brightest to want to teach. That probably rules me out, but my point remains.
9.11.2008 1:07pm
Hoosier:
Sarcastro said:
Why don't people take the positions they should?

Hoosier brilliantly responded:
Why don't people live the positions they take?

This one is a matter of choice. (although see my above post that is rather understanding of the Obama's decision): I would not be able to kill a cow by bashing it in the head. So I don't eat meat, even though I personally would never have to use a butcher's bolt.

It's a bit like that, isn't it? "We value public schools so much that we want to see kids stay with them. But not our girls!"
9.11.2008 1:13pm
Sarcastro (www):
[I think Hoosier called all meat-eaters who don't hate cows hypocrites.

And he's right. I eat meat. I'm more a chicken-fish guy, but I like a steak on occasion. And I don't want to have to kill a cow. Or a chicken. I kinda pretend the nicely packaged meat wasn't ever an animal.

But taken to that level, isn't hypocrisy needed to get buy in society? Paying people to do stuff you don't want to do is kind of the way our society works.

Hypocrisy: the WD-40 of humanity.]


I do hate fish though. Scally mother-F-ers.
9.11.2008 1:23pm
Paul B:
Camarillo,

I don't know where you live, but if you are in any of the high cost metropolitan areas of this country, you will earn $75K with a masters and a few years experience as a public school teacher, not to mention superior health care insurance, an inflation indexed pension, and job security.

There are complex issues to discuss with education, but the cliche that public school teachers are woefully underpaid is simply not true any more.
9.11.2008 1:24pm
deepthought:
I oppose school vouchers because I don't believe in an egalitarian society--I believe in an elite society, and that it is not government's responsibility to create equal circumstances. People may work up to an elite status, but it is not up to government to help them achieve it. If they want to send their kids to a private school, they should work for it themselves, and not receive a subsidy from government.
9.11.2008 1:24pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Nate:

Everyone knows school vouchers are simply government subsidization of elite, expensive education for upper-class taxpayers--you know--the same people who can't spare a dime more for healthcare or other social programs.

Really? Everyone knows that? Who's everyone? I didn't know that, so I guess it's everyone minus one.


When conservatives get behind a social program, there's only one reason--it helps the rich at the expense of the poor. This may be a bit of Democratic propaganda red-meat, but it's born out to be more true than not.


Wow, nice generalization and demagoguery. How about when a libertarian is in favor of school vouchers? Care to tackle that one?
9.11.2008 1:25pm
A.C.:
I don't think Loh is as hypocritical as some people here are making out. She has written articles about her experience sending her own kids to public schools that were a little on edge, if not actually catastrophic, and banding together with other parents to improve the environment. Some of this was necessity rather than choice, because journalists don't earn as much as some other professionals. But once she and others made the commitment, she was in a position to talk about it. One of the interesting parts of her work is when she talks about how the middle class parents try to get the working class and immigrant parents more engaged.

Even so, I'm not sure if I would expect parents to do this in schools only slightly worse than the ones she describes. And I'm not sure if I would put that burden on black families that can afford private school. In my experience, black families (even those headed by single moms of modest means) are very quick to get their children out of urban public schools and into parochial, other private, or suburban schools if they get the chance.

White and Asian families can often work the public school system to get their kids into honors and AP programs, magnet schools and so forth. Even if their children are in the same building with the more disruptive students, they are probably not in the same classes or social circles. Black families seem to worry more that their kids will get sucked into peer groups with dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors -- and for a good reason. If I were a black parent, my first educational goal for my kids would be to get them into a school where the majority of the black kids (not just of the kids overall) valued education. If that meant private school, so be it.

I think the same would apply to those few pockets among whites that still reject education and middle class behavior, and to any predominanty Asian area where gang activity is a problem. I don't mean this to be about race, but about the need to get kids away from destructive peer groups. Some of these happen to be in urban schools with a lot of black students, and that's the potential problem where the Obamas live.

As for how much education non-affluent people should get -- I would hope they would have the opportunity, at least, to get as much as they want and can absorb. If a kid with a lot of academic talent happens to come from a family without money, or with other financial commitments (perhaps a disabled relative to support), I would hope that some institution in society would recognize that talent and work to foster it. Public schools and private schools have both done this for many people, and sometimes other organizations sponsor and mentor students. It isn't entirely on the parents.

That doesn't mean that every poor student should get a free Ph.D. in physics. Most wouldn't want to, for one thing, and few would have the ability. But everyone should get enough to participate in society, and those who want more and have the talent to use it should have some avenue to get it.
9.11.2008 1:25pm
ReaderY:

is it that difficult to see that its no one's business as to the worthiness of other people's chartiable contributions? Are people that insistent on being busybodies?


Like it or not, as long as you dip your hand in the public till and claim a public subsidy to go along with your private donation -- which is basically what a tax deduction is -- then it's the public's business.
9.11.2008 1:29pm
deepthought:
Loh, by the way, knows something about elite education. She went to one of the elite public high schools in Los Angeles (Santa Monica High), has a BS in Physics from Caltech and a Master's in Professional Writing from USC.
9.11.2008 1:31pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Theobromophile:

The whole "If the Obamas support public schools, they would send their children to them" rhetoric smacks of the rhetoric of sending one's children off to war if one supports that war.

Well, there's a key difference. When talking about schools, we are actually talking about children under age 18. When talking about war, we are actually talking about adults over age 18.

Perhaps, just perhaps, you could stop making infants out of the adults who voluntarily join the military during both peace and war.

This, of course, is significant. And it is the entire reason why the chickenhawk argument is not valid. It has nothing to do with whether you would send your own children to war, or not, and yet still support the war. The argument is invalid because the parent has no legal ability to make the choice for the adult children that is implied by the argument.

Now, in the schools debate, it is up to the parents to choose for their juvenile children. Given that, if you say that public schools are wonderful and vouchers would destroy them, that sending children to private schools takes away from the public schools, etc. If you say that, and then send your own kids to private schools, well that's pretty hypocritical. Don't you think?
9.11.2008 1:36pm
Mr L:
Sarcastro:
One of those things is not like the other. Specifically, the one that argues that public schools are preferable to private ones regardless of cost savings or how badly the former is failing its mission. Especially in the Obamas' case - their effective tuition (assuming earlier posters were correct) appears to be less than the state spends per pupil. Hmm.
9.11.2008 1:40pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I, for one, don't blame the Obamas at a personal level, since I did the same thing. My offspring tested well, and might have been able to get into a gifted and talented lower school and an IB program in high school not too far away. But have had such in a decently expensive private school all the way through, and have absolutely no regrets, except that some classmates' parents are insanely rich, and all that goes with that. But academically, it has been great, all I could ask for. Plenty of AP classes in HS, small classes, individual attention, plenty of chances to get honored in varied way, great counseling, and even a chance to play varsity sports.

And, rest assured, "of color" includes Asians, at least from Pakistan east. It is essentially every ethnic group except for White non-Hispanic. Probably because of heavy recruitment and scholarship, said private school has more color than do some of the public schools with which they play preppy sports like field hockey and lacrosse.

But I also see professional hypocrisies in Sen. Obama sending his kids to private school while supporting the teaching establishment so strongly.

I think that a good case was made above about how much money is wasted outside the classroom. The problem isn't the salaries being paid the teachers, but rather the general structure. Remember, regardless of how much they are paid, they also get much earlier retirement with a much nicer pension than do almost all of the rest of us who don't work for government or a university. I was amazed at all of the early-50s retired teachers I met living in a resort area and working around a ski area. How many of us can look forward to retiring at that age, with full pensions, and then being able to play for the rest of our lives? I am five or so years older than they, and can expect to work at least another 10 years (hopefully 15 or more). So, from a pension point of view, you have to probably multiply their salaries by 3/2, and probably by 4/3 because they get summers off. I am not surprised that a number of public school teachers and principals can send their kids to private schools.
9.11.2008 1:40pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Is it possible to discuss an issue without imputing malign motives to the other side?

Conservatives: Liberals hate vouchers because they love teacher unions and hate kids.

Liberals: Conservatives love vouchers because vouchers are the anti-Robin Hood: They rob the poor schools to subsidize rich brats.

Let's take a deep breath.

What if - and I know this sounds crazy - EVERYBODY wants better public schools, whether or not they send their kids to the public schools and whether or not they actually have kids?

Perhaps the real issue is: Liberals and Conservatives disagree about whether vouchers will address the roots of failure in our academic system.

Wow. Now we can have a discussion based on the evidence at hand and reach a conclusion based on the merits rather than default political positions.

Who's with me?
9.11.2008 1:41pm
Federal Dog:
How does supporting vouchers and reforming unions to permit elimination of bad teachers amount to not supporting government schools? People will take their vouchers to the best school they can, regardless of whether it's a private or government school. Improving government schools to compete for enrollment is supporting government schools.
9.11.2008 1:42pm
Sarcastro (www):
Mr L I wish people would stop arguing that private schools are worse than public schools. I hear that all the time!
9.11.2008 1:43pm
Sarcastro (www):
Smallholder no no no The side I disagree with isn't jsut wrong, it's Evil! They only think differently from me because of their massive corruption!
9.11.2008 1:45pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Wow! I didn't expect to read so much good sense about public schools at VC. Thank you Tony Tutins, A. Zarkov and some others.

The nonsense, I did expect.

I'll just add that my parents made great sacrifices to send me to Catholic schools. After that experience, I begged my dad to let my younger brother and sister go to public school, and you can be sure I sent my kids to public schools.
9.11.2008 1:50pm
The Ace (mail):
The whole "If the Obamas support public schools, they would send their children to them" rhetoric smacks of the rhetoric of sending one's children off to war if one supports that war.

Um, that "rhetoric" was used by the left against Republicans.

Otherwise, as has already been pointed out, it isn't the same because the military is all voluntary and for adults.

I would also add that the left in America wants to stop homeschooling.

But remember, you're all for "choice" and everything.

Public schools for thee, but not for me!

Hypocrisy is a virture to the modern left.
9.11.2008 1:51pm
Sarcastro (www):
Wow! I didn't expect so many people to confirm my beliefs. Thank you, people I agree with.

People I disagree with, I did expect.
9.11.2008 1:59pm
Hoosier:
Wow. Now we can have a discussion based on the evidence at hand and reach a conclusion based on the merits rather than default political positions.

Do you really think you'll get peasants with pitchforks up on the barricades with that sort of rhetoric, Robespierre?
9.11.2008 2:00pm
Eric (mail) (www):

Are you willing to write a check for $20K for every kid in America?


Well, we already do. It's called public schools. They are paid for by government funding (taxes, etc). I would prefer to let the parents control how that funding is applied.

I would actually prefer that we do away with government schools for all children. My preference would be that the government only collect enough taxes to provide government schooling for those who cannot afford to send their children to school themselves. The whole idea that a government school education is something that everyone, regardless of income, means, etc., is entitled to is abhorrent to me.
9.11.2008 2:01pm
SG:
I don't think that "Liberals hate vouchers because they love teacher unions and hate kids.", but I do think they love the teacher's unions more than they love kids.

What is the good faith argument against vouchers? I'm not being snarky; I honestly don't know.
9.11.2008 2:03pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
The Obama case is an exception from the usual elitist argument because the school is an employer fringe benefit. If Michelle Obama rode the UC shuttle to work, we wouldn't be bashing her for not taking the CTA. If Barack had a UC doctor give him a physical, we would not be berating him for not going to County Hospital. Let the Obamas enjoy the benefits that come with Michelle's job.

Regarding vouchers: Demanding that the public schools give you money to send your kids to private school is like demanding that the CTA give you cabfare.
9.11.2008 2:09pm
Eric (mail) (www):

What if - and I know this sounds crazy - EVERYBODY wants better public schools, whether or not they send their kids to the public schools and whether or not they actually have kids?


Well, I don't want better government schools. So, that makes EVERYBODY minus one. I want the absolute minimum number of government schools possible. Oh yeah, I have kids. Oh yeah, I said that when I didn't have kids.

Perhaps the real issue is: Liberals and Conservatives disagree about whether vouchers will address the roots of failure in our academic system.

Well, I'm not "Liberal" or "Conservative" in the sense you mean. But, I love the fact that vouchers will take money away from government schools, bureaucrats and union teachers.


Wow. Now we can have a discussion based on the evidence at hand and reach a conclusion based on the merits rather than default political positions.


Really? I doubt it. The debate assumes that we should continue to have government schools and government funds provide the majority of the education for children in this country. I won't debate that based on the merits since I don't agree.
9.11.2008 2:09pm
Mark Field (mail):

She went to one of the elite public high schools in Los Angeles (Santa Monica High)


Both of my kids went to Samo High within the last 10 years. I wouldn't call it "elite". It's a good school, but not "elite".


White and Asian families can often work the public school system to get their kids into honors and AP programs, magnet schools and so forth.


A little background before I respond to this. My mother was a school teacher. About 90% public, but she did spend a couple of years teaching in private school, which she didn't care much for. I attended public schools all the way through law school. My father in law was a teacher. My wife attended public schools all the way through college. Our kids have attended public schools all the way through college. One daughter spent 2 years in Teach for America. She taught Middle School. In Watts.

I know a fair amount about the problems of public schools, as well as the benefits.

Let me start by saying that I agree with the quoted comment, except for the racial restriction. In my experience, it's possible to get just as good an education in public school as private school. The difference is this: in public schools, you have to do a lot of work as a parent to make sure that happens. You need to find out who the good teachers are and push for your kids to be assigned to them. You need to find the magnets and other programs. You need to talk to the teachers regularly. You need to push the college counselors to spend time with your kid. People pay private schools so they don't have to worry so much about this stuff.

A few more points. There have been comments about money. CA is, sadly, near the bottom in per pupil expenditure these days. In my day, it was near the top; the downward trend has taken 40 years. People who claim the public schools have enough money have no idea what they're talking about. In the school my daughter taught at, they didn't even have a copier because they couldn't pay the service bill. I subsidized my daughter's copies by making them at the office. The physical plant at most CA schools is now roughly 50 years old. It's deteriorating and the money isn't there to fix it. If you believe the "broken windows" theory, then that should be a high priority.

Teachers' salaries in CA are among the highest in the nation, but they are not high given the standard of living. My daughter got paid $35000/year to teach. I assure you that this is decent enough for someone just out of college and used to living as a student, but absurd for anyone trying to raise a family. The maximum salary for teachers is roughly $85,000/year. Decent, but not great, and it takes 20 years and a graduate degree to get there.

Blaming the teachers' unions is silly. There certainly are problems with them, but they are NOT the cause of most flaws. It's the administrators who are fundamentally at fault. In my daughter's school, for example, they had 8 (yes, 8) principals in 3 years. Nobody can run a school under such circumstances.

Others have claimed that the parents don't sufficiently care about education. In my daughter's experience, this is flat out false. The parents cared a great deal (and I assure you there are no lower socio-economic classes than Watts). The basic problem was that the environment of poverty makes education seem less valuable to the kids. They are physically at risk every day from gangs; my daughter could not assign detention without parental consent because holding the students late put them out on the street when it was dangerous. Parents often work multiple jobs and can't be as involved as is possible with the middle class. The kids often have to earn money now, and can't afford the deferred benefits of college. Moreover, they don't even have much experience of college (their parents never went), so they don't see themselves as potential college students.

Now to vouchers (and the related issue of charter schools). I support vouchers, but only under certain conditions. The basic conditions are these: any school which they can be used at must take the students first come, first served. No screening. And every school which accepts vouchers must meet all state education requirements (no teaching creationism and calling it biology), including testing requirements.
9.11.2008 2:12pm
Sarcastro (www):
[SG the argument against vouchers is that they will not be effective. Or at least, not sufficiently so to justify their costs.

No one claims vouchers will pay the whole tuition for private school. Thus they will only help on the margins or socioeconomic class. The really poor remain screwed, and this is arguably where education helps the most.

And the cost is money that could go to the public school system. It doesn't seem to justify the meager effect.

I know, throwing money at the schools problem doesn't solve it. I also know that private schools may (arguably) spend the money more efficiently. But nevertheless voucher programs smack of abandoning the poor to crappy schools, and then abandoning the schools.]
9.11.2008 2:12pm
calmom:
I have questions that aren't answered in the article.

Are the teachers at the U of C Lab school union?

Are the teachers fired if they don't perform or is there a tenure track that prevents long time teachers from being let go?

Does the U of Chicago Lab school kick out kids who are disruptive, assault other students or vandalize the school? In public schools these kids are kept in school or just moved around.

Obama probably likes the school because the teachers are good and the school is safe. So what is he doing to improve the public schools to make them safe and to kick out bad teachers? If nothing, then that is hypocrisy.
9.11.2008 2:13pm
Sarcastro (www):
[

I love the fact that vouchers will take money away from government schools, bureaucrats and union teachers.

(anecdotal) case and point re: voucher supporters being hostile to the public school system in general, while not proposing to end it.]
9.11.2008 2:15pm
Lily (mail):

Are you willing to write a check for $20K for every kid in America?

Hey, guess what? That's an overestimate. My kid's tuition is approximately $12K / year, and the school is not funded by any other outside sources -- fully tuition supported.

Bring the private sector in, and we may see efficiencies. My neighbor, a school teacher, and former business women, talks often of the waste she sees in the spending in her school. She tells stories that would make you sick. It's a travesty. Schools are not fiscally efficient because they don't have to be. When they run out of money, they just ask for an increase in the tax rates (mil levys?), or a new bond issuance. All the while crying, "its for the children". But never trying hard to be responsible with the taxpayers money.

So, one benefit of increased choice may be lower overall costs to the taxpayers.

I am fully supporting school choice.
9.11.2008 2:15pm
Toby:
When I see so much emotional ink squirted into the water, I look around to see where the cuttlefish is really swimming.....

Only one theory makes sense.

Well educated, self reliant, productive citizens are anathema to the Democratic party. It is inumbent on all citizens to get with the plan of produxing fewer of them. The well to do, who by their success and ambition, have demonstrated a familial tendency toward self reliance and productivity thereby have to work harder to produce proper minions of the state, and so therefore have a special responsiblity to send their kids to the worst, most underperforming schools. For these reasons, loyal Democrats feel particular pain when their leaders do not go along.

This may not be the exact theory in use, but would the practices and arguments of the ant-voucgher, pro-failing-public-school crowd be any different if it were?

Charity begins at home. I commend the Obama's for doing what is necessary to raise a new generation of well educated, self reliant, and productive citizens. I look forward to the day when he welcomes all into an oportunity society,
9.11.2008 2:21pm
Virginia Parent:
Why is the DC school system "notoriously bad?" It's not money because only New York and New Jersey spend more per pupil than DC. Is it the administrators? Then fire them and get a whole new set. Are the DC teachers worse than say the one in the Oakton VA system?
Oakton's schools are part of the Fairfax County Public School System, which is generally recognized as one of the best large public school systems in the U.S. (at approx. 165,000 students; over 5x the size of D.C. Public Schools). My kids are currently the beneficiaries of a FCPS education, and our choice of residence was in large part the result of school quality. Guess that makes me a bad person, but that's another story.

There has been a lot of cogitation over the years in places like the Washington Post about why FCPS, and the equally good Montgomery County MD schools, simply blow away D.C. public schools. It's a touchy subject because inevitably the "race card" ends up getting invoked whenever one starts comparing the systems, even though the student populations in Fairfax and Montgomery are over 40% non-white. It is, however, undisputed that Fairfax and Montgomery are much wealthier by median income than D.C., and the gap is even greater when you compare median incomes of public school families (since the children of upper-income D.C. are vastly underrepresented in the public system). But Fairfax and Montgomery spend less public money per pupil and get a higher return on investment by any measure. Why? Here are a few possibilities:

1. The "we give a damn" factor. Demographically, public school parents in the suburbs are much more highly educated than public school parents in D.C., and perhaps naturally place more value on education. This translates into (a) parents who push their kids to do the homework, attend class, and do their best, as well as demand that there be lots of AP and IB courses and good extracurriculars available; (b) more advocacy for the kids right down to the classroom level - from personal experience, FCPS parents will practially riot if they think a specific teacher or administrator is screwing up, and aren't shy about making direct complaints to high-level administrators and elected Board of Ed members; (c) some percentage of these parents are virtually "single issue voters" on education and aren't shy about making local elected officials pay at the polls if they believe they're not getting the best for their kids. So elected official accountability is higher.

2. The "we have better teachers" factor. At least partly as a result of #1, the quality of teachers and administrators is higher in Fairfax and Montgomery. The really bad teachers tend to get weeded out over time, and the school systems' outstanding reputation tends to attract better teacher recruits. This positive-feedback system tends to keep the suburban systems on the top of the teacher quality pyramid. In contrast, educators willing to accept jobs in inner-city schools may not have as good credentials, or themselves may be products of inferior inner-city systems. They also have stronger union protection in D.C., making it harder to weed out underperformers. I know personally of one clearly mediocre FCPS educator who took early retirement (was basically pushed out by school administration) and went to work in D.C., where she's now apparently viewed as a superstar.

3. The "general student demographics" factor. While some parts of Fairfax and Montgomery have poverty, gang issues, large immigrant populations, etc., the majority of kids in these systems have stable home lives, get enough food and sleep, and don't have to worry about surviving "the street" in the way many D.C. students do. It's harder to do your best in school when you're worried about whether the homeboys are looking to gun you down after hours.

4. The "wealth skews funding" factor: The statistics on money spent per pupil only count public funding, and thus may be misleading. There's actually a lot of "underground" money that gets devoted to public education in Fairfax and Montgomery that simply isn't available in D.C. For example, in Fairfax even middle school kids are required to provide their own scientific calculators and use computers for homework (the schools provide access for the fairly small percentage who cannot afford to buy calculators, etc.); in D.C. the schools either have to provide this equipment or have their kids do without. And the suburbs get away with charging a host of user fees that don't exist in D.C. Suburban kids get dinged for art supply fees, lab fees, band fees, field trip fees, athletic fees, and various parent PTA and "booster club" fees and fundraisers that plow most of the money back into programs -- sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for one school. In Montgomery, for example, there is currently a controversy about "textbook fees" - kids are being charged book use fees. But unlike D.C., there's no shortage of textbooks for the kids in Montgomery.

Just a few of many possible reasons.
9.11.2008 2:23pm
Eric (mail) (www):

case and point re: voucher supporters being hostile to the public school system in general, while not proposing to end it.

Were you reading for comprehension? I don't support the existence of a government school system that provides education for the vast majority of all children. I support a government school system that addresses those on the margin that cannot get educated any other way. Period.
9.11.2008 2:24pm
Sarcastro (www):
Toby hits the nail right on the head! People (Liberals) who don't like vouchers do so only because they hate education! It's the only logical explanation!
9.11.2008 2:28pm
Fallon:
I also went to public schools in Rockford, Illinois until I went to college but, unfortunately, not Yale.

The Rockford Public School system is an interesting study in inequalities that have existed within some large school districts in the not so distant past. In the 70's one got a much different education if they lived on the far East side of Rockford and went to say... Guilford High School, than someone who may have lived in the inner city or West side of Rockford (across the river) and attended say... Auburn High School.

Within the same district, there was a spectrum of unequal educational experiences based on your neighborhood's income level. For instance, inner city schools received used books (ironically from the other schools in the district) and the more affluent area schools received new books every few years. I know this because my mother taught in the inner city at this time.

A lawsuit meant to stop the inequalities actually bankrupted the system. Private schools popped up right and left and many people of various means, including teacher's families, either moved out of the district or enrolled their children in private schools. I would love to see someone write about The Rockford Public School system with an unbiased but critical eye. I would not be able set aside my disdain for the past Rockford School Boards for their mistreatment of my fellow students (and teachers) to give it fair treatment.

Sorry, for the tangent. I was just taken aback that Prof. Lindgren attended the same schools.
9.11.2008 2:30pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric yeah, looke like I shot from the hip on that one. A reread of you post does indicate you were proposing to end it. Sorry.]
9.11.2008 2:33pm
Mark Amerman (mail):
The virtue of vouchers is the potential for changing how the system
works; it has precious little to do with sending children to elite
private schools.

Look, we have a certain number of kids, we have a certain number of
physical schools, and we have a certain number of teachers. The starting
point of any change is what we already have. And what we already
have is almost entirely public schools and public school teachers.

Therefore, to be meaningful, vouchers have to be about changing
the behavior of public schools.

How?

We give the parents as much choice as practical about which public
schools their children attend. We increase the number of choices
by increasing the number of physical schools and decreasing the
size of their student bodies. When there's no money available
to build new facilities we take large existing schools and divide
them in place, so there might be say three schools sharing the
same buildings.

We slightly expand capacity so that within a given district there
will always be a certain number of schools that are significantly
less than full. At periodic, set intervals we shut down the least
popular school, firing it's principle and teachers, and, within the
same physical facility, open a new school, with new people running it.

Every student within a state within the public system should have
a certain amount of money attached to him or her and when that student
moves that money should go to the new school. No school within
the voucher system should be allowed to be charge anything beyond
that amount. No school receiving public money should be allowed to
select which students they accept. Naturally some schools will be
popular and have far more students seeking entry than they can
possibly accept. Beyond a preference for students who are already
in the school, who actually gets in should be determined by lottery.

Beyond a small set of fundamental rules, such as how much money
goes with a child and the prohibition on selecting students, the
schools should be allowed and even encouraged to be different,
including differences in what they teach (beyond a core set of
subjects) and in how they are internally organized, and in how
they handle student misbehavior.

Students within a state should have the option of choosing any
school in the state. But if they're outside the school busing
routes then it's the parent's responsibility to get the child
the child to that school.

At the end of the day, after such a reorganization, we end up
with the same set of students, basically the same set of teachers,
and pretty much the same set of buildings. Despite this, the
number of well-educated children and the degree to which they
are well-educated, should slowly, and then later dramatically,
increase.

They virtues of such a reorganization are several, and some
of them seem to be hard for some people to understand,
but one at least is pretty simple.

It puts far more power in the hands of parents.

And this is a good thing because parents, on average, care
far more about their children than teachers and principles
do.

People are selfish. That's reality. Saints are few and
far between. Take ten people and you know, beyond any doubt,
that the self-interested are running the show.

Teachers want high relative income and high relative status
and they don't want to work hard. So does almost everyone
else.

Children cannot represent their interests because they are
immature and short-sighted. Parents, although imperfect,
are by far the closest thing we have to a proxy for the
interests of children.

Vouchers allow parents, albeit indirectly, to hire and fire
teachers and to vote on and define who are the good teachers
and who are the bad and perhaps just as importantly to
define what systems work and what systems don't.

Vouchers can put good education back on the table. They
have the potential, if done right, to give voice to the
needs of the children.
9.11.2008 2:34pm
Aultimer:

Toby:

Only one theory makes sense.

Well educated, self reliant, productive citizens are anathema to the Democratic party.


There is the far-fetched theory that Dems believe that:
1) the shortcomings of public education can be best solved with more money (for silly things like attracting better teachers and providing better tools) and
2) "school choice" will leave public schools with less money.

Personally, I think the problems are legion and resistant to the money cure, so I live where schools are relatively poor, send my kids to expensive private schools, and thank goodness that I at least get bus service for my property tax dollars.
9.11.2008 2:37pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Full disclosure: I am a product of a government school from 5th grade to graduation from high school. Kindergarten wasn't mandatory until the year after I entered elementary school. I went to grades 1 - 4 at a private school. I remember that school much more fondly than the government schools I attended after that. Further, I went to a very good government school, by the standards set for such things. So, that's full disclosure on that front.

For years after, I put a lot of thought and effort into how to make our government school system better(could also be thought of as education welfare or socialism, the way it is currently set up. It's essentially a single provider system with the opportunity to opt out). I finally reached the conclusion that it couldn't be made better, that the best that could happen is to hold the line and not have it get worse. It is, after all, an enormous social program and bureaucracy, and there is ample evidence that such things cannot be "made better".

Not only that, but I came to the conclusion that supporting a massive government school system for 90% plus of the children in the country was in direct opposition to my small government, anti-socialism and anti-welfare values. So, over the years I reached the conclusion that I oppose a government funded and managed school system, except for the margins. A "safety net", in other words.

Now, I'm an incrementalist on this, and have no issue with a first step that starves an offensive, troubled, incompetent bureaucracy by giving parents vouchers and allowing them to choose where the money is spent.
9.11.2008 2:39pm
Sarcastro (www):
[A commodity that benefits and shapes society vastly more than it benefits the actual purchaser does not strikes me as the best of candidates for a free market aproach]
9.11.2008 2:40pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Thanks Sarcastro!
9.11.2008 2:40pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Sarcastro:
A commodity that benefits and shapes society vastly more than it benefits the actual purchaser does not strikes me as the best of candidates for a free market aproach


That's a debate worth having. The fact that Barack and Michele Obama opt out of the government school system is an issue. Why? Simple, they favor continuing to compel, through financial impact, the vast majority of parents in this country to send their children to government schools that they will not send theirs to. This is hypocritical, in my eyes.

It's also amusing to see the left, who nearly always trash "the rich" for buying things that "the poor" can't buy twist, turn and go through incredible gymnastics to try and support Obama on this. I love it when "the left" is defending spending money to buy privilege and "the right" is defending egalitarianism. Such delicious irony.
9.11.2008 2:45pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Good private schools like the U of C lab schools, cost $20K a year. Are you willing to write a check for $20K for every kid in America?"

There certainly are schools that charge that much, but there are many that don't. Many Catholic schools with a full time non-clerical staff charge less than $8,000. At the same time, many districts spend more than $8,000 per public school student.

We could probably find the highest and lowest tuition in a private school. Then we could argue that 1) the highest will have to be the amount of the voucher, or 2) the lowest will be the amount of the voucher.
9.11.2008 2:46pm
Smokey:
...why does Ms. Loh consider it a bad thing for the McCains to be generous with charitable donations to private schools?
trade and anon responds:
"Is it really that difficult to see why making schools for rich kids even nicer might not be the worthiest use of one's charitable dollars?"
That's exactly what a messiah-socialist-dictator-empty suit worshiper would answer -- avoiding the fact that the empty suit is doing the same thing [minus the 'charity' part, of course; 0 pays for tuition, nothing more].

If someone actually wanted to to demonstrate the "worthiest" way to spend charitable [as opposed to coerced taxpayer] dollars, then he should just dig deep into his own pocket, and show the rest of us hoi polloi how it's done by the messiah's enlightened -- instead of giving instruction to other folks on how and where they are expected to give to charity according to liberal doctrine.

Instead, the social engineers presume to instruct other folks on how we are to spend our charitable dollars -- avoiding the fact that liberals are woefully lacking in providing voluntarily charitable contributions out of their own tightwad, stingy pockets.
9.11.2008 2:47pm
holdfast (mail):
"Do you really want to build up the Catholic schools at the expense of the public schools."

-As a lapsed Jew, I say - if they can get the job done, then hell yeah!

Public educations in most big cities is a disaster of a giant black hole for money. The cost/student is often very high, the results suck AND the teachers are poorly paid. Everyone is a loser. On moral grounds alone, any parent should be able to demand a voucher for the cost of a child's education if the forego the morass of a public system, though practically this would create a massive private school bubble.
9.11.2008 2:48pm
Eric (mail) (www):
P.S. if you have more demand for schools owned and managed by other than the government, you will have more of those schools. As the supply and demand changes, so will things like cost and quality. The arguments that many are making don't take this into account.
9.11.2008 2:49pm
pauldom:
SG:

I don't think that "Liberals hate vouchers because they love teacher unions and hate kids.", but I do think they love the teacher's unions more than they love kids.

I am completely floored by this statement--do you honestly think something this asinine? Really?

For all the bloviating about waste, unions protecting incompetents, teachers making $60,000 plus, cushy schedules and comfy retirement pensions . . . maybe once, maybe somewhere, but certainly not MOST public schools and certainly not now.
9.11.2008 2:51pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Last thought for the moment. The term "public school" is a very poor one. As is the term "private school", for that matter. It's fairly 1984 to refer to a government social program as a "public school". It's a government owned, managed and funded school. Or do you think of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as "public companies" now that the government nationalized them?
9.11.2008 2:53pm
Eric (mail) (www):
SG:
For all the bloviating about waste, unions protecting incompetents, teachers making $60,000 plus, cushy schedules and comfy retirement pensions . . . maybe once, maybe somewhere, but certainly not MOST public schools and certainly not now.


Evidence please? I see teachers working very comfy schedules, with very nice benefits packages. My evidence, gathered by observation, is fairly good that teachers and administrators in government schools are in a pretty comfy situation. Oh yeah, the waste thing. I could write 10,000 words on that easily, with plenty of good evidence. And I could show that it was MOST government schools that were wasting money and resources.

So, give me evidence for your claim.
9.11.2008 2:56pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric agreed re: irony, though ifo ne takes a size-of-government view of the parties, the positions become consistant.

A politician can not like a system, but disagree with a certain reform of it without being overly hypocritical. I have no doubt Obama has some plans for education reform]
9.11.2008 3:00pm
SG:
pauldom,

Yes, I do believe it. Many big-city school districts are an acknowldeged failure. The resistance to letting the kids escape from those failing schools comes from the teachers unions.

Note, I am not talking about a universal voucher program here - that's a (somewhat) different debate. I'm talking specifically about providing an option to poor kids trapped in failing urban schools (schools that typically have high $/pupil expenditures by the way). Democrats have chosen their side in that fight, and it's the side of the teacher's unions. That's the basic fact. You tell me how else to interpret that.
9.11.2008 3:01pm
one of many:
Milhouse asks,

what does "all the education they need" mean?

Well in context, it means whatever the "believer" feels children need in its entirety. I cannot be more specific because different people have different conceptions of what children need for an education, and the usage is that each parent makes a choice based upon their perception of the school system.

One of the problems with this particular thread is that Obama is hard to pin down on what exactly he believes about public schools. He believes there is need for reform, I am sure of that much so I would say he probably does not believe public schools provide all the education children need. He appears to more against vouchers than for them, but that doesn't tell me enough to know his reasons for being against them, there is some indication that he is against them because it will make reforming public education harder. He is in a tough spot on education, he needed the support of teachers unions to win the primary and probably still needs it for the election but he also needs votes from parents who are upset about the status quo. I suspect if elected he intends to attempt to make significant changes to education but I cannot say what direction those changes will take or how much effort he will put into the attempt because he has been so cagey about releasing details on education.
9.11.2008 3:02pm
ejo:
honestly think that? how could you not think that. obama, when an organizer, state senator and Annenberg Challenge administrator, had every opportunity to do something/anything about public schools and their disgraceful track record in Chicago. he did nothing. therein lies the hypocrisy. it has nothing to do with sending his own kids to a private school-given Chicago public schools, that is just rational. given that he lauds public education, expects lessers to have their kids in public schools and didn't give a damn about how those schools are failing their charges when he had some ability to change things, I can't see how one could rationally conclude something other than hypocrisy.
9.11.2008 3:03pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Sarcastro, if government schools are not only great for all kids, but really crucial to the health and security of our country, then Obama should really be sending his kids to government schools.

Frankly, the positions of "the left" and "the right" in this debate really aren't consistent. Especially "the left". Or, do you think that they will favor people with the means being able to avoid their single payer, single provider healthcare system? I look to Canada for the answer. On the other hand, "the right" is arguing for egalitarianism and equal outcomes, which are definitely positions that "the left" takes. Deliciously ironic and reasonable evidence that these folks are not looking at how to improve things. Instead, the evidence indicates that they are seeking to use any argument, even one counter to their professed principles, to defend their pet program.
9.11.2008 3:06pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
If they are close in quality, I would lean toward public schools.

I'm not a fan of government curricula. Too much sex, drugs, rock &roll, and stories about victims of color.

Prefer a bit of the Trivium and the Quadrivium, actual history, and good Lit.

Want my kids to be able to read, write, compute, imply, infer, and all that hard stuff.

While I could celebrate the reduced competition that my children will face from the voluntarily mentally retarded graduates of such institutions, I'm not that cruel. Besides the enhanced criminal tendencies of relativistly educated Government School students mean that I have to spend more on weaponry then otherwise.

Socialist production of education like socialist production of steel tends towards high cost and low quality.
9.11.2008 3:08pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The schools with the best kids have had the best parents: modeling reading and intellectual curiosity, taking an interest in how well the kids are doing, prodding them to excel. Vouchers will not help kids whose parents don't care.
Funny, but when Democrats/teachers unions are arguing for more education spending, they never make the argument that it doesn't really matter whether they receive it because it won't help kids with unmotivated parents.
9.11.2008 3:08pm
Sarcastro (www):
The only educational reform that exists is vouchers! And teachers unions are against them. So is Obama.

In general, being on the same side of an issue as someone else PROVES you are at that person's beck and call. Thus, Obama is a lapdog of the teacher's union. He can have no other motivation to oppose vouchers.

Obama has no plans to reform education at all, because as a liberal, he hates smart people while at the same time being a total elitist!

Obama didn't try to reform schools in Chicago, focusing instead on asbestos. Well, I guess now he can at least live in an asbestos-free house without fearing charges of hypocrisy.
9.11.2008 3:09pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric no one argues public schools are good. The question here is the means of reform.]
9.11.2008 3:11pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Shrugs, in my eyes favoring the retention of the current government funded, owned and managed school system is a socialist approach to education. Just like the Soviet Commissars, Obama wants a socialist approach for everyone. Except him. That's exactly what it looks like to me Sarcastro. That makes it just as hypocritical as the Soviet Commissars back in the day.
9.11.2008 3:12pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
I agree with everybody.
9.11.2008 3:12pm
Eric (mail) (www):
You might say that Obama's attempt to reform government schools in Chicago is fairly similar to the many and varied attempts of the generations of Soviet Commissars to attempt to reform their creaky, failing socialist bureaucracies.
9.11.2008 3:13pm
Eric (mail) (www):
no one argues public schools are good. The question here is the means of reform.


Yep, "the left" is arguing for incremental, conservative change in order to reform something broken and failing. "The right" is arguing for somewhat more dramatic, a bit more liberal, change in order to reform something broken and failing. Another delicious irony for me, who is not part of either major paradigm.

Since I consider it to be an 80% failure, I argue to abolish and start over.
9.11.2008 3:18pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Oh come on Eric! Don't drop the S bomb! We were having a reasoned conversation, too.

To a partisan, the other side always looks like some autocratic regime.

Again, Obama isn't for keeping the current broken system, he just isn't for this one method of fixing it. So no Soviet paralells I can see.]
9.11.2008 3:21pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Government funded, owned and managed doesn't equal socialist? Really?
9.11.2008 3:23pm
SG:
What is "the left"'s reform suggestion? All I've ever heard has been more money, but more money's been tried and found lacking. Perhaps it's time to try something different?

I'll throw something out there...How about a cash bonus paid to parents if their kid gets good grades (passes some objective test) and doesn't have any discipline issues. Have some sliding scale on grades (but not for discipline): Say $500/$250/$100 per kid per semester. So if you've got 3 kids in school and they're good kids getting A's, the parent gets an extra $3000.
9.11.2008 3:23pm
Mad Max:
For all the bloviating about waste, unions protecting incompetents, teachers making $60,000 plus, cushy schedules and comfy retirement pensions . . . maybe once, maybe somewhere, but certainly not MOST public schools and certainly not now.

In northern Virginia, right now!

According to the Virginia DOE, Arlington County avg teacher salary for FY07 is $64,447, Fairfax County $60,593, Loudon County $60,476, Alexandria City $65,202, Falls Church City $61,887.
9.11.2008 3:25pm
Eric (mail) (www):
We're still having a reasoned discussion. But now you have to answer why our current government school system, mostly federalized these days, is not socialist. I'm all ears.

The reason you don't want me calling it socialist is because we both know that the word carries enormous emotional freight with it. We don't want the average American, who likes free markets and hates socialist systems, to realize that their kids are being educated in a socialist system. That's the position I take. Show me I'm wrong.
9.11.2008 3:25pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric I agree the system is pretty bad. I dunno about 80%, but it is broken. Kicked me out for having bad handwriting (dysgraphia they called it). But education is pretty important, and disrupting it's continuity is serious business.

Plus you have magnate programs and Montessori and other glimmers of hope.

Though I've always been a fan if incremental change in whatever system]
9.11.2008 3:26pm
James Lindgren (mail):
LM,

Most of my threads are set to close automatically after 1 day.

I have no objection to carrying over discussions, so long as they are respectful and not too repetitive.
9.11.2008 3:28pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Sarcastro:
Kicked me out for having bad handwriting (dysgraphia they called it).

I hold my pen differently than other people do. So does my girlfriend, actually. I had teachers in 5th and 6th grade try really hard to break me of that and get me to hold it "right". Funny, I could read and write at the 95th percentile, but I was doing it "wrong". In my private elementary school from grade 1 to 4 they did not worry about how I held my pen. Just one of the many things I find broken. It hasn't gotten better.
9.11.2008 3:30pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric mine got lots better after about a year of physical therapy. But taht was once I was in Private school. The PS system said I had to go to a school for handicapped if I was going to stay public.]
9.11.2008 3:34pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Sarcastro, usually I prefer incremental change too. Revolutionary change is usually incredibly painful for a lot of people. That said, I think the government school system is so broken that designing an entirely new approach, one that has the best of government (standards, welfare at the margins, that sort of thing) and the best of the free market (innovation, profit motive, supply and demand, that sort of thing) will mean a better opportunity (and outcome) for a much larger percentage of the children in this country.
9.11.2008 3:36pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric that would be awesome, but seems a bit optimistic to me. Plus we're back to how useful market based approaches to learning will be.

One of the problems I foresee with a free choice system is ideological balkanization, much like we see with cable news these days. Liberals go to liberal schools, conservatives to conservative ones, libertarians to etc etc.]
9.11.2008 3:40pm
Eric (mail) (www):
I don't know why I hold my pen differently. I tried, many times, to hold it like "normal people" do. It's painful. So, I stopped. I can write just fine. Government teachers didn't have the basic imagination to break the rules and not care how I held my pen. Why? How many kids have been abused this way? How many more do you propose should be? How will reform address this? Sorry, but that isn't very liberal, although it is pretty "Liberal".
9.11.2008 3:40pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Sarcastro:
One of the problems I foresee with a free choice system is ideological balkanization, much like we see with cable news these days. Liberals go to liberal schools, conservatives to conservative ones, libertarians to ...


So what?
9.11.2008 3:42pm
Hoosier:
Eric and Sacastro--Wow. I thought I was alone in this malady. I was public-schooled until college. And no one was ever able to change my grip on pen and pencil.

In the 1980s, I noticed that Reagan held a pen exactly the same way I do: Between thumb and second finger, with first finger jumst resting on the pen barrell, and really not contributing much to endeavor.

Love Reagan or hate him--I'm ambivalent--this led me to think that perhaps my failrue to hold the pen "correctly" might not hamper me in future life quite as much as Mrs. Knackenhorst told me when I was 9.
9.11.2008 3:44pm
Eric (mail) (www):
that would be awesome, but seems a bit optimistic to me.


Well, we have tried your approach for decades now. Things are worse, not better. Let's try my approach for one decade. That's all I ask. We can't be any worse off, can we?
9.11.2008 3:45pm
Hoosier:
Oh, by the way, I'm not dyslexic. Just impatient, so I don't proofread my posts very often.
9.11.2008 3:45pm
Federal Dog:
"If Michelle Obama rode the UC shuttle to work, we wouldn't be bashing her for not taking the CTA. If Barack had a UC doctor give him a physical, we would not be berating him for not going to County Hospital."

If they were fighting policies that would enable others who are less affluent to seek out amenities that they enjoy, people might well criticize the double standard.
9.11.2008 3:46pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric try revolution for a decade? Yeesh. I'll likely be able to send my kids to private school, so I'll be fine.

Tell you what - how about we try just getting rid of the teacher's union first and see how that goes?]
9.11.2008 3:48pm
David Schraub (mail) (www):
"a bit cliquish and very left wing." Well, the latter part at least should have been excellent prep for Carleton!
9.11.2008 3:52pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Hoosier, my GF and I both hold our pen/pencil with our thumb, index and middle finger on the barrel and the barrel resting on the ring finger. We both have a permanent callus from that on our right ring finger. We both had exactly the same government teacher experience.

It was a fairly traumatic experience for both of us (and clearly for you and Sarcastro, too). We didn't discover another person that holds their pen the same way until we met each other. It was so traumatic that all of us tended to hide it, I suspect. It's abuse. It's wrong. It's a huge indictment of the government school system, in my eyes.

The other huge indictment is all the attempts at incremental reform that have made things worse, have failed miserably, to accomplish anything to stop the decline of our education system. The fact that Obama, a "school reformer", sends his kids to a privately owned school after all his reform efforts, is an implicit admission of the failure of government schools. And hypocrisy if he doesn't say so publicly.
9.11.2008 3:53pm
Opher Banarie (mail) (www):

Do you really want to build up the Catholic schools at the expense of the public schools.

If the difference is that kids actually get educated rather than warehoused for 12 years, yes!
9.11.2008 3:57pm
Chester White (mail):
I lived in Hyde Park from 1994-2001. My wife is a professor at the U of Chicago (School motto: "Where Fun Comes To Die"; I still have the T-shirt). Obama was my State Senator. I lived about 10 blocks from the infamous Kenwood mansion bought with the help of multi-millionaire slumlord Antonin "Tony" Rezko.

That column of Sandra Tsing Loh has some real crapola in it.

"Let us just say that if Mr. and Mrs. Obama — a dynamic, Harvard-educated couple — had chosen public over private school, they could have lifted up not just their one local public school, but a family of schools. First, given the social pressure (or the social persuasion of wanting to belong to the cool club), more educated, affluent families would tip back into the public school fold. And second, the presence of educated type-A parents with too much time on their hands ensures that schools are held, daily, to high standards."

I'm sorry, but that is BS. Loh is completely wrong. One or two extra upper-middle families are not going to accomplish squat there. Any Hyde Park/Kenwood parent who can afford to send kids to a private school does so. Sending your kid to a public school in that part of Chicago if you have any alternative is tantamount to child abuse. The schools SUCK.

I notice she closed her comments pretty quick.

As for the Lab School at the University of Chicago, I can see it both ways. First of all, since Barack taught in the Law School and Michelle is I think technically on leave, his kids go for half-tuition. So it's merely pretty expensive rather than insanely expensive. There is also little alternative, except for Catholic schools and maybe a whacked-out Montessori School. That's why just about all the University people with kids live in the suburbs.

Yes, the Lab School is utterly bathed in that John Dewey-kumbaya-lefty-"boys and girls are exactly identical in all ways" nonsense. When our son was 2 or 3, we applied for the preschool. He was turned down because he didn't know how to "walk like a bear" (on all fours with his rump in the air) on command. Stupidest damn thing I have ever heard. The places is infested with fairly dim staff members as far as I can see. The admissions office was certainly headed by a dope.

The Lab School is HIGHLY female-centric. The video they show prospective parents reveals many scenes of kids sitting in a circle, talking, talking, talking, singing. No sign of little boys climbing, wrestling, running, manipulating objects.

I would never send a boy there. No freakin' way. A girl, I could halfway see it, but not for a daughter of mine.
9.11.2008 3:57pm
heleneedwards (mail):
Ms. Loh should get some kind of award for brainwashing thoroughness. If anyone's going to appreciate the absolute necessity of keeping your kids out of the public schools, it would be black people themselves.
9.11.2008 3:58pm
Dave N (mail):
Out of curiosity, I decided to find out what schools the Obama children or the Palin children would actually attend if they were sent to D.C. public schools.

The District of Columbia Public Schools website has a very handy link for parents to find the closest schools.

When I put in White House address (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.), the D.C. website told me that the zoned schools are:

Stevens Elementary School
Francis Junior High
Wilson High School

However, the website also told me that Stevens Elementary and Francis Junior High are being merged into the Francis-Stevens Education Center.

When I put in the Admiral's House address (1 Observatory Circle, N.W.), the D.C. website didn't like that address, so I substituted another on Observatory Circle, and told me that the zoned schools are:

Stoddert Elementary
Hardy Middle School
Wilson High School

I then turned to GreatSchools.net to see how these various schools rank.

On a 1-10 scale, Stevens Elementary School and Francis Junior High School both earned a 7. Wilson High School earned a 9.

Stoddert Elementary School and Hardy Middle School both earned a 10.

When I looked at schools in Wasillia, Alaska, the public elementary schools ranged from a 4 to a 9. The middle schools ranged from 4 to 7 and the high schools ranged from 5 to 7.

The University of Chicago Lab School is unranked by GreatSchools but gets highest marks from the parent/student reviews.

When, for comparison sake, I ran my own elementary, junior high, and high school schools, they received a 6, 10, and 8, respectively.

I guess my bottom line is that while D.C. public schools are bad in general, the D.C. public schools that the Obama children or the Palin children would attend aren't really that bad at all.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming and the debate over vouchers.
9.11.2008 3:59pm
Calderon:
That vouchers or some other program would increase "ideological balkinization" claims seems awfully far-fetched to me.

Are there secular, private schools now that push their political views as a means to attract students? I'm not aware of any, but maybe someone can fill me in. But if existing secular, private schools aren't doing that, what's the basis for claiming there will be greater "balkinization" under a program (whether vouchers or something else) that allows for greater choice?

Moreover, beyond private schools not selling themselves based on ideological leanings, I'd be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of parents are more interested in the highest quality of basic education than in ideological proclivities. Of those who do want their children to be indoctrinated, chances are they are already home-schooling, or sending their children to religious schools, or some kind of private school. So experimenting with choice for public schools seems unlikely to cause an increase in any "balkinization" that exists.
9.11.2008 4:05pm
Eric (mail) (www):
That vouchers or some other program would increase "ideological balkinization" claims seems awfully far-fetched to me.


This is another of those typical arguments from the left. I have yet to understand why, if it did happen, it would be a bad thing. Apparently diversity of thought and opinion is a bad thing.
9.11.2008 4:20pm
CB55 (mail):
Public school education is so yesterday. The last several presidents all received their higher education at private universities. Most of their cabinet heads never saw the insides of a public university except for speech making and ball games. The public records show that most congressmen and women and federal judges send their under age children to private schools, and some are home school. George Bush I and II both attended Phillips Academy. W went to Kinkaid School, a private Houston area school. Both went to Yale. One of W's daughters went to UT Austin and the other went to Yale. During the White House years, daughter Clinton went to Sidwell Friends School and is a Stanford graduate. Both W daughters attended private school early education.
9.11.2008 4:24pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric yeah et. al., I didn't say "ideological diversity" I said "ideological balkanization." The idea being everyone having a blinkered narrow point of view.

It seems to me there is demand for indoctrination in some subjects. It's part of a proper education to many that McCarthy was right and Communists are everywhere, for instance.

Home schooling is proof there is demand. And not everyone has the time to homeschool.

This is a pretty half-baked idea as of yet, though, and I fully admit it could be wrong. It's just my gut feeling re: human nature when considering the consequences of a privatized school world.

Maybe I just spend too much time on the internet.]. It's part of a proper education to many that McCarthy was right and Communists are everywhere, for instance.
9.11.2008 4:33pm
Nathan Hall (mail):
As usual, Democrats are more concerned with social engineering than children's success. This PTA Dem, and quite a few like her, think people should sacrifice their kids' welfare to her vision of equality for all. Who cares if nobody learns to read, as long as rich and poor get the same opportunities? She's drowning in the sea, and trying to drag down all the "islands" with her. I'm glad to see all the candidates seem to have made the right decisions for their own kids.
9.11.2008 4:35pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Sarcastro, I'm not sure I see the difference between diversity and balkanization. You do manage to use a lot of words that carry emotional freight. I could call you on them like you did me on socialism. That said, you still haven't explained to me why I shouldn't describe something that is owned, funded and managed by the government as socialist. Could you, please? Further, I don't really care if kids are "indoctrinated" into some ideology different than mine. I'm not scared of competing ideas (not saying you are, but it tends to sound like it on the surface). So, I really am not worried about this, even if it came to fruition.
9.11.2008 4:39pm
Dave N (mail):
Sarcastro,

You mentioned home schooling--and in my research about the schools the Obama or Palin children would attend, I discovered that Wasilla, Alaska has what they call "Correspondence Study School," which is apparently an online classroom so that parents can use the internet to home school their children using public school resources. This, of course, would be another option for Sarah Palin if she is elected Vice President, Greatschools.net gives this program (grades k-12) a 6.
9.11.2008 4:44pm
Nathan Hall (mail):
Sarcastro,

For what it's worth, I was homeschooled, and it had little to do with any ideological balkanization. A library closed when my mom was 16, and she bought all the books, having already decided she'd teach her kids at home. The public schools where we lived were bad, but the main reason we homeschooled was passion to get education right. So, I don't think you should regard the existence of homeschooling as evidence that there's a demand for indoctrination, unless you mean indoctrination in queer topics they don't really cover in some schools, like algebra or biology.

With the pervasiveness of modern media and the intense leftist propaganda found in universities, I think the availability of homeschooling and private education are necessary bulwarks against groupthink, rather than heralds of anarchy. Really, its astonishing to me that you could look at the state of education today and see the spectre of indoctrination, not in the public schools and colleges, but in parents' homes. Until very recently parents had more--not less--control over what their children were taught, and their empowerment did not harm our national discourse.
9.11.2008 4:45pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric I seriously don't mean to be inciting anything. I used indoctrination because Calderon did and it seemed apt.

Public schools are socialist. As are roads, the FDA, FTC and clean water acts. Shades of gray. I was ticked off at "Soviet." Or Communist but "C word" carried the wrong connotation.

The main difference between diversity and balkanization is tolerance. I'm not scared of people who disagree with me, I'm scared of a society where everyone is convinced those who disagree with them are evil. That's not the recipe for a healthy society.]
9.11.2008 4:46pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Nathan Hall I did not for a moment mean to imply that all who homeschool wish to indoctrinate their kids, only that some do.

There are certainly valid reasons to homeschool, and if you have the time and money I'm frankly envious of you and your child.]
9.11.2008 4:48pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Sarcastro, I suspect that not forcing children into socialist schools that enforce teaching a rigid and doctrinaire ideology (if you don't think so, you haven't read those textbooks through my eyes) will go a long way towards helping with tolerance. I think, in fact, that socialist schools create intolerance because none of us want to give up control over what our children are taught to someone of a different ideology.

If you like competing ideas you should be opposed to government schools.
9.11.2008 4:51pm
KWC (mail):
It's weird. I keep typing "volokh.com" in my browser but I keep ending up on this McCain-Palin campaign site!
9.11.2008 4:55pm
Eric (mail) (www):
By the way, our university system is very competitive and turns out good quality students. We are proud of that. We recognize the value of profit motive, supply and demand, etc. in our university system. Why don't we recognize those values in our children's system? Why so scared?

You would laugh if I suggested that the system for computers in the US be organized this way. Computers, software, etc are clearly a very, very important issue within our economy, society and nation. Just imagine the outcome ..... it would look a lot like the outcome of government schools, as a matter of fact ...
9.11.2008 4:55pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric I admit I haven't had much hands on experience in government schools, and also that I have read almost nothing through your eyes.

I do know my private school was tyrannical in it's liberalism.

I like competing ideas in the classroom, and I worry that private schools might lose that. You may have a wider variation of opinions, but that's useless if no one is willing to listen.]
9.11.2008 4:56pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
A good faith argument against vouchers is that they will not help the very people in the educational system that need help: Students without a pro-education environment at home. Even if vouchers are available, bad parents won't use them. I'll refer you to Freakonomics as the best layman's guide to the research on this. There are several other studies in various systems that show choice - be it vouchers, charter, or magnets - doesn't help the worst students.

In fact, if funding is pulled on a per-capita student basis, it actually disproportionately harms the worst students.

The bottom students get more teacher attention because they are placed in smaller classrooms systems - for both tutoring and to discourage disruptive behavior. They are also more likely to get free lunch, special ed services, and may even need to have school supplies purchased for them. In the aggregate it may cost an average of $6,000 to educate kids in a particular school system, but the lowest level kids might have direct spending approaching double that. The bright kids probably receive much less. So if we take the "average" and turn it over for school choice, the "smart kid subsidy" goes away and thing get worse for those left behind.

Vouchers and choice can't solve the heart of the problem.

On the other side, it seems that we as a society are throwing good money after bad. No matter how much money we throw at the poorest performing students, only a handful will take advantage of their expensive opportunity. It is depressing as a teacher to know that we are something like the 17th most important factor in predicting student success.

If that money is being largely wasted, it means that that money is not available for the harder working kids who might get way more benefit from that funding - so wouldn't prudence dictate in favor of vouchers so that the majority of kids can improve their education?

There is some merit to both sides. As a citizen, I'm concerned about the poorest students. As a parent, I want to say "Screw 'em! Let me send my kids to a better school that won't have the poorest students!"

On the voucher issue, it strikes me that if we do choose to issue vouchers - and I hope we will have come to that decision through analysis of the data and civil discussion, not partisan hackery) - that it will prove tremendously inflationary. A private school currently filling its seats and charging 12k a year would welcome government checks of 6k per student - and then raise tuition to 18k. Part of what makes so many private schools successful is keeping out the riff-raff.

I understand that many Catholic schools make the choice to keep tuition low to allow working class kids to attend, so they might philosophically be disinclined to raise tuition, but what if the other school start offering pay raises to steal the best Catholic school teachers?
9.11.2008 4:58pm
Sarcastro (www):
[Eric I wouldn't mind something like out current university system, where you get a large and somewhat varied state system that takes everyone and then private systems who take those who can pay and finagle acceptance.

Though that sounds a lot like the federal elementary system.]
9.11.2008 5:00pm
Dave N (mail):
By the way, out of curiosity, I also looked up the Obama home address (5046 Greenwood Avenue, Chicago) and checked out the schools his kids would attend if he sent them to public schools.

Reavis School (grades k-8) recieved a 1 from Greatschools.net. Kenwood High School earned 8. Based on those numbers alone, the Obamas would have been insane to send their kids to public school (at least through grade) when they could afford to do other3ise.
9.11.2008 5:06pm
Hoosier:
Regarding vouchers: Demanding that the public schools give you money to send your kids to private school is like demanding that the CTA give you cabfare.

Public schools would not be giving me money. It wouldn't be theirs at any point if I had a voucher.

And the CTA charges user fees. If I don't use it, I don't pay those fees.
9.11.2008 5:07pm
Nunzio:
The public schools in Chicago are better than they were 20 years ago, though they are not great. (We had a very good school superintendent here in the mid and late 1990s. But Mayor Daley ran him off and replaced him with a figurehead who, as it turns out coincidentally, is good friends with Obama).

Chicago, however, is not a poor school district by any stretch. I don't see why they need money from the federal government, but they get it anyway. The federal government should not give any money to Chicago, at least until Mayor Daley is gone (hopefully in prison where he belongs).

Regardless of people's views on vouchers (and count me skeptical), the idea to throw more federal money into school districts that aren't poor seems like bad policy.
9.11.2008 5:07pm
Lily (mail):

There are several other studies in various systems that show choice - be it vouchers, charter, or magnets - doesn't help the worst students

I suspect that there is no system where the 'worst' students will be truly helped. Vouchers / choice is good for students who want to try or parents to want to provide better education for their kids, but are stuck in a mediocre or worse school. I really believe that we need to end the public school monopoly.
9.11.2008 5:07pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
David,

I agree that it is quite ridiculous when teachers equate getting a pay raise to some direct benefit for the children.
9.11.2008 5:09pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

Public schools would not be giving me money. It wouldn't be theirs at any point if I had a voucher.

Your voucher comes out of their budget.

And the CTA charges user fees. If I don't use it, I don't pay those fees.

Only a fraction of the cost to operate the CTA comes from the farebox. The rest is from taxes on everybody, even those who do not use it or derive any sort of benefit from others using it, just like the public schools. Public transportation, like public schools, make your hometown a better place to live in.

But if it would make you feel better we could charge a small tuition for public schools.
9.11.2008 5:13pm
Hoosier:
Your voucher comes out of their budget.

No. It comes out of my paycheck.


Only a fraction of the cost to operate the CTA comes from the farebox.

Last year, that fraction was 562/1034. Which is certainly "a fraction." But the difference between "reference" and "sense" is, as Frege reminds us, an important part of the meaning of a word.

Public transportation, like public schools, make your hometown a better place to live in.

When Chicago's schools are a safe as their buses, I'll grant that point.
9.11.2008 5:23pm
Kent G. Budge (www):
I don't have a problem with the Obamas being good parents.

I do resent them insisting on policies that make it harder for [i]me[/i] to be a good parent.
9.11.2008 5:24pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Greatschools.net ranks neither Bronx Science nor Stuyvesant. To hell with them.

It did say what I knew about my local public high school: you'd better be in the top 10% or you're not going to get much of anything. I worry for my woefully-underachieving 8th-grader. Unless she starts doing her homework this year, she won't have a chance to follow in her Dad's footsteps, 4 wasted years at Harvard (2 as a pre-med), which led to a career as an often-unemployed software engineer while all the jobs go to Asia. But I am glad to know that I'm not sending them to public school merely out of poverty and laziness, but I'm making a social statement and starting a movement.
9.11.2008 5:28pm
Eric (mail) (www):
I like competing ideas in the classroom, and I worry that private schools might lose that.

Well, I like competing ideas in the classroom, too. So, show me a typical government owned high school that has a reasonably good idea marketplace.

In my experience (and I have a boy in high school right now) the marketplace of ideas is poor to bad in government schools.

I don't think your argument holds water dude.
9.11.2008 5:28pm
Eric (mail) (www):
I wouldn't mind something like out current university system, where you get a large and somewhat varied state system that takes everyone and then private systems who take those who can pay and finagle acceptance.

First, there are multiple levels of government universities, from low cost, low quality, to high cost, high quality. The higher the quality, the harder to get in. Like UC Berkley, for example, vs. a California junior college. Are you prepared to see government schools for juveniles run this way? Competitive entrance and all? Need to pay for tuition (that's a big part of the good outcome, if it costs you something, then you value it). Essentially, government schools today are a commons and we are witnessing the tragedy of the commons on a national scale right now.
9.11.2008 5:40pm
keypusher (mail):
"35% of the students in the school Obama's daughter goes to are 'of color.'"

But only 12% are black. You can look it up on greatschools.org.

It is a godsend to expensive private schools that Asians can be counted as being "of color."
9.11.2008 5:58pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Gee, so I guess they don't count as a minority ethnic group, since they're of some Asian ethnicity. Nice.
9.11.2008 6:01pm
Calderon:

I like competing ideas in the classroom, and I worry that private schools might lose that. You may have a wider variation of opinions, but that's useless if no one is willing to listen.]


But what's the basis for the worry? If there were evidence that existing secular private schools were becoming divided along ideological lines, that private schools were marketing themselves as liberal / conservative / libertarian, or that parents were picking school based on the school's perceived ideology, then I could understand the basis for the worry. I'm not aware of any of the happening, so concerns over balkinization seem unfounded.
9.11.2008 6:06pm
ejo:
actually, being Asian, aren't universities allowed to discriminate against them in admissions (all under the table, of course).
9.11.2008 6:06pm
CB55 (mail):
What some on the Right and Left do not get is that private school are allowed to cherry pick their students as to admission. The best schools for Public school education is based on your zip code --- more often than not the higher the house prices and income the better the schools per zip code. If you are among the working poor it is not likely that a tax voucher is going to get your child into schools like Phillips Academy or St Johns alone, but if you ( a school age child) are among the working poor and working class per zip code you must are at a disadvantage per public school education. All of my kids went to Marin County (CA) public schools - it is an area that enjoys both high income and pricey housing, we also have some of the best public schools in the nation. Working Class kids that live in the right zip code are at a bigger advantage than those who do not.
9.11.2008 6:08pm
ejo:
I would add, despite a recent political stunt by one of Obama's old cronies, James Meeks, that Chicago received more than the average amount of funding per student.
9.11.2008 6:09pm
Eric (mail) (www):
CB55:
What some on the Right and Left do not get is that private school are allowed to cherry pick their students as to admission.

So what?
9.11.2008 6:14pm
A.C.:
Are public schools so bad uniformly? I thought the vast majority were at least okay, and some were astonishingly good.

Most of what we argue about seems confined to a few problematic school systems. The big urban systems have two fundamental problems:

1) How to provide opportunities for upward mobility for people without money who do value work and education, and

2) What to do about people without money who do not value work and education, and who may do things that interfere with both.

These are two separate problems. Vouchers may be great for the first one. A lot of things may be great for the first one, including magnet schools and improving existing schools. It's fundamentally a nicer problem, because any of us can think of zillions of ways to get a good outcome. And we should be trying to get a good solution to this first problem.

But the second one is still there. Does anyone really think vouchers will fix it? This is the hard one.
9.11.2008 6:39pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Are public schools so bad uniformly? I thought the vast majority were at least okay, and some were astonishingly good.

Well, I have found the difference between suburban high schools today and when I was a teenager to be dramatically bad. Both in terms of the quality of the curriculum, text books, teachers and in terms of the quality outcome. Every indication I can find is that government owned schools, whether urban or suburban, are not as good as they were 1, 2, 3 generations ago.

Did you know that many suburban high schools circa 1900 taught their students greek, latin, german and french, calculus, biology, physics and chemistry? You can't possibly find a government school today where this is standard for all students. Source for this is Robert Heinlein's essay on the topic in "Expanded Universe".

Sorry, I think government schools are much worse today than they were 25 years ago. I think real evidence indicates that to be true as well. Unless you actually believe in NCLB?
9.11.2008 6:47pm
Eric (mail) (www):
What to do about people without money who do not value work and education, and who may do things that interfere with both.

You're right, vouchers will do nothing about this. So what? They already are lost in the current system. Are you suggesting that any reform must be perfect or we shouldn't undertake it?
9.11.2008 6:50pm
wfjag:
Dear Hoosier and Ace:

Off thread but worthy of note -- and I blame the two of your for this. 220 comments (some quite thought provoking) and not one of them from JBG. How did you manage?
9.11.2008 6:59pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Heh, I think Sarcastro and I helped out too. But you're right wfjag, this has been a pretty darn good discussion.
9.11.2008 7:01pm
Careless:

Hoosier, my GF and I both hold our pen/pencil with our thumb, index and middle finger on the barrel and the barrel resting on the ring finger. We both have a permanent callus from that on our right ring finger. We both had exactly the same government teacher experience.

Hey, people who hold a pen like I do! They took me out of class to have private handwriting lessons two or three times a week in second and third grades. Didn't stick, but it wasn't a bad experience.
9.11.2008 7:21pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Didn't stick, but it wasn't a bad experience.

Glad your experience wasn't bad. My GF and I had awful experiences. Now, the interesting thing is that, being a very clearly small, very small, group of people, we managed to find each other and establish a strong romantic relationship. Off topic, might be interesting to study that. In any case, think about the cost of your 2-3 times a week private lessons. Since it didn't take, what a waste. And, in any case, why did you really need it? Classic government school waste example. You're the fourth person on this discussion thread with such an experience. Yikes!
9.11.2008 7:32pm
Mark Field (mail):

Did you know that many suburban high schools circa 1900 taught their students greek, latin, german and french, calculus, biology, physics and chemistry? You can't possibly find a government school today where this is standard for all students.


This is misleading. In 1900, going to high school was very uncommon. My grandfather, for example, went no further than 8th grade, and he was born in 1907. The kids who attended high school in 1900 were the equivalent of those who attend college today.

Once high school did become common, courses like calculus became college level. My father graduated high school in the late 40s. For him, calculus was a college course. For me, in 1971, calculus was a high school senior honors course. My kids who graduated just a few years ago took calculus in 11th grade. Public schools are actually MORE demanding in many respects than ever before for the brightest students.

Where public schools are failing is in how they handle the poorer (financially and academically) students.
9.11.2008 7:34pm
Mark Field (mail):
Meant to add that subjects like biology and chemistry are FAR more complex today than they were in 1900. There's much more to learn. The fact that the course title was the same shouldn't blind us to the fact that students today learn much more than our ancestors did.
9.11.2008 7:36pm
Dave N (mail):
Dear Hoosier and Ace:

Off thread but worthy of note -- and I blame the two of your for this. 220 comments (some quite thought provoking) and not one of them from JBG. How did you manage?
You can toss me into the mix too. He has accused me of being a partisan troll, yet I performed the hat trick on this thread of defending both Obama's choice for his family and the D.C. public schools closest to the White House and the Admiral's House.
9.11.2008 7:40pm
Eric (mail) (www):
Mark, go read RAH's essay on education that I referenced. Read all of it. Please.
9.11.2008 7:41pm
Mark Field (mail):

Mark, go read RAH's essay on education that I referenced. Read all of it. Please.


Eric, I daresay I read that essay before you were born.
9.11.2008 7:46pm
Eric (mail) (www):
hmmmm, I daresay that seems unlikely since it was written after I was born.
9.11.2008 7:54pm
Lady on the Left:
I think the Obamas can send their kids wherever they want. I think Ms. Loh's frustration, though, is that she's one of the people who hopes that, one day, sending your kids to public school won't make them "pawns." The only reasonable inference from that term is that public schools are obviously inferior and that the only reason a well-off couple would send a kid there is for some ulterior motive, such as political purposes. Like Ms. Loh, I hope that, one day, public schools will be so good that people like the Obamas will send their kids to public school because they want to and no one will question their motive.

Having taught inner-city public education (I made 30K, I'm not sure where some of these other figures are coming from), it's my opinion that neither vouchers nor more money is the answer, although both of those options could help around the margins. The problem with schools like the Chicago Public Schools run much deeper than the educational system, which is only a reflection of the community.

Here's the real problem with vouchers: private schools will NOT accept all public school students. They will not. I had many, many students transfer into my public school class after being kicked out of their private schools. Private school teachers accept lower salaries in part because they don't want to deal with the public school kids; I had private school teachers tell me this ("I would never in a million years do what you do."). The kids that are bringing public schools down, so to speak--the ones the Obamas and others are seeking to avoid--have problems well beyond what public or private schools can deal with. They live in substandard housing, most have never seen a doctor, most have maybe one teenage parent at home. Many have witnessed violent crimes firsthand; almost all witness drug deals on a daily basis. Many are probably in need of serious therapy. I'm not offering a solution, just pointing out that the issues go way deeper than anything vouchers could possibly fix.
9.11.2008 8:31pm
Mark Field (mail):

hmmmm, I daresay that seems unlikely since it was written after I was born.


After I posted that, I realized it probably came across as condescending and obnoxious. I meant to hit the "wry and self-deprecating" key, but apparently my motor skills are lacking due to years of holding my pencil the wrong way.
9.11.2008 8:52pm
Pauldom:
Eric, my support for my claim (that most public schools are not wasteful and most teachers are not coddled &high paid) is no different &no better than yours--direct observation + talking with others. I concede that I may have arrived at the wrong conclusion re: what most public schools are like.

I can say that new teachers in my part of the country earn in the high $30,000 range despite the high cost of living. A nearby district recently has proposed building subsidized housing for the teachers because so many flee the profession and/or the area. (Though come to think about it, the fact that teachers flee to other states is proof that other states ARE doing better than mine, which weakens my claim.) (I don't support the subsidized housing, btw.)

I am willing to pay higher taxes to support public schools, whether or not my children are enrolled in them, because I believe public education is a public good (plus school quality affects property values and crime rates so it isn't all unselfish).

Were a voucher plan to be supported by higher taxes--so that public schools would not be starved further--I would support it. However, I have never heard of any voucher supporter who also does not want to do away with all or most public education. That makes me suspicious that vouchers are a trojan horse.
9.11.2008 10:14pm
Orson Buggeigh:
"Here's the real problem with vouchers: private schools will NOT accept all public school students. They will not. " Lady on the Left

Lady on the Left, that is not a bug, but it's a feature, in my opinion. Personally, I believe I got a good education in the public schools I attended, and it prepared me well for college.

I agree that it would be ideal if everyone got a good education at the public schools, and everyone wanted to send their children there. Unfortunately, neither point is likely to occur, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I think we ask too much of the public schools, well beyond simply educating young people. We now expect teachers to be part social worker, part mental health worker in many cases. Some children probably should not be in public schools, or at least in regular classes. Some children are not well served by their parents, who do NOT take the interest in seeing that their child performs, or gets the opportunities to learn. Some children are promoted for social reasons, but aren't performing at grade, and they fall farther behind with each passing year.

Parents do not all want the same thing for their children, though I think in general they do want what they believe is best for their children. But there is no uniform belief in what that 'best' is. Some people want religious content for their child's education, some parents want more attention to math and science, some parents want a great athletic program, some don't care as long as the school is close to their residence.

I think it is appropriate to allow parents to have options. Those should include public schools, supported by tax dollars, private schools, and home schooling. I am perfectly willing to allow some sort of vouchers or tax break for home schooling parents if that is needed. However, I think the final result needs to be an educated person who can pass a standard state exam showing that they have a high school education. This really isn't that revolutionary a concept. New York State had the Regents exams back 60 or 70 years ago. If you passed, you got your high school diploma. No pass, no diploma. The exam should be something that would cover the generally recognized basics, and would allow for home schooling or private schools which might have differing curricula - I would not expect a child to get questions regarding a specific religious doctrine in a state exam; I would also expect a public exam to recognize that religious beliefs may clash with secular ones. I.E. I would not expect to have a home schooled fundamentalist failed simply for refusing to answer or failing the question on evolutionary biology, but I would think that this lack of knowledge would be an appropriate reason for a state wildlife department to not hire them.

Personally, I think many of our public schools do well, and I have good friends who teach in them. I also believe in choices. If the Democrats can argue that a woman has a right to choose to control her body, I don't see why it is unreasonable for parents to exercise some control over the education of their minor children. I am sure this will not be a popular perspective, but there it is - and the Obamas seem to agree with me. They have chosen to send their children to the school they feel is best. In this case it is not a public school. Fair enough. But they should be willing to extend that same opportunity to middle and lower class families.
9.11.2008 10:16pm
Pauldom:
SG:
Democrats have chosen their side in that fight, and it's the side of the teacher's unions. That's the basic fact. You tell me how else to interpret that.

Well, I certainly wouldn't assume that Democrats love teacher's unions more than they love kids! I would assume that Democrats have good faith reasons for believing as they do, just as Republicans do.

Quite honestly, I think the horrible anti-competence, selfish teachers union that so many despise is a strawman, but that's not a subject for this thread.

(Sorry to post two messages in a row--I just can't keep up with you VCers.)
9.11.2008 10:20pm
LM (mail):
Eric:

What some on the Right and Left do not get is that private school are allowed to cherry pick their students as to admission.


So what?

Nothing, unless you think a decent k-12 education should be an entitlement in an affluent society. Letting the marketplace sort out kids guarantees the hardest to educate won't get educated at all. Like what's happening with health insurance.

I'm sure you know that the definition of "conservative" is "a liberal who's been mugged." Well, there's a growing group who will tell you a liberal is a conservative who's lost his health insurance. And when the public schools are dead and buried, which shouldn't be long now, that definition will have a new variation.

You can call wanting to give every kid a decent education "socialism" or anything else you want. And I can call the alternative Social Darwinism. Neither is helpful. The point is that both sides of debates like this are good at coming up with simplistic solutions. All it takes is ignoring or ridiculing half the problem.
9.11.2008 10:41pm
LM (mail):
Mark Field:

I meant to hit the "wry and self-deprecating" key, but apparently my motor skills are lacking due to years of holding my pencil the wrong way.

I tried to save a few bucks and bought a computer without that key. I've been paying for it ever since. Being a liberal I naturally think the solution to my problem is that the government should require every computer sold to have that key. Of course I'm also going to sue the manufacturer, the retailer and everyone who's ever taken me literally.
9.11.2008 10:50pm
Mark Field (mail):
One of the biggest difficulties faced by public schools is that they do have to take every student. A substantial part of the success of charter schools and private schools is based on their ability to screen students. Thus, one of the major issues facing us as a society is to decide (1) how much we're willing to pay to deal with those problem students; and (2) at what point, if any, we just give up.

One of my biggest objections to vouchers (and a one key reason why I see voucher plans as a Trojan Horse) is that they seem to me to take the good or average students out of public schools and leave them with the bottom. That's a terrible plan, and it's why any voucher system I'd support must require a lottery for admission.

There are other problems with public schools also, including a failure to fund them properly. But
9.11.2008 11:00pm
LM (mail):
Mark Field

There are other problems with public schools also, including a failure to fund them properly. But

... but that raises the dark secret that animates some, though I'd like to believe not most, on one side of the debate. And it can be summed up variously as, "Grover Nordquist," "Prop 13" and "If you can't beat 'Brown,' re-frame the question."
9.11.2008 11:58pm
Mark Field (mail):

... but that raises the dark secret that animates some, though I'd like to believe not most, on one side of the debate. And it can be summed up variously as, "Grover Nordquist," "Prop 13" and "If you can't beat 'Brown,' re-frame the question."


That's exactly right.
9.12.2008 12:21am
Hoosier:
"Dave N:
Dear Hoosier and Ace:

Off thread but worthy of note -- and I blame the two of your for this. 220 comments (some quite thought provoking) and not one of them from JBG. How did you manage?"

Can't talk about that now. Have to get rid of the body.
9.12.2008 12:26am