Megan McArdle has stirred up quite a storm on this topic.Here, here, and here. Kevin Drum responds. Ezra Klein disagrees with McArdle, as does Matt Yglesias. None of these posts discuss vouchers vs. public schools except in the most general terms. What specific policies would actually help kids and why is left mostly unanswered.
As someone who actually went to public schools K-12(as well as having been married to a public school teacher, and having more than a few friends who are also teachers), I think I have a better handle on this than most private school educated pundits.(I know Yglesias and McArdle were educated in private schools, my apologies to Klein and Drum if my assumption, that you were as well, is wrong.) For different reasons, I think I probably have a better understanding than my teacher friends do, as well.
This understanding has to do with the the unstated assumptions of those involved in this debate. Both sides of this issue make an unquestioned assumption about the "good" of educating children. The benefit of having well educated children is questioned by neither side. What they should ask themselves is, what is the goal of the public school system? To produce adults with both problem solving skills and critical thinking skills that are necessary to be a good citizen, I think most people(esp. those above) would answer.
Where is the evidence for this? At what point in American history has education been anything but a way for the elite to continue their dominance. You could make the argument that post-WWII until 1973(the year I was born, of course) the education system provided more than adequate education for all economic classes. If they were white, at least. But almost everything got better for people during this time, so it was less a function of desire than economics.
I think that the public education system in this country works almost exactly as it is supposed to in a capitalist economy. It produces a consumer. That is, someone who can read price tags and name brands on the back of there clothes. This requires very little above a fourth grade education, which happens to be the par set by marketers, the entertainment industry and journalists for their audience. In short, the disagreements about how to fix the education system are meaningless because it is not broken, it achieves the exact results that are required in the United States.
The other assumption, made by pro-voucher people, is that private schools are mystically, magically, and marshmellowy better than public schools. It would not be because they have more money, fewer students, and better parent involvement, would it? No that couldn't be it. It is because the market makes everything better, just ask Halliburton or Blackwater USA. They had to pull themselves up by bootstraps without any government assistance. Right?
McArdle poignantly shows that her concern is for the children and only the children.
I don't. Care. About. The. Teachers.
I don't dislike them. Nor do I like them. I don't care whether they are, or are not, represented by a union. I think they should be paid more, not because they're lovely, special people, but because I hope that would let us attract and retain a higher caliber of teacher.I care about educating the kids.
And as her posts make obvious, poor children in particular. I find this concern for the poor from upper middle class college educated folks(this includes all journos and pundits not just McArdle) touching. And by touching I mean like a hand job. Do any of these "experts" know any poor children or any poor people at all besides the folks who clean their buildings? I work with young adults who come from some of the most impoverished circumstances I have heard of and I would actually be considered just outside the impoverished myself given my income.
I went off on a little tangent there, my larger point is that one the main reasons that private schools seem to perform so much better than public schools is that there are very, very, few poor kids in private schools. I would even argue that if there were significant numbers of poor children in private schools the problems of public schools would be duplicated. This why no one seriously advocates the privatization of schools. The problems poor students have are not caused by teachers or schools and cannot be solved by teachers or schools. So in the end the voucher programs become a kind of educational white flight boondoggle that help the rich and about to be rich while as usual the poor get screwed.
That is all.