Thursday, April 06, 2006

Liberals Can't Afford To Educate The Poor

Partisans on the right and left rarely agree on anything, but they do agree that there is something wrong with the public school system where performance is static at best. Conservatives and libertarians have been arguing that lack of competition is what is ailing public schools and have proposed a number of voucher based systems to help correct the situation.

This leaves the left with something of a quandary because their typical attacks of “help the rich at the expense of the poor” doesn’t fit the bill. The wealthy already have school choice so would have little to gain from a voucher system, even middle class parents have little to gain as suburban schools far outperform urban schools in every category. So how do liberals challenge vouchers?
National critics of school choice like Reg Weaver, president of the country's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, accused voucher supporters of "exploiting the frustration of these minority parents to push for a political agenda" intended to undermine public schools.

Hmmm. The right is offering frustrated minority parents on opportunity to provide better education for their children and this is bad. Is it bad because it matches the rights agenda? That doesn’t make any sense because it’s Mr. Weaver’s agenda to expand public education. Does that automatically marginalize anything that Mr. Weaver says? I doubt he would legitimize such a claim. If private schools provided for through vouchers are better than public schools who cares if public schools are undermined? Is it the ends that matter or the means (assuming that the means are just)?

"They're really about subsidizing private schools, not about improving schools for all children," Mr. Weaver said in an interview.

A common logical fallacy – you can’t undermine an argument by showing that there may be ulterior motives involved. Either the proposal will be successful or it won’t the motives of those advocating vouchers is irrelevant. Though I have to point out, again, that the wealthy – those dirty rotten scoundrels that control the Republican party – have little, if anything, to gain from vouchers.

That’s just one opponent, perhaps others are more eloquent.
At Turner Elementary School in the hard-edged Anacostia neighborhood, Marcia Parker, the principal, picked up candy wrappers from the stairwells as she toured classrooms equipped with computers and books. She insisted that private and charter schools had nothing on Turner. Four students had returned from charters this year, some expelled for misbehavior, she said.
"We're about educating everybody," Ms. Parker said, dismissing vouchers and charters as "a way of raping the public schools of students and resources.

Maybe I’m missing her point, but it sounds like she is saying that giving everyone crappy education is better than giving some crappy education and others a better education. Well, I suppose that is the logic that the Florida Supreme Court used to outlaw vouchers in that state, so maybe it’s not so farfetched after all. But take note, there is no argument that vouchers wouldn’t be successful at improving conditions for many students looking for a way out of failing schools.

Admittedly these were not compelling arguments against vouchers, I’m sure that there may be some out there, but I only had what the NYT provided for me. I’m generally very confused by the left’s opposition to vouchers because the poor have the most to gain and that is supposedly who progressives are “fighting” for. In fact the program seems custom made for progressives everywhere – government provided education that is identical to the education procured by the wealthy – why are they so opposed to the proposition? Maybe they are worried that conservatives will finally have proof that market based reforms perform better than government provided programs – and that would be the ultimate defeat.

HatTip: The Case For Small Government

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