Friday, April 01, 2005

READER RESPONSE -- Needed, some good liberal outrage

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:23 PM |  

The Powerliberal comments here --
I've read both of the articles, and I'm not understanding why private schools using public funds should be allowed to be exempt from the same testing that public schools with public funds have to participate in.

If the purpose of NCLB or the Minnesota Standards is that these tests are necessary to make children and schools perform better, private schools should want to follow the same standards. If the standards aren't doing their job, shouldn't all schools get to be exempt, and not just the private ones?
Her second observation is closest to the truth -- standards -- even one’s I agree with -- are a lousy way to evaluate the quality of education. At best they provide a homogenized mediocrity that measures to some “average” of all the desires and needs of all the diverse individuals in the education system. At worst, they are political indoctrination.

Public funds for private schools can only be ethically justified if one’s conception of public education is expanded to include all forms of education within the definition of the “public education system.” The idea is to promote in the broader sense many diverse educational opportunities and make as many as possible available to the greatest number of people, regardless of ethnicity or income-level.

NCLB (which did create awareness of the achievement gap, a good thing) and the Minnesota Standards (which I think are pretty good) shouldn’t be imposed on public schools precisely for the reasons that public schools are griping about -- they are under-funded, create additional costs, they force schools to react rather than innovate, they create an atmosphere of tension and teaching to the test instead of teaching for knowledge. They definitely shouldn’t be imposed on private schools. Sen. David Hann made that point in his MPR debate with Sen. Steve Kelley.
Hann said that the education access grant legislation requires students using grants to take same tests as public school students. [ cw -- The original accountability clause.] He also noted that many people contend that the requirements of the NCLB act are unnecessary federal impositions on public schools. Why then, he wonders, would we impose those regulations on private schools. Under his bill, vouchers must be used at accredited private schools that are already regulated. Again he returned to his theme that ultimately parents are accountable for their children’s education. Parents must have enough of a say in that education to move a child out of a school. Today that choice is not available to low-income parents. Many have applied to private scholarship funds, but those funds don’t always have the resources to meet the demand.
All the voucher opponent talk about “level playing fields” and accountability of private schools is so much smoke screen. A level playing field is not what vouchers are trying to achieve. It’s not about comparing one system of knowledge and skill delivery with another. Vouchers are about creating a system where the sum is greater than the parts -- where diversity of educational philosophies and content plus innovation and competition unfettered by arbitrary standards produces a constantly improving educational environment.

Parental choice is not the answer, but without the parental ability to move a child to another school, we’ll never find the answer. Without parental choice, there is no real school accountability. NCLB and state standards are and will always be the party in power trying to impose its ideas about education on everybody else.

Accountability and being good stewards of taxpayer money is a fallacious argument against vouchers that implies parents are to dumb to know what kind of education is best for their kids, too dumb to understand if their kids are getting a good education and too apathetic to give a damn. It’s a way to kill vouchers for the sake of the status quo system at the expense of flesh and blood kids.

Yes, I’m more than a little pissed about the hypocrisy I saw in voucher opponents last night. A liberal should be outraged at the way his or her philosophy was betrayed.