Ban private schools? Only if you hate our kids.
No, I don’t go to Gawker for insightful, intelligent analysis of American politics. However, from time to time, so much stupid shows up into my timeline on Facebook that just has to be address. This particularly instances was written by Gawker’s John Cook, where he proposed that the secret to reforming our public schools is to ban the private ones. (Yes, it’s a couple of years old, but some things just should be smacked down whenever you get the chance).
Like I said. So. Much. Stupid.
Let’s start with taking a look at what Cook said.
The ongoing (but maybe soon to end?) teachers’ strike in Chicago is being viewed by many as an early skirmish in a coming war over the crisis in public education—stagnant or declining graduation rates, substandard educations, dilapidated schools, angry teachers, underserved students. There is one simple step that would go a long way toward resolving many of those issues: Make all schools public schools.
It’s an oft-noted irony of the confrontation in Chicago that Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his children to the private, $20,000-a-year University of Chicago Lab School, which means his family doesn’t really have much of a personal stake in what happens to the school system he is trying to reform. This is pretty routine behavior for rich people in Chicago, and there’s a pretty good reason for it: Chicago’s public schools are terrible. If you care about your children’s education, and can afford to buy your way out of public schools, as Emanuel can, it’s perfectly reasonable to do so. Barack and Michelle Obama made a similar decision, opting to purchase a quality education for their daughters at Sidwell Friends rather than send them to one of Washington, D.C.’s, deeply troubled public schools.
Cook starts off with so much potential. He correctly points out that public school advocates like Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama, instead of sending their kids to public schools they claim they support, ship their offspring to expensive private schools where their kids can get top flight educations. It’s like watching a baby deer taking his first steps…
…right into the path of an oncoming semi. Just give it a minute.
So you can see why there’s a problem. Here’s the solution: Make Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama’s children go to public schools. From a purely strategic and practical standpoint, it would be much easier to resolve the schools crisis if the futures of America’s wealthiest and most powerful children were at stake. Wealthy people tend to lobby effectively for their interests, and if their interests were to include adequate public funding for the schools their children attend, and libraries, and air-conditioning, those goals could likely be achieved without having to resort to unpleasant things like teachers’ strikes.
Cook doesn’t even try to touch new ground. Slate’s Allison Benedikt tried this again, though her approach was to just try and shame private school parents by declaring them all bad people for sending their kids to private schools.
Yeah, she wrote idiocy as well.
Cook’s argument, that the rich will suddenly care about public schools if their kids are actually forced to go there, misses out on a few facts. First, Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel are guilty of hypocrisy, but that doesn’t mean that people who send their kids to private schools have no vested interest in public education.
Just 10 percent of American students are in private school. That leaves 90 percent in public education. Guess what? That’s where the doctors, lawyers, and engineers are coming from. Sure, some will come from private school, but if just 10 percent of the kids, there won’t be enough of them to fill all our needs. If someone believes in public education-something mandated by many state constitutions, as a matter of fact-then they have all the interest they need.
Of course, Cook doesn’t just stop there.
This would of course be a radical and highly disruptive step. It would involve forcibly transferring ownership of all existing private schools to the school district in which they reside, and readjusting local tax schemes to capture the tuition parents currently pay (the nationwide average is $8,549 per year, which means a total of $47 billion is spent each year on opting out of the public education system). Then access to the newly “nationalized” schools would have to be distributed on some fair basis to local students, with the wealthy kids who don’t make the cut into their old schools being sent to the regular ones, without air conditioning or libraries. And resources would have to be redistributed within the school districts so that the resources formerly lavished on private schools could be spent shoring up the failing public ones.
[Emphasis mine] If this were a video blog, you’d see me facepalming so hard right now that I may have a concussion.
First, note the bolded part. Schools without air conditioning or libraries? Folks I live in Albany, Georgia. It’s one of the poorest communities in the country. Guess what? All of our schools have air conditioning and libraries. Perhaps school systems that have schools lacking those need to be held accountable for failing to provide such things rather than force parents to send their kids to these substandard facilities?
And while it would have the practical effect of forcing school boards and municipalities to be accountable to their privileged elite as well as their poor families, there’s also a moral argument for banning private education. Put simply: Equality of opportunity demands that children should not be penalized—or advantaged—by the accident of their birth. Educational benefits, which are the most crucial resource when it comes to determining the life-outcomes for children of all backgrounds, shouldn’t be distributed based on how rich your parents are. They should be distributed equally. Even if we stipulate that radical inequality is OK for adults—once you are out in the world, you rise or fall by the work of your own hands—when it comes to children, it’s perverse to dole out educations based on arbitrary circumstances completely beyond their control.
Here, Cook tries to couch his socialistic ideals (nationalization of private property) in the much more pleasing term “equality of opportunity”. Perhaps he’s doing this because he’s heard conservatives and libertarians use the term as preferable to “equality of outcome”.
Unfortunately, he misses the point.
The truth is, some kids have advantages that other kids will not. Will Cook seek to ban private tutors who can work with students on weak areas? Will he seek to regulate conversations between parents and children that are educational?
The wealthy will always provide more for their children. In fact, an argument could be made that by forcing these kids into public schools, it will actually reenforce classism and elitism as the best and brightest will see first hand how their less well of classmates lack.
That’s supposed to be a bad thing, right?
But educational benefits are something that we as a nation have long held should be afforded to all children, irrespective of their backgrounds. And we’ve further held that withholding access to those benefits based on race or ethnicity—in other words, on morally arbitrary circumstances over which the children have no control—is wrong. Our current system of private and public education effectively distributes the best educations to those who were born into the right families, like Rahm Emanuel’s. He shouldn’t be able to buy his kids a better shot at life than his constituents can afford.
In Cooks effort to defend his socialistic tendencies of grabbing private property in an attempt to nationalize an industry, he stumbles on saying something that may have the hint of wisdom.
What he misses is that there’s an alternative that doesn’t involve putting all children into a failed institution. Cook seems to acknowledge that private schools are superior to public school in the services they provide. However, they’re also cheaper than public schools.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics:
Total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States amounted to $632 billion in 2010–11, or $12,608 per public school student (in constant 2012–13 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index). These expenditures include $11,153 per student in current expenditures for operation of schools; $1,076 for capital outlay (i.e., expenditures for property and for buildings and alterations completed by school district staff or contractors); and $379 for interest on school debt.
That’s a lot of money per student.
However, the average tuition in a private school? Try $9,195 per year. So, for $3,500 per year, we could put every student in private school through a voucher program rather than continuing with the failed social experiment we call public education. If Cook were truly interested in equality of opportunity, why not explore this possibility?
It’s especially powerful because bad schools wouldn’t be able to stay open because an bureaucrat decided it would. The free market would reward the best while letting the worst whither and die since parents would be able to pick which schools they want their kids to attend. Of course, words like “free market” are curse words to some people. I wonder if Gawker’s John Cook is one of them?