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Public Schools Failing the Poor

For years, it’s been widely understood that housing in good school districts is more expensive than others. A new study by the Brookings Institution (h/t Wonkblog) shows exactly how much: houses in high-performing school districts cost a whopping $205,000 more on average than their counterparts in low-performing areas—nearly 2.5 times more, in many cases.

The big-box school model is more broken than most people realize. Studies like this are just another sign of how that model is failing in its core mission of making a decent education available to everyone regardless of wealth. Those who can afford to live in upscale neighborhoods have access to good schools; the rest are forced into overcrowded and dysfunctional school systems that don’t impart to students the skills they will need as adults.

Hence the strong case for school vouchers. Vouchers can make for a more just, equal society, because they allow parents who care about education but don’t have a lot of money to do more to make sure their children get the best schooling available.

It is deeply undemocratic and elitist to support the current educational system.

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  • thibaud

    Yes, we should make vouchers available to all, but only a small minority of parents will take advantage of them.

    At least as important in explaining public school failure is that part of the experience over which the state and the teachers’ union has absolutely no control: the culture of the home. For most US families, the necessary pro-inquiry, pro-achievement orientation is lacking. In the fastest-growing public school demographic ie hispanics from Mexico, there is a near-total indifference to education that makes it impossible for any meaningful school reform program, no matter how well-funded or well-designed, to succeed. Talk to a California public school teacher, and you’ll get an earful about this, the main reason that school achievement in CA and across the US, has not advanced in recent decades.

    There will be a hard ceiling above school achievement so long as there is a sizable majority of American families that care little about educational achievement.

    If you want to improve uS school achievement, vouchers matter less than border control.

  • thibaud

    “Public schools failing the poor”? It’s at least as much a case of a huge, imported underclass that’s swamping the public schools.

    If you don’t believe me, then spend a few minutes with this public database, sortable in dozens of ways, for every single public school and school district and subgroup in the state of California:

    http://star.cde.ca.gov/star2010/SearchPanel.asp

    When you’ve parsed the data by “Group”, ask yourself whether “Ethnicity” or “Economic Status” has a higher correlation with the % of students who are not either Proficient or Advanced Proficient, ie, who are failing.

    The pattern in this carpet is so easy to spot that even leftists and identity-politikers will admit the obvious: California’s descent from best in the nation to worst during the last three decades has little to do with the teachers’ union, or economics, or school funding.

    This catastrophic decline is almost entirely explained by changed demographics, to wit, the increase in share of total public school population from less than 10% to over 50% for that one demographic group that now scores a 65-70% failure rate.

  • Anthony

    “As the nation grapples with the growing gap between rich and poor and an economy increasingly reliant on formal education, public policies should address housing market regulations that prohibit all but the very affluent from enrolling their children in high-scoring public schools in order to promote individual social mobility and broader economic security.”

    Now, how do we propose initiating such policy change/discussion affecting one of the most vital areas of public and societal responsibility? Furthermore, educational subsidiarity has become sacred principle to parents/home purchasers seeking quality public education for their children. Untying that knot at the primary and secondary public school level will require a social…

  • http://inthisdimension.com alex scipio

    It always is intriguing to listen to Dems pretend to care about schools. All major metro school districts have been run by Dem councils since 1945. If Dems wanted better schools, we’d have them. It really is that simple.

    It’s like pretending that Dems care about the inner city in metros. All of those have been run by Dem City Councils since 1945, as well. And ALL are worse-off than before.

    Dems don’t care about people. They CERTAINLY don’t care about the poor or minorities. All Dems care about is power, and as long as they can keep people uneducated, and toss them a few goodies now and then, the poor and minorities will continue to vote Dem.

    And THAT is all Dems care about.

  • http://www.theparenttrigger.com Bruno Behrend

    Thibaud wrote: For most US families, the necessary pro-inquiry, pro-achievement orientation is lacking. In the fastest-growing public school demographic ie hispanics from Mexico, there is a near-total indifference to education that makes it impossible for any meaningful school reform program, no matter how well-funded or well-designed, to succeed.

    This clearly part of the problem, but very overstated. The education issue/debate is littered with partisans who argue THE ONE PROBLEM and its ONLY SOLUTION.

    Voucher proponents, while occasionally guilty of the same overstatement, have one massive factor in their favor – parental choice and empowerment will work for the people who choose it.

    As we apply this to the issue raised by Thibaud, we see how it operates. If you don’t want, care, or feel you need a voucher, don’t use it.

    As parents who do want to use a voucher (or a charter, or a digital course, for that matter) begin to exercise that choice, the education sphere begins to reflect their choices.

    Frankly, conservative wonks err when they argue for, or assume, that every American must be a highly trained vocational school technician or a liberally educated professional. This is nonsense.

    As we approach an employment market of micro services for micro needs, and an atomizing set of wants and needs, the entire idea that we all need to be “Shanghaied” into “high achieving” district schools is absurd. As Thibaud accidentally proves, it is even more unworkable than a choice-based system. There isn’t enough money in the world to make it work.

    If you come to America to live a better life than in Mexico while picking grapes, nuts, or mowing lawns, who is Barack Obama or Arne Duncan to say you need to be “college ready” by age 18.

    It’s ridiculous.

    America needs to embrace its strengths (real, not fake and progressive, diversity) and devise an education model that matches these strengths. Such a model might have a wide, but attainable set of standards, met by a broad, diverse and independent array of education providers.

    As blue, employment, service, and learning models crash to the ground in this age of tech-driven rapid change, it is incumbent on the policy elite to understand that there is no salvaging the brick-and-mortar district model intact.

    It can’t work. Thibaud has hit on the right problem, but again, is too dismissive of choice.

    Similar to Churchill’s view of democracy, choice in education may be sloppy and imperfect, but it is far better than any other option.

    Trying to save a dying and corrupt district model by imposing Chinese or Finnish controls on it is a fool’s errand. We have 50 year of evidence of its failure.

  • http://www.theparenttrigger.com Bruno Behrend

    Some minor points…

    As the study referenced points out, district-based education is educational apartheid. Therefore, Zip code based education should be ruled unconstitutional on “disparate impact” grounds alone.

    While many reading this immediately think “oh no, more busing,” the fact is that this is not the answer.

    Busing was an absurd solution imposed by a nation that didn’t want to understand the idiocy of the “school district”

    Does your city school [perform poorly]? Here’s a scholarship and an education savings account. Go nuts.

    Such a scholarship is far more “local control” than you will ever get from a union elected school board marching to the orders of increasing federal mandates.

    It’s this simple. Keep the school district, and the system in un-reformable. Get rid of the district (or allow people to opt out through vouchers, digital, or charters), and America’s ingenuity has the potential (but not the guarantee) to solve most of the problems that can be solved.

    Kill the district, fund the child.

  • Kansas Scott

    “It is deeply undemocratic and elitist to support the current educational system.”

    Well there you have it. If you disagree with Via Media, you are not just wrong but “undemocratic” and “elitist.” Not exactly in keeping with your usual civil level of political conversation.

    How about something such as “Reforms in public education are long overdue and supporters of the current system should not fear nor fight these changes.”?

    I can read more entertaining name calling on approximately 453,221,128 other sites (just guessing). I come here for thoughtful insights.

  • Surfed

    Thibald is exactly right. I teach in inner city public schools. It’s the culture within the home. Most students could care less. I could go on but why? When the public school system dies the inner city culture of students not giving a rats about the opportunity of education will remain.

  • Corlyss

    Trust a Democratic think-tank to be late to the party.

    What did they honestly think all that busing business was about in the 70s? It wasn’t about just race-balancing. It was about taking the poorly educated kids to better schools in districts their single unemployed welfare moms could never afford to live in. I heard my parents discussing housing prices in conjunction with school districts in the 60s, for Heaven’s sake! If parents didn’t want to send their kids to Catholic school or private school a la Sidwell Friends or Congressional or St. Albans, it was the neighborhoods with the best public shools, which were only slightly less pricey.

  • Tom Scharf

    The Iron Law of Education:

    Parents who care about their child’s education will always outmaneuver any confounding system you place in their way that attempts to prevent them from sending their child to better performing schools.

    Period.

    Social engineering experiments have failed spectacularly for decades. Why? In part, because we are faster and smarter than the bureaucratic attempts to thwart our desires.

    You will get more bang for the buck by educating the parents, not the kids.

  • http://thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I’ve worked in teacher training in Australia where the public education system is decoupled financially from the real estate of of the school’s catchment areas. Still, tough working class area schools differ in ways an American like myself expects based on experience of the US. Not as much but noticeably. I have also noticed, on visits back home, a lot of Mexicans standing along streets waiting for work. And I have observed them working and it forcibly reminds me of how I had to work on the farm growing up. Funny how their offspring turn into failures at alarming rates in school. They haven’t deconstructed the secret of of Anglo education: They pretend to teach, and we pretend to learn.

  • http://www.theparenttrigger.com Bruno Behrend

    I teach in inner city public schools. It’s the culture within the home. Most students could care less.

    If this is true, and there is no reason to think it isn’t in many cases, what can more spending, more district control, more common core curriculum, and more bureaucratization and unionization do to improve the situation?

    I submit, once again, that there is no way to “reform” the system so it works.

    Parents who care about their child’s education will always outmaneuver any confounding system you place in their way that attempts to prevent them from sending their child to better performing schools.

    Correct, but like much in education, overstated. There are more parents who want better schools than there are schools for them.

    Moving to suburbs with better performing schools is not an option for most. Home educating, as in helping with homework, is a problem for many single parents and two earner households.

    The will exists to be “smarter and faster” than our failing education bureaucracies, but the avenues are not there.

    This is why choice (vouchers) would work. No, they are not a silver bullet for everybody in the system, but will very likely be a silver bullet for the majority who use them.

    Test scores are not the best argument for vouchers. The superior morality of freedom and autonomy is the best argument.

    Lastly, your point about teaching the parents is being studied, and the early results are trending to proving you correct.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-23/chicago-economist-s-crazy-idea-for-education-wins-ken-griffin-s-backing.html

  • lhf

    One reason public schools in the US are failing is lack of focus. They don’t concentrate on standard disciplines and the curriculum expands every year to include an attempt to solve the latest social problem, meaning less and less time for English, Math, History, Science, Art, Music, Foreign Language. Right now it’s bullying and personal financial management.

    It doesn’t really matter where the school is located, the curriculum is pretty much the same. In wealthy areas parents buy tutors to fill the gap – in poor areas the parents can’t do that and therefore the failure of the schools to teach anything is much clearer in those areas.

    There also is little discipline. A teacher who sends a child to the principal’s office is considered a failure. Teachers are advised to “get involved in the lives” of their difficult and unruly students. Poor parents may not have the time to follow what goes on in school. Wealthy parents threaten to sue if their child is disciplined. It’s really difficult to get a disruptive child removed from class or school.

    I don’t see much hope here for real change.

  • Curtis

    No no.

    Look at the State of New Jersey and the District of Columbia. The most expensive public schools in the land….and the worst. Education has very little to do with poverty and everything to do with culture.

    What does it say about an entire culture that it taught and still teaches its teenagers that getting value from going to school is ‘acting white’ and needs to be beaten out of that culture so that they may continue to wrap themselves in ignorance?

  • http://www.pacrimjim.com PacRim Jim

    Public schools are sinecures for poorly performing college students who end up being teachers. Students be da[r]ned.

  • Zabrina

    Let’s face it, the public schools are no longer primarily about education. They are primarily a jobs program for “educators” and secondarily about social engineering. Which is not to say there are not good and great teachers and administrators among them.

    So what if vouchers will affect ‘only a few’? I doubt that, and I think the effect will be profound and snowballing in a positive direction. But even if only a handful of caring parents take advantage of a voucher program, that will make a world of difference in those families–and in our society. Let them have that freedom to choose. The arguments against vouchers for those who want them have no validity and are, in essence, evil–a self-serving powerplay on the part of the entrenched political interests.

    As for people wanting to teach, not all of them are stupid or liberal. My high school daughter wants to be a teacher out of conviction. Right now she is aiming to teach in private schools, to avoid the public school disciplinary and watered-down curriculum problems. I can also see her as a fantastic homeschooler, or even founding her own academy someday. The people will come up with plenty of successful solutions if the politicians, government regulators, and unions can be made to give over the reins–or can be gotten around.

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