The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Mayors: Don't Put Matt Yglesias in Charge of Your Schools

Slate columnist Matt Yglesias has harsh criticism for districting in public school systems. In most American cities, children can only attend the schools in their district, which Yglesias argues effectively turns these ostensibly public schools into the “private property of local homeowners.” As he sees it, this is a root cause of much of the inequality between high-performing and low-performing public schools:

In my view, over the long term the question of how linked schools are to particular places is a more important issue than the cliché debate over “charters” vs “traditional” public schools. In a zoning-free Yglesiastopia this might not be such a big deal. But in a real world where real estate markets are defined by location, location, location tying school access to location turns the school system into a form of private property. You can call a facility “public” all you like, but if the only way to gain access to it is to first buy your way into an expensive neighborhood then there’s nothing public about it.

But Yglesias’s “zoning-free” public schools ignore some very real logistical barriers. Theodore Ross at the Atlantic captures them well:

 Yglesiastopia must be a place with infinite resources, one in which the good schools are large enough for all, and where no allocation process whatsoever—financial, racial, ethnic, linguistic, or residential—need be implemented. Let students flock to the quality schools and the problems in our educational system will disappear. Hail Yglesiastopia!

There’s something to this argument. Quality schools aren’t just a matter of good facilities and good teachers—although these are certainly important. Parents who are active and engaged in the school community are a key component of any successful school. Moving schools out of local communities and distributing children across the city will make it much more difficult for parents to get engaged and sever the ties schools have with their local community. A smart society realizes the determination of local families to build a good system and capitalizes on it.

Another effect of the Yglesias reform: an acceleration of middle class flight from the cities. Cities have been working like stevedores to convince professional works and higher income people to stay in the city once they’ve gotten married and had kids. One of the most important tools at their disposal: giving parents a reasonable certainty that their kids can go to good public schools. Take that assurance away, and roll out the welcome mat in the burbs. Watch the tax base decline and watch support for public education wither away.

If you want to wreck an American city, put an Yglesian in charge of the schools.

Published on April 28, 2013 12:00 pm
  • Skitshin

    “Good schools” is code for 99% white/Asian schools.

    “Bad schools” is code for 99% black/Mestizo schools.

    Nonwhites ruin schools. You probably don’t want to hear it since it upsets your delicate swpl sensibilities, but it’s simply a fact.

    • BrianFrankie

      Good Lord, Skitshin. Is it possible that anyone can still believe this? In fact, it is apparent you don’t even believe it – you state “Nonwhites ruin schools” just two paragraphs after you comment that Asians make good schools. Can you not hear your own cognitive dissonance?

      This racism fallacy has been disproven so many times and so many ways I can’t begin to describe it. Thomas Sowell recently had an excellent series of articles that address many of the issues:

      http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/342691/intellectuals-and-race-thomas-sowell

      http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/345124/tests-and-tiger-moms-thomas-sowell

      White/nonwhite is nothing. Culture and values are everything. The toxic culture and values being transmitted in American urban settings, ably assisted by the “blue state” welfare policies, are destroying generation after generation of potential in our population. The current situation is digusting, and immoral, but nothing about it is inevitable. In fact, as the blue state model crumbles, there will be tremendous opportunities to improve the system to promulgate values that help people help themselves. Conservatives, as those least attached to the current status quo, are best positioned to develop and offer these solutions, but thoughtful liberals like Professor Mead will also generate ideas. Left wing ideologues like Yglesias will have little to contribute. Nor will racists.

      • Skitshin

        I’d have said NAMs (non-Asian minorities) but I figured the readers here could understand my intent. Evidently I was wrong.

        Where is a majority black area that you would like to live? Prince George’s County, Maryland is the wealthiest majority black county in the United States. The violent crime is out of control. The schools are awful.

        It’s always fascinating to me how you race deniers seem to think culture exists independent of a population. Here’s a hint for you: the toxic culture that you think keeps blacks down developed organically and thrives among… blacks! The population developed the culture, as is the case with every culture.

        Blacks have an average IQ of 85, compared to 100 for whites in the US. A population with a lower IQ iwill have more of everything bad for a society, from higher crime to more out of wedlock births to higher unemployment.

        But I’m certain none of this will get through to you. You live in your all white neighborhood and see on Fox News how great Ben Carson is. Blacks just need some good old Republican governance! MLK was a Republican! Maybe we can even get blacks voting GOP, dangit!

        Lol. You and your kind are hopeless. And by the way, I’m younger than you are, so don’t tell me about “still” believing anything.

  • Anthony

    A serious educational observer has said that it is not a question of “good schools vs. bad schools” but a “competence and equality gap” that must be narrowed or eliminated in public schools generally. “American K-12 education has two fundamental shortcomings , one in achievement and the other in equity: the competence gap and the equality gap. Cognitively examining both will reframe good or bad school conotation/denotation.

  • John Barker

    The main barrier to educational achievement for many of our children is the insufficiency of the educational capital that uneducated parents are able to provide their children. Middle class parents offer a rich stream of knowledge and experiences that serve as the basis for school learning. Middle class homes usually set aside time and space for learning not available in the crowded living conditions of the poor. Schools must do all they can to improve learning for all children, but much more assistance in the preschool years, a longer a school day and year may be necessary to make significant gains

    • Corlyss Drinkard

      Amen. Bad schools tend to cluster where there hasn’t been a gainfully employed adult in generations. That’s not going to change by picking up the social detritus and moving it to better schools or better neighborhoods. It can only come from what Mead frequently says about the upper class: they need to preach what they practice until they have an impact on the feckless social policies that have dominated the discussions about rich and poor in this, the richest nation in the world.

    • Jim Luebke

      Simply giving schools more time to indoctrinate isn’t the answer… even if we trusted the K-12 system to do the job right, kids can’t take a longer school day, for the most part.

      The culture has to change. Bringing back the Protestant Work Ethic is probably the only solution — even if you have to frown on some behaviors in the process.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/PJ-Schwackhammer/100003243883722 PJ Schwackhammer

    Ygleisias is too much of a clueless know-it-all juiceboxer to realize this (or too much of a dishonest Leftist to admit it–take your pick), but the “solution” he’s prescribing is basically the old 70′s debacle of forced busing.

    And like so many of Ygleisias’s other fantasies (price fixing for the class enemy Kulak doctors!), we know how “well” that one turned out…

  • Marty Keller

    Yglesias at least is consistent; his shrilling for the blue social model continues unabated. Here he flacks its un-American indictment of private property and the individual right to pursue happiness. This latest version is disguised in the repulsive “children-belong-to-the-community” meme. Why aren’t people like Yglesias ridden out of town tarred and feathered on a rail?

  • Tom Scharf

    The iron law of school reform:

    Smart parents will work around whatever obstacles are put in place to see to it their children are placed in schools with children of like minded parents.

    If you successfully rig the system to force them to place their children in schools with low performing (children) parents, they will simply leave the public system altogether.

    It is liberal heresy to discuss the downsides to the “good” kids when forcing them to hang out with the “bad” kids. But you can bet that is of utmost importance to parents.

    • Stacy Garvey

      This is true. I just want to point out “bad” kids and parents aren’t necessarily the poor ones. Behavior determines whether students and parents are good or bad. Bad kids frequently bring with them the bad habits of their parents.

      • Th_Ph

        Nope, they’re the poor ones. Behavior has consequences; poverty is a consequence of parental behavior.

        • Tom

          Not all poor people are bad people; not all good people are rich.

          • http://www.facebook.com/joeedh Joe Eagar

            But there is a strong correlation, one we shouldn’t ignore (as unpleasant as it is to talk about this stuff).

          • Tom

            Aye, no question. However, there might be stronger correlations, such as cultural norms and the like.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Lea/579129865 Luke Lea

    “Quality schools aren’t just a matter of good facilities and good teachers—although these are certainly important. Parents who are active and engaged in the school community are a key component of any successful school.”

    How about good students?

  • Corlyss Drinkard

    Matt Yglesias’ opinion and $2.50 will get you a nice Starbucks. Dem-witted blue whining, as well as being unsubstantiated as a cause for disparity between good and bad schools. Haven’t we been there before, with the expensive, divisive, and ineffective bussing mania in the 70s? Do-gooders sitting around thinking up rationales for the policies they wish to see adopted, but utterly devoid of credible research and serious analysis, are what got us in a lot of the spots we’re in today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joeedh Joe Eagar

    Really? This is Theodore Ross’s argument? I find it a bit absurd; the healthcare sector, for example, seems to get along just fine without this sort of hard districting.

    I remain unconvinced.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joeedh Joe Eagar

    And I know Ross framed this as “forced busing”, but that’s not the point. Honestly, I’m sick of dealing with knee-jerk political reactions that completely ignore what is actually being said.

    Matt is arguing for school choice, not school busing. I don’t know why everyone is reacting otherwise, but that’s a fact.

  • Newerspeak

    Yglesiopolis. Schools are municipal.

  • victoria wilson – mn

    This piece
    contains two ideas that help refine our thoughts on public goods. Mr. Yglesias’s claim that a school district
    is the “private property of local homeowners” highlights that public goods are
    defined by the public they serve.
    Recycling services offered by a county serve those in that county;
    police provide safety on the streets of their city dwellers. Mr. Yglesias errs
    in transforming a public good into a private good as a private good is fungible
    and a public good is not. I cannot sell vouchers to my recycling rights; one
    cannot package and sell safe streets; and as Mr. Blagojevich now knows, one cannot
    sell public offices.

    Via Meadia’s
    observation that the production of public education also involves “parents
    who are active and engaged in the school community” begs us to enlarge our
    thinking on the inputs to public goods. A public good is not only identified by
    a system of taxation and distribution of payment through government; a public
    good is also created by the efforts of the public. For those interested in the analysis and
    measure of public goods it seems important to track these voluntary efforts
    that, for the most part, have been left unaccounted.

    • Jim Luebke

      You mean we can’t just throw money at a problem to make it go away? ;)

      Many of the problems with education today are an unintended negative consequence of the changing role of women in our society. When children’s education was the only outlet for talented women (schoolteacher was one of the only careers open) and for women’s talent (making sure the kids get a good education was a complex and critical part of a traditional mom’s job), we had basically half the population working on this problem, and some of the very most talented members of that half, as well.

      So far, no one’s come up with a solution that’s anywhere near as effective as the one that was swept into the recycling bin of history in the 70′s and 80′s.

  • circleglider

    Yglesiastopia already exists — it’s called California.

    Ever since the Serrano v. Priest decisions, school funding has been complete divorced from local district wealth. Local public schools in California are no longer the “private property of the local homeowners,” but instead the private property of the state teacher’s unions.