Phi Beta Cons

A Sad Policy Choice

That was a polite but provocative interview with Diane Ravitch, John. If what Ravitch means by accountability is the government-mandated and politically managed tests prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act, I agree with her on that.

On choice, however, Ravitch seems illogical. Here are some of her claims, as I understand them, with my comments:

  • Charter schools are skimming the cream of the students from our poorest communities and therefore are (somehow) illegitimate. But why are those schools getting the “cream”? They must offer something valuable.
  • Charter schools should be eliminated, because they aren’t any better than public schools, on average. Again, if so, why are they popular (some schools have hundreds of students on their waiting lists)?
  • The voucher movement is pointless because if it were to take off, there wouldn’t be enough schools for those who wanted to attend; Catholic schools, in particular, are dying, and should be supported. But wouldn’t the voucher movement be a good way to support them?
  • Students are getting abysmal educations at the public schools — taking tests but not learning history or reading novels and poetry, but we must “maintain a good public education system.” Isn’t that the system that failed?

Ravitch calls herself a Burkean conservative who opposes “tearing things apart” — referring to the public school system. She seems to have forgotten that the reform movement exists because a rotten public school system has been tearing this country apart. Allowing parents to choose another school is not just a safety valve; it’s a way to use competition to bring up the quality of all educational institutions. Burke would have liked that, I think. Certainly, his contemporary Adam Smith would have.   

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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