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How to Appeal to Independents and Democrats: School Choice

If anyone is interested in policy issues that can appeal across party lines and to Independents without sacrificing conservative principles, take a look at some of these charts from a poll in the journal Education Next. This first one shows that majorities of Democrats and Independents support vouchers for poor kids, while a majority of Republicans don’t

That’s interesting, given that many Rep…

  1. Leigh

    All good points.

    My vague impression (there is probably research to confirm or deny) is that the public view of the education system is similar to the public view of Congress: overall negative, but my child’s teacher is sweet (or at least not that bad).

  2. Barkha Herman

    The last few years have been good for school choice, after being dismissed as right wing propaganda and anti-teacher for a long time.

    There was even a Hollywood movie on the subject!

    Yes, education is the way to make inroads on free choice; also, education is the only way to teach the next generation to think for themselves, to prevent indoctrination etc., etc.

  3. Aaron Miller

    Speaking of school reform, Michelle Malkin has started a series exposing disturbing new changes.

    Common Core was enabled by Obama’s federal stimulus law and his Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” gimmickry. The administration bribed cash-starved states into adopting unseen instructional standards as a condition of winning billions of dollars in grants. Even states that lost their bids for Race to the Top money were required to commit to a dumbed-down and amorphous curricular “alignment.”

    In practice, Common Core’s dubious “college- and career”-ready standards undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular materials, and foist untested, mediocre and incoherent pedagogical theories on America’s schoolchildren.

    Ricochet admins should consider inviting her onto a podcast to discuss the series, if she has time.

  4. Crow

    Great post and completely agree with you that this issue is one that crosses party lines, and one that we’re the better party to lead.

    I was somewhat surprised by the finding that Republicans are less likely to support vouchers–but thinking through it I’m wondering if in addition to the point you mentioned about blindness to the quality of their own kids’ suburban schools, that two other factors may have played a role here.

    Firstly, if the question was phrased exactly as it was at the bottom of the graph, I can see Republicans being hesitant to support a voucher plan limited only to low income families, rather than a more comprehensive plan to deal with school reform at large.

    The reason points toward the second consideration: Republicans sending their children to these suburban schools may be concerned that lower income parents who receive the voucher may send problem kids from neighborhoods with higher disciplinary issues and crime rates into the suburbs, and that rather than having the beneficial effect of moderating these influences on disadvantaged students and providing them a healthy learning environment, these students’ own behavioral issues might impact the learning environment of suburban kids.

  5. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    An elegant post — and very informative.

  6. Crow

    While the second dynamic I mentioned above might have optics that look unpleasantly like racism on the surface, the real issue there which is being masked by race-arson demagoguery is really one of class and environment.

    Something very much like this dynamic was at work in the arguments brought against forced-busing in Boston in the 70′s (and it was demagogued there too).

    In any event, this only reinforces Glaeser’s point that Republicans should turn to the cities and reach out to more urban populations–especially the young and aspirational working in these cities. It also reinforces the point that we need more administrators a la Michelle Rhea in DC to help fix schools in the cities: a comprehensive agenda that might allay Republicans’ fears.

  7. James Stack

    Couple things: 

    1. I believe many conservatives are wary of proposals for private school vouchers which involve gov’t. subsidy. This will lead to the labyrinth of regulations, PC codes, curriculum oversight etc. symptomatic of the public schools.

    2. The entire discussion of schools must be preceded even at the suburban  “good schools” about where we stand among school systems world-wide. Which of course is 15th or so in the core subjects, placing us dismally behind many countries that I truly never heard of.

    3. Speaking of Michelle’s. M. Bachmann is extremely well informed on these pernicious federal government intrusions into local schools. As if the silly lefty school boards need any incentives, they are bribed into these programs with tax paid largess  It’s complicated as hell. She made her mark in MN as head of Maple River Coalition which was formed to uncover and discredit many of these schemes, including GW’s no child left behind nonsense. She should be on Ricochet to help us understand. 

  8. Misthiocracy

    In Ontario, the Progressive Conservative Party has proposed in two recent provincial elections measures to increase parental choice. While never going as far as proposing vouchers, the party did suggest some (vaguely defined) form of public funding being made available to “independent schools”.

    It was resoundingly unpopular with voters, because it was widely feared that it meant public funding for Islamist schools.

    I suspect that a similar fear might be one reason why Republican voters may be skeptical of vouchers.

    In other words, what criteria does the State use to decide which schools are eligible for vouchers? Does the State have the constitutional right to discriminate between schools according to creed and/or religion when implementing a voucher system?

  9. Last Outpost on the Right
    James Stack: Couple things: 

    2. The entire discussion of schools must be preceded even at the suburban  “good schools” about where we stand among school systems world-wide. Which of course is 15th or so in the core subjects, placing us dismally behind many countries that I truly never heard of.

    I’m not sure we need to focus on this at all. World rankings have typically been used by the left to justify additional spending and government involvement. And frankly, it’s not really that much of a concern if a 12-year-old in Europe reads their language better than a 12-year-old in Baltimore. I just want the kid in Baltimore to read … period!

    School choice does seem to be a terrific wedge issue between low-information voters and the unions. Is it enough to win back the White House?

  10. Rawls
    ThePullmanns: If anyone is interested in policy issues that can appeal across party lines and to Independents without sacrificing conservative principles…

    This is a local issue with good optics and–more important–an obvious social good as its goal. It’s a way to champion the downtrodden while simultaneously making the most of tax dollars

    Lordy! If only more Ricochet posts contained language like this! That is, the language of persuading large swaths of voters and winning elections. I almost fainted when you said “good optics.” I don’t think that phrase has been uttered in Republican strategy sessions for years.

  11. Nick Stuart
    Misthiocracy: It was resoundingly unpopular with voters, because it was widely feared that it meant public funding for Islamist schools.

    I suspect that a similar fearmightbeonereason why Republican votersmaybe skeptical of vouchers.

    Give my children the liberty to choose the school my grandchildren go to because they have a voucher, versus the slavery of the government schools, and I’ll risk the Islamic schools.

    James Stack: Couple things: 

    1. I believe many conservatives are wary of proposals for private school vouchers which involve gov’t. subsidy. This will lead to the labyrinth of regulations, PC codes, curriculum oversight etc. symptomatic of the public schools.

    Better to risk the possibility of government intrusion that may occur with vouchers, versus the certainty of government intrusion and incompetence in the current system of government schools.

  12. Misthiocracy
    Nick Stuart

    Misthiocracy: It was resoundingly unpopular with voters, because it was widely feared that it meant public funding for Islamist schools.

    I suspect that a similar fearmightbeonereason why Republican votersmaybe skeptical of vouchers.

    Give my children the liberty to choose the school my grandchildren go to because they have a voucher, versus the slavery of the government schools, and I’ll risk the Islamic schools.

    That’s my attitude as well, but voters in Ontario disagreed, and the Liberal and socialist parties were not punished in the slightest for playing up islamophobia on the issue.

    I’m just sayin’…

  13. Misthiocracy
    James Stack: Couple things: 

    1. I believe many conservatives are wary of proposals for private school vouchers which involve gov’t. subsidy. This will lead to the labyrinth of regulations, PC codes, curriculum oversight etc. symptomatic of the public schools.

    Indeed, just look at how much colleges that accept federal aid have to surrender their independence.

    Perhaps voters have reason to be wary of the conditions that may be attached to vouchers, particularly if the vouchers are funded with federal money.

  14. Spin

    I am absolutely and 100% against the notion of vouchers.

    First, as has been mentioned, any voucher system will come with it regulation and compliance issues for schools.  And the question isn’t so much will kids go to Islamic schools as it will be will the Liberals let vouchers be used for private schools.  Within a generation, private schools will cease being private, and be simply an extension of the local school district.  I don’t want that, and neither do any of you.  If the voucher program were just completely open, it would be a different story. But there is just no way that would happen.  And it’s not required anyway. If you want your kids in the school my kids go to, but you can’t afford it, you call up the school and explain your situation, and they figure out how to get you in.  They don’t turn kids away, ever.  It’s my guess that most private schools are that way.  The Catholic school system I went to as a kid certainly was.  

    I will continue in the next comment as I am running afoul  of the word limit.

  15. Trace
    Crow’s Nest: 

    I was somewhat surprised by the finding that Republicans are less likely to support vouchers–but thinking through it I’m wondering if in addition to the point you mentioned about blindness to the quality of their own kids’ suburban schools, that two other factors may have played a role here.

    Republicans like school choice, just NIMBY. They don’t want all those “at risk” kids flooding into their nice homogeneous schools.

    And they are not wrong in their assumptions. There is the example of virtual charter schools which are in rapid decline as highly motivated kids and parents that opted out of public schools initially are increasingly outnumbered by kids that are 2+ grade levels behind as the concept has become more mainstream and popular. Kids with challenges moving into better-performing schools will bring down that performance, which has consequences for government interference as well property values.

    So the moderate right is allied with the hard left in preventing school choice from expanding. It’s an unpleasant reality that could be influenced by a passionate, eloquent national spokesperson. This is an issue that the current President could greatly influence if he was so inclined.

  16. Spin

    Second, and this is going to sound harsh:  I don’t want the rif-raf in my kids’ classroom.  Those kids certainly deserve a chance, there’s no doubt about it.  But it isn’t my job to provide it to them.  And my kids deserve to have a classroom free of the drama and monkey-business that goes on with troubled kids.  

    To be sure, troubled kids show up in the classroom anyway.  But it’s far less likely that a kid, who is the product of parents who don’t care, to show up in that classroom if it takes some effort to get them there.  

    You know, we made a choice to send our kids to private school, and we’ve accepted the hard work and sacrifice that comes with it.  There is no bus that picks the kids up, my wife drives them every day.  There is no school lunch program.  There is no aid nor tax deductions for the tuition.  So when people start saying that we should give away that which we work so hard to provide for our kids, it gets me a little worked up.  

  17. Spin

    Maybe it’s time American’s woke up to the fact that hard work and perseverance,  not government programs, are the path to prosperity?

  18. Lucy Pevensie
    Misthiocracy

    James Stack: Couple things: 

    1. I believe many conservatives are wary of proposals for private school vouchers which involve gov’t. subsidy. This will lead to the labyrinth of regulations, PC codes, curriculum oversight etc. symptomatic of the public schools.

    Indeed, just look at how much colleges that accept federal aid have to surrender their independence.

    I worry about this.  On the other hand, here’s a line about the school lunch program from the website of the Catholic school to which I hope to send my daughter:

    Vendors, and the menu items they offer, were selected based on input from our families, as well as quality, variety, and the federal guidelines to which [the school] must adhere [emphasis mine] as an institution without a licensed cafeteria.

    If the federal government is involved in lunch menu choices at a private, Catholic school, then the schools have already lost their independence.  They might as well get some money in exchange.

  19. Crow
    Trace

    Republicans like school choice, just NIMBY. They don’t want all those “at risk” kids flooding into their nice homogeneous schools.

    And they are not wrong in their assumptions. There is the example of virtual charter schools which are in rapid decline as highly motivated kids and parents that opted out of public schools initially are increasingly outnumbered by kids that are 2+ grade levels behind as the concept has become more mainstream and popular. Kids with challenges moving into better-performing schools will bring down that performance, which has consequences for government interference as well property values.

    Exactly, and this is my point in #12 and #13. The parents who are nervous about this in their local district are nervous for understandable reasons–it is entirely rational to think the way that they do, and it has nothing to do with the skin color of the at-risk kids.

    In any event, I do think that these views could be addressed and support for vouchers strengthened among the skeptical on the right if we have convincing, articulate leadership who can execute this well, and if the plan is tied to wider reforms through all public ed.

  20. Crow
    Spin: Second, and this is going to sound harsh:  I don’t want the rif-raf in my kids’ classroom.  Those kids certainly deserve a chance, there’s no doubt about it.  But it isn’t my job to provide it to them. And my kids deserve to have a classroom free of the drama and monkey-business that goes on with troubled kids….

    You know, we made a choice to send our kids to private school, and we’ve accepted the hard work and sacrifice that comes with it.

    Spin: I completely understand where you’re coming from. Your position is eminently sensible and exactly what any parent who can provide it, sacrifice and all, wants for their kids.

    What we need is an education policy that addresses this whole issue– not taking troubled kids out of the inner city and put them in your kids classroom, but the proper kinds of discipline and remediation in classrooms closer to them–and that can probably be done best by charter or religious schools catering to them. What we need is an education policy that “walks into Mordor” and shatters the implacable Dem alliances that make inner city school reform impossible.

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