One major issue unaddressed in your proposal that stood out to me: working parents really really rely on school being a socially acceptable but affordable form of daycare. This became super obvious during school closures and how unpopular those closures became even in liberal areas. This issue becomes further complicated by social desirability bias: no one wants to admit that one of the school's most important functions is to provide daycare for their kids. It sounds bad. Parents want to think they are providing for their kids future and doing what's best for them. Teachers are insulted that one of their primary benefits is that they are a very expensive baby sitter.

So if your public policy gets rid of public schools, you are telling parents that their reliable, social acceptable form of daycare is going away. You also haven't described a solution to that problem that will be as good as they what they have (people are risk averse) nor packaged in a way that handles social desirability bias (you can't come out and just say hey here's how we'll address daycare for your kids because that'll make people feel bad).

And yes I know that helicoptoring parenting and our society's crazy aversion to letting kids be unsupervised is part of the issue. But that's just the thing: that would need to be part of the big cultural and legal changes. Parents should be able to work full time and have their young kids play at a park without fear they'd go to jail or have their kids taken away.

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This was written nearly 500 years ago, still relevant as ever. Educational change really does creep at a slow pace—

"For those who follow our custom and attempt to be a schoolmaster for so many minds diverse in kind and capacity, using the same teaching and the same degree of guidance for them all, it is no wonder if in a whole race of children they find barely two or three who reap any proper fruit from their teaching."

- Montaigne (Enlightened Centrist)

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And not a word mentioned about a deformed culture riddled w so much idiocy. It doesn’t matter, public or private, education won’t improve until our perverse, penchant for anti-intellectualism reverses itself. I’ve taught in both settings and so many kids just don’t care. Throw in antisocial behaviors, phones, etc and we’re in a doom spiral. I’ve taught in both private and public settings. The kids at the public school were vastly superior to the rich knuckleheads at the private and yet, dysfunction from broken families still constantly derailed the learning process. So many of my competent public school students are now phds in science, entrepreneurs, engineers, psychologists etc that it’s what keeps me in the profession. So many of my former private school students flamed out and are living at home w mom and dad. There is no easy answer.

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Apr 28, 2023·edited Apr 28, 2023

Sure- using test scores as a measure of success is insane.

Would be as if someone measured your success based upon the number of readers and subscription revenues over a year rather than on someone’s subjective opinion of the quality of your writing in each piece.

We need more qualitative, subjective, non-replicable, inconsistent measures of educational performance. Only then will results improve.

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Late to this but isn’t a core issue that there isn’t really ‘choice’ for the average parent that this article claims to care about. You can only send your child to 2-3 schools in an acceptable radius anyway. The schools in poor areas would become even worse, they’d be even more neglected by parents. Uneducated parents are unlikely to be able to filter appropriately, and you just compound the issue between generations such that those who highly valued education and are well educated get even greater benefit than they currently do.

Further, polarisation would become even more out of control as parents would send their children to school on emotive political considerations (even more so than Texas school boards outlawing textbooks teaching evolution or New York one’s teaching CRT). These would likely form a huge part of the now necessary marketing budget for schools (money not going to kids).

Parents are not rational actors here. How you treat your children is under huge societal status based pressure and thus you’d be hard pressed to not just choose the school your social circle did.

Finally, you’d be selecting for senior leadership at schools that was good at pandering to parents more than teaching children. Parent relations would be a huge portion of the job in areas with lots of choice (dense cities) and rural areas not much would change at all.

Finally, when it is the gov choosing how much money you get and how it’s weighted (more for poor kids, special needs, rural etc is all political choice) they are effectively determining the outcome of the market. Even more so than now, the relative political power of groups would be brought to bear and the poor kids would be worse off.

This is a dreadful way to break the union stranglehold. There are so many examples of brilliant public education worldwide - why attempt this regressive drivel? Is it not far more important to have universal minimum standards upheld for all children and then those that want to / have the resources can pay their own money to home school or send them to a private school.

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This is an excellent piece.

More choice would really help US schools.

It would also be worth looking at Australian schools as another example. In Australia for primary and secondary education parents can send their kids to private schools. Private schools get about 2/3 of the funding that government schools do with parents paying the rest. About 1/3 of primary and secondary students in Australia go to private schools.

The advantages of this setup are that if a local school is poor parents can send their kids to a private school. It also saves the government money. It also means the government school system has to try and compete with private schools. This can be done. In NSW, the largest state in Australia, there are many selective state schools that have the best results in NSW.

The disadvantage of the system is that some poor parents are trapped into bad schools because they are in an area with a bad school and cannot afford to send their kids to a private school.

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I think that a lot of non-libertarian support for public schools is rooted in the idea that they ought to be a site for the inculcation of a civic religion. The notion that that inculcation is simply not a proper purpose of government in a free society, and in fact undermines the highest values of such a society, is one of those things that, as David Friedman put it, seems natural and obvious to libertarians but very peculiar to everyone else.

The history of using public schools for civic religious indoctrination in the US is very long: it goes back at least to the mid-19th century drive to Protestantize Catholic immigrants. It's also bipartisan. Conservatives are quick to complain about the modern left using schools to push a novel leftist civic religion (and it has now become a cliche to analogize social justice leftists to Puritans) but they were happy to use the schools to impose their traditionalist civic religion back when they held the relevant commanding heights.

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I'm quite liberal or left-wing, and have worked in the education technology space for about a decade. I more or less agree we should look to reform education via ESAs. Don't be too quick to write off the left as being willing to try market based reforms.

But you are incorrect on one key point: dual language education is actually superior to monolingual learning. The research is quite strong here. Kids in dual language programs will be behind monolingual peers until about 6th grade, but at that point, their language skills in BOTH languages are stronger than their monolingual peers.

(There's a key point here that dual language is different than a transitional bilingual program... the former is far more effective)

In other words, teaching both English and Spanish from the get-go will make kids better at English by middle school than kids who only studied English.

This makes intuitive sense... how many of the smartest people you know grew up bilingual or multilingual? Why do so many wealthy families fight tooth and nail to get their kids into dual language schools?


Also an aside: Republicans are not the dreamy school reformers you make them out to be. They are banning books, banning the teaching of "controversial topics" and getting the state even more involved in the classeoom in dangerous ways. This isnt a pro-liberty program. Shoving the pledge of allegiance down everyone's throats is the most dangerous form of wokeness pervading our schools to this day.

They also oppose educating undocumented children, nevermind the teaching of kids in languages other than English (see above). With 10% of the US student population (and growing faster than any other) being non-native English speakers with educational outcomes worse than low-income African Americans, a bullish republican reform policy would leave these students - those most in need of state interventions - completely unsupported.

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HS math teacher here. Richard you underestimate how aspirational many parents are and how much they overestimate their own child’s academic potential. I’ve sat in parent conferences with blue collar parents who are perplexed to hear that their son is not taking to Algebra II. Their reaction is usually not one of acceptance and they always ask how we can get him to prosper in my class. They may support these reforms for others but rarely for themselves.

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America is unusually culturally heterogeneous compared to its peers. Because of this, America relies on its public schooling to forge a shared cultural identify from its many disparate subcultures. In a school choice model, we lose the melting pot effect that is critical to our success.

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Apr 29, 2023·edited Apr 29, 2023

While it contains a lot of good points, this essay tries to link two questions that are in fact largely separate. The narrower question concerns the funding and control of schools: vouchers versus direct funding; private versus public.

The broader question concerns the entire structure of the first several decades of life in advanced countries. Why does school last 13 or 17 years? Why not 5 or 10? Why is the school year 9 months long, rather than 6 or 12? Why can’t faster learners finish in half the time? Why isn’t the range of activities wider? Et cetera.

I agree that the current approach is highly arbitrary, irrational, and afflicted with status quo bias. (As John Derbyshire wrote of our education system, “that’s how we do things, because…that’s how we do them.”) But it’s not clear that a shift to private schooling would address this. Although they have their virtues, our private schools follow the same format as our public schools. The energetic boy is still trapped in his desk for a 50-minute history lecture, albeit a slightly less woke one.

And it’s already possible for parents to give their kids a very different childhood. Homeschooling is already legal, and its format can be much different than conventional schooling if parents want it to be. Finishing high school isn’t mandatory; you’re allowed to drop out. A smart kid already has the option of “homeschooling”; spending all of his time writing code and watching YouTube videos about ancient Rome before acing the GED.

Why don’t more young people do that already? The proponents of the signaling model have the answer. Succeeding in the conventional system, all 17 years of it, provides the best signal to Goldman Sachs that you’ll make a good analyst. Choosing an alternative path marks you as a smart weirdo...at best.

So what we actually need is an alternative credentialing mechanism *with real momentum behind it*. If we had that, we wouldn’t have to worry too much about the whole K-12 voucher business. If only a few kids used it, they’d be swimming against the tide. But if powerful institutions gave the alternative system enough of a push, it could work.

I would love to see the federal government and state governments partner with big business to adopt some test-based alternative to conventional academic credentials. Any government jobs that currently require college degrees could accept this credential as well. Tech companies have prestige and contain a lot of people who are skeptical about school; they could get on board.

It’s all well and good to talk about different approaches to childhood, but unless you solve the credentialing problem, most parents will stick with the approach that leads to employment. Even if it’s inefficient and arbitrary.

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> We can dismiss (4), since education is highly decentralized and there are unlikely to ever be private monopoly actors in this space. Moreover, education isn’t the kind of industry in which monopolization is likely.

This is true in densely inhabited areas where a free market in education will lead to several different schools within easy reach of most students. However, in rural areas or small towns, there may only be enough children to support one school within easy reach. (Virtual education could get around this but is likely to be unpopular with parents.) This would lead to such a school having, in practice, a monopoly on education for children in its area, & since it would be privately run but not subject to substantial competition, if it deviates substantially from the parents' wishes, it would be harder to avoid that than in a public school system where, in theory, outraged parents could run for the school board &c to try to change the public school system.

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“If someone proposed that any other population be placed in government buildings at set times organized by neighborhood and told what to do and think, people would recognize this as totalitarian. If told this was for their own good, citizens would demand extremely strong evidence for this claim and still likely oppose the program even if they found any evidence provided convincing.”

We needed status quo bias during the lockdowns but it disappeared.

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Well I'm sold. One thing you didn't really address though, that I think is extremely important, is managing the transition in the first places to implement true school choices. If they handle the transition disastrously, it will have a chilling effect on further spread. Though even if it's a stunning success, there will inevitably be lies and propaganda from the usual suspects that will still need to be countered.

I have to think it's important to phase it in gradually, giving new private providers plenty of advance notice and ensuring that they are working on coming to market, and to budget for minimal cuts to public school spending in the initial years so that there's an overcapacity of slots between public and private, before finally implementing massive downsizing cuts to public school budgets in later years and auctioning off most of their property.

I don't think you want parent choice to 100% determine public school budgets from the beginning, as I've heard discussed, because it has the potential to create a disaster in which a public school finds itself basically unable to function while the expanded private options are just getting started and now you don't have enough slots for all the kids.

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I agree with school privatization, but am one of the critics you address with regards to concerns about the imposition of civil rights law to destroy the benefits and, essentially, reintroduce the busing model you mention earlier.

Do you not think a few high profile cases in which private schools get raked upon the coals of disparate impact would not dissuade them all? There are many more private enterprises currently then there would be private schools. What percentage of them, beyond a threshold of, say, 20 employees do not have an HR department and/or some sort of compliance in personnel decisions? Or outright flaunt their disregard for civil rights law (in a direction against the establishment, I see many that openly hire only women or minorities)?

In my experience, few; the threat of a lawsuit looms over every firing and intimidates all, despite the state not truly having the capacity to regulate them all. There is a sword of Damocles hanging over every business that keeps them in line, and I don’t see why that wouldn’t exist for private schools beyond a small threshold number of students and faculty.

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While I don't disagree with all points here, the ideas around liberty have a flawed basis.

It would be helpful to remember the responsibilities toward children. I know that society has a tendency to talk about "parental rights". I don't have any desire to upset the status quo where parents assume responsibility for their children, but neither am I willing to accept the flawed view that parent own their children and can do whatever they want.

We all have responsibilities toward all children. When parents accept that responsibility, and successfully deliver that's great, and there's a lot of good reasons not to disrupt that status quo where it's working. But it's also important to remember there are fringes around that and not accept ideological arguments that ignore those responsibilities toward children that allow others (through government) to interfere with parents that are not delivering.

So, no, unless you would hold it as an infringement on liberty for a parent to send a child to school, or any other type of activity, holding it as an infringement for society to require schooling of children is not a sound argument, and based on an antiquated idea of parents owning their children.

Many bad things can and have occurred by accepting that idea, and so we should not. I'll reiterate again that I bring this up not to introduce some radical disruption to a very useful status quo where parents usually do accept responsibility and deliver on it. In fact, we should continue to celebrate that.

But neither should we allow the respect for the value of the typical parent-child bond to make us blind to realities that require us to not accept failed ideologies. Despite all the flaws in our education system, I would strongly disagree with dismantling all government standards. Parents have not always delivered, sometimes because they didn't want to, sometimes because they are misguided, more often, because they aren't capable of. If "we" have any ability, when that happens, to ensure that children get the opportunity they deserve, we should not abandon efforts to do so.

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