This article by Cornelius Chapman appeared in today’s edition of The Boston Herald.
School choice smeared
Education lobby can’t deal with competition
by Cornelius Chapman
In an old Second City comedy routine, a woman in a museum looks at a painting and says “I like it.”
An art critic passing by hears her and says, “You’re wrong.”
The case against school choice – the ability of parents to direct government funds for K-12 education to the private or parochial school they pick – is increasingly based on this sort of high-brow prejudice, with ordinary folks wildly in favor, and establishment types saying never mind, we know best.
Take the District of Columbia.
With annual per pupil expenditures of $15,000, among the highest in the nation, only 26 percent of the district’s students are proficient in math, and only 35 percent in reading.
Testimonials from parents whose children escape the Washington, D.C., system through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives them $7,500 vouchers to spend on the school of their choice, would crack a heart of stone, and yet members of Congress who voted against the plan were four times more likely to send their own children to private schools.
Perhaps the way to persuade liberals to listen to the 70 percent of African-Americans (according to the Center for Education Reform) and 73 percent of Hispanics (Opiniones Latinas) who say they want school choice is to make it seem, well, hip.
Consider this: With the exception of Italy and Switzerland, every country in Western Europe, that model of sophistication that elites genuflect to when it comes to movies, cars and cuisine, offers parents more freedom to choose their children’s schools than the United States.
In Sweden, home of blondes and bleak Bergman films, a voucher system introduced by Conservatives in the 1990s is so popular that succeeding Social Democratic governments have been unable to undo it.
In the Netherlands, where pot and prostitutes are freely available, parents are free to choose schools run by nonprofits, many of them religious in nature.
But wait – as they say in the infomercials – there’s more.
If you move east to former Communist countries, you would expect to find less freedom than the U.S., right?
A study by Charles Glenn of the Boston University School of Education commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that parents in Hungary, Poland and even Russia have more freedom to choose their schools than Americans.
Katarzyna Skorzynska, a Solidarity activist who headed Poland’s Office of Innovation and Independent Schools, told Glenn that America had “the same people who oppose school choice as in my country – the trade unions and the educational bureaucrats.”
The difference is that walls separating parents from educational freedom were torn down in the former Soviet bloc, but remain standing in the United States.
Glenn’s work was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in 1991, but publication was suppressed by President Clinton, whose Democratic Party received 94 percent of donations from the teachers’ unions and their officers.
In 1994 a sanitized version – with criticism of the U.S. educational system deleted – was released after reporters began to ask nosy questions.
The full manuscript didn’t see the light of day until the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank, published it, in much the same way that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s writings on the Soviet gulag didn’t appear until they were smuggled out of Russia.
School choice opponents should learn a lesson from the savvy booksellers who used “Banned in Boston” decrees to advertise works deemed objectionable by the blue-nosed Watch and Ward Society.
And that lesson: There is nothing so attractive as an idea you suppress.