Saturday, March 15, 2008

Real value in trusting parents

All too often the public education establishment will fight anything that takes tax dollars away from their organization. Even if it means tax dollars would be spent more wisely and parents would be more happy with their child's results if they were given the choice as to where they could educate their child. Educrats have this almost liberal fascist view that they care for the children they teach more so than their children's parents and they know what is best for the students even more than the student's parents. They fail to realize that providing services to children at the expense of impoverishing their parents and grandparents is NOT "caring", it is selfish.

If educators and educrats truly believed it was "for the kids" and not the institution, teachers and teacher's union the money would follow the child and not the system in the city in which the reside.

The following piece appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online. The piece speaks for itself.

Real value in trusting parents

Posted: March 7, 2008

Patrick McIlheran

Number 68 on my list of reasons I drive my kids all the way to Wauwatosa for school is that the classroom parties in October marked All Saints' Day: Candy, games and traditional Catholicism instead of pumpkins. Call me weird, but I was pleased.

That my third-grader is learning to solve for variables in equations involving multiplication is pretty important, too.

One premise of Milwaukee's school choice program is that parents tend to choose - not always, but often enough - academically superior schools if they have a chance. Do they? It's a critical question, which is why the first-year report out of a five-year study of the program set people off.

The bombshell headline was that children in choice schools and a matched group in public schools came out about the same on academic tests. It wasn't much of a bombshell - the researchers repeatedly say that a single year's numbers tell you nothing but that they've matched two groups. What counts is what another four years of schooling does.

Still, the news gives some comfort to public-school partisans who are hoping choice proves no better than Milwaukee Public Schools.

This seems unlikely to hold up. There's already good research suggesting that choice schools outperform public schools. The latest was a study in January finding that choice school graduation rates were well above MPS.

So it seems likely that in four years, we'll see that choice schools really are generally better.

But suppose otherwise - that choice schools simply did as well public schools but no better. Critics dived at this conclusion right away: "We've spent over half a billion dollars on this and we have nothing to show for it," said Sen. Russ Decker (D-Weston). His take: Shut them down.

Why, exactly? Why, if choice schools really were performing only as well MPS, would we disempower parents and return to a monopoly?

This does seem to be the aim of Decker and others. He wants to freeze the booming enrollment in online public schools since we just can't prove parents are wise to choose them. Ten seconds' listening to any of those parents will tell you they are both attentive to results and quite capable of rationally choosing what's best for their children.

Nor is it just in Wisconsin. Charter schools are under attack nationwide. In California, a court just ruled that parents have no right to home-school their children. Some 166,000 children there are now illegally truant, even if they're doing calculus at age 12 and winning the national spelling bee. "We're happy," said a state teachers' union official about the ruling.

Home schooling is usually motivated by parents' beliefs, and not just religious ones. Years ago, when home schooling first blossomed in Minnesota, parents I reported on were secular liberals who found public schools too conformingly American. Home schooling is the ultimate for those who are particular about what goes into their children's minds.

Home schooling has always been attacked, just as charter schools and online schools and private schools have been. Some of this is turf-protection, but some is a genuine belief that decisions about what is best for a child can't be left to "unlicensed, untrained, unqualified" adults who "are not required to prove competence," as one state lawyer put it in arguing against virtual schools.

That is, parents are fools.

Some certifiably are, just as some people make poor choices that leave them unhealthy, poor or miserable. This is unfortunate, but we haven't yet taken it as a sign that society must prescribe a diet, run the checkbook or arrange marriages. People so cared for are clients, not free citizens.

We should be at least as reluctant to assume parents can't pick a school. Some 80% of Milwaukee's choice schools have a religious basis, just as my children's school outside the program does. Among public schools, there are those dedicated to beliefs such as environmentalism. Such things matter to parents, and they can't be quantified in any five-year study. If we're to be a free society, our default should be to let parents pick.

Patrick McIlheran is a Journal Sentinel editorial columnist. His e-mail address is

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