A Philosopher's Blog

Charter Schools III: Choice & Ideology

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 11, 2017

In my prior essay on charter schools, I considered the quality argument. The idea is that charter schools provide a higher quality alternative to public schools and should receive public money so that poorer families can afford to choose them. The primary problem with this argument is that it seems to make more sense to use public money to improve public schools—as opposed to siphoning money from them. I now turn to another aspect of choice, that of ideology (broadly construed).

While parents want to be able to choose a quality school for their children, some parents are also interested in having ideological alternatives to public schools. This desire forms the basis for the ideological choice argument for charter schools. While public schools are supposed to be as ideologically neutral as possible, some see public schools as ideologically problematic in two broad ways.

One way is that the public schools provide content and experiences that conflict with the ideology of some parents, most commonly with religious values. For example, public schools often teach evolution in science classes and this runs contrary to some theological views about the age of the earth and how species arise. As another example, some public schools allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, which runs contrary to the values of some parents. As a third example, some schools teach history (such as that of slavery) in ways that run afoul of the ideology of parents. As a final example, some schools include climate change in their science courses, which might be rejected by some parents on political grounds.

A second way is that public schools fail to provide ideological content and experiences that parents want them to provide, often based on their religious views. For example, a public school might not provide Christian prayers in the classroom. As another example, a public school might not offer religious content in the science classes (such as creationism). As a final example, a public school might not offer abstinence only sex education, which can conflict with the values of some parents.

Charter schools, the argument goes, can offer parents an ideological alternative to public schools, thus giving them more choices in regards to the education of their children. Ideological charter schools can avoid offering content and experiences that parents do not want for their children while offering the content and experiences they want. For example, a private charter school could teach creationism and have facilities that conform to traditional gender identities.

It might be argued that parents already have such a choice: they can send their children to existing private schools. But, as noted in my first essay, many parents cannot afford to pay for such private schools. Since charter schools receive public money, parents who cannot afford to send their children to private ideological schools can send them to ideological charter schools, thus allowing them to exercise their right to choose. As an alternative to charter schools, some places have school voucher systems which allow students to attend private (often religious) schools using public money. The appeal of this approach is that it allows those who are less well-off to enjoy the same freedom of choice as the well off. After all, it seems unfair that the poor should be denied this freedom simply because they are poor. That said, there are some problems with ideological charter schools.

One concern about ideological charter schools is that that they would involve the funding of specific ideologies with public money. For example, public money going to a religious charter school would be a case of public funding of that religion, which is problematic in many ways in the United States. Those who favor ideological charter schools tend to do so because they are thinking of their own ideology. However, it is important to consider that allowing such charter schools opens the door to ideologies other than one’s own. For example, conservative Christian proponents of religious charter schools are no doubt thinking of public money going to Christian schools and are not considering that public money might also flow to Islamic charter schools or charter transgender training academies. Or perhaps they have already thought about how to ensure the money flows in accord with their ideology.

Another concern is that funding ideological charter schools with public money would be denying others their choice—there are many taxpayers who do not want their money going to fund ideologies they do not accept. For example, people who do not belong to a religious sect would most likely not want to involuntarily support that sect.

What might seem to be an obvious counter is that there are people who do not want their money going to public schools because of their ideological views. So, if it is accepted that public money can go to public schools, it should also be allowed to flow into ideological charter schools.

The reply to this is that public schools are controlled by the public, typically through elected officials. As such, people do have a choice in regards to the content and experiences offered by public schools. While people will not always get what they want, they do have a role in the democratic process. Public money is thus being spent in accord with what the public wants—as determined by this process. In contrast, the public does not have comparable choice when it comes to ideological charter schools—they are, by their very nature, outside of the public education system. This is not to say that there should not be such ideological schools, just that they should be in the realm of private choice rather than public funding.

To use a road analogy, imagine that Billy believes that it is offensive in the eyes of God for men and women to drive on the same roads and he does not want his children to see such blasphemy. Billy has every right to stay off the public roads and every right to start his own private road system on his property. However, he does not have the right to expect public road money to be diverted to his private road system so that he can exercise his choice.

Billy could, however, argue that as a citizen he is entitled to his share of the public road money. Since he is not using the public roads, the state should send him that share so that he might fund his private roads. He could get others to join him and pool these funds, thus creating his ideological charter roads. If confronted by the objection that the public should not fund his ideology, Billy could counter by arguing that road choice should not be a luxury that must be purchased. Rather, it is an entitlement that the state is obligated to provide.

This points to a key part of the matter about public funding for things like public roads and public education: are citizens entitled to access to the public systems or are they entitled to the monetary value of that access, which they should be free to use elsewhere? My intuition is that citizens are entitled to access to the public system rather than to a cash payout from the state. Citizens can elect to forgo such access, but this does not entitle them to a check from the state. As a citizen, I have the right to use the public roads and send any children I might have to the public schools. However, I am not entitled to public money to fund roads or schools that match my ideology just because I do not like the public system. As a citizen, I have the right to try to change the public systems—that is how democratic public systems are supposed to work. As such, while the ideological choice argument is appealing, it does not seem compelling.

 

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23 Responses

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  1. TJB said, on January 11, 2017 at 10:37 am

    Mike, did you ever hear of a government contractor? Public money gets sent to private entities all of the time.

    It is fine to keep religion out of charter schools.

    The U.S. already spends far more per student than any other country, and yet our public schools are failing. The problem is not lack of money, but lack of competition. If you make schools compete then they will get better–it is that simple. If you give them a monopoly they will never get better, and we will fail more generations of poor kids.

    I know you mean well, but the policies you advocate are exceptionally cruel to poor kids.

    • WTP said, on January 11, 2017 at 8:03 pm

      I know you mean well…

      Curious…how do you “know” this? Not a rhetorical question. On what basis is this your understanding? Of course one could also ask mean well for whom?

      • WTP said, on January 11, 2017 at 8:47 pm

        And just to be clear, I don’t mean to say such people mean Ill will. More along the lines of virtue signalling because such is what everyone else believes. Not saying I “know” either, but surely you must have some doubts?

        • TJB said, on January 11, 2017 at 10:35 pm

          I don’t think Mike see that what is good for the teachers’ union is not necessarily good for kids.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 13, 2017 at 9:06 pm

            Of course I can see that. My union usually puts a lot of effort into trying to get the administration to come through with a cost of living increase for faculty every once in a while. That doesn’t directly benefit the students and might not be the best for the students (that money could be put into a new rock gym or scholarships).

            I certainly don’t assume that all that unions do is good-I’m familiar with some of the bad things unions have been involved in. But I no more condemn unions for what some have done than I condemn all corporations for the bad things some corporations do.

            I like being in a union, since that way it is not just me against the university and the state.

        • TJB said, on January 12, 2017 at 12:50 am

          I must admit it is disturbing the way Mike ignores peer review studies in favor of his intuition.

          • WTP said, on January 12, 2017 at 9:40 am

            Well I wouldn’t disparage someone for disregarding “peer review studies” per se. Pick your “studier”, pick your peer reviews, and viola…just don’t forget to pay them. However, those such as Mike looooove their peer reviewed studies when such support whatever snake oil that they are trying to sell.

            And again, re I don’t think Mike see that what is good for the teachers’ union is not necessarily good for kids., I think you’re missing the point. The majority of the left (remember when Mike used to at least pretend he wasn’t all-in on such?) arrive a what they “believe” based on two self-reinforcing things, a hive mentality and an ego stroking desire to be seen as virtuous. What actually happens in the real world is only useful to them in so far as it provides energy to the inbreeding of the ideas that support the hive. A philosopher, to be called such, should be trying as hard a possible to come to solutions, or ideas about solutions, via independent means based on some sense of reality and along with the willingness to have their ideas challenged. A true philosopher should relish the opportunity to engage with differing points of view as a means of honing their understanding.

            • TJB said, on January 12, 2017 at 12:03 pm

              I was thinking about non-citizens voting. There is a peer reviewed study that estimates 1.3M non-citizens vote in federal elections. Of course, this study might be flawed or wrong. It happens all the time. But Mike just ignored this study and claimed that there is no evidence that non-citizens vote.

            • wtp said, on January 13, 2017 at 9:44 am

              I think Mike ignored the study, not because it was a peer reviewed study but because you presented it as a specific finding that most likely refuted some or all of what he had to say. It wouldn’t surprise me, especially now as we are discussing this (in one of my posts i tried to goose him into addressing it) that he, most likely via his hive resources by googling what the hive may have to say about the study, will address it shortly by picking apart some irrelevant piece of information or some irrelevant flaw, as everything has flaws, in the study to refute it. If he can’t find such he will continue to ignore. You will notice he eagerly engages when others misstate or misspeak. Responses to criticisms of his and/or the hive’s positions are left to the crickets. But I repeat myself.

            • DH said, on January 16, 2017 at 2:00 am

              With regard to Mike’s question below, (“What Study?”) I think this is the one that TJB was referring to.

              http://ww2.odu.edu/~jrichman/NonCitizenVote.pdf

              The study was done by members of the Department of Political Science at Old Dominion University.

              From page 1:

              ” We find that some non-citizens participate in U.S. elections, and that this participation has been large enough to change meaningful election outcomes including Electoral College votes, and Congressional elections. Non-citizen votes likely gave Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress.”

              From page 12 (referring to the 2008 election):

              “Taking the most conservative estimate – those who both said they voted and cast a verified vote – yields a confidence interval based on sampling error between 0.2% and 2.8% for the portion of non-citizens participating in elections. Taking the least conservative measure – at least one indicator showed that the respondent voted – yields an estimate that between 7.9% and 14.7% percent of non-citizens voted in 2008. Since the adult non-citizen population of the United States was roughly 19.4 million (CPS 2011), the number of non-citizen voters (including both uncertainty based on normally distributed sampling error, and the various combinations of verified and reported voting) could range from just over 38,000 at the very minimum to nearly 2.8 million at the
              maximum”

              From page 13:

              “In the 2008 and 2010 U.S. elections, non-citizen voters favored Democratic candidates. Non-citizens who reported voting were asked their candidate preferences, and these preferences skewed toward Democrats. In 2008 66.7 percent reported voting for the Democratic House candidate, while only 20.8 percent reported voting for the Republican candidate. 81.8 percent reported voting for Barack Obama compared to 17.5 percent for John McCain. The difference of proportions is statistically significant using both Chi-Square and z tests (p<.005) and substantively large for both the House and Presidential vote cases. Similarly in 2010, 53.8 percent of non-citizens reported voting for the Democratic House candidate while 30.7 percent indicated that they voted for the Republican."

              From page 19:

              "Ultimately, the results of our analysis provide a basis for informed reflection concerning the role of non-citizens in U.S. elections. They demonstrate that in spite of de-jure barriers to participation, a small portion of non-citizen immigrants do participate in U.S. elections, and that this participation is at times substantial enough to change important election outcomes including Electoral College votes and Senate races."

            • TJB said, on January 20, 2017 at 9:57 pm

              Mike, why did you use the word “debunked”? Wouldn’t “criticized” be more appropriate and less insulting?

            • TJB said, on January 20, 2017 at 10:07 pm

              Professor Richman is an academic who responds in journals rather than left-wing rags. Mike just reads the rags and has never bothered to check Richman’s website.

              In the last couple of days my 2014 article on non-citizen voting (coauthored with David Earnest and Gulshan Chattha) has received a great deal of attention as Donald Trump has been quoting from it on the campaign trail. Two important questions must be addressed in thinking about this piece and the current election. First, are its results valid. And second, what are their implications in the context of 2016.

              Our initial study was critiqued by Steve Ansolabehere and coauthors in a 2015 note published in Electoral Studies. A copy of our working paper that responds to this critique is available here on my website. You can also find this link on the Working Papers page of my website. We stand by our study, but we encourage people to read the critiques too.

              What about the 2016 election? Both sides of the debate on non-citizen voting have exaggerated our findings concerning non-citizen representation. There are many on the left side of that debate who have relentlessly sought to discredit our results and want to push the level of estimated non-citizen participation to zero. On the right there has been a tendency to misread our results as proof of massive voter fraud, which we don’t think they are. Our focus has been on the data rather than the politics.

              https://fs.wp.odu.edu/jrichman/2016/10/19/some-thoughts-on-non-citizen-voting/

            • WTP said, on January 20, 2017 at 11:04 pm

              Mike just reads the rags and has never bothered to check Richman’s website.

              C’mon TJ. Mike’s a professional philosopher. Surely…never mind.

            • TJB said, on January 20, 2017 at 11:17 pm

              Indeed. I am coming around, WTP. I used to think you a bit hard on Mike, but I am more and more thinking he deserves it.

  2. TJB said, on January 11, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    As Carl Campanile reported in Monday’s Post, the city teachers union is spending more furiously than a drunken sailor: In the year ending last June 30, the UFT upped outlays by $13 million over the year before, to $182.1 million. That equals the entire budget for the city of Albany.

    https://nypost.com/2017/01/09/boom-times-for-the-teachers-union-even-as-more-schools-fail/

    Mike, why do you think the NYC teacher’s union spent $182M in one year?

  3. DH said, on January 11, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    “The primary problem with this argument is that it seems to make more sense to use public money to improve public schools—as opposed to siphoning money from them.”

    This is your take on the primary problem with the argument. It may seem to you to make more sense to use public money to improve public schools, but there are may, including me, who would disagree with that statement.

    Did you read my answer to your last post?

    Many of us believe that competition breeds excellence. When bureaucrats hand money over to other bureaucrats, nothing useful gets done. Rather than use the example of the roads, as you did, I think the example of the postal service is more salient here. Of course, from the government’s point of view, why would they want to fund a school or school system that would directly compete with them, and (most likely) achieve better results without their involvement?

    “The reply to this is that public schools are controlled by the public, typically through elected officials.”

    Not really. The Secretary of Education is an appointed position; while the local boards of education are usually elected, they have very little say in the running of the schools where it counts.

    In my own research, which involves personalized learning and augmented content for community colleges, we are going through a lengthy process of testing – starting with focus groups and direct feedback from students and teachers, followed by a significant amount of field testing with control groups and test groups, analyzing results and moving forward. It is interesting to note that the Common Core standards did not go through any of this – no testing, no vetting, no control groups, nothing. It was a political maneuver. According to the editors of “Rethinking Schools”,

    “[the Common Core standards] are national standards, created by Gates-funded consultants for the National Governors Association (NGA). They were designed, in part, to circumvent federal restrictions on the adoption of a national curriculum, hence the insertion of the word “state” in the brand name. States were coerced into adopting the Common Core by requirements attached to the federal Race to the Top grants and, later, the No Child Left Behind waivers.”

    In other words, the receipt of public money does not ensure quality, it only ensures compliance.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 13, 2017 at 9:01 pm

      Why just the post office? Why not consider the successes like the roads and other foundations of civilization? I’d put public schools in the same category as the public roads-a public good that is essential to society.

      • TJB said, on January 20, 2017 at 11:20 pm

        Sure, but why does it matter whether or not the people who build the roads are government employees?

  4. GB said, on February 10, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Looks like your blog comment section unfortunately was taken over by some professional trolls but I highly enjoyed your blog posts on Charter Schools and Unions. I will be coming back to read more of your posts.


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