The Indianapolis Star’s editorial this morning offers its glowing endorsement of the mischief created by our (thankfully concluded) legislative session. While the editorial understandably ignored the culture war aspects of the GOP agenda–the same-sex marriage ban, de-funding of Planned Parenthood, the anti-immigrant effort– it especially praised the slogans-masquerading-as-education-reforms measures.
I don’t pretend to understand why people react so differently to difference–i.e., large numbers of us distrust people from different cultures, different races or religions, but at the same time, eagerly embrace the belief that if we just throw away an old system and replace it with a shiny new one, no matter how dimly conceived, all will be well. So we shy away from the hard work of figuring out what it would take to reform public schools by encouraging all manner of un-vetted and arguably unqualified people to create private ones. With public money, of course.
Several years ago, I took a look at the voucher arguments and found them troubling. Time hasn’t ameliorated those concerns.
But it isn’t just vouchers. I have no problem theoretically with Charter schools, since they are by definition public. But not every for-profit college or politically-ambitious Mayor should be able to sponsor them. I am a big believer in teacher accountability, but I’m also leery of how we determine educational productivity. (Do we let the Principal decide which teachers are doing a good job? That seems calculated to create a lot of brown-nosed teachers. Do we use standardized test scores? Decades of research suggests that test scores correlate more highly with parental income than with teaching talent.) These questions and many others haven’t been addressed by our bumper-sticker sloganeers.
Different isn’t always worse. But it isn’t always better, either.