When Reality and Expectation Don’t Meet

This is actually funny. Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute for years has been a big promoter of “school choice,” meaning he thinks parents should get vouchers so that taxpayers can pay for their private school education. He has an op ed in today’s New York Times called “Why Charter Schools Fail the Test” about the effectiveness of the Milwaukee voucher program, which has been in effect since 1990.

A recent comprehensive study found Milwaukee “voucher” kids, many of whom attend charter schools, do no better on standarized tests than kids who stay in the public schools. Reports like this come out from time to time, and righties always explain them away. But for once Murray seems willing to accept defeat —

This is just one of several evaluations of school choice programs that have failed to show major improvements in test scores, but the size and age of the Milwaukee program, combined with the rigor of the study, make these results hard to explain away.

Then comes the next paragraph —

So let’s not try to explain them away. Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another?

And from there, Murray goes on to extol the glories of “school choice,” free of the need to weigh down the sales pitch with tiresome stuff about “facts” and “proof.” Charter schools are better just because they must be better.

If my fellow supporters of charter schools and vouchers can finally be pushed off their obsession with test scores, maybe we can focus on the real reason that school choice is a good idea.

The real reason seems to be that charter schools teach what parents want their kids taught. The “greater good” of tax money supporting an educated public doesn’t enter into it, he admits. “The supporters of school choice need to make their case on the basis of that shared parental calculation, not on the red herring of test scores.”

Test scores don’t mean anything, anyway, he says —

This is true whether the reform in question is vouchers, charter schools, increased school accountability, smaller class sizes, better pay for all teachers, bonuses for good teachers, firing of bad teachers — measured by changes in test scores, each has failed to live up to its hype.

From here he goes to a study done in 1966 that shows all of these factors don’t change test scores. Of course, when someone has to go back more than 40 years to find a study that matches his conclusions, there’s probably a rat around to be smelled. Sure enough, a few seconds of googling turned up a whole bunch of studies done since 1966 that showed a strong correlation between smaller class sizes and higher test scores.

He also argues that the biggest determinant of how well a kid does in school is his home environment, anyway.

What happens in the classroom can have some effect, but smart and motivated children will tend to learn to read and do math even with poor instruction, while not-so-smart or unmotivated children will often have trouble with those subjects despite excellent instruction. If test scores in reading and math are the measure, a good school just doesn’t have that much room to prove it is better than a lesser school.

But if a “good” school cannot prove by any objective measure that it is better than a “lesser” school, what then is the real difference between “good” and “lesser”? Other than the subjective views of the observer, of course?

Murray’s final pitch is that it doesn’t matter whether vouchers increase the quality of education. What matters is that the purpose of tax money for schools is to fulfill the desires of parents, not to benefit society by providing an educated population.

Charles, fail is fail. Deal with it.

14 thoughts on “When Reality and Expectation Don’t Meet

  1. How does one write tripe like that and still look in the mirror? Murray’s reasoning leads me to want to ask him, can a snake swallow its own tail so far that it disappears?
    The original idea was that an educated work force would benefit both the employer and those employed, as well as society as a whole.
    If we teach to what parents want, why bother with schools at all? Why not use tax dollars and pay one parent to home school? This way, parents get what they want, an ignorant “Mini-me,” and our finest, and only, institution of higher learning will be Liberty University.
    I wonder who’ll be left for them to play in the Rose Bowl? Oh yeah, Regents University!

    Seriously, though, stop ‘teaching to the tests,’ limit classroom size, pay teachers a living wage, encourage (demand, where possible) parental involvement, and foster some creativity in the children. Also, yes, you measure both failure and success – just don’t teach to the success. Use what was successful to teach.
    We’ve used the MBA approach to schooling for too long. Children are neither widget’s to be mass produced, nor hogs to be raised, for the least amount of money possible. Cut the f’in military budget, throw some of that money at education in some of what I mentioned above (and I’m sure there are MUCH better idea’s out there than these), and you might have kids who aren’t pig-ignorant.
    When all is said and done, “No Child Left Behind” may cause the most damage out of any of Bush’s initiatives, and that’s one Hell of a looooooooong list of disasters.
    Whodda thunk it?

  2. “School Choice”

    Hey wingnuts you have school choice, don’t like the public schools, then pony up the money and that little brat to a private school, simple problem solved, next.

  3. This is classic wingnut “logic”. If the test scores happened to support their a priori conclusion, they’d be all for them.

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  5. Gulag, they WANT their children pig ignorant. I think that’s the true message of The Texas Schoolbook Massacre.

  6. Speaking of the Texas School Book Massacre.. I hear Newt Gingrich is slated for veneration. Who knows? maybe they can include a chapter dedicated to ” America’s Mayor”. You know, somebody of high integrity America’s youth can look up to, and calibrate their moral compass by.

  7. Wait a second. Here is a guy who posited black intellectual inferiority based on… test scores. So: test scores are valid when they support your racism, but are not when they don’t support your belief in the free market. A huge racist and a huge hypocrite. And the Times knows it and still publishes him.

  8. They know they’re for vouchers and if their reasoning falls through then they’ll find another reason. That only leads one to ask “What’s the real, unspoken reason?”

    My wife is a teacher who deals with parents day in day out. It seems like a lot of them are using their kids as extensions of their own egos. It reflects on them when their kids are judged to be failures in light of standards that apply equally to a class of students. They can avoid this by home schooling.

    Their darlings are not the most accurate, objective means of understanding what’s going on at school. Most parent teacher conferences have the parent swallowing junior’s take on what happened hook line and sinker which coincidentally enough has the teacher looking like an idiot. It’s the refreshing exception for a parent to press junior for the truth once the discrepancies in stories become evident. Teachers must have documentation in case the administration becomes involved.

    One of my favorite stories is of a parent teacher conference with the mother of a young girl that continually violated dress code. You see them all day long pulling the skirts up when a teacher passes and yanking it down to the pubic region when a boy approaches in the distance. When Mom arrived for the conference she looked like a slightly older version of young Britney with jeans well below the navel. LOL.

    Socializing junior is no picnic. Thinking that one can home school is a fantasy for most parents and scapegoating teachers is a cop out.

    Sure there are the rare exceptions, but there’s also the rule.

  9. So, wait. I’m supposed to pay taxes so that some jackass cracker can send his kid to pig-ignorant school? WTF?

    I thought the whole social contract was that I’d pay taxes and you’d pay taxes and we’d pool them together to teach all our kids some close approximation of what we all agreed was the basic things a citizen (now consumer) ought to know, because it’s in my best interest to not only have my kid educated, but also the kid behind the cash register at the supermarket and the guy hanging traffic signs on the highway, etc., etc.

    Where in hell did this “we should get to teach our kids whatever we want at your expense” thing come from? I mean, I understand why Murray would want that; it’s a sweet deal for him. But what’s in it for me?

    Is it just me, or are righties getting weirder and weirder as the years go by?

  10. biggerbox,
    I think they have sustained pretty much the same level of stupidity, hatred and fear for decades – if not centuries. It’s just that with what they see or read on a lot of the MSM, with FOX leading the clown parade, they’re not made to feel like that weird old relative locked-up in the attic. They feel like they’re normal and that they’re just expressing themselves.
    Archie Bunker was on a TV sit-com and was a character to be laughed at 90% of the time, feared about 8%, pitied 2%.
    Pat Buchanan is on news shows as a respected analyst.
    To me, theyre almost ‘identical cousins.’
    Archie was funny.
    Pat is dead serious.
    And us? We could laugh at Archie’s sit-com, we’re forced to accept Pat as a venerated analyst.
    So, if Pat can go on every NBC news outlet that there is and spew the crap that he does, is it any wonder that your ‘Wierd Ol’ Unc’e Al’ feels that there’s no problem with telling everyone seated at the Thanksgiving Day table that he’d be more ‘thankful’ if all the [email protected]@#%$ and $&!#$ could all just be sent back where they belong.
    I poll these people a few times a week. They scare the shit out of me. If you could hear some of the stuff the tell me.
    Last night, I was talking to some rightie woman, and the question was, “Which cable news channel do you watch for news? FOX, CNN, MSNBC, or none of the above?”
    She was against abortion, for sending illegal immigratns back even if it cost $25,000 per head to do so, but against cutting back SS and Medicare.
    She said, “Can’t you tell?”
    Yeah, I could tell.

  11. This is standard operating procedure for think tanks. They are hired to push an ideology or political end and will push it irrespective of the facts. I have heard quite a list of logical gymnastics from A.E.I., Heritage Institute and Cato Institute. The tragedy behind this is that they have been successful in shaping the public debate to the extent that it has become “public debate”. Given that most of us succumb to confirmation bias, all that is necessary is for someone who validates our beliefs or opinion to appear to present a rational or emotionally compelling “argument” and our critical thinking shuts down. So, think tanks have been a successful strategy because all they have to do is provide the superficial impression that they are rational, well intentioned and objective despite being bogus as a three dollar bill.

    They have been aided by lazy journalism. Even on NPR you wind up with a round table of think tankers in place of someone who might actually know something about the subject and provide a rational, objective view.


    I don’t think they want their kids to be pig ignorant, they want other people kids to be pig ignorant. Their attachment to vouchers, charter schools and private schools is likely a desire to retain a perceived status symbol. It shows the “proper feudal spirit” as Bertand Wilberfoce Wooster once remarked.

  12. Surely Mr. Murray can get behind “Home Scholers for Perry.”

    As Murray will gladly demonstrate, “Fail is fail” sure means a lot more than “A is A” (which has never meant anything other than “I don’t have to present an argument because I just know I’m right”). Yeesh. Was he “home scholed,” I wonder?

  13. Minor nit: But if a “good” school cannot prove by any objective measure that it is better than a “lesser” school, what then is the real difference between “good” and “lesser”?

    I think “objective” should be in double quotes in ‘objective measure’.

    Regarding paying teachers more, I am reminded of a book about the science of genetics. The author said that it’s a little known secret in research circles, but throwing money at a problem really does help solve the problem.

    “Calling all toasters” had a good point about Murray relying on standardized tests in other cases. Youngsters might not remember The Bell Curve controversy. Which itself was preceded by the Jensen controversy circa 1970.

    “Pat”‘s teacher wife is encountering nothing new. My late grandmother was a teacher back in the 1920’s and 1930’s – she used to tell similar stories about parents.

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