Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Does school choice undermine accountability?

A decision by the Washington State Supreme Court ruling charter schools unconstitutional has sparked a national conversation on the accountability of charter schools as opposed to traditional public schools, and the virtues of school choice in general. The chief issue in the case was the fact that charter school boards are not elected, and thus not eligible for public funding under the Washington Constitution. Unelected boards are regarded as unaccountable to taxpayers, and therefore undesirable.

While it is true that elections provide an important means of holding officials accountable, it is important to note that dollars are even more effective. Private companies do not hold elections for their officers, because there is already a clear barometer for success or failure, namely profits and losses. Elections are only necessary where funding is non-optional, as in most forms of government. An individual citizen can’t choose to not pay a congressman’s salary if he performs badly, so elections are a way to hold him accountable. Similarly, a parent can’t refuse to fund her local public school, so electing school board officials is an important check on power.

Charter schools, however, are different, because they allow parents a choice. You don’t have to send you child to a charter school, and since charters are usually funded on a per-pupil basis, the withdrawal of a child has a direct impact on the school’s budget. This means that there is a direct financial incentive for these schools to perform well. If they fail to serve their communities, they will lose funding, not only through lack of pupils, but by having their charters revoked by the state. This creates a layer of accountability totally absent in traditional public schools, and thus diminishes the need for elections.

If you want to talk about real lack of accountability, you need look no further than the federal Department of Education, where unelected bureaucrats make decisions that affect schools across the country, giving parents no recourse to protect the rights of their children. Federal programs like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Head Start, have all been measurable failures, yet we keep being forced to spend more and more money on the same debunked ideas.

If you want to talk about unconstitutionality, let’s again look at the federal level. You can search your U.S. Constitution’s in vain for the word “education,” yet the Department of Education continues to operate year after year in flagrant violation of the Tenth Amendment, which reserves all powers not expressly mentioned in the Constitution “to the States respectively, or to the people.”

This means that people of Washington can legislate how they choose, but from a parent’s perspective charter schools are a no-brainer. Choice is always better than no choice, and this applies to education as much as to any other good. Would you rather your daughters be able to buy one brand of shoes, or two? Would you rather your sons be forced into playing soccer, or have baseball as an option as well? Should your kids have to go to whatever public school happens to be nearby, or do you deserve a choice?

When all children in a particular neighborhood are forced to go to the same school, that school has little incentive to take their wishes or complaints into account. The audience is literally captive, bound by the legal requirement for mandatory schooling. With even one alternative in play, schools have to compete for your business. They have to please you, the customer, or else risk losing your business. That’s the democracy of the market, and why school choice is such an important issue in a country that claims to value democracy. That’s what real accountability means.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Washington State Constitution, so it’s not for me to say whether the Court got this one wrong. If the voters desire, they can amend the Constitution and allow charter schools to receive public funding again, and it seems like there is at least some support for doing so. What is clear is that school choice is a policy that is both effective and moral. Parents should be allowed to control their children’s education, and the competition that results brings better outcomes for individuals, and for society as a whole.


British mother-of-five faces jail because her son did not attend lessons while he was grieving the death of his father

A mother-of-five has been warned she faces jail because her son did not attend lessons while he was grieving the death of his father.

Tracey Fidler is being prosecuted by Reading Borough Council - the same authority her fiance Kris Jarvis, 39, was working for when he was hit and killed by a drunk-driver doing 70mph.

Mr Jarvis was cycling with his friend and colleague John Morland, 30, who also died at the scene in Purley on Thames, Berkshire, in February last year. It led Ms Fidler to campaign for tougher drink-drive sentences.

The driver, Alexander Walter, who was over the drink-drive limit, was given a 10-year jail term.

In the months after Mr Jarvis' death, his son Adam had an attendance record of 45 per cent from Battle Primary School, according to The Sunday Times.

Ms Fidler told education editor Sian Griffiths: 'After the crash my youngest child, Adam, was in bits.  'He didn't want to leave me because he thought if he did I wouldn't be there when he came back.'

Ms Fidler claims the school was aware of the circumstances but said it was not a good enough reason to justify keeping Adam at home.

Having pleaded not guilty in court Ms Fidler says she has now been warned she faces a custodial sentence.

She added: 'They want to put me in prison. I just can't believe it because Adam is now thinking he is going to lose his mum. He has already lost his dad.'

Adam's attendance is now back up to normal, Ms Fidler said.

His older siblings, who go to a secondary school in Reading, also missed lessons but their mother said the school was supportive of the reasoning.

Government rules state that a child can only be absent if they are too ill to go in or the parent has advance permission from the school.

An online petition calling on the council to drop the prosecution had collected 4,000 signatures less than 24 hours after it was launched at change.org.

A spokesman for Reading council told The Sunday Times that it was going to speak to the family with the aim of 'urgently finding a resolution'.

At the time of the crash, a spokesman for the authority said: 'It is with great sadness that news of the tragic death of two council employees reached us this morning.

'The thoughts of everyone at Reading Borough Council are obviously with their families at this sad time.'

The Government’s change to the law on school absences, introduced in September 2013, was designed to stop families taking pupils on term-time holidays.  But some parents have been penalised for children missing class to attend important events or medical appointments.


We’re all non-disabled now

The end of September sees the beginning of the academic year at universities, and according to a Times report on Saturday, ‘microaggressions – tiny perceived slights that may imply a broader insult – are now the talk of university campuses across America’. In New Hampshire, a ‘bias-free language guide’ has been compiled, advising against using the term ‘poor person’ in favour of ‘a person who lacks advantages that others have’. It also urges use of the non-gender-specific pronoun ‘zie’, rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’.

An old person should be called ‘person of advanced age’, an obese individual is ‘a person of size’, a foreigner is now an ‘international person’, and, rather than describe someone as ‘able-bodied’, one should instead say ‘non-disabled’. That one particularly took me back. You might as well call people who are alive ‘the undead’, refer to my laptop as ‘unbroken’, or refer to everyone not interested in football as a ‘non-football supporter’.

But it also encapsulates much that is vacuous and contradictory about identity politics. The double-negating term ‘non-disabled’ suggests that people who aren’t disabled are unusual. As a ‘non-disabled’ person, I am now a subaltern ‘other’ defined by the hegemonic disablist ‘centre’.

Identity politics always wants to have it both ways. It can’t decide whether minorities or the disadvantaged should be deemed the same or different, equal or special, victims or moral superiors.

We see this especially in gender politics. ‘Sexual orientation and gender are merely social constructs with no basis in biology’, pronounce the high priestesses of feminism and queer theory, before cheerily accepting that a man who undergoes surgery magically becomes a woman. If gender is all in the mind, why undergo surgery to change your physiognomy? A sex change to ‘become a woman’ is the most flagrant example of gender determinism there is.

Identity politics is incoherent because it is built on the crooked timber of emotion and feeling, and the voodoo conceit that changing language can alter reality. It’s the mindset of a confused teenager: desperately wanting to fit in but wanting to be different all at the same time. When one’s sense of self is of paramount importance, reason and logic take flight.


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