Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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Politics: Left & Right

    Is school reform a liberal issue or is it a conservative issue?

    Who supports making schools places for real learning, Democrats or Republicans?

    The answer: school reform crosses political boundaries. People standing up to the education establishment include liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians. The ranks of school reformers also include African-Americans, Hispanics, whites, women, men, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, rich people and poor people.

General Education Issues
Liberal Conservative
  • For those confused by such labels as "traditional", "progressive" and whether education reform has a liberal or a conservative agenda, this is MUST reading: "Why Traditional Education IS Progressive" by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., The American Enterprise, March/April 1997, and reprinted in his book, The Schools We Need, and Why We Don't Have Them. Prof. Hirsch starts out by saying, "I would label myself a political liberal and an educational conservative, or perhaps more accurately, an educational pragmatist. Political liberals really ought to oppose 'progressive' educational ideas because they have led to practical failure and greater social inequity."

  • The Benefit to Equity (sidebar within this linked PDF document) by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., American Educator (American Federation of Teachers), Summer 2002. Caption: "A systemic failure to teach all children the knowledge they need in order to understand what the next grade has to offer is the major source of avoidable injustice in our schools."

  • EduWonk -- here is a wonderful daily news blog on education reform, produced by the 21st Century Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute. They also maintain a rich collection of essays, links and other material on their website on education policy.

  • "I once had to point out publicly that as a secular Jewish geology teacher and registered Democrat, I was hardly a Christian Fundamentalist Conservative, but that these were perfectly legal things to be, and if I wished to adopt any of those stances some time in the future it would not change my opinion about arithmetic and algebra."
    -- Dr. Martha Schwartz, co-founder of Mathematically Correct

  • Democrats for Education Reform is "a political action committee whose mission is to encourage a more productive dialogue within the Democratic Party on the need to fundamentally reform American public education. DFER operates on all levels of government to educate elected officials and support reform-minded candidates for public office."

  • "...the best way to reduce the gaps among social, economic and racial groups in America is to provide equal access to knowledge. The knowledge that culturally literate people need is not haphazard; it is specific, it can be identified in advance, and teachers can teach it. That is what I saw at PS 20 [a Core Knowledge school in Brooklyn] where 98 percent of the children are members of a minority group. Many are from low-income homes, but no one looks poor. Instead, they look like children who are happily imbibing knowledge and making it their own."
    -- Diane Ravitch, writing of a "Visit to a Core Knowledge School."

  • Diane Ravitch, after a visit to a Core Knowledge school in Brooklyn: "E. D. Hirsch has consistently argued that the best way to reduce the gaps among social, economic, and racial groups in America is to provide equal access to knowledge. The knowledge that culturally literate people need is not haphazard; it is specific, it can be identified in advance, and teachers can teach it."

  • When Progressiveness Leads to Backwardness by Amity Shlaes. "Every year, thousands of 18-year-olds ... graduate from American grammar schools and high schools [without the ability to] figure percentages or write a grammatical paragraph ... There is a school of thought that says this dumbing down does not matter, that technology and the marvelously flexible American economy will always compensate. Why would a supermarket worker need to know how to type numbers, when bar codes do the job? But this is a form of social injustice, for innumerate and illiterate workers are locked into a low-wage future.

  • "I don't see how any person can truly be called 'educated' who doesn't know the elements of sentence structure, or who doesn't understand the nature of a relative clause, a passive construction, and so on ... Furthermore, if one is going to discuss literature, including here what students write themselves, and to come to understand how it is written and why, these conceptual tools are indispensable."
    -- Noam Chomsky

  • Impotent Liberalism by Andrew J. Rotherham, Progressive Policy Institute, February 10, 2004. "Romanticism about common schools in the face of what research shows about the demographics and outcomes of public education is an astounding feat of denial. Moreover it is a misdirection play to divert attention from the horrifying achievement gap that is one of the primary barriers to greater social equity and mobility today. ... With some notable exceptions, it never seems to enter the calculus of today's establishment liberals that perhaps a system that works inadequately for too many poor and minority youngsters ... needs broader reforms. ... Robert Kennedy made the case for testing and accountability almost 40 years ago ... Kennedy wasn't a 'crank' ... and certainly not a conservative. ... Likewise, Albert Shanker, the legendary American Federation of Teachers president and school reformer (and another non-crank and non-conservative) also unapologetically favored testing, with consequences. Shanker also opposed numerous faddish reforms ... Both men exemplified real liberalism."

  • Liberals Able To Botch Up Schools Too by Garrison Keillor, Chicago Tribune, January 30, 2008. "And then there is the grief that old righteous people inflict on the young, such as our public schools. ... This is a bleak picture for an old Democrat. ... When the grand pooh-bah PhDs of education stand up and blow, they speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results, the bums ought to be thrown out. ... The No Child Left Behind initiative has plenty of flaws, but the Democrats who are trashing it should take another look at the Reading First program. It is morally disgusting if Democrats throw out Republican programs that are good for children."

  • Education Emerging as Civil Rights Issue of the 21st Century by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, December 1, 2004. "'Education is the number one civil rights issue for blacks in the 21st century because, 50 years after the Brown decision declared 'separate but equal' public education to be unconstitutional, both blacks and Hispanics suffer disproportionately from being educated poorly', contended Lee Walker, president of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change."

  • "After decades of fighting for equal educational opportunities for the poor, national Democrats and too many civil rights leaders have become extensions of the teachers unions, falling into a self-defeating pattern of lock step support of more funding without more accountability from teachers and administrators. The result, too often, is a school system that spends more per student year after year and has less to show for it."
    -- Clarence Page, nationally syndicated columnist, April 26, 2005

  • "The Hard Questions" by Nathan Glazer, The New Republic, August 10, 1998. An interesting and balanced article contrasting the views of E. D. Hirsch and Theodore Sizer, from a liberal perspective.

  • "A Way To Achieve Equity in Education" (PDF file) by the late Albert Shanker, who served as president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Excerpts: "[Having] a multicultural society is no bar to achieving educational equity: Good results have more to do with whether or not a country has a curriculum that specifies a certain body of core knowledge that teachers are responsible for teaching and kids for learning. ... As often happens in the case of disadvantaged children, [schools and school districts] decide the kids can't do the work and give them a watered-down curriculum. The trouble with this is that it virtually guarantees these children will fall behind their more advantaged peers -- and never catch up. So instead of compensating for social inequalities, our schools unwittingly help to perpetuate them."

  • "We can beef up affirmative action all we like and it won't increase the flow of minority students into college, because the K-12 system just doesn't produce enough college-ready high school graduates. ... The only strategy that can meaningfully improve minority representation in higher education is to improve the quality of the K-12 education system so that it produces more college-ready minority students."
    -- Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster, Manhattan Institute, Fix the Pipeline First, Washington Post, January 7, 2004

  • Dems to Poor Kids: Get Lost by Sol Stern, City Journal, Spring 2001: "New York's Democrats mean to kill an education tax credit that would help poor families. ... How long will it take before those parents realize the extent of ... Democrats' betrayal of their children's interests?"

  • Fairness and Core Knowledge: " American children move from first grade to second, and onward, the academic gap between privileged and disadvantaged children grows wider. ... The American vagueness about what a child needs to learn in a grade seems more than any other circumstance to cause the learning gap to widen."

  • Why Core Knowledge Promotes Social Justice, an address by E. D.Hirsch. Excerpts: "... In no state or region of the nation, north or south, east or west, have our schools achieved true equality of educational opportunity -- which is the heart and soul of progress towards social justice. ... We must make it possible for all children to achieve at higher levels, and thereby reduce the tragic achievement gap between social groups. There is only one way to do this. Each child in each grade must learn what he or she needs to know in order to be ready to learn the lessons of the next grade."

  • Toward a Centrist Curriculum: Two Kinds of Multiculturalism in Elementary School

  • Percent of African-Americans who have confidence in public schools:  19%
    -- African-American Monitor, poll conducted by Yankelovich, Feb-Apr 1999

  • "African Americans are generally fed up with the education status quo."
    -- Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), June 14, 2001, speech to the National Education Association, Washington, D.C.

  • Positive Equity Effects of Core Knowledge

  • "And then I come to this other point, that if you are placing or putting money into a school system which itself creates this problem, or helps to create it, or does nothing or very little to alleviate it, are we not just in fact wasting the money of the Federal Government and the taxpayer and investing money where it is really going to accomplish very little if any good?"
    -- Robert F. Kennedy, 1965

  • Townhall Issues: Education

  • American Studies Urged as Focus, New York Times, October 7, 2001 Lynne Cheney is promoting a school curriculum that emphasizes American studies: "If there were one aspect of schooling from kindergarten through college to which I would give added emphasis today, it would be American history."

  • Coalition on Urban Renewal & Education (CURE)

  • Accuracy in Academia: According to their web site, AIA "seeks the reassertion of traditional academic ethics in our universities. ... AIA [focuses] on three issues: the exploitation of the classroom or university resources to indoctrinate students; discrimination against students, faculty or administrators based on political or academic beliefs; and campus violations of free speech."

  • "If the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan wanted to sabotage black academic excellence he could not find a more effective means to do so than the government school system in most cities."
    -- Walter E. Williams

  • Public education needs patriotism by Don Feder, November 15, 2001

  • The Anti-Social Studies May 6, 2002, The Weekly Standard.

  • Mass Delusion of Multiculturalism, a review of the book Plagues of the Mind, The New Epidemic of False Knowledge by Bruce Thornton

  • The Arena of Ideas: Education Issues from a Conservative Perspective - extensive website with substantial content, especially in its web pages dedicated to essays, hot issues, and reports.

  • Ye Olde Yale Excursion by Jonah Goldberg, National Review, Sept. 22, 2000. "I argued that the Left has become an enemy of classical liberalism, largely by adopting many of the attitudes of the pre-Enlightenment Right. ... Today it is the Left that despises science and reason ... the Left has all but declared war on science."

  • "Teacher's Pets: School for Scandal" by William McGurn, Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2001. "Documents show that the National Education Association has become the Democratic Party."

  • Local schools? Don't make me laugh! by Alan Caruba "...More and more [parents] at some point discover that their local school board has no control whatever over what is taught in their schools."

  • What Happened to Abolishing the Department of Education? National Review, February 11, 2004. "As recently as 1996, the Republican party sought to abolish the Department of Education as an inappropriate intrusion into state, local and family affairs. The GOP platform that year was clear: 'The Federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the market place. This is why we will abolish the Department of Education.' ... In his State of the Union address last month, [President Bush] touted huge federal education-spending increases -- the largest under any president since Lyndon B. Johnson ... The Department of Education itself has grown by 69.6 percent between 2002 and 2004: from $46,282 million in FY2002 to $60,600 million in FY2004. This is a remarkable increase from a party so recently committed to devolving control over education ..."

  • "No Child Left Behind, while embracing admirable goals, constitutes a federal intrusion into state control of education on a scale never seen before."
    -- Kansas State Senator Derek Schmidt, a Republican

  • Former Congressman Says Conservatives Should Have Opposed No Child Left Behind Law, March 5, 2007: "'We have decided as conservatives to be content with a government-owned, unionized, bureaucratized monopoly,' [Former Colorado Congressman Bob] Schaffer contends. 'And it's just gone on for too long,' he says. ... 'No Child Left Behind Act, he says, is a massive intrusion into the authority of states represented by the federal government.' ... The more authority is consolidated in Washington, Schaffer contends, the slimmer the chance becomes for meaningful education reforms across the United States."

  • The Educational State of the Union by Andrew J. Coulson, February 1, 2006. "'Education has never been a national responsibility in our country, and school systems should not be operated by an agency in Washington.' ... The cited words are those of the late Albert Shanker, erstwhile president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoken back in 1978 in opposition to the creation of the Department of Education. Shanker was right. Powers not accorded to Congress by the Constitution are reserved, by the 10th Amendment, to the states and the people. As it happens, the U.S. Constitution mentions neither the word 'education' nor the word 'school'. Doesn't even allude to them."

  • First We Take Your Money, Then We Take Your Schools by Neal McCluskey, Center for Educational Freedom at Cato Institute, November 9, 2006. "Many voters who have traditionally supported Republicans despise big government, especially federal intrusions into their schools. That's a group, as the upcoming midterms are likely to show, that Republicans can't afford to lose." ...
        "How can the administration hew to the ideal of local control while simultaneously advocating federal intrusion into the classroom? They can't. Either they stick to the Constitution and keep the federal government out of education, or they chuck it and run the schools from Washington. ...     "If you're a 'good Federalist,' you know that the Constitution doesn't give Washington any authority to appropriate money for education or to run schools, much less to spend money on education and then use it to buy control of the schools. Regrettably, the reality is that George Bush has not been a good Federalist. When it comes to education, he has repeatedly flouted the Constitution and expanded the scope of federal power. If he continues to do so for the next two years, his legacy will not be what he had hoped."

  • No To More Federal Control by Michael D. Ostrolenk, USA Today. "This very dangerous trend in American politics and public policy is an Orwellian move by the Republicans who talk about limited government but actually support more command and control by federally run bureaucratic programs. This is especially true in the arena of education, demonstrated by programs such as No Child Left Behind and now the move to federalize the curriculum process in other areas of learning.

  • "Federal aid to education invariably means federal control of education."
    -- Sen. Barry Goldwater

  • Words Have Meaning by Lynn Stuter, May 14, 2003. The author looks at buzzwords and catch phrases of modern education and concludes that what they imply bears little similarity to what parents might think they mean.

  • Multiculturalism: Fact or Threat? by Dinesh D'Souza, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution. "It is possible to devise a kind of multiculturalism that is essentially pro-American, and based on the principles of Madison, Jefferson, and Lincoln. Unfortunately, multiculturalism as currently practiced is a betrayal of these principles, and an enemy of black and minority advancement."

  • Celebrate civilization By Michael S. Berliner, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 7, 2001

  • Stereotyping and the Decline of Common Sense by Paul Hollander, July 19, 2002. "it has been largely overlooked that a recently prominent trend in American society -- namely multiculturalism -- thrives on stereotyping. It insists that there are ineradicable differences among groups ... the ban on stereotyping -- central to political correctness -- has been highly selective. White heterosexual males, corporate executives, evangelical Christians, housewives not interested in feminism, anti-abortionists and others can be openly stereotyped in highly unfavorable ways. ... These too are stereotypes, and especially venomous."

  • Racism: Do facts matter? by Thomas Sowell, October 18, 2001

  • The Prep-School PC Plague, Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, Spring 2002: "Instead of forging a colorblind elite, these privileged schools stress everything that divides their newly diverse student bodies."

  • Enter Stage Right: Articles on Education

  • Arena of Ideas: articles on education issues, mostly from a conservative political viewpoint

  • Federal Education Programs Harm Students by Herbert J. Walberg, Hoover Institution, February 28, 2000

  • EdWatch: Education for a Free Nation

  • USA Today talks with Newt Gingrich at the 2004 Republican convention:
    Q: Is there anything else domestically that you think is important for the president to make a key focus of his agenda?
    A: The biggest challenge for the United States domestically is to fundamentally, profoundly overhaul math and science education. This is a real crisis. ... We say in the Hart-Rudman commission report ... unanimously -- 14 people, Democrat and Republican -- that our math and science education is a greater threat to the United States than any conceivable conventional war. So if you were to ask me if I could fix health or education, I'd pick education. If I could fix Social Security or education, I'd pick education. It's that big a crisis.

  • Parent Choice
    Also see our in-depth pages on parent choice and on choosing schools
    Liberal Conservative
  • Democrats for school choice, June 22, 2006, Wall Street Journal. When the Arizona legislature concludes its 2006 session in a few days, it will set a record for school-choice legislation by enacting four new or expanded programs allowing disadvantaged children to attend private schools. Even more remarkable: The programs were enacted in a state with a Democratic governor. Yet Arizona is not an aberration. Already in 2006, a new Iowa corporate scholarship tax credit bill was signed into law by Gov. Tom Vilsack; and in Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill increasing the Milwaukee voucher program by 50%. Gov. Ed Rendell may expand Pennsylvania's corporate scholarship tax credit program, as he did last year. Messrs. Vilsack, Doyle and Rendell are all Democrats. And last year, hell froze over: Sen. Ted Kennedy endorsed the inclusion of private schools in a rescue effort for over 300,000 children displaced from their schools by Hurricane Katrina. As a result, tens of thousands of kids are attending private schools using federal funds, amounting to the largest (albeit temporary) voucher program ever enacted. Before that, a voucher program for the District of Columbia was established with support from Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Joseph Lieberman. ..."

  • "At the very least, we should experiment with choice in this city. If people are afraid to at least experiment, that tells me there is some self-interest in this motive."
    -- Washington, D.C. Democrat mayor Anthony Williams

  • Let D.C. Try Vouchers by Dianne Feinstein, Democratic senator from California.

  • "Based on the substantial amount of money pumped into the schools and the resultant test scores, I do not believe that money alone is going to solve the problem. This is why I believe the District [of Columbia] should be allowed to try [school vouchers]." -- U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), July 22, 2003

  • "It is my strong belief that the more we can foster experimentation, the more we can foster a different set of models that can be franchised across the system, the more successful we can be."
    -- Barack Obama, interviewed in the Chicago Sun-Times regarding charter schools during his successful run for U.S. Senate, October 7th, 2004.

  • "This is not a question for me about Democrats or Republicans. It is really a question about whether or not we are going to continue to let every child die, arguing that, if we begin to do vouchers, if we do charter schools, what we in fact are doing is taking away from the public system. We say, let them all stay there. Let them all die. It is like saying there has been a plane crash. But because we cannot save every child, we are not going to save any of our children; we let them all die."
    -- Rev. Dr. Floyd H. Flake, former U.S. Representative, Congressional Record, October 31, 1997

  • John Norquist and the Lessons of School Choice by Bill Steigerwald January 14, 2008. "One of several things Democrat John O. Norquist became famous for during his four terms as mayor of Milwaukee was his enthusiastic implementation of a school-voucher system for his city. The popularity of the school-choice program, which started in 1991 with 1,500 students and now serves more than 12,000 of the city's roughly 110,000 students, has helped to reverse Milwaukee's population decline, Norquist says. It has lured new residents to the city of 602,000 and it has kept many families from leaving for the suburbs when their kids hit school age."

  • " Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) receives an award for his significant contributions to school choice ... Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut ... said school choice would provide some children 'a way out of bad schools' and would boost public school performance. Pledging to 'keep on marching' for parent choice, Lieberman emphasized the importance of saving children from failing schools. Quoting from the Talmud, the senator said, 'If you save one life, it is as if you've saved the world.'"

  • "Easy Choice", editorial, New Republic, September 11, 2000. "When Al Gore chose Joe Lieberman to be his running mate, Democrats praised the Connecticut senator's bipartisanship. ... 'If you ask me personally, I'm still for a test of vouchers,' Lieberman confessed to CNN ... in this case, the presidential candidate is wrong and the vice presidential candidate is right." ...
    "Democrats used to say you can't make anti-poverty policy without listening to the poor. Fair enough. Last year, a poll ... found that 72 percent of African Americans in low-income households supported vouchers."

  • "I am fascinated by that proposal [for school choice in Milwaukee] and am having my staff analyze it. I'm concerned that the traditional Democratic Party establishment has not given you more encouragement. The visionary is rarely embraced by the status quo."
    -- Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas, October 18, 1990, in a letter to Democrat Wisconsin state representative Polly Williams, one of the architects for school choice in that state

  • "We are stuck in an ideological cement of our own mixing and because of it, American parents are voting with their feet. ... Every morning more and more parents -- rich, middle-class, and even the poor -- are driving their sons and daughters to parochial schools where they believe there will be more discipline, more standards and more opportunity. ... Shame on us for not realizing that there are parents in this country who ... today support vouchers not because they are enamored with private schools but because they want a choice for their children. They want alternatives, and seeing none in our rigid system, they are willing and some even desperate to look elsewhere."
    -- John Kerry, U.S. senator, speech, Northeastern Univ., June 16, 1998

  • "Schoolyard Tussle: John Kerry takes on the teachers' unions" by Dana Milbank, New Republic, December 14, 1998.

  • "With the U.S. Supreme Court's June [2002] ruling that the Cleveland, Ohio voucher program is constitutional, the last big civil rights battle -- to give poor minority kids good schools -- can now begin in earnest."
    -- Sol Stern

  • Social researcher Terry Moe, keynote speaker at a Brookings Institution seminar: "The voucher issue ought to be a liberal democratic issue. The only reason it isn't is the teachers' unions. I think that's true. Otherwise liberal Democrats would say, 'Hey, these are our constituents. We provide programs for them in all these different policy areas, and what, on this one issue we're not going to do that? We can do this and not harm the public schools. We can have a better public school system and help these kids now by using vouchers.'"

  • There's Nothing Progressive about Blocking Vouchers by George Will, November 1, 2007.

  • School choice is a civil-rights issue by Paul E. Peterson and William G. Howell: Excerpt: "The education gap between blacks and whites has remained intact ... This gap is unlikely to close if most whites have residential choice and most blacks don't. Blacks are the losers in this arrangement ... their children attend the worst public schools. The results are clear. ... Because blacks have the least amount of choice among public schools, they benefit the most when choice is expanded."

  • School Choice: A Civil Rights Issue by Paul E. Peterson and William G. Howell. "African American students, when given the choice of a private school, scored significantly higher on standardized tests than comparable students remaining in public school."

  • "I am a lifelong Democrat, and I am not sure when the Democrats decided that siding with the poor and the needy is no longer part of their platform. School choice empowers parents, and I don't care who is behind it, Democrats or Republicans."
    --Virginia Walden, D.C. parent, Washington Post, May 24, 1998

  • Black Support For Vouchers Fueling A Democratic Divide, Investor's Business Daily, May 15, 2003. Excerpts: "When Washington Mayor
    DC Mayor
    Anthony Williams
    Anthony Williams announced on May 1 that he supported school voucher programs, it made headlines. ... Vouchers are one issue on which the Democratic Party and African Americans are at odds. Williams' decision exposes a fault line in the party -- one that could grow if the plan goes forward. ... The issue pits two of the Democratic Party's strongest constituencies against each other: teacher unions and black voters. 'Sooner or later, there will be a day of reckoning for Democrats on this,' said Andrew Rotherham, head of education policy for the Progressive Policy Institute, the Democratic Leadership Council's think tank. ... Fifty-seven percent [of blacks] favor vouchers, according to surveys by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which tracks black voting patterns. ... Black support has remained strong since vouchers first emerged as an issue in the 1990s. ... Support is strongest among black voters under age 35 (75%) and in households with children (74%)."

  • "If the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of the little guy, where do we get off opposing a chance to help those with the least of all?"
    -- Jason Fields, Democratic state representative in Wisconsin, and school choice supporter

  • "A large majority (60 percent) of the black public support vouchers. ... There was what can accurately be described as overwhelming support for vouchers (approximately 70 percent) in the three youngest age cohorts, i.e., those under 50 years."
    -- conclusions from a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

  • Free at Last: Black America Signs up for School Choice by Nina Shokraii, Policy Review, November-December 1996. "A powerful grass-roots movement is slowly gathering force that may transform the politics of American education. Its human face is not white but black; its resources few but its determination strong. And its goal is freedom. Although most black political leaders still actively oppose vouchers and charter schools, their constituents are growing increasingly angry at the public schools' disastrous record of teaching black children. As a result, black parents, pastors, local officials, and civil-rights leaders are beginning to embrace school vouchers, charter schools, and other reforms that offer alternatives to dismal public schools."

  • "Is it moral to tax families, compel their children's attendance at schools, and then give them no choice between teaching methods, religious or secular education, and other matters? Is it consistent to proclaim, meanwhile, that America is a nation that prides itself on competition, consumer choice, freedom of religion, and parental responsibility?"
    -- Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., School Choice: It's a Civil Right, Wall Street Journal, September 11, 1997

  • "Will allowing parents to choose from different education options 'destroy public education'? Did competition from Toyota 'destroy' General Motors? Or to use an even closer analogy: Has competition from Federal Express 'destroyed' the government postal service, or has the latter indeed become better, faster, more innovative in response? ... [Beware those who] wave their worn-out ideologies to defend a system of educational apartheid while demonizing anyone who promotes a parent's right to choose." -- Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador

  • A Bold Experiment to Fix City Schools, by Matthew Miller, The Atlantic, July 1999. "...Missing entirely from the debate is the progressive pro-voucher perspective. ... In fact vouchers have a long but unappreciated intellectual pedigree among reformers who have sought to help poor children and to equalize funding in rich and poor districts. This "voucher left" has always had less cash and political power than its conservative counterpart or its union foes. It has been ignored by the press and trounced in internecine wars. But if urban children are to have any hope, the voucher left's best days must lie ahead."

  • Every Public School a Charter School? by Bill Evers. "In 2000, Andrei Cherny -- a senior speechwriter for Al Gore and principal author of the 2000 Democratic Party's national platform -- wrote a fascinating ... book entitled 'The Next Deal.' ... To reform public education, Cherny proposes making every public school a charter school, empowering parents to choose which public charter school their child would attend, and letting these charter schools be managed by a variety of providers, including religious groups and private companies. 'This would strap the money to the backs of children,' Cherny writes, 'instead of giving it to the schools, forcing public schools to compete against one another for students and the funds they bring with them. This force of competition would compel all schools to get better.'"

  • "Choose or Lose" by Jonathan Rauch, New Republic, November 10, 1997. "I've always found it a little odd that liberals hand the voucher idea to Republicans ... rather than grabbing if for themselves. ... For poor children, trapped in execrable schools, the case [for vouchers] is moral rather than merely educational. These kids attend schools which cannot protect their physical safety, much less teach them. To require poor people to go to dangerous, dysfunctional schools that better-off people fled years ago, and that better-off people would never tolerate for their own children--all the while intoning pieties about 'saving' public education--is worse than unsound public policy. It is repugnant public policy. Why should the poor be denied more control over their most important means of social advancement, when soccer moms and latte-drinkers take for granted that they can buy their way out of a school (or a school district) that abuses or annoys them? By embracing school choice--if not everywhere, then at least somewhere--liberals could at one stroke emancipate the District's schoolchildren while also emancipating liberalism from that basest sort of corruption."

  • A Progressive Case for Vouchers by Charles L. Glenn, Boston University. "There are two convincing reasons why Progressives should support educational vouchers. They go by the names of 'Freedom' and 'Justice.' ... It is on the basis of this fundamental human right, and not of any theory about 'markets,' that virtually all the other Western democracies provide public funding to non-government schools that meet public standards and that are selected freely by parents."

  • Making Sense of the "Public" in Public Education by Frederick M. Hess, Progressive Policy Institute, November 22, 2002. "What is a "public" school? ... it is time for policymakers to rethink what is public and private in education. Historically, defenders of the public purpose in education have off-handedly labeled their opponents or proposed reforms as 'anti-public education.' While this tactic has long been used as a blanket defense for the status quo, it is becoming less relevant to teaching or learning and serves primarily to stifle practical discussion about how to balance the community,familial, and national interests in improving schooling for all our children. Amidst widespread support for public school choice plans, explosive growth in charter schooling, and the Supreme Court's ruling that voucher programs pass constitutional muster, there is growing recognition that it may be possible to serve public purposes and cultivate civic virtues in places other than conventional state-run schools."

  • "The standoff between vouchers and money is predictable. It is also regrettable, because it prevents consideration of a most promising way to improve school performance -- giving kids 'progressive' vouchers that are inversely related to the size of their family's income ... Why not simply 'voucherize' all education funding and let students and their parents select where they can get the best education?" -- Robert B. Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2000

  • Robert Reich and his "Liberal Case For Vouchers (No Kidding)," by John Tierney, New York Times, September 8, 2000

  • "We have created a system of school finance that provides free choice for the rich and compulsory socialization for everyone else. The present method of financing American education discriminates against the poor and the working class and even a large part of the middle class by conditioning the exercise of First Amendment rights of school choice upon an ability to pay while simultaneously eroding the ability to pay through the regressive collection of taxes used exclusively for government schools."
    -- Stephen Arons, Compelling Belief, p. 211, 1983

  • "Those who can afford school choice are not criticized because they select a school that is nearby, or has a religious affiliation, or because they won't make a wise decision. Only low-income parents are so challenged. ... The awareness is slowly growing that school choice is a moral issue where equal justice for all is imperative."
    -- David Kirkpatrick

  • The Coming Democratic Embrace Of Parental Choice, by Fritz S. Steiger, President, Children First America, August 10, 2001

  • "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
    -- United Nations
    "Universal Declaration of Human Rights"
    (from Article 26)

  • Why liberals should support vouchers: "The Right Thing," by Diane Ravitch, The New Republic, October 8, 2001.

  • " A Liberal Case for Vouchers: New data counters old fears," by Paul E. Peterson, The New Republic: October 4, 1999.

  • The Liberal Voucher Opportunity by Matthew Miller, July 2, 2002. "[Some] Liberals [are] upset by the Supreme Court's ruling that vouchers are constitutional ... But the truth is this 'setback' creates an opportunity for the left to recast the voucher debate in ways that bring more money to poor schools. The question is whether the teachers unions have the imagination at this crossroads to allow new ideas for the children they claim to champion -- as well as for the Democratic presidential aspirants whose agendas they control."

  • "If I were running a public school system, I'd sign a contract with the parochial schools -- as Mayor Guiliani wanted to do in New York--and have them educate some of the poorest kids ... I don't see the First Amendment as so rigid that it prevents us from contracting with people who are getting the job done right." -- Sen. Robert Kerrey (D-NE)

  • Choosing Integration by Jay P. Greene, The Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2002. The author's research shows that private schools are actually less segregated than public schools because their attendance isn�t constrained by politically drawn boundaries that reinforce segregated housing patterns. Private school parents are also more willing to try "racial mixing" because those schools usually maintain discipline and safety much better than public schools.

  • Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). This is not a liberal or even a political group per se, but people concerned about social justice and equity will want to hear what BAEO is saying.

    "When the Children's Scholarship Fund awarded 40,000 private scholarships last spring, it did more than change the lives of low-income children -- it changed the education debate forever. The tidal wave of applications for these scholarships gave irrefutable proof of the huge demand for choice in education, especially in inner-city communities. ... The board's diversity has been a source of strength and personal pride. But as we were lining up the members, I remarked to my partner, 'The way things are going, you and I are going to end up being practically the only Republicans on CSF's board.' John replied, 'Ted, I think there's something I'd better tell you. I'm not a Republican.'" -- Theodore J. Forstmann, co-chair, Children's Scholarship Fund

  • "We've got to stop having a knee-jerk opposition to school vouchers and charter schools. ... For all the African-American officials that have come out against vouchers, you will never find my name."
    -- Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White, quoted in The Cleveland Plain Dealer , November 13, 1994

  • A Promise Long Deferred: Voucher verdict decides an issue as old as King George by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Washington Post, July 1, 2002. "... at least the Democratic Party can claim to be prophetic and support school vouchers."

  • "If [the idea of educational vouchers] prevails only as a conservative cause, it will have been a great failure of American liberalism not to have seen the essentially liberal nature of this pluralist proposition."
    -- Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D - New York), quoted in Private Schools and the Public Good, edited by Edward McGlynn Gaffney Jr.

  • "I favor the creation of a tax system where parents would receive a tax credit when their children attend approved private schools."
    -- Sen. Hubert Humphrey, quoted by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, p. 14, Educational Choice: A Catalyst for School Reform, A Report of the Task Force on Education of the City Club of Chicago, August, 1989.

  • School Choice Choir Has Broad Range of Voices: Was Hubert Humphrey a right-wing conspirator? School Reform News, July 1, 1999

  • What's so liberal about keeping children in dreadful schools? by La Shawn Barber, Washington Post, February 23, 2003. "The D.C. public schools are dreadful. ... 90 percent of students read at the 'basic' or 'below basic' level. In 14 of 19 high schools, 90 percent of students are unable to perform math above the basic level. ... D.C. students rank near the bottom on national tests. The system lacks qualified teachers, safe facilities and even basic supplies such as pencils and textbooks. Yet on this issue, the District's Democrats do not believe in the right to choose. Why? ... In 1963, George 'Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!' Wallace, then the governor of Alabama, stood in the door of the state university to prevent black students from entering. In 2003, the District's liberal leaders stand in the doors of deteriorating public schools to prevent black students from escaping. Forty years ago, Democrats couldn't care less about the education of black students. Forty years later, they still don't."

  • NAACP's Fight Against Private School Vouchers by Star Parker, May 15, 2006. "Why would an organization that calls itself the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose motto is 'Making Democracy Work Since 1909,' oppose individual choice and freedom and dedicate itself to promoting public policy that guarantees the perpetuation of black poverty? As incongruous as this might sound, it is in fact true. ... The public school monopoly serves the black community so notoriously poorly that many blacks themselves poll in favor of vouchers. ... So what's going on here? You would think that NAACP leaders would be rabid in pushing for change and opening new educational opportunities available for black children. Yet, they doggedly defend a proven and hopeless failed status quo. ... Maybe one day the NAACP will wake up and recall that its mission is supposedly to expand not limit opportunities for black Americans."

  • Leaving Black Kids Behind by Rich Lowry, October 9, 2003. "If these numbers [on the gap in performance between black and white students] make you queasy, they should. America has an educational system worthy of David Duke. Its effect is to perpetuate and exacerbate the country's racial divide, disadvantaging blacks (and Hispanics) and blighting their prospects."

  • "He's Throwing Away My Dream": Today It's Liberal Democrats Who Stand in the Schoolhouse Door by John Fund, Opinion Journal (Wall Street Journal), January 16, 2006. "... any Milwaukee parents ... have painfully learned that more money spent on a failed system does not produce better education. They want to make their own decisions about their children's future. In the early battles over establishing the Milwaukee program, opponents backed down only when Milwaukee parents began comparing Bert Grover, then the state school superintendent, to George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. The front lines of today's civil rights struggle are not in the South but in Milwaukee."

  • "Education reform is a civil-rights struggle and the key to improving America's competitiveness in the global economy. We need to empower parents and children by expanding school choice."
    -- Rudy Giuliani, June 13, 2007

  • Vouchers and Votes by Thomas Sowell, October 15, 2003. "First of all, vouchers would alienate one of the Democrats' biggest financial contributors, the teachers' unions. ... Then there is the support of blacks, who are the group that votes most dependably and most overwhelmingly for Democrats. But what if a Republican-sponsored bill creates vouchers that allow black children to escape the terrible schools that so many attend?"

  • End the Education Monopoly, Support School Choice , FreedomWorks, Citizens for a Sound Economy. "CSE supports a wide variety of proposals, including vouchers and charter schools, and closing failing schools, all of which weaken the grip of the public school monopoly. Giving parents the choice among the widest possible array of schools will provide these schools with the incentive to provide the best education for every student -- without school choice, schools get students and funding regardless of how well they perform.

  • The Left's School Choice Lesson: "Choose ... Our Way" by Gabriel Garnica, August 26, 2003. "While the Liberal Left claims that it is fighting for the children and for public education when it fights school choice with tooth and claw, the real reason is that the Liberal Left hierarchy believes that such programs would weaken, not the schools or public education, but their political power and support base."

  • The Market Can Transform Our Schools by Milton Friedman, New York Times, July 2, 2002. Excerpt: "The Supreme Court's voucher decision clears the way for a major expansion of parental school choice ... now that the Supreme Court has declared the Cleveland program constitutionally acceptable even though most voucher recipients went to parochial schools. ... Most schools that accept vouchers are religious for a simple reason, and one that is easily corrected. That reason is the low value of the voucher. ... Assumption of responsibility by government for educating all children does not require that schooling be delivered in government-run institutions -- just as government food stamps need not be spent in government grocery stores.

  • How Can We Fix Our Public Schools? by Milton Friedman, Hoover Digest, 2001, No. 2. Also available at the Cato Institute in a slightly different version.

  • Why Conservatives and Libertarians Should Support School Vouchers by Joseph L. Bast, Independent Review, Fall 2002.

  • A Libertarian Case Against Vouchers by Ari Armstrong, August 23, 2002

  • Student Vouchers Invite Government Involvement by Nancy Salvato, January 24, 2005

  • Cato Institute, webpage on education policy and school choice, including numerous studies and commentaries.

  • What Does a Voucher Buy? A Closer Look at the Cost of Private Schools by David F. Salisbury, director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute. Excerpt: "...the average private elementary school tuition in the United States is less than $3,500 and the average private secondary school tuition is $6,052. Therefore, a voucher amount of $5,000 would give students access to most private schools. Since average per pupil spending for public schools is now $8,830, most states could offer a voucher amount even greater than $5,000 and still realize substantial savings."

  • Lessons from Martin Luther King: The School-Choice Battle Gets Intense by Casey Lartigue, Jr., June 11, 2003

  • "We believe that parental choice is paramount to meet the diverse needs in education of 21st century children. ... AARLC supports competitive non-monopolistic public schools as the vanguard of our education system that embraces adequate yearly progress standards for all its pupils and teachers."
    -- African American Republican Leadership Council

  • Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute says its "dual missions are to prepare young women for effective conservative leadership and to promote school choice opportunities for all K-12 children in America."

  • Conservatives Must Fix Education to Win the Hearts of American Women by Michelle Easton, President, Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute

  • Strange New Love for "The Blob" By Andrew J. Coulson. "In the eighties, Republicans talked of abolishing the federal Department of Education. In the nineties, they blocked President Clinton's quest for national education standards. Former Reagan education secretary William Bennett even dubbed America's bloated school monopolies 'the Blob.' But with the election of George W. Bush and the passage of his No Child Left Behind law in 2002, the 'party of limited government' apparently decided to stop worrying and love the Blob. ... Now in control of the House, Senate, and White House, many Republicans are acting as though their hold on power will last forever. But once the current federal government usurps the right to institute national standards, every future government will have the opportunity to massage or mangle them. ... The very idea that government standards are the key to educational improvement runs counter to the conservative principles of individual liberty and the superiority of voluntary market action over coercive central planning. ... Most importantly, standards advocates have yet to present a decisive empirical case that national curricula or testing would raise achievement, let alone that they would raise it more than free market policies. ... So instead of asking schools to slip out of NCLB's handcuffs and into a new and more restrictive federal straitjacket, conservatives -- and indeed liberals and moderates -- should take the opposite tack: ask their state representatives to free educators from red tape, and empower all parents to choose the best schools for their children, public or private. That was the wisdom of the earlier conservative position on education, and surely it beats embracing the Blob."

  • Conservatives Should Oppose National Standards by Neal McCluskey. "[G]overnment standards always have to pass through vested interests such as teacher unions and education administrators, who have strong incentives and heaps of political power to keep standards weak. Indeed, if there's just one lesson decades of failed big-government education should have taught conservatives, it's that groups like the National Education Association have almost endless time, money, and incentives to get their political way, while parents, children, and conservatives do not."

  • School Choice and Civil Rights by Ken Blackwell.
    "School choice programs ... represent this century's defining civil rights issue. ... These fledgling choice programs are becoming increasingly popular because public schools are performing so poorly. ... Parents like the programs because they empower them. Teacher unions oppose the programs because they weaken their position at the collective bargaining table. ... In the 1960's, Rev. King fought segregationists who put up barriers to basic human rights and denied African-Americans the civil rights each of our nation's citizens are guaranteed. Today, we fight entrenched bureaucracy, greedy teachers' unions and their politician allies. Their hearts may be different, but their desired result is the same. They seek to deny poor children a fundamental civil right -- equal access to a quality education."

  • They're All Federal Educators Now by Neal McCluskey, Cato Institute, September 26, 2006. "For decades, conservatives stood against big-government intrusions into American education. They defended local control of schooling, championed parental choice, and pushed to abolish the federal Department of Education. But then, tragedy struck: Republicans took power in Washington, and conservatives suddenly learned to love big government. Indeed, some are now so enamored of it that they are proposing what was once unthinkable: having the federal government set curricular standards for every public school in America. ...
        "Of course the current system isn't getting us where we need to go. But government control isn't the solution, it's the problem. Thankfully, we can still get high standards, but to do that conservatives will have to give up on doing good through government, and return to fighting for the principles they once championed."

  • Answer to NCLB Failure Is School Choice by Neal McCluskey, Cato Institute, May 24, 2006. "Despite promises from President Bush and others that the latest version of the ESEA would empower parents, the special interests are still getting their way, dodging accountability and sucking in ever-more taxpayer dollars. ...
        "It's practically a political law: The people who are employed by government programs tend to gain the most from them, and are therefore the programs' most powerful lobbyists. ... It's really quite logical. People who draw their livelihoods from government schooling programs have huge incentives to exert political pressure aimed at maximizing their income and freedom. ...
        "And parents? With their own jobs and children's daily needs to worry about, they simply can't devote themselves to the non-stop political warfare that the special interests can wage. So what's to be done? The answer is actually pretty clear. We must open our minds and do something other than consistently create more layers of government. We must, in fact, take power away from government by letting parents choose their children's schools and bypass the special interests."

  • Paying Private Prep School Prices for Public Schools "The public school industry claims that school choice and competition would hurt public schools. The opposite is true."

  • The Politics of School Reform by Dennis Doyle, Jonetta Rose Barras. "The roots of the problem lie in old-fashioned anti-Catholicism. Until the 1840s, Catholic schools were supported with public funds in most of the states of the Northeast. But as nativism became triumphant, state legislatures began to cut off funding. ...
    "... Many Americans are wary of government monies going to religious schools, but their fears would likely be assuaged if politicians educated voters on the peculiarity of this nation's anti-religious stance. Simply put, America is the only civilized country in the world that does not support religious elementary and secondary schools. ...
    "Even in America, other areas of government beneficence are free of anti-religious bias. No one dreams, for instance, of forbidding Medicare recipients to choose care in a Jewish, Lutheran, or Catholic hospital, insisting instead that they only patronize secular government hospitals. Nor does anyone demand that Social Security recipients forego the services of a religiously oriented nursing home and live in a government institution.
    "Similarly, the federal government does not agonize over government aid or tax credits helping to support religious pre-schools, kindergartens, or colleges."

  • People for the Prussian Way by James Ostrowski. "Limousine liberals are wealthy people, usually white, who usually live in wealthy white neighborhoods, but who insist on telling the poor, minorities and the working class how to live and with whom to live. ... Limousine liberals are elitists who think that common folk are just too stupid to live in freedom. Though their rhetoric emphasizes their deep concern and compassion for the common man, their true feeling is one of contempt for his ability to function without continual external direction from 'the best and the brightest.' ...
    "The defects in public schools are inherent in their nature. It's virtually self-evident that, like any taxocracy, public schools will be run for the benefit of those who have the power: politicians, bureaucrats and special interest groups. The problem is the power; the politicians, teachers' unions and bureaucrats have it; the parents, taxpayers and students don't."

  • David Kirkpatrick writes extensively on policies and research involving school choice. An archive of past newsletters and articles is available.
  • Spanning the Spectrum

  • Breadth Versus Depth -- A Premature Polarity by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. "I would define 'premature polarities' in education as the habitual, almost automatic taking of sides on educational issues based on whether one considers oneself to be a liberal or a conservative in politics. Unfortunately, such ideological stand-taking not only brings investigation to an end, it tends to replace thought."

  • "Finding the Answers In Drills and Rigor" by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. Excerpt: "The main cause of inequality in American schools ... has been the dominance of the progressive-education tradition, which has seriously misconceived itself as the guardian of social progress and democratic ideals. ... If we are lucky, the end of the 1990s will mark the end of spurious connections between educational ideas and political affiliations. ... Teaching a curriculum that produces high literacy for all is a potent way of fostering the egalitarian goal of democratic education. But before we can advance toward that goal on a broad front, many progressivist ideas will have to be discarded."

  • "Presumably no one would argue that the conservative view on the sum of 14 and 27 differs from the liberal view."
    -- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, page 257
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