Key Obama Flack: McCain Right on Vouchers

This is not something you see everyday. CNN contributor and black radio talk show host Roland Martin, a staunch Obama supporter, says that McCain is right and his guy is wrong on school vouchers:

But part of the reason why vouchers have been denounced and dismissed is because Democrats have been far too obstinate on the issue, and have not listened to their constituents, especially African-Americans, who overwhelmingly support vouchers.

There is no doubt that on this issue, McCain has it right and Obama has it wrong.

The fundamental problem with the voucher debate is that it is always seen as an either/or proposition. For Republicans, it is the panacea to all the educational woes, and that is nonsensical. For Democrats, it is something that will destroy public education, and that too is a bunch of crap. ...

It is unconscionable to ask a parent to watch as his child is stuck in a failing school or district, and ask him to bank on a politician coming up with more funds to improve the situation. Fine, call vouchers a short-term solution to a long-term problem, but I'd rather have a child getting the best education -- now -- rather than having to hope and pray down the line.

This is a blast from the past. Vouchers is not an issue we have heard much of since President Bush surrendered them to get an education bill out of Ted Kennedy in 2001.

In many ways, this symbolizes how the GOP has become intellectually threadbare since the '90s. Back then, journals like Policy Review used to advance forward thinking arguments for school and housing vouchers and personal Social Security accounts. They articulated conservative solutions for those at the very bottom of our society, without descending into "compassionate conservative" mush. There was a vibrant political and intellectual scene around these types of solutions led by Jack Kemp, Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler (R), Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist (D), and Penn professor John DiIulio. To some extent, this scene got scrambled by the emphasis on the war. Kemp was an Islamophile and so was marginalized post-9/11, while Schundler tried to get himself elected Governor of New Jersey as a social conservative, and DiIulio took over the faith based office at the White House only to become disillusioned when this didn't turn out to be new Administration's #1 priority.

Is it time for a revival of a GOP urban agenda starting with vouchers? Where we went wrong the first time is pinning so much on the utilitarian benefits (reciting statistics about Catholic school performance) which left us open to the teachers' unions nitpicking us to death. We should have been making an argument from the standpoint of freedom and dignity. Parents have a right to choose regardless of whether it improves their kids' education a lot, a little, or not at all. It's their choice.

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The conventional wisdom is this issue doesn't do much for us

In 2001 Bret Schundler made this a signature issue when he ran for Governor of NJ and underperformed in key suburban counties. I'm not sure I fully buy the NYT spin on the story, but the premise that for traditional swing voters the issue dealt with someone else's problem is probably accurate.

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9800E3D71039F934A35752C1A9679C8B63

Article in National Review June 30 issue

There was a good article on this issue in National Review (June 30 issue) titled "Schooling the Capital: The uphill struggle for school choice in D.C. "

The idea has resonance for certain Af-Am politicians who are trying to deal with the utter failure of many urban schools.

Here's an interesting excerpt (emphasis added by me):

One of the first converts was Kevin Chavous, a member of the city council who represented one of the poorest wards. “I didn’t know much about education when I started out,” he says. “But then I saw that we were getting more funding for schools, we were losing students, and our outputs were still going down. It convinced me that the problem wasn’t money. I became ready to support anything that would help children learn.” He became a strong advocate for charter schools and even private-school choice. “Ted Kennedy questioned my party affiliation,” he says. (Kennedy is a longtime member of the Senate education committee.)

 

Some original thinking on Education

 If this really is "The Next Right", then here's some original thinking on Education. 

NCLB was really about "phonics". It was about the fact that to a large extent, the reason kids stopped learning to read was because public education moved away from phonics to "whole language". (Whole Language, interestingly enough is an idea of Noam Chomsky). 

NCLB doesn't say, "you have to switch to phonics". What it says is that if you want to change your instruction basis you have to actually test to see if it works. 

Overall, I'm a fan of NCLB, but recently I've come to the conclusion that it was exactly the wrong direction.

The problem with NCLB, and all of the Democratic approaches to education is that it reinforces the wrong approach. It reinforces this idea that we can fix education from the top down. That if only we pick just the right method of instruction, all will be well.

The reality is that its not that simple. Most kids respond to phonics, but some kids respond to whole language. What we need to do is not create larger and larger educational bureaucracies. What we need to do, is Trust the Teachers. Having some educator who is 5 people removed from the classroom choosing teaching materials doesn't work. We need to let the teacher choose the materials, not the bureaucracy

We should modify NCLB so that any state that submits a program where the teachers get their own budget to spend on materials of their choosing gets automatic approval under NCLB. Throw out the bureaucracy entirely. 

Additionally, I want you to picture a website. This website is called: education.amazon.com. On this website, there are no credit cards. But there are gift cards, budgets, and reviews by teachers of educational materials. On that website, teachers can go and buy materials for their classroom. Parents can give money for materials to teachers, to schools, to whole school districts. 

So lets say you have a child that isn't learning to read. So you go to the teacher and you give them a $25 gift card for education.amazon.com. That teacher can then use that money to buy materials for their classroom, and materials for you to use at home. Poor neighborhoods? Bad schools? We can use that site to directly fund money to the people that can make the most difference. 

Trust the Teachers should be the new Mantra of TheNextRight on educational policy. 

 

School Vouchers Are A Political Winner

Republicans need to continue to push school vouchers.  It makes good policy and political sense.  I would argue the reason voucher initiatives fail is spineless Republican politicians are quick to dump the policy because they are afraid of the teachers' union.

I think state by state would be a good way to pursue the policy, perhaps through well-funded ballot initiatives.  Once other states see the success, it will catch on like wildfire.

One of my favorite parts of Rudy Giuliani's candidacy was is unwavering support of school vouchers.  If a mayor of liberal NYC can make vouchers a politicl issue in his favor, surely politicians in more conservative parts of the country can also.