The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Megan McArdle, on Vouchers and Teachers

These are some common arguments against vouchers. For example:

5) Vouchers destroy the public school system.

So? Having a public school system seems like a dumb goal to me, but even assuming that the very existence of such a system is somehow a worthy thing to aim for, surely it's achievement should be a second-order priority. The primary goal, it seems to me, should be educating America's children to reach their fullest potential; after that goal has been achieved, we can turn our attention to things like having teacher's unions and public schools.

There's something very odd about the way that a lot of people treat health care and schooling--as if they were special, magical goods that can only be provided by the government. Yes, these are vital goods that people are ill-equipped to evaluate. But food, shelter, and clothing are even more vital, yet few of us believe that this means we should all get our produce from giant collective farms, or move into public housing projects. We recognize that the way to ensure that everyone has what they need is to give them the money to buy it . . . and, arguably, to have building codes, the FDA, the USDA, and so forth to ensure that consumers are protected from hidden dangers.

Why don't we want to have giant collective farms? After all, the government could realize marvelous economies of scale and huge cost savings from its enormous purchasing power. The administrative costs would fall too--after all, almost all of the money you pay for food goes, not to the farmer, but to the various middlemen who purchase, process, store, ship, and distribute it. We could probably cut our national food bill in half!

Somehow, we recognize the factors in production of food and clothing that make the government a less attractive provider than the market. And even most of the left has recognized that Section 8 vouchers are better than housing projects--they didn't yank people out of poverty, or magically solve all the problems attendant upon being poor, but they did improve peoples' lives by giving them some of the control over where they live that the rest of us enjoy as of right.

But honestly, there's no reason that vouchers will destroy the public school system provided that the public school system is doing a decent job of educating our kids. This argument sounds to me like an implicit confession that public schools can't compete with private ones.

And that's just number 5! The whole thing is well worth reading.

Now, Teachers:

I don't. Care. About. The. Teachers.

I don't dislike them. Nor do I like them. I don't care whether they are, or are not, represented by a union. I think they should be paid more, not because they're lovely, special people, but because I hope that would let us attract and retain a higher caliber of teacher.

I care about educating the kids. Once we have done that, we can turn to arguments about the teachers. Until then, paeans to what great people public school teachers are are just completely irrelevant. The janitors are probably great guys too, but the school is not there for their benefit. If it made the kids better off to fire them all tomorrow, I'd happily sign the order to do so. I mean, I'd feel bad for them. But not enough to keep them employed at the expense of educating the kids.


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