Thursday, June 27, 2002

Eternal Vigilance

I heard the decision right before I was leaving to take my children to their summer program at their private school. So, I put on my "Parents In Charge" t-shirt, and thought, "Today this really means something. The Supreme Court says I am in charge!"

My heart has been beating a little faster all morning. In the school-choice community we may never have another day like today.

This is it. All systems go. So why do I feel some fear lurking behind the victory?

In the spirit what seems to be this year's defining theme from Spiderman, I thought, "With great power comes great responsibility."

I can't help but think of Marshall Fritz today, and all the others, who fear that this is not a victory for parents and children over government schools, but a victory for the government over private schools.

It is our responsibility to not take their fears lightly. We cannot brush them aside as paranoid delusions about government power. It is time to dust off your copies of Andrew J Coulson's seminal work, "Market Education: The Unknown History," and remember how we got into this government-monopoly system in the first place. We need to remember that it didn't take a school voucher program to give the state control of education.

Eternal Vigilance. The fight will never be over.

We know from efforts to regulate charter schools, compulsory education laws, efforts to regulate homeschoolers, and education management companies that sacrifice their business models for government contracts, that regardless of the circumstances, the government will never stop pushing to gain more control over private decisions about education. And the private education industry cannot be blamed for seeking some of the $350 billion that state education controls.

We must be careful not to open the door. We must keep pushing back.

It is up to us to be eternally vigilant, to make sure that school vouchers remain an opportunity for children to have more education choices, and not an opportunity for government legislation to constrain and regulate private schools.

I know what our first test will be. The school choice/school reform movement has embraced standardized testing as a way to determine the performance of public schools. We have to grapple with whether we want to shackle private schools that accept vouchers with these testing requirements. The urge to do this will be great. After all, we want to make sure that private schools are performing at least as well as public schools. Several major media outlets already lament the fact that voucher students do not have to be tested.

We must stay true to the choice. We must trust competition, the market, and the individual choices of parents and their right of exit to police private schools.

It is a serious dilemma. On the one hand, we want the likes of Paul Peterson, Caroline Hoxby, and Jay P. Greene, to be able to continue with their school voucher studies. The easiest way to help them out is to ensure that they have a data set, by making standardized tests mandatory for private schools that participate in publicly funded voucher programs.

On the other hand, we must remember the lesson we are already learning from the “No Child Left Behind Act.” States that have higher standards than the requirements of the NCLBA are considering or actually lowering their standards to be in line with federal testing requirements. We want competition to set the standard for private and public schools--not an arbitrary testing benchmark mandating minimum requirements for success.

This is just one example of the work that is yet to be done. This is the real deal. We have lots of opportunity, but we must resist accepting restrictions on private schools and the competition they represent in exchange for politically feasible school-voucher programs. We have to strive for the best practices: the pilot programs that let school children have more choices in the least restrictive environment for private schools.

"With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility."

Eternal vigilance, my friends.

Enjoy the day.

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