Last week I noted that my response to James Harvey's Educational Leadership piece on the "privatization" of public schooling appears in the March issue, along with a rebuttal from Dr. Harvey. My comments also appeared on ASCD's Community Blog yesterday. Here I'd like to offer some more thoughts, including a response to Dr. Harvey's rebuttal.
Harvey's rebuttal overlooks important facts about the research on school choice, misses the point about the "public" nature of schooling, and fails to appreciate the irony of his own analogy to the Chinese dictator Mao Zedong.
First, Harvey echoes the tired argument that charter schools do no better than traditional public schools. I'd direct Dr. Harvey to the January 2012 issue of the journal Science, which includes a meta-analysis by Julian Betts and Richard Atkinson reviewing major studies on charter schools. The authors conclude that 75 percent of these studies have serious methodological flaws. For those studies that do meet scientific muster, most conclude that charter school students do as well as, or better, than their traditional school counterparts.
Again, one can argue from research for or against charter schools. The merits of charter schools at this point rest on arguments about the importance and value of expanding educational options for poor and middle income parents.
In my original response to Harvey's article, I argued that just because education is considered a public good, we shouldn't therefore conclude that only government-run schools can provide it. Harvey's rebuttal claims that what makes education different is that we compel children to attend school.
So? Just because we compel families by law to send their children to school, how can we therefore conclude that they must only attend government-run schools? Is it not possible that this public good could be provide at equal or higher levels of quality from non-government entities? Harvey fails to address this issue.
Finally, in his original article Harvey compared school choice advocates to the blood-thirsty Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong. In his rebuttal, he claims that he was only arguing that well-intentioned plans can sometimes result in disastrous outcomes. The irony is that it is anti-choice zealots like James Harvey who emulate Mao Zedong's methods.
Mao and his comrades believed in a command-and-control approach to the economy, whereby government bureacrats would manage all aspects of economic life through centralized government plans. There are few parallels in American society more similar to Mao's policy than our approach to public education.
School choice advocates believe that educational innovation can best be unleashed by offering parents a wider range of choices in how their children access the public good of schooling. James Harvey and his allies stand firmly opposed to expanding these kinds of choices, insisting that poor and middle income families must remain captives of government-run schools.