Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chapter 7 of Toomey's Book

Partial review of The Road to Prosperity: How to Grow Our Economy and Revive the American Dream, by Patrick J. Toomey and Nachama Soloveichik. NY: Wiley, 2009.

A few years ago I wrote a lengthy multi-part review of Rick Santorum’s book. I’d like to do something similar for Toomey’s Road to Prosperity. Each post will discuss one or more chapters of the book with a post at the end with a linked list of all the entries and some final thoughts.

Chapter 7 is "School Choice" (147-172).

Toomey starts out this chapter talking about his high school experience. His brothers attended the public high school but he had the opportunity via a scholarship to attend a Catholic high school. He excelled there and later attended Harvard. He says that while not everyone is going to end up at Harvard:

The goal is to create a market for primary and secondary education that will force schools to compete for students by innovating, specializing, and most of all, becoming excellent schools. (148)

Following the theme of the book he views education as an economic issue not a social issue. We need educated workers to remain competitive in a global economy. He thinks the government can pay for a service without actually delivering it.

That leads into a section on what he considers the monopoly of public education (this is the only place in the book he mentions monopolies.) He says schools boards, administrators and teachers are less concerned with students than with preserving their monopoly. He quotes a lot of statistics to back up his views of failing schools, and contrasts this with education spending.

As he has in previous parts of the book Toomey quotes from the work of Milton Friedman. In this case he reprints one of Friedman’s essays, “Selling Schooling like Groceries” (pp. 155-156). This analogy, that if the government ran groceries stores we would not have the chain stores and variety that we do now, is very clever but it ignores the fact that the government stores will always be a disadvantage because they are required to carry products that the private stores are not.

Toomey’s solution is a competitive market. If schools are required to compete for students and funds they will produce a quality product at a better price. He favors vouchers that parents and guardians can use at any school. He says this is already done at colleges and universities, where students receive loans and can attend the schools of their choice. I’m not sure this is quite the same thing. The next section defines and outlines the various types of schools: charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarship programs, and personal tax credits and deductions. As an example of a successful voucher program Toomey discusses the Milwaukee school system.

As in his previous chapter on social security he presents the arguments he thinks are or will be made against school choice. One is that school choice drains resources from public schools. He counters this with the argument that schools only need the per capital funding for the students who attend. I’m not sure about this – buildings need maintenance even if their occupancy rate varies from year to year, and unless there is dramatic change in student to teacher ratios schools can’t reduce the number of classes or teachers.

The next two, school choice leaves behind children of uninterested parents, and private schools will only take top students, are related. He feels these both acknowledge the superiority of school choice, that better students and students from interested families will move to private schools and prosper, and those left behind are no worse off than before. The last is that school choice violates the Constitution. This related to separation of church and state. Toomey says that vouchers could be used at any school and not just religious schools so this argument is specious.

This is one of those issues that can be supported by statistics on both sides (charter schools in Philadelphia have been getting some bad press lately, for example).

I have great concerns about school choice, unrelated to Toomey’s book and which will be explored in a later blog post.

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