Why I Support School Choice

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a think tank that "supports private enterprise, limited government and personal responsibility," offers the following policy analysis:

The Children’s Education Foundation (CEF) was started in August of 1992 with a gift of $1 million from a successful Atlanta businessman who wanted to provide a choice of educational opportunities to low-income families. Because of limited finances, these families had no choice in where their children went to school.

The program was designed to provide participating families with a 50 percent financial scholarship (in the form of a voucher) toward the tuition cost at a school of the parents’ choice, either public or private. The other half of the tuition would have to be paid by the family.

Despite the availability of a “free” education at their assigned public school, many times more low-income families applied to participate in the program than could be accommodated. Within the first week of the program’s announcement, CEF received more than 500 applications for the 200 slots, and was forced to cut off applications when the number reached nearly 1,000...

Georgia State University’s Policy Research Center conducted a survey of the parents of 95 CEF scholarship students...When a low-income family is required to come up with half of the cost of tuition, as is the case with the CEF program, that family must be extraordinarily convinced that a different school will greatly benefit the child...

The survey...found that with incomes only slightly above the poverty level, these families were willing to do whatever was necessary to pay their half of the tuition. For example:

  • 26% cut other expenses
  • 21% added work hours or took second jobs
  • 13% received some financial help from relatives or friends
  • 8% became employed at their children’s schools

Here's the kicker:

The Amish people in the Pennsylvania Dutch country are free to attend their own schools and to follow the way of life that they as a community have chosen. As with the Amish people, children in inner-city Atlanta, and many others throughout the entire metropolitan area, also want to fulfill their hopes and dreams by getting the best education available. Therefore, those hopes and dreams may not be fulfilled by attending the public school to which they are assigned. For example, Murjan Ali’s dreams include attending a Black Muslim school. For Micha and Rina Ghertner, it is attending Yeshiva, a Hebrew school.

My sister and I were able to attend private Jewish day schools from pre-school to 12th grade because of the generosity of organizations like The Children’s Education Foundation and its donors. My parents are among those cited who paid for the other half of the tuition with financial help from relatives and by doing clerical work at our school.

Before I began writing extensively online, a vanity google search of my name would bring up this article as the first result. It remains a proud testament for why I support school choice -- preferably funded by civil society, but diverted from public school funding if need be.

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Lucky dog, I would have

Lucky dog, I would have killed for a private education. As it stands, it took me years to get the statist poison out of my veins.

The Education Monopoly The

The Education Monopoly
The current paradigm in this country is that education for our children is provided by public institutions, paid for with tax money. Not only that, but that education by institutions controlled, either directly or indirectly, by the state is mandator...

Scott, you should have grown

Scott, you should have grown up with a grandfather who was "the last cowboy". My grandfather grew up in Elko and Ruth, Nevada, in the 1910's. He lived with my family from the time I was about 11 onwards. There was never any possibility I would turn out liking the state. ;-). On the other hand, it would have been great to attend a private school instead of high school in Davis, California, where I was viewed as a complete freak of nature for not believing in state run collectivist economics.

Ah, in my dreams, Eric, in

Ah, in my dreams, Eric, in my dreams.

No matter, my kids are getting the most rigorous ruler-slapping education money can buy.

My son (11 now) is going to

My son (11 now) is going to public school, but he has to live with me :-). I've also got him turned on to the Heinlein Juveniles (see my post A Reading List for the Boy) and Tolkien. I think he'll turn out okay, although I'm combatting his "are you allowed to do that" turn of mind, which seems to be a product of public school education.

Thought I'd use this as

Thought I'd use this as another opportunity to plug the correspondence school my 14 yo son, Luke, subscribes to (his 14 yo she-cousin just joined also). $85/month (plus $10 shipping) for 16 months get you 16 courses and a high school diploma (HSD). It stops short of advanced courses like Calculus, but it is allowing Luke to get his HSD about the same time he gets his driver's license, at which time he can start doing advanced classes at the community college. If he continues on this trajectory, he will have a two-year degree from the community college at about the same time that his contemporaries will be starting college, and can shave the two years from his BS/BA at Va Tech.

Luke is paying (at least this is the goal) for his education by splitting firewood on the farm to displace the cost of heating fuel we would have otherwise needed this winter. His cousin quit government high-school after one semester and is spending her car savings on the correspondence shool tuition (her parents are "back-to-the-earth"ers, so this represents a major life commitment from the cousin's point of view).

"Time-wasting" was the main complaint Luke and his cousin had against government schools (although their respective parents had instilled a deep mistrust of governments in them). The rural county schools they were attending would be the envy of most inner-city students--800 students, 100 faculty/staff, new large shops and libraries, no (none reported, at least) gangs. Three hours of bus rides and seven hours of schedule per day, though, just wasn't worth the amount of information they were getting. Luke was amazed that subjects he assumed would be critical to survival (like Civics and Health) were turned into basket-weaving. Luke is now apprenticing at a PC repair shop one day a week, and his cousin is involved in theater projects.

My 12 yo son, Jake, will go to eighth-grade at the county high-school building next year to see what it is like (we have always asked the boys to make commitments for the year to either home- or institution-schooling). But because of awkward rules the county school system places on his access to the insulin he depends upon, I expect Jake will also go the correspondence school route. He has to come up with a business plan, though...

Choices are out there. The government has a vested interest in making you believe that they aren't, and parents who don't want to consider the options have a psychological interest in believing they aren't.

Wow, Mark, those sound like

Wow, Mark, those sound like smart, responsible, self-motivated young adults. How much time do they tend to spend each day on their school work?

My sister attended a private, religious, all-girls high school in the first year of its creation, so there were only 15 or so girls in the whole school by the time she graduated. Now there are almost ten times that number. She decided to skip a grade, and to make up the missed courses, she subscribed to a number of correspondence courses. Looking back, I wish I had done the same, although I don't know if I would have had the self-discipline to follow through when I was that age.



Is Micha's sister hot?

- Josh

Wow, Mark, those sound like

Wow, Mark, those sound like smart, responsible, self-motivated young adults.

I'll pass on the compliment, Micha. Now, I need to find a smiley for :beaming with vicarious pride: !

My wife and I have one goal in raising our two sons that take precendence over all others--namely, to make sure that they are prepared to be healthy, happy adults. Much of the "home-schooling" we did when Luke and Jake were small had very little to do with the trivia of subject matter, and instead dealt with the fundamentals of understanding themselves, other people, and the world around them. Once a person feels that the amazing, but transient gift of their life is now in their hands, the details of how to master fractions is easy.

I don't think my sister and her husband had such an explicit goal with raising their daughters, but I can report that their lifestyle, like ours, included work-at-home mother and father.

How much time do they tend to spend each day on their school work?

Luke spends about two hours a day, on average. There are bursts of activity and (more worryingly) lapses of inactivity. If he goes for more than a week without doing any schoolwork, he usually gets reminders from us along the lines of, "Realize how many possibilities there will be for you once you are able to drive. Don't you want to get your high school diploma out of the way before then?"

Mark, How do you make sure


How do you make sure you sons acquire socialization skills beyond the family? For all of my issues with institutional schooling, one of the few values I see in it is socialization.

How do you make sure you

How do you make sure you sons acquire socialization skills beyond the family?

For us, it is the job of parents teach social skills. Schools merely provide one place to practice social skills.

Luke and Jake had a lot of other practice by accompanying us to restaurants, stores, government offices, hospitals, military training, religious services, business suppliers, banks, airports, college symposia, and farmers markets, where they learned to socialize with adults, as well as doing the normal kid things like playing with neighbors and spending nights over with friends.

From my observations, institutional schools are particularly bad at teaching social skills, either leaving the kids to sort themselves out (think Lord of the Flies), or imposing rules based on a set of values alien to us (anything from statism to outright condescension to different religions).

By the way, thanks for the link to the Heinlein reading list on your blog. Luke took it with him to the library today.

Mark, do your sons get the

Mark, do your sons get the chance to play any sports? I'm not trying to imply that you need school to do that (I played hockey in high school (still do) and it wasn't a sport that my high school offered so I joined a club team that was city wide). Do your sons feel like they are missing out on anything by not going to school? From everything you've posted, your family has a really great setup and I wish that my wife and I can someday emulate that.

Hi Luca, After I posted that

Hi Luca,

After I posted that last comment, I realized that I could have added 'sports' and 'scouting' to the list of typical kid things. Luke has played tennis and Jake studied karate when we were living overseas, and both played baseball after we moved to the US. Both were Cub Scouts in South Africa.

The biggest obstacles that we had to deal with were:

1) Be prepared to be different. Everyone will pressure you to do things the 'normal' way. In the worst case, they will use armed officers who threaten to take your children from you. Do your best to avoid this situation by finding a short answer for these people. While in South Africa, ours was, "We plan to return to the US, and are teaching our children according to their system”. The correspondence school I mentioned above satisfies the Virginia requirements by ticking a box on a government form, but still allows Luke enough flexibility to do what he wants with his life.

2) Really, prepare to be different. You will also get lots of pressure from extended family and friends to conform. I think a lot of this is linked to psychological urge to deny you choices that they are not prepared to make. You may be willing to forego a second (and maybe part of a first) income to concentrate on raising children, but your neighbors may not. They don't want to face the fact that they are denying their children something of great value, so they construct reasons why they are not really allowed to make the same choice, and by extension, why you should also not be allowed.

3) Be prepared to lose a large part of your and your spouse's productive lives. Children require an incredible amount of attention for the first six or seven years, merely lots of attention until the age of 13, and then oversight until they are released into the wild at 18. I managed to save a modest amount of money in a strong currency when I was single, then moved to a country with weak currency and bought a farm when my wife and I married. I continued to do consulting, mainly from home, while the kids were young. While they were in the 6-13 range, my wife was able to start a dairy on the farm. We had to be ruthless with managing our resources, especially time. Even though I was well placed to take advantage of it, I watched the Internet boom come and go, with little more to show for it than a new milking parlor. When you raise your own children, you are undertaking a 20-year project, and will probably not be able to move quickly to another city to take a new job. The unacknowledged primary role of government schools is to provide full-time daycare at no direct cost to working parents that is largely interchangeable between different job locations.

Raising humans is not an easy job, but ultimately, I would not want to be at the end of my life without ever having done it. Good luck!

Kids are still 5-6 years

Kids are still 5-6 years away (we're still young) for us because my wife starts med school in August. I would like to think that we could live on her income and I could stay home and raise the kid(s) full time. Thanks for all the information, it really sounds like you have some great kids.

For us, it is the job of

For us, it is the job of parents teach social skills. Schools merely provide one place to practice social skills.

Mark, I was careful to word my question very specifically. As a parent it is my responsibility to teach my son and daughter social skills. That's why I said "acquire". I have no belief that our current school system teaches good social skills. My children need interaction with other children though and one of the very few benefits I see in attending school is that they get that interaction, which helps them to acquire those skills. I agree with you about many of the drawbacks.

I offset much of that by encouraging him to read books that most think are beyond his age (the boy read Tolkien for the first time in 4th grade, for example), discussing books, movies, politics, the military and so on with him and never dumbing it down, and much more. Karate is another example of healthy acquisition of social skills, as you noted.

By the way, thanks for the link to the Heinlein reading list on your blog. Luke took it with him to the library today.

I think it very unlikely that any one could work their way through that list and not be an intelligent, literate reader. That's one very big reason for that reading list. The other reasons I list on my blog. The role models in those books, the perspectives on society, individualism, responsibility, etc. are ones I find laudable. Glad you liked it.

School Choice In Georgia The

School Choice In Georgia
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation writes:

The Children’s Education Foundation (CEF) was started in August of 1992 with a gift of $1 million from a successful Atlanta businessman who wanted to provide a choice of educational opportunities to low...