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Apr 30, 201312:28 PMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

My letter of freedom to Sen. Mike Ellis

(page 1 of 2)

Sen. Michael Ellis
Senate president
Room 220 South
State Capitol
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707-7882



The Madison School Board recently voted 7-0 to encourage the state Legislature to say no to school choice. The surprise would have been had they voted otherwise.

I suspect Madison’s school board is like yours in Neenah and others throughout the state. Given their druthers, they’d just as soon have no competition. Makes management ever so much simpler.

Of course, those who can afford to do so can send their children to private schools – but first they must pay the monopoly school district, or move out of town. What a business model! Kim Jong-un would approve!

Our school board has the firm backing of the teachers union – the same one that unilaterally closed down Madison schools for a week during the Siege of the Capitol in February-March 2011. It should! The union elected them!

I do understand the superficial appeal of conducting local referenda before allowing school choice. Let’s say the vote was 99 to 1 opposed. Is the public welfare harmed by that one family making its own decision? If the vote is 50 to 49 against, doesn’t that indicate something is rotten in Denmark? Must the 49 bow to the tyranny of the majority? Conservatives believe that an unfettered marketplace is essential to the success of American freedom, that competition improves the product. Why should K-12 education be the exception?

Bottom line: No control is more local than the kitchen table: Mom and Dad deciding where their children will attend school – not being told, as in so many anti-capitalist societies. Thank you for your attention.

Old to new | New to old
Apr 30, 2013 05:41 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

One basic question with any service is "Who is the customer?" Well, who is the customer in the "education business"? The child? No, if most children had their druthers, they would be home or outside playing rather than sitting in a classroom. No, the customer for the education business are the parents. They have the responsibility of raising the child and they have the headaches associated when that child is not fully educated. There are, of course, other people who have a stake in a good education system, but none are as affected by a poor school as the parents.

In any service, the greatest quality is achieved when the customer is given the most power. He or she has the freedom to go elsewhere when the service is poor or too expensive. "The customer is always right" is not just a saying, it's the moral foundation of the market.

Private schools understand this. Yes, they want to educate the children, but they also know they have to woo the parents and keep them happy or else they lose that business.

Public schools on the other hand, have no real incentive to keep the parents happy. Yes, it may make their lives easier, but quite frankly under public schooling the parents are a captive base and often a nuisance since they have a disturbing habit of interfering with the work of "professionals".

Deeply seated within this debate is a distrust of parents. They'll make the wrong choices if we give them more power. What do they know about educating children after all?

May 1, 2013 10:52 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Actually the customers are society. Because ALL of us depend on an educated populace to succeed and prosper. I'm all for school choice after watching my children get plenty of teachers in public school that should have been summarily fired (and everyone knew it), but weren't because it was too hard. That's the union's fault, but it's also the administration's fault. You can fire anyone IF you're willing to do the work.

But choice schools should live with the same rules and tests. And those test scores should be available for parents to compare and decide what's best for their children.

May 1, 2013 12:43 pm
 Posted by  uwbiz96

Schools should be run like businesses, says a guy who has never run a business. Schools were never as good as when the baby boom meant that our society drastically invested in kids. Is it any surprise that they still want society to invest in them, our pension-collecting blogger included?

May 1, 2013 03:35 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Actually society is not the customer. Certainly society benefits from an educated populace (as Jefferson wrote of, so eloquently) but that is a different thing. For example, society benefits when I purchase mouthwash and underarm deodorant, but that doesn't make society the customer for those products.

But if you think that society is the customer, please tell me what classes my son should take next year at school. Be specific. Oh, wait ... you can't because you don't know him and you don't know what his gifts and interests are.

The reason I say that the parent is the customer is that it is the parent who must face the consequences of a poorly educated and reared child and who ultimately knows and understands his or her child the best. Society is impersonal at best, and education, to be successful, must be extremely personal. That is why involved parents usually have the highest performer children and why we should gear the education system to maximize parental involvement. That can be best done when the parent is the one with the control and not the education bureaucrat.

May 2, 2013 03:03 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

While I see both points of the heretofore contributors, it is the student who is the customer and how well that student is prepared to be a member and contribute of his family and society as a whole will determine the students value to both. Therefore is incumbent on both the family and society to invest in the success of the student. To that end each students needs must be addressed and whatever method provides the student with the best opportunity to succeed must be made available to each student. I would agree the the parent is the greatest influence on the development of the student or the worse influence depending on the parent and if the parent, society and the education system fails to properly prepare the student, the cost of that failure will fall on the parents and then society as a whole. Therefore I agree that every option for educating the student needs to be made available or we all will pay much more as a society.

May 2, 2013 03:13 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I did one of the first workshops ( circa 1980) on alternative schools and vouchers in the state. I was working in inner city Chicago- concepts about vouchers and other alternatives developed there because conditions were way beyond anything that you all have experienced.
We moved here ultimately for the schools. My daughter went to a relatively very small religious school in Chicago but needed more (and we could not afford a private high school) so we moved here. The public schools in Verona were far better than anything I have ever seen in the non-public arena. As a result my daughter has had educational success as an adult that neither my wife or I - graduates of Catholic schools could ever attain. She also had the benefit of a very good preschool before she went to any elementary school.
Having worked in the free market of early childhood education the last 20+ years that is supplemented by a voucher system bigger than any currently used for public schools, I have become increasingly skeptical of the voucher concept especially the version espoused by the far right which is quite but subtly different than the original one developed in the 1970's. If nothing else there has been very little work really done related to how markets actually work to produce services (education, child care, Health care etc.) that are beyond the ability of most families to pay themselves.
There is also increasingly neurological research that indicates that many of the issues may not be solved by just changing schools- most will involve work or systems outside of the school systems. The Harlem Promise zone is one approach but a far more interesting project involved treating some ADHD or special needs kids for sleep apnea (In I think Kentucky) that intervention costing several thousand per child solved a lot of their school related learning problems.
Spending more time in the media exploring some of these options and less on ideological concepts lie vouchers might be useful.

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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