Jack Coons

“Public education” is anything but public

In much of American society, children attend a school that has been chosen by their parents. Mom and Dad have picked out a home in the attendance area of a certain school that is owned and run by the government. At the very least, when they moved they knew its reputation. Whether or not the school was a major consideration, they accepted it as a substantial part of the culture that would count greatly in shaping their child’s worldview. That school of theirs will be called “public.” My Webster’s defines this word in various ways, but most prominent among these...

A school choice classic, revisited

The humble interim editor of this worthy school choice blog, one Ronald Matus, recalls to me the 40th anniversary of a certain book, “Education by Choice: The Case for Family Control” (University of California Press, 1978), hereafter EBC. I am to call up its conception, its ideological focus, its faults and future. To begin, my Berkeley colleague and collaborator, Stephen Dwight Sugarman, and I had already co-authored two books on school finance, the first with William Clune, long a professor at Wisconsin, and, like Steve, my student at Northwestern in the ‘60s. “Private Wealth and Public Education” (Harvard, 1970) was...

Child, Seek the Good!

“… the modern world is organized in relation to the most obvious and urgent of all questions, not so much to answer it wrongly as to prevent it being answered at all.”  – G.K. Chesterton It would have come as no surprise to GKC that the “most obvious and urgent” of human issues - our eternal destiny – is undiscussable in the classrooms of the American public school. For any child’s insistent inquiry about God or no God – heaven and all that – the scripted reply must be “ask your mother.” Thus, it is that – for seven hours a...

School choice bookshelf: Intellectual help is on the way

I finished a couple of books that bear upon the fate of the ordinary family in its hope to maintain authority over its own affairs, and specifically the governance of its children. Herewith, a brief report. Professor Melissa Moschella’s book asks the right question: To Whom Do Children Belong? Parental Rights, Civic Education and Children’s Autonomy. (Cambridge U. Press) The author is a philosopher in the natural law tradition. I have read some of her previous work and can, with great confidence report that she is a master of the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to ethics, private and public. Her book proceeds from a...

Does parental authority ‘work’?

A friend has sent me a long article from The Wall Street Journal of Jan. 29. It was a report on the Milwaukee school voucher program, now approaching middle age. Roughly 25 percent of the districts’ children attend private schools, most with public help in the form of vouchers for low-income families seeking transfer from their assigned “public” school. The article’s declared intention was to determine the system’s success, bearing the end-all headline: “Do Vouchers Work?” The answer, we are told, would depend solely upon the test scores of children in chosen private schools compared to one another and to...

The Union of the State

I approve the concept of the labor union. In the private sector long ago, I spent my off-school time manning a wrecking crew, loading and driving trucks (age 15!), cleaning toilets, serving in food lines and carrying trays to patients. Most boys below draft age had full-time summer and part-time school-year jobs; there weren’t enough males yet returning from war to take their place until late 1946 and even after. Was I ever a union member? I’m not sure now, but I experienced and accepted the idea as an ordinary and useful economic aspect of our society. The worker...

Taking the initiative on school choice in California

California is partisan Democratic by a substantial margin. In October Berkley’s Institute of Government Studies released the results of a cross-partisan poll of 1200 registered voters probing attitudes toward K-12 schools. Substantial parts of the poll focused on the potential support for subsidized parental choice, using the term “vouchers”. Fifty-Five percent of registered Democratic responders favored vouchers for low-income parents to choose a private or religious school. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans agreed. By contrast, the prospect of vouchers to all parents regardless of income dropped approval to 43 percent of Democrats and raised Republicans approval only two points.  Don’t get...

Testing, testing

For this observer, the most puzzling aspect of the school choice debate has been the constant focus of my old friends, the “voucher right,” on comparative test score as the principal criterion of education policy. These descendants of Milton Friedman are, of course, quite correct (contra The New York Times) that those schools freely chosen by parents have, in nearly all serious studies, produced scores a bit superior to those recorded in the assigned schools that these children left behind. The differences are fairly small, but relatively constant in statistical terms – even after adding some recent findings into...