Tuesday , October 15 2019
Home / Neal McCluskey
Neal McCluskey

Neal McCluskey



Articles by Neal McCluskey

Why Would a Libertarian Want School Choice? Suppose Canned Peaches…

14 days ago

Peter Greene, an affable defender of public schooling and critic of most things “reformy,” is nonplussed: How could libertarians argue that religious freedom requires school choice? Writes Greene about “Libby folks”—presumably libertarians and not fans of canned fruit—“you have, of course, always been free to send your child to a religious school. What’s new here is the argument that the government should pay for it.” He goes on, “Libbys are saying that citizens should be taxed so that their children can practice their religion,” which doesn’t seem like a very libertarian thing to do.
I agree. It isn’t. Except for one thing with which Greene never seriously grapples: this is in a status quo in which everyone is taxed to support government schools, schools that, by law, must be secular. In

Read More »

School Choice Rules!

20 days ago

A new federal report on school choice has just been released, and it is full of good news about private schooling, except for one thing: its market share is small, and getting smaller. In large part this is because private institutions are competing against schools for which people must pay taxes and are “free” to users: public schools, including charter schools that people often see as private (minus pesky tuition, plus state testing and, often, other intrusive government rules). Still, chartering is better than simply being assigned to a school based on your home address. Which brings us to some highlights:
Decreased Government Assignment to Schools
Add together all the homeschooling, private schooling, charters, and choice among district public schools, and the percentage of families

Read More »

American Public on Education: “We Want It All”

August 21, 2019

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, back-to-school also means the release of lots of education polling, and Tuesday brought us the yearly Education Next poll, which is one of my favorites. (Of course, I love all you crazy polls!) The Education Next folks do a lot of interesting experimentation with their polls, especially when it comes to funding, and they keep nice longitudinal data. I don’t love every part of the survey—looking at you, Common Core question—but overall I think it is well done and highly informative.
As usual, you should read the whole thing, and I’ll just hit some highlights.
More, more, more!
If there is one repeated theme to the poll, it’s that people generally want more of whatever is being discussed: more spending, higher teacher pay, more school choice, more

Read More »

Why Public Schools Can’t Have Nice Values

August 7, 2019

It’s nearing back-to-school time, and that means in addition to lots of yellow buses, we’ll be seeing the annual spate of education polls. The first one just came out—the 2019 Phi Delta Kappa poll—and it furnishes some interesting information illustrating why it’s so hard for public schools to inculcate values. Short answer: we just don’t agree on them, and a lot of people fear what their kids might be taught.
This edition of the survey—PDK, by the way, is an organization of professional educators—has a special focus on teaching religion, civics, and other values-based subjects, as well as presenting regular fare such as grades for public schools and lists of perceived “biggest problems.” Taken as a whole, it reveals that most people want values taught, but there is major disagreement

Read More »

DC Vouchers: Bang for the Buck

May 16, 2019

Standardized test scores aren’t what they used to be. From A Nation at Risk in 1983 to Common Core around 2010, they were close to exclusively how we assessed whether students and schools were succeeding. But over the years the monomaniacal focus on test scores increasingly grated on schools and families, and with the Common Core threatening to put everyone on the road to the exact same standards and tests, there was a political revolt. At about the same time an empirical revolt was brewing, with increasing evidence that schools’ test scores may not correlate all that well with other important outcomes, ranging from college attendance to health. Which brings us to the latest evaluation of the Washington, DC, voucher program.
After the first two reports in the three-installment series

Read More »

Brown v. Board Did Not Start Private Schooling

April 4, 2019

A common refrain in opposition to school choice is that choice is rooted in racial segregation. Specifically, that people barely thought about choice until the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision required public schools to desegregate, and racists scrambled to create private alternatives to which they could take public funds. I have dealt with this before and won’t rehash the whole response (hint: Roman Catholics), but a new permutation popped up on Vox yesterday, with author Adia Harvey Wingfield asserting:
Prior to Brown v. Board of Education, most US students attended local public schools. Of course, these were also strictly racially segregated. It wasn’t until the Supreme Court struck down legal segregation that a demand for private (and eventually charter

Read More »

On Trump’s Higher Ed Executive Order

March 22, 2019

President Trump’s hotly anticipated executive order on college free speech—brought to a fever pitch with his comments at this year’s CPAC—is out. It’s actually kinda several orders in one, with free speech on the main stage, but college outcomes data, and a bunch of studies—including of “skin in the game”—on the sides. Here are some quick thoughts on all three parts.
Free speech
Conservatives, especially, have become disgusted with what they have seen as an increasingly aggressive, politically-correct culture on American campuses, and not without some justification. The order, as you could glean from the White House signing event, was almost certainly motivated by that. But as far as the words of the order go, it seems restricted to combatting college policies, not cultures. Free

Read More »

Any Budget That Cuts Fed Ed Is Good, But…

March 12, 2019

The Trump Administration’s proposed U.S. Department of Education budget, released yesterday, is due some props. It would cut spending by about 10 percent from 2019, and kill some bad programs. But there’s also a downside: it would push federal tentacles further toward private schools, and deeper into charters. Which means the lesson still hasn’t been learned: The Constitution gives Washington no authority to govern in education, and that includes advancing ideas the Trump Administration—and I!—like.
Let’s first acknowledge that it takes some guts to cut education department funding, because the average person probably hears “cuts to education” and thinks “oh no, cutting education!” What they should hear is “cutting spending in the name of education, but that often has very dubious

Read More »

Even Something as Great as School Choice Should Not Be Federalized

February 28, 2019

Today, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), in conjunction with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, will unveil a bill to create a $5 billion scholarship tax credit, an unprecedented federal school choice effort. An op-ed all three have in USA Today spells out both the good of federal school choice, and inadvertently, the potential bad which makes it too dangerous to justify.
First, the good. DeVos, Cruz, and Byrne argue, quite rightly, that “education isn’t about school systems. It is about school children.” If you recognize basic reality, you’ll know that all children and families are different—different talents, values, dreams—hence it makes no sense to say all should get uniform education. But opposing school choice is de facto endorsing the idea that

Read More »

School Inc. and Andrew Coulson

January 25, 2019

All this week, the Center for Educational Freedom has been posting clips from Andrew Coulson’s award-winning documentary School Inc., which takes viewers through time and around the globe to explain how freedom is the key to transforming education for the better. Of course, a few clips can’t convey the entire case. If you want to soak in the whole journey you can do so on the website of Free to Choose Media, which finished production of School Inc. when Andrew became ill, and is the home to all three episodes. If that doesn’t satisfy your desire to better understand how free markets can work in education, or if you want to learn more about Andrew and his ideas—including disagreements with them—read Educational Freedom: Remembering Andrew Coulson, Debating His Ideas. You can get Kindle

Read More »

School Choice Is about Embracing Free Enterprise

January 25, 2019

When did economic growth, and the standard of living of average people, really begin to take off? What caused it? There are many theories, but as Andrew Coulson discusses in the School Inc. clip below, there is good reason to believe not when banking was invented, or factories, or some technological change, but when earning a living through free enterprise—profitable commerce—stopped being seen as, well, kind of tawdry. It is a feeling we continue to struggle with when it comes to education.  
There is, of course, profit made throughout public schooling, if that’s defined as taking in more revenue from providing a good or service than is spent to produce it. Whiteboard manufacturers, construction companies, publishers—all are typically for-profit. Indeed, while absent a free market we

Read More »

School Choice Is about Taking Innovation to Scale

January 23, 2019

Only a few years ago, if you’d been, say, dining out with friends, had a drink or two, and wanted to go somewhere else, like maybe home, you pretty much had one choice: call a taxi and hope you got a good one. Today you’ve got lots of options including the good ol’ cab, but also ridesharing networks like Uber, Lyft, and others that connect riders to regular people who are drivers and want to make some money, while often enabling both parties to rate their experiences. It was an idea that started with embryonic efforts in San Francisco around 2010, and just a few years later it is nearly ubiquitous. Innovation went quickly to scale.
As Andrew Coulson explains in the School Inc. clip below, we’ve seen this phenomenon—innovations in goods and services quickly made accessible to basically

Read More »

First and Foremost, School Choice Is about Liberty

January 21, 2019

Liberty. It is America’s foundational value. We have failed to uphold it for far too many people much too often, but the freedom of Americans to choose what they will believe, and how they will live, is at the very heart of the American experiment. It is fitting, then, that we kick off five days of National School Choice Week posts on [email protected] with a reminder of the fundamental good that is sacrificed when government controls education.
As we will be doing all week, I direct your attention to a clip from Andrew Coulson’s award-winning School Inc., a documentary series that ran on PBS stations nationwide in 2017 and can still be watched, in its entirety, on the website of Free to Choose Media. Here, after discussing sometimes even deadly fights that Americans have had over what the

Read More »

Unified by Public High?

October 24, 2018

If someone told you that public high schools have taken people with political and social power and brought them together, to the exclusion of other people, would you celebrate those schools? Probably not. But that is essentially what a new Atlantic article does in extolling public high schools and attacking school choice.
The piece, by English professor Amy Lueck, asserts that public schools—particularly high schools—have been crucial, unifying institutions. After criticizing U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for calling public schools a “dead end” (DeVos actually said monopolistic public schooling is a dead end for innovation) Lueck offers the following:
Far from being a “dead end,” for a long time the public school—particularly the public high school—served an important civic

Read More »

Examining the Bookends: Public Support for Choice and the Common Core

August 21, 2018

The 2018 Education Next poll is upon us, probing the public’s feelings about lots of education issues, from grading public schools to thoughts on teacher pay. I’ll just highlight two things here, kind of the opposite ends of the educational freedom spectrum: school choice, and the federally coerced, national curriculum standards known as the Common Core.
School Choice
As we know about any polling, how a question is worded can have considerable bearing on the results it yields. That’s a primary reason to greet any poll with skepticism. Because the fine folks at Education Next are well aware of this, they asked different versions of several questions, including about choice. What do they reveal?

On charters, support is strongest when the term “charter” is mentioned early in the

Read More »

Public Schooling Battles: June Dispatch

July 10, 2018

The “fighting season” for public schools, not surprisingly, is roughly September through May, with summer vacations in June through August keeping the clash-rate down. So June doesn’t have as many new values and identity-based battles as most other months—15 were added to the Map—and we won’t be posting dispatches for August and September, unless something surprising happens. Of course, you can follow the Battle Map Twitter feed–@PubSchoolFights–for new and updated conflicts whenever news breaks, and you can also search #WWFSchool, or post battles you find using that hashtag. And while the Facebook page will also slow down a bit, we’ll post interesting tussles we find there, too.  
Despite the waning action, June produced a few battles exemplifying the problems of forcing diverse

Read More »

An Education Proposal to Chew on this 4th of July

July 3, 2018

If government is going to establish public schools, which must be secular, the U.S. Constitution requires that it also provide school choice for religious Americans. So argued Corey DeAngelis and I last week in a Detroit News op-ed, and it’s something you might mull over this 4th of July as you watch over your grilling burgers or, hopefully, even more satisfying smoked brisket or bacon-wrapped hot dogs. (It’s always a good time to raise your outdoor cooking game!) Government must not inculcate religious beliefs, but it also must not elevate non-belief over religion, hence the need for choice.
If you want to seriously grapple with this and have a fair amount time tomorrow between firing up some savory dishes and sparking some dazzling fireworks, read this 2013 Florida Law Review

Read More »

Public Schooling Battles: May Dispatch

June 8, 2018

Some people want schools to have lighthearted, warm environments. Some want them to delve into social commentary, even if it is uncomfortable. Some students just want to wear what they want to wear. And some people either don’t want any of those things, or disagree when lines have been crossed. Here come the battle trends for May.
Lighthearted or Wrong-Headed? “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye” is a warning I heard a lot when I was a child. But it turns out we don’t all agree when fun and games turns into something more serious. In May we saw three conflicts that revolved around when someone trying to have fun may have crossed lines, and public school authorities punished them. In South Carolina a white teacher was recorded in a viral video standing on the desk of a

Read More »

Negative DC Voucher Results Still Don’t Mean Choice Has Failed

June 1, 2018

It’s not a good thing when a random-assignment study—the research “gold standard” because it controls even for unobservable variables like motivation—finds that using a voucher tends to result in lower standardized test scores. All things equal, we’d like scores to go up. But in the second of the latest evaluations of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, we saw almost exactly the same results as last year: using a voucher resulted in lower math scores that were statistically significant, and reading scores that were lower, but that could have been due to chance.
Last year I wrote about several reasons the first evaluation in no way condemned school choice, and you can read that here. To quickly reiterate, given both DC’s close proximity to other school systems, and the abundant

Read More »

Show Me the (Education) Money, Finale!

May 23, 2018

Long-Term, National: Money and Employees Have Poured In
Now that we’ve looked at scads of data—on spending, staffing, salaries—what can we conclude about the state of resources in public schools?
First, we need to recognize that the period since the Great Recession has been an anomaly in nearly a century of education spending. Whether in total or on a per-pupil basis, until the Great Recession we rarely saw spending decrease, especially after 1943. In the 1919-20 school year, adjusted for inflation, we spent $13.2 billion on public elementary and secondary education. In 08-09 we spent almost $690 billion, or about 52 times as much. Of course enrollment also grew—we only spent about 23 times as much per pupil!

What was the magnitude of the retrenchment between the peak spending year

Read More »

Show Me the (Education) Money, Part IV!

May 18, 2018

We’ve looked at the K-12 spending trends both nationally and in restive states, broken down per-pupil expenditures into smaller bits, and added North Carolina. I had planned to finish this spending series with this post, but there are a lot of data to examine so I’m going to put off conclusions to the next—and final—post. We now look at total enrollment and inflation-adjusted expenditures, and then at how staffing and inflation-adjusted teacher salaries have moved, both nationally and for our “hot” states. (On all charts, pay close attention to the horizontal axis. Many start with wider increments of time than they end.)
National
Enrollment: We saw a drop between the 1969-70 school year and 89-90, then enrollment lagrely plateaued between 05-06 and 13-14.

Spending: Total public

Read More »

Public Schooling Battles: April Dispatch

May 16, 2018

With 25 conflicts added to the Battle Map, April was a busy month. So busy the Dispatch was delayed again. But better late than never, right?
Just like March, April was heavy with conflicts revolving around guns, as the debate spurred by the Parkland shooting continued. But seemingly eternal hot-spots including Confederate flag displays, prayer in schools, and sex ed flared up, too.
Guns: We recorded seven gun-related incidents, most pitting freedom of expression against safety or beliefs about the appropriateness of gun-related messages. Allegations of curbed speech included the Shawnee Mission, KS, school district telling students what they could or could not say at their April 20 walkout to protest gun violence. Students in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Nevada alleged that their

Read More »

Show Me the (Education) Money, Tar Heel Edition!

May 14, 2018

North Carolina is becoming the latest hot spot in the education funding wildfire—thousands of protesting teachers are expected in Raleigh on Wednesday—so before I deliver the promised wrap up on my state spending series, I thought I’d add NC to the mix.
As you can see on the following chart, North Carolina’s total spending per-pupil, which includes both operational and capital costs, fell appreciably between the 1999-00 school year, the earliest with readily available federal data, and 14-15. It dropped from inflation-adjusted $10,397 to $8,986, a roughly 14 percent decline. Like other states already profiled, spending peaked right before the recession, but unlike hot-spot states Colorado, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, it never recovered to eventually exceed the beginning of the

Read More »

Show Me the (Education) Money, Part III!

May 1, 2018

With “Red for Ed” walkouts continuing in Arizona, and ongoing discussion about how well public K-12 schooling has been funded nationwide, here’s part three of our impromptu series on spending. As promised last week, this post presents the total spending charts for the five states that have been most in the news over funding: Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Please see the previous posts for discussions of national spending levels and data sources. The data here are total, inflation-adjusted, per-pupil expenditures on public elementary and secondary schools.
Arizona

Things are looking down in AZ, though with a similar pattern to the nation overall: Spending generally rising before the Great Recession—total expenditures peaked in 07-08 at $11,141—then dropping

Read More »

Show Me the (Education) Money, Part II!

April 26, 2018

Last week I put up a post with charts showing total, per-pupil, public school spending between the 1999-00 and 2014-15 school years, as well as breaking out spending for a handful of states facing notable education unrest. Due to popular demand—if that’s what you call very mild comments from a few people on Twitter and Facebook—this post is going to break that spending into numerous subcategories used by the federal government in the tables that formed the bases for most of the charts. This post will only look at aggregate national data, but next week I’ll break down spending for those embattled states.

Looking at this inflation-adjusted chart, you can get a sense for how big numerous components of spending are relative to each other, and how they have moved over the 15-period. I

Read More »

Show Me the (Education) Money!

April 20, 2018

With teacher strikes and demonstrations in several states tied not just to teacher compensation, but also the belief that public schooling has been starved for resources, it is worth looking at the spending data. Not trying to say what “fair” teacher pay is, or the degree to which spending may affect test scores; just seeing what we’ve been spending, and how it has changed over the years.
Let’s start with relatively recent history, the only span of years for which the federal government has readily available, total per-pupil spending data for public K-12 schools at the state level. (These data were assembled by pulling from the version of this table for every year and adjusting for inflation.) We want to look at total spending because taxpayers don’t just spend money for operating

Read More »

Public Schooling Battles: March Dispatch

April 10, 2018

The country saw other kinds of identity and values-based battles in March, but the month was dominated by one thing: guns, especially how you protest against them, for them, or try your best to stay neutral.
Of the 24 conflicts recorded on the Battle Map in March, 15 involved guns in some way. The large majority were directly about the March 14 National School Walkout, primarily whether schools should allow walkouts without ramifications in support of free speech; whether concerns about order and safety required that those who walked out be punished; if allowing a walkout to protest gun violence but not other causes amounted to viewpoint discrimination; and what to say, if anything, in events held in lieu of walkouts. Gun-related conflicts were recorded in Pennsylvania, North

Read More »

No Major Lessons from New National Test Scores

April 10, 2018

Another set of national exam results—the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—is upon us, and much will likely be made of them. But in the aggregate, what the new scores show is just that things haven’t changed much over the last couple of years, and only as captured by this particular test. Burrowing down and comparing states, subgroups of kids, and smaller jurisdictions that have implemented different policies, spent more or less, and experienced numerous other things, might suggest some avenues for further exploration, but the only conclusion we can state with any confidence is that nothing happened—not Common Core, not school choice, not the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—that appears to have seismically altered NAEP outcomes.
That may be just fine: Americans have

Read More »

Are Students Today “Relatively Poorer” Than in 1971?

April 2, 2018

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has taken to the pages of the Washington Post to let you know that you shouldn’t listen to people who tell you that “education reform” hasn’t worked well. At least, that is, reforms that he likes—he ignores the evidence that private school choice works because, as far as can be gathered from the op-ed, he thinks such choice lacks “accountability.” Apparently, parents able to take their kids, and money to educate them, from schools they don’t like to ones they do is not accountability.
Anyway, I don’t actually want to re-litigate whether reforms since the early 1970s have worked because as time has gone on I’ve increasingly concluded that we do not agree on what “success” means and the measures we have of what we think might be “success”

Read More »

Public Schooling Battles: February Dispatch

March 14, 2018

February is a short month, so March caught me by surprise. Hence the late Dispatch. But if February had 31 days, it would be like this came out on March 11. Not that bad, right? Anyway, on with the February battles, which are heavy on books, slavery lessons, and…dances.
Books: February saw three new book challenges: Both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird were removed from required reading lists in Duluth, MN; Stick was removed from all classrooms and libraries below the high school level in Beaverton, OR; and The Hate U Give was pulled as an assignment in Springfield, MO. Three of these books are not newly contested territory in our public schools’ constant values and identity-based battles. Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird have been flashpoints

Read More »