Grand New Party and Education
I am a liberal guy. I do believe in the utility of government and, in situations where it can do some good, I believe in a lot of government. The thing about most liberals that bothers me the most, however, is their reflexive skepticism of decentralization.
I believe that centralizing and consolidating particular parts of the economy can make them function better. I also believe, however, that when something can be accomplished with less government it should be. Conservatives often treat decentralization as an end of itself rather than a means. It isn’t. The government has a job. Many liberals, on the other hand, oppose decentralization on philosophical grounds as though it were wrong on principle. It isn’t. It’s preferable. This is exemplified in Douthat and Salam’s discussion of education.
In Grand New Party Douthat and Salam accept immediately the need for government to fund public schools, arguing that education provides security and facilitates the social mobility that working people need. Their proposals for improving public education, however, are geared more toward students and communities.
Progressives generally get bogged down in union protections and sweeping reforms. Ambitious projects and equality of instruction. Schools, however, are not meant to serve teachers or provide the same education to every student. They are meant to serve students and provide educations of equal value. Children learn differently, teachers teach differently,
Douthat and Salam are broadly receptive to all sorts of decentralization. They support large diffuse homeschool leagues that share teachers between families in ways that better utilize parents’ skills and better socialize children. They support generous vouchers that are progressive by income. They support shortened summer breaks and longer winter and fall breaks in the model of some year-long calendars. Most interesting, however, is their interest in San Francisco’s public school system.
They use San Francisco’s a“weighted student” means of allocating funding to schools as a jumping off point for the funding of a diffuse system of public charter schools. In the system they cite, schools receive funding based on how many students they enroll. Students from poor families bring more funding, as do students with special needs. In Douthat and Salam’s system, schools would receive wide latitude to tailor curriculum in creative ways to attract students. The way in which money is attached to students would create a system in which schools are competing for those students which are most often left behind in public schools.
Douthat and Salam don’t claim to offer a bullet-proof solution to a complex problem, but their creative solution has practical precedent. Moreover, it illustrates how government investment can be paired with a skepticism of consolidation to produce something that serves a real need.