Free to Choose in Education

Here is the text of my brief letter-to-the-editor that was published several months ago. “OPS” stands for Omaha Public Schools.

Competing school districts within the Omaha area permit parents some freedom of choice in the education of their children.
If OPS succeeds in ending that freedom, the Legislature should restore freedom of choice by adopting Milton Friedman’s proposal to issue vouchers to parents, to be spent at the public or private school of their choice.

Art Diamond. “Try Vouchers.” Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., June 16, 2005): 6B.

Never Say Die: Milton Friedman on Vouchers, Again

From an opinion-piece by Milton Friedman, at age 93, in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Whatever the promise of vouchers for the education of New Orleans children, the reform will be opposed by the teachers unions and the educational administrators. They now control a monopoly school system. They are determined to preserve that control, and will go to almost any lengths to do so.
Unions to the contrary, the reform would achieve the purposes of Louisiana far better than the present system. The state’s objective is the education of its children, not the construction of buildings or the running of schools. Those are means not ends. The state’s objective would be better served by a competitive educational market than by a government monopoly. Producers of educational services would compete to attract students. Parents, empowered by the voucher, would have a wide range to choose from. As in other industries, such a competitive free market would lead to improvements in quality and reductions in cost.
If, by a political miracle, Louisiana could overcome the opposition of the unions and enact universal vouchers, it would not only serve itself, it would also render a service to the rest of the country by providing a large scale example of what the market can do for education when permitted to operate.

MILTON FRIEDMAN. “The Promise of Vouchers.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., December 5, 2005): A20.

Drucker Predicted “Universities Won’t Survive”

Mr. Drucker also told us to expect enormous changes that will come in higher education, thanks to the rise of satellites and the Internet. “Thirty years from now big universities will be relics. Universities won’t survive. It is as large a change as when we first got the printed book.” He believed “High school graduates should work for at least five years before going on to college.” It will be news to most college presidents and a lot of alumni that “higher education is in deep crisis. Colleges won’t survive as residential institutions. Today’s buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded.” All this from a life-long academic.
. . .
How higher education is managed did not impress Mr. Drucker; but what did is our continuing education system, whether in community colleges or by computers. Also: “Our most important education system is in the employees’ own organization.” That is where most Americans learn the most.

STEVE FORBES. “A Tribute to Peter Drucker.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 15, 2005): A22.

In Millard, Parents Can Choose Montessori; In OPS, They Cannot

[p. 1B] The district contends that taking over dozens of suburban schools and thousands of students would minimize the impact of the option program and give OPS a better chance at integration.
But if OPS succeeds, it also could undermine the ability parents now have to choose the school that fits best for their children.
That’s important to Art Diamond, who lives within the OPS district but sends his 11-year-old daughter, Jenny, to Millard’s Montclair Elementary [p. 3B] because of its Montessori program.
“It seems to me the main issue is who is offering the best educational program,” Diamond said. “If they (OPS) had offered a Montessori program, we would have stayed in OPS.”
. . .
As Mackiel sees it, that departure causes problems for the Omaha district by altering its racial and economic makeup. But parents of option students don’t view their decisions through the same lens.
“It frustrates me when I hear OPS saying people live in Millard to get away from diversity,” said Diamond, the OPS resident whose daughter attends a Montessori program in Millard.
“I believe strongly in diversity, but I also believe strongly in Montessori.”

MICHAELA SAUNDERS and PAUL GOODSELL. “OPS Has No Option But to Let Whites Go.” The Omaha
World-Herald
(Sunday, November 13, 2005): 1B & 3B.
Jenny is actually currently a sixth grader in Millard’s Montessori program at Central Middle School. But Ms. Saunders was mainly asking me questions about our original decision to option into the Montclair Elementary Montessori program. So maybe I was unclear that Jenny had moved on to the next stage of the Millard Montessori program. In any event, the story was essentially accurate in capturing the main point of my comments: we chose Millard because, unlike OPS, MIllard has the entrepreneurial initiative to offer the Montessori educational program.

Courage and Cunning in the Defense of Freedom

LiAo9-19-05picNYT.jpg
(Li Ao on 9/19/05. Source: NYT online, see below)

BEIJING, Sept. 22 – China’s leaders may have felt they had no better friend in Taiwan than Li Ao, a defiant and outspoken politician and author who says that Taiwan should unify with Communist China.
But when China invited Mr. Li to tour the mainland this week, the Communist Party got a taste of its rival’s pungent democracy.
During an address at Beijing University on Wednesday evening, broadcast live on a cable television network, Mr. Li chided China’s leaders for suppressing free speech, ridiculed the university administration’s fear of academic debate and advised students how to fight for freedom against official repression.
“All over the world leaders have machine guns and tanks,” Mr. Li told the students and professors in the packed auditorium. “So I’m telling you that in the pursuit of freedom, you have to be smart. You have to use your cunning.”
. . .
Though Mr. Li did not criticize President Hu directly, he made pointed references to the lack of freedoms in China and suggested that the “poker-faced” bureaucrats of the Communist Party did not have enough faith in their legitimacy to allow normal intellectual discussion.
With several top university officials sitting by his side, he called the administrators “cowardly” for ferreting out professors at the school who were suspected of opposing Communism.

JOSEPH KAHN. “China’s Best Friend in Taiwan Lectures in Beijing About Freedom.” New York Times (Fri., September 23, 2005): A7.

Management in Private Sector, Public Sector, and Academe

Paul Wolfowitz, new World Bank President, remembering a joke told by his former boss, George Shultz:

“I remember George Shultz,” whom he once worked for, “was once asked how he would compare management in the private sector, public sector, and academics,” Mr. Wolfowitz says. “In the private sector you better be careful what you ask for because people are going to go out and do it. . . . The government, you don’t have to worry about that. You tell people (to) do something and you check back two months later and nothing’s happened. But in the academic world, you tell people to do something and they look at you strangely and they say, ‘Who the heck do you think you are giving us orders?'” (p. A10; “to” added; “. . . ” in original)

PAUL A. GIGOT. “Dr. Wolfowitz, I Presume.” Wall Street Journal (September 24, 2005): A10.

Tenure and the Market as Protectors of Free Thought

Mark Blaug as a young tutor at Queens College in New York, endorsed a student petition protesting the firing of a left-wing tenured professor for having refused to co-operate with the Un-American Activities Committee. Less than a day later, Blaug received a note from the President of Queens College, telling Blaug that his choice was either to resign or be fired. He resigned.
Fortunately, he received a grant from the Social Science Research Council to complete his dissertation, after which, again seeking employment, he obtained a job interview at Yale:

(p. 77) In the course of the interview, I felt impelled to explain how I had lost my previous teaching position at Queens College. I always remember how Fellner cut me off, saying: ‘We don’t want to hear about that. This is a private college and what transpired at a public university a few years ago is of no concern to us.’ I never had a better demonstration of Milton Friedman’s thesis that a free market, by multiplying the number of probable employers, is more likely to secure liberty for the individual than a socialist system in which the state is a monopsonist.

Source:
Blaug, Mark. “Not Only an Economist: Autobiographical Reflections of a Historian of Economic Thought.” In Reflections of Eminent Economists, edited by Michael Szenberg and Lall Ramrattan, 71-94. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2004.