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May 28, 2005 | South Carolina Headlines


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We’re not going away
Ralph Bristol
May 17, 2005

Despite the friendly advice of the National Association of Education (NEA) and its many agents -- Inez Tenenbaum, Tommy Moore and Joe Erwin to name a few -- supporters of school choice laws are not going away.  It was very gracious of Mr. Erwin, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and Mr. Moore, who plans to run against Governor Mark Sanford in 2006, to advise the governor in recent weeks to simply accept the defeat of his Put Parents in Charge bill and move on to more important education initiatives –spending more money for the NEA agenda.


It’s not going to happen. Erwin, Moore, Tenenbaum and others can try as they might to denigrate the support for school choice initiatives by referring to “out of state” groups (as if state boundaries have anything to do with improving education) and complaining about make believe attacks on public schools, but sooner or later, the general public will come to know which side is principled and which side is self-serving, and support for school choice will grow.


The latest episode in the education policy epic was written for South Carolina consumption by a think tank in California, specifically the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.  The think tank publishes a quarterly journal called Education Next.


In the current edition of Education Next, the Hoover Institute lauds states that embrace rigorous academic standards.  South Carolina got “straight A’s” for linking its PACT grading scale to a test known as the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Maine was the only other state similarly ranked.


The report was co-written by Paul E. Peterson, a Harvard government professor, who praised South Carolina for high standards in testing. He surmised that testing reports can be misleading. “If you have high standards, you are going to have more failing schools. I think South Carolina has high standards.” 


Peterson draws this conclusion because the “proficiency” rating for South Carolina students on the PACT and the NAEP are almost identical.  Therefore, South Carolina’s PACT comes closer to matching the national standardized NAEP than any state other than Maine. Other states appear to have dumbed down their state accountability test to make it easier to meet the No Child Left Behind goals.  Good for South Carolina.


Peterson, a school choice advocate, urged readers not to misuse his conclusions in the school choice debate. He specifically stated that he doesn’t want his “article to be read as saying there is no need in South Carolina to have a tuition tax credit.”


Enter Mrs. Tenenbaum, South Carolina’s Education Superintendent, who quickly embraced Mr. Peterson’s praise and ignored his plea. She said, “Straight A’s for our rigor demonstrates that South Carolina has risen to the challenge and set demanding proficiency standards.” Then she said the article undermines advocates of a tuition tax credit law that failed to pass the Legislature this year.


It does no such thing if the author of the article is to be believed. If he is not to be believed, then all of his conclusions, not just the ones Inez likes, must be disregarded.


The benefits of school choice are in no way tied to the quality of an existing education system.  School choice is equally beneficial to the best and worst education systems. Market forces are as positive for the customers of best company in the market as they are for those of the worst. Market forces are the rising tide that lifts all ships, and all passengers in the ships.


 “We are doing better than you thought, so there’s no need for pressure to improve,” is the language of monopolies that are more interested in protecting turf than in improving customer service.


Not all managers and employees survive the pressures applied by market forces, and that is why school choice is so stubbornly opposed by the NEA and its many agents. That is not the principled side of the argument, and one day the principled side will prevail.

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