Event Transcript of Panel on the Issues of School Choice

With Dr. Jay Greene and Professor Henry Levin
Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies
March 15, 2005


Page 1  2  3  4

 

DR. MITTLEMAN: Before I open it up to general discussion, I just want to take a couple of minutes to give Dr. Greene a response and then give Professor Levin a couple of minutes.

DR. GREENE: Well, I also want to emphasize that I read and respect Professor Levin's work. I think it's excellent. And I do think that we actually have a lot of points on which we agree, a lot of important points on which we agree. In fact, we sound like tonight we could agree that we would be both in favor in having some urban programs where choice is most limited right now, where segregation is most severe right now. We can have this in a bunch of different places, maybe try different designs and choice programs to see what the different effects of different designs would be and carefully study it, track it. If things are good we expand them and continue them and if they are bad we stop them. I mean it sounds like we could potentially agree in principle on that, with that approach and I think that's great.

I also agree that there are theoretically these trade-offs between these different goals. But there is a little bit of an empirical question about how much, in fact, these things trade off. These trade-offs could be a set of any kind of program, any government program—food stamps, housing vouchers, all of these programs, choice programs, have potential trade-offs between social cohesion, equity, choice. All of these trade-offs exist. But often times empirically we're not at the point where we are going to be making a serious trade-off and so we don't worry about it very much. And so the question in part when it comes to these trade-offs is how fragile do you think our civil society is. How much cohesion are we likely to lose in exchange for improvement in efficiency, or what are the cohesion benefits out of improving the educational opportunities of lower-income minority students. There are complicated interactions here that might make us worry less about these things.

We also have to ask ourselves compared to what. These things may involve trade-offs, but compared to what in the status quo. The status quo has trade-offs too, and so for example it's true that a choice program that has more information and transportation has less choice and less efficiency and has more cohesion and equity. That's true. But compared to what? What do we have right now? How much cohesion and equity do we have in the status quo where students don't get to choose very easily at all if they are low income. Or similarly, allowing parents to add on to a voucher with their own money increases choice and it may decrease equity. Theoretically that is correct. But again, relative to what. Right now, who can choose? Right now somebody can add on, somebody can't right now. These trade-offs are really . . . now.

So the choice is really between how will we trade-off these values in the future relative to how we do it now.

Then lastly the specter of new growth schools being less tolerant than old private schools. Sure, Catholic schools, we know them and they are okay but the . . . schools which is where the growth is we had better watch out.

I think there are two reasons why this doesn't trouble me. One is that I believe the focus . . . as a non-rhetorical article of faith. But also supported by common evidence that the true percentage of the population that wants intolerant things . . . Now intolerant things doesn't mean thinking that other people do bad things. Thinking you know that people do bad things is not intolerance. But thinking that other people cannot be allowed to do certain things that are fundamental to our political rights, that's intolerance. The question is how many people out there think that way. Even how many fundamentalists out there think that way. I don't think very many. And I don't think that offering expanded school choice to people who are fundamentalists will contribute in any significant way to this kind of intolerance in our society. Especially because I think it may have all those benefits in improving intolerance by the better instruction of tolerance in other kinds of schools that already exist.

And then the second reason why I'm not very troubled by the specter of fundamentalist schools is that it is always possible that this accusation is true now, but it sounds like the accusations that were made against groups in the past. This is what people said about why it is important not to have Catholic schools, why they ought to be banned, why it was important to sing hymns at the public school was to eradicate the intolerant Catholicism from them because they would be slaves to the Pope. And that was bad. And we could agree on that as a majority in our society and we ought to stop that.

Well the danger is are we doing the same thing to Evangelical Christians. Now it's always possible that this new group is different than the last group. Because the last time we were wrong and this time we were right. But we should be wary that maybe we're engaging in the same kind of intolerance against a religious minority now that we were in the past. And so that's why I think that I have some confidence that if we were to expand school choice that we would likely contribute to our political tolerance and unlikely be trapped . . . .

DR. MITTLEMAN: Would you like to respond, Professor Levin, for a couple of minutes?

PROF. LEVIN: Jay is so intelligent, and his responses, I think, are very good, but again we differ perhaps more by nuance than in terms of some big extreme, but let's talk just quickly about the Catholic schools.

Catholic schools today. First of all, the history of Catholic schools was one absolutely of injustice and we are unique in the world in terms of having Catholic schools as an alternative to public schools. There are countries of course like France who have a heavy component of Catholicism in their regular schools, but our history is unique. This is not something that was brought over from Europe. And there was terrible injustice, and indeed some people even argue today that the prohibitions against any public funding for schools under the Blaine Amendments were simply anti-Catholic [state] constitutional amendments established because of prejudice against the Catholic immigrants coming into the country.

But what is interesting about the Catholic schools is that they put a heavy emphasis on social-justice issues and social-justice issues do overlap very considerably with some of the larger social-cohesion issues.

On the other hand, any group that believes that society should be the opposite and believes in the absolute truth of its [way], of divine wisdom given in its particular scriptures, is in my view a danger to social cohesion.

Now if you want to look at very well-meaning people, lovely people but . . . by Ellen Peshkin on, and this is . . . of the total school environment, the fundamentalist school. And you almost, you know, you go native, you almost say you know, I understand what they are doing and what they are doing is very beautiful for their students. But basically what they are doing is they are preparing children for the kingdom of heaven, and all this nonsense about democracy and democratic institutions and respecting other views is irrelevant. It's not that they hate other people, it's just that all of that is irrelevant.

Now I see this, by the way, and I may step on some toes here, but I see this in some of the Orthodox Jewish movements, I see this in particularly the movements that we are seeing in Islam at the present time as well as the Christian fundamentalist schools. So it seems to me that when I weight this against, that's a form of empirical analysis just as taking the more traditional schools and finding that Catholic schools are a little bit better on tolerance than the average public school, at least in the sample—they are not great examples in terms of representative of this but I accept that. It's a very small difference. How much of that difference, number one, do you believe will stay there as we generate very different and very expanded school-choice plans. That's a reasonable question, and I would argue that the movement is in a very different direction.

In this city, by the way, twenty-two to twenty-six Catholic schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn, will be closed next year. That doesn't [bode] real well. At the same time fundamentalist schools . . . are increasing of all religions, of all religions in the city.

So anyway it's something where I think we have come out with different views on this. But one of the things that I want to mention is that the evidence merely isn't big, it's small, and some of these answers . . . talks about yes, they are there, but the question is what are you willing to give up to gain that amount. And when I put that out to you, I think it's really a matter of speculation on what's likely to happen with a system that we haven't tried. And it gets into our own values in terms of the risks that we want to take.

DR. MITTLEMAN: Okay. Well, I think these have been unusually cogent and informative presentations and I would like to invite you to participate. Please stand up, state your name and your affiliation if you wish, and speak clearly so the mikes can pick you up. Sir?

MR. BLOOMFIELD: My name is . . . Bloomfield. I head the educational leadership program at Brooklyn College. A question really for both of you. Two areas that you didn't speak about, and I wonder whether Professor Levin could speak about how total funding for education might be affected by vouchers, particularly funding of traditional public schools, and Dr. Greene, I wonder if you could talk about the effect of selection by these schools of choice within the voucher of the four other school choices if it were made more universal.

PROF. LEVIN: Well one thing that you didn't mention is that both of our children [go to Jewish day schools]. My youngest went to the Solomon Schechter High School of New York and also to Park East, which was an Orthodox school but a very [liberal one], an Orthodox school on the cusp of Conservatism and Jay's three children go to a Jewish day school in Florida.

Q: I won't tell you about all the tuition dollars that I've paid for my kids to go to Jewish day school.

DR. GREENE: Well, again you can have different regulatory schemes of even a choice program as to what discretion that receiving schools have over who they receive. In Milwaukee, for example, schools were required to accept students without any cause for rejection unless they were over-subscribed, in which case they had to have students by lottery. Which is, by the way, what allowed us to do our random study. So in that choice arrangement, there is no selection on the part of the private school.

In other programs, private schools have complete choices. It's also, I think, important to recognize that existing public schools now also engage in selection. For example, in Stuyvesant you have testing . . . as I understand it. And so there are admission criteria and they can choose. Some people can be admitted and not others. And you know these involve value trade-offs, how much selection we think is tolerable by schools—that selection might be desirable in that it can create a school with a more coherent mission that focuses on certain kinds of students that meet those eligibility criteria. On the other hand, there are equity concerns there and I think like Hank was saying there are trade-offs there and I think it would be reasonable to try different programs with different arrangements on this question to see whether in practice it produces very different results. I mean it may not be as much of a cause for worry as you might think it is.

PROF. LEVIN: On the funding of education, if you take the basic fee-induction plan, there has been some economic analysis of it, and basically what you want to do is look at the income distribution and who is likely to participate. And economists conclude that under a fee induction there would be a tendency to keep down the basic voucher which presumably would be the basic amount that public schools would get too. Because public schools and independent schools would compete. Because of the incentive of parents who have both income and political power to be able to solve the problem for their own children by adding.

Now in New York City we are spending somewhere between $10,000 and $11,000 in current operating expenses. Solomon Schechter is going to about $19,000. The most elite private schools in New York City are going to be about the $25,000 range. Parents wouldn't have to even . . . when they send their kids to the private colleges with respect to tuition.

So that's generally the way it's viewed. That is, if you can solve the problem of your childhood education not by making a community decision to raise, to improve the education of all students, but you can do it simply through adding to a voucher for your own, economists agree that that will tend to keep the basic voucher, the basic amount down. But again I hate answering these questions generally. Now I don't mind answering them generally because it really depends on the details of the plan. And, as with Jay, I mean I agree that we can't be patient with respect to what is happening to education of the poor in this society and of many minority groups. And at the very least we have got to try something. So it doesn't mean that we adopt things wholesale but we should be looking at different alternatives and we should be evaluating them very carefully.

MR. LOBERG: I'm Andy Loberg. I'm a retired teacher, I taught in the New York City school system. Now this gentleman brought up some of the, one of the questions I was going to ask about vouchers, taking money away from public schools. And you also take students away and you are leaving both schools to deal with less money and a low level of student. So I'm not going to ask that question, he answered it already.

One thing I would like to ask you about is one problem that I had when I was a teacher about the disruptive student. Now in private schools if a student is disruptive, he doesn't stay in the school. Now in the public school system, and I think you may not agree, you may not know that in New York City the class-size limits in the high school for a student is thirty-four students. And if you have one or two disruptive kids, how can a public school system deal with one or two disruptive kids that—I mean kids who have no interest in education at all, but because of a compulsory education is there. And how do you educate those thirty-three other or the thirty other kids in your class. I mean, it's great to let those three kids go to private schools, but the kids that are left with that disruptive kid, how does your voucher program handle that or deal with that at all?

DR. GREENE: Well, first on the question you didn't ask . . . anyway the reason why public schools in the studies that I have done and in the literature that Professor Levin did with the . . . the reason why public schools do better when faced with increased choice and competition, even though their revenue is put in jeopardy and even though they may lose students of high quality to those alternatives, the reason why those schools tend to do better in that environment is that schools are faced with increased incentives, increased motivation to perform. We all agree that schools need adequate resources to perform. But they also need the motivation to use the resources effectively. One without the other is no good. And so a formula where we guarantee ever-larger amounts of money to public schools without addressing the issue of motivation, leads to high costs and low performance.

And so that is how it's possible to draw talent and resources, to threaten talent and resources in public schools, and [still] have better role models . . . .

Now on your question about the disruptive student, in both public and private schools. There are mechanisms for the disruptive child, for removing disruptive children from that environment. The difficulty that public schools have is that the barriers to removal and the procedure for removal are more difficult. But let's not pretend that there aren't behavioral alternative schools for disruptive students, there are. The public school system has established that arrangement in many cities across the country for handling disruptive students and they won't use this system very efficiently, and it's not very accessible.

But that is part of the inefficiency of the current governance of schools. There is no, by having a system of public schools we do not guarantee that every student can attend every school. We do not guarantee that. Students with certain disabilities that cannot be accommodated at a public school are told you cannot come here, you have to go somewhere else where we have appropriate facilities and services for you.

Similarly students who are too disruptive to be in a certain school are told you cannot go here. Every child is not guaranteed the right to go to every public school. Similarly every child is not guaranteed the right to go to every private school. And so it's possible that from the competitive pressure of expanding choice from private schools that we would actually motivate public school systems to come up with a more efficient arrangement for removing students who are disrupting the educational functions because the school will want to keep the thirty-some students that it does have.

Now actually let me make one small point on class size. You should also ask yourself why classes are so large in high schools in New York City given that the ratio of student to teacher has been declining in New York City and nationwide at a very rapid pace. Why is that? Why do we have more teachers relative to students but big classes? What happened?

Well, you have a contract that has reduced the number of hours that teachers are in the classroom. And so we have been hiring more teachers but class sizes aren't getting smaller. And they are not getting smaller because we are reducing the number of hours that teachers teach. In other words we are being less and less productive with our teachers over time. Again, why are we doing this? We are doing this because the schools are not facing the type of competitive pressure that might cause them to alter that arrangement, to renegotiate that provision in their contract.

So I think that some of these problems can be addressed through the pressure of competition.

DR. MITTLEMAN: I would like to call on this gentleman and this lady.

MR. BERNSTEIN: My name is Ray Bernstein. My affiliation is I was Jay Greene's high-school debate partner. I take no responsibility for . . . .  A comment on Jay and then for . . . .

I went to Georgetown summer school with Jay and we were public school students from suburbs of Chicago. Two Jewish boys attending a Catholic school. We went to Georgetown. And we sat at . . . where there was a Christ figure right in front of us, a huge Christ figure and we had never seen anything like that before. And to see Jay now say that to find tolerance we need to look to the Catholic school system is such an enormous step, it should not be taken lightly.

My question is for Professor Levin. You had four criteria to evaluate the choice system. You granted the three and obviously better for choice. I would like to comment on the other three.

The first one was efficiency and you said that four percentile was not that material. When we talk in education about different things we can do, smaller class size, substantial increases in money spent in the schools and other ideas that we consider, I'm under the impression that vouchers is one of the most material in total change. And second is that when we hear about SAT scores falling in the nation over a decade, is a ten point movement what we are talking about. So that when we have a Sputnik event, when we have a massive change, do we get ten points. Is that the sort of nationwide change that we talked about as being so material?

On social cohesion, Jay mentioned that you know we have the Catholic schools which are very tolerant. How are we supposed to empirically evaluate the exact . . . that were so important and could we have market-based solutions that maybe get us more social cohesion. Why do we need to impose the anti–Mlton Friedman, the absolute state regulatory hammer to get the results that you are talking about?

PROF. LEVIN: Yes they are good questions. Just factually SAT scores have not been . . . around '65 they started to fall precipitously and then they in the early '80s they start to be gaining a little bit and they have been creeping up a little bit and I want to also say that the SATs, even to look at them carefully there is a different composition of people taking them today than took them in the past as you know, and I personally don't take the SAT scores themselves as really serious in terms of predicting much of anything except where there are very large differences. The small differences, I should tell you that I'm on the Board of ETS, so for the last seven years we have been dealing with this and with the writing sample that is now required and all that and meeting with the researchers also in their visiting research committee. So the SAT I gave is one example of how you take a one-tenth of a standard deviation and put it in a form that people understand and since most people have either kids or they have taken SATs or GREs themselves, they can draw their own conclusions about that.

I agree with you that there may be ways of improving social cohesion with choice. I haven't seen it yet but no one is really focused on that as the goal. The focus really fits in on the goal of choice and competition with the hope that it increases efficiency. And there we know that it has big effects on choice. You get toward logically, if you give people a lot of choices, freedom of choice increases, and we also know that it appears to have some impact on standardized test scores but by a fairly modest amount. That doesn't even mean that there can't be any system that doesn't take all four of those and play on one side with what the value trade-offs are among people and on the other side what the possibilities are. But if we have to go by what we presently have, I think that what I have presented is a fair picture of evidence.

DR. MITTLEMAN: Okay . . . .

MS. SHEFRON: My name is . . . Shefron, and I'm an adjunct professor at CUNY, at two colleges of CUNY in sociology.

I'm going to ask a very pragmatic question. You know, I know you did mention that there are ways with school choice enabling [people] to choose private schools. However, how close are we in New York to a voucher system? Because here we are talking as if we are going to have vouchers but we really don't have it, and I don't think we know how close are to it, that's number one. And number two is what are the implications of Jewish private day schools? I'm also aware because of . . . children who have gone to private state schools in the New York area and I know how . . . this Commission is because I helped with it. And so I would like to know what the implication we have with vouchers is going to be for the Jewish day care system.

DR. GREENE: When you say how close, do you mean how close as a political reality are we?

MS. SHEFRON: Yes.

DR. GREENE: Do you want to answer?

PROF. LEVIN: Yes. I would say we are very far away. I think that in the next four or five years we might see some more experiments or demonstrations particularly in the inner city, but I don't think we are going to be closer than that.

I think that there are deep concerns about what is going to happen with the CFE money. A lot of people who may not be in favor of market solutions but are worried an awful lot and that may induce more activity in this direction.

DR. GREENE: Yes and we will probably, the school chancellor has announced a goal that greatly expands the number of charter schools, which is an expansion of choice but it's regulated choice. You know he might say it's a little bit like your restaurant choice, you can get the Big Mac or the chicken nuggets. And that's an expansion choice. But is it a meaningful expansion, I don't know. And I would question whether this is due to day schools.

I think actually even though we would both have children involved in day schools and both work on this, I strongly suspect that nobody really thinks about what this does to day schools. We don't bother thinking about it much in part because I don't think we are really motivated in trying to expand choices for ourselves because frankly we don't really [lack] access to them.

But I agree with you and I do recognize that there are Jewish children out there who for financial reasons do not really have access to choice. And do not have access to a day school choice and when we have ideas about what day schools do for the goal of continuity, in addition what they do for educational efficiency. And so there are potential benefits here for day schools. But again the day school movement is so small as a portion of all private schools that researchers on the topic have not given it much attention.

MS. SHEFRON: Excuse me, but I mean will they be able to use the vouchers for day school?

DR. GREENE: Well, they do in places where the program exists. There are day schools that participate in voucher programs.

I was recently on the board of an Orthodox Jewish school for disabled students in Miami Beach, North Miami Beach, that receives what is called the (McCabe) Scholarship, which is a voucher program in Florida for all students who are disabled. Any student that is disabled in the State of Florida has a voucher, they can go to a private school. And this school, called Kesher, received those students and received them with vouchers so they participated.

PROF. LEVIN: Do you mind if I just add to the, one of the things is that the Jewish philanthropic agencies don't provide much support for day schools. And let me talk about the Catholic situation, because we have been dealing with that for the last couple of weeks. The Diocese of Brooklyn has declared that it's going to close as many as twenty-six schools. Now it's hoping of course that there will be a response on the part of people in the parishes and they will get out there. But they are funded in the same way in a sense as the Jewish day schools.

By that I mean this. That if you take for example the New York diocese, which is one that I'm even more familiar with because I did some work for them, that includes Scarsdale, it includes Harlem. Guess where the schools have closed historically?

[?]: Scarsdale.

PROF. LEVIN: Yes. If you go to Scarsdale you find that the schools are very richly appointed and very competitive with the public schools in terms of most of the various measures. But you see the Catholic schools are parish-based, they are not diocese-based, nor are they Catholic-order-based. You know the . . . and Jesuits and all of that. The high schools tend to be sponsored by the orders and the diocese. The parochial schools are sponsored by the parishes. And they have hit some very hard times. Their populations in the inner city have become poorer and poorer, as those who are middle class moved out to Long Island and places like that. Even getting money from bingo, which was actually a source of support with off-track betting and lottery, that has diminished and you just have an elderly crowd that goes there for the social experience.

With respect to funding from the diocese itself, the diocese gives scholarships, give little things but it amounts to less than $200 per student in the Brooklyn diocese, which includes Brooklyn and Queens. And they estimate that their full cost is about $4,000 per student, which is still quite low. And how they do it, as you know the population of priests, of teaching orders and nuns and so on, that's diminished, so they are paying something closer to market salaries for their teachers. So all of it is going in that direction.

Now one solution is to get the diocese to say you know the kind of spiritual values that we have for our Catholic population is our mission. And being poor isn't a reason not to provide that for its people.

Now let me move to the Jewish day schools. The same argument can be made here that the larger Jewish community, instead of putting its resources to the highly philanthropic community but puts its resources into many, many things—Jewish day schools are not one of them.

And if in fact there is what economists would call externality, something that benefits, you know, the entire [community]. Then what you wanted to do is at least, you don't want to pay all of it, you want communities to work to make some sacrifice to maintain their school. But you do want to provide some kind of some form of equalization and some foundation so that the schools are possible.

[?]: And day schools are lot more expensive than Catholic schools in general.

DR. MITTLEMAN: Just a point of information. In Education Week, February 23rd of this year, an article "Legislatures hit with surge in school choice plans" is a good digest of what is happening politically. New York is not one of the states where there is movement. The young woman here in the second row in back of Rabbi Finkelstein.

MS. SIEGEL: My name is Jillian Siegel and I found it interesting, your talk about Jewish day schools, because I used to work at one . . . schools. But then after . . . .

But anyway and I'm not even Jewish, but I have . . . before in the community.

But my question is for either of you. Both of you seem to agree that choice should be expanded . . . but after the No Child Left Behind Act is implemented, very few of the parents are actually taking advantage of the choice provisions that basically was for the national choice program. And I'm wondering you know why you may think this would be the case because you would think that you were told your school is—family and, you know, under-performing and you hear the option that the charter school or a higher-performing public schools that the parents would want to go there. But again I know in some places just no schools like in large places . . . so it's a whole slew of options and you know it's . . . . But 10 percent still participated, so I'm just like wondering if anyone had a response to this.

PROF. LEVIN: Well, there are a number of reasons. The first is we have to recognize that you can transfer your child to a so-called successful school. There aren't an awful lot in New York City or Chicago, there aren't a lot of successful schools that have places. They have to have places.

Secondly, distances. And where they are is not in the sections of Queens where you have tremendous overcrowding, very poor immigrant populations have come in and have insecurity even about transporting their children to other parts of the city. And I don't believe that transportation is guaranteed. So that when you have young children you are not going to put them on the subway or on the regular buses to send them to neighborhoods in Fort Greene or in Riverdale or wherever. I know the reporter of the Sun constantly thinks it's a terrible idea anyway because he's from Riverdale and he thinks his schools in Riverdale at least are pretty good and they are taking kids from Kingsbridge in the Bronx and allowing them to go to those schools which he says hurts both those kids and the schools in Riverdale.

Well, I won't comment on that but the fact of the matter is, is it really reasonable to expect parents to select schools long distances from their house, successful schools?

Now beyond that, we know from the general choice literature that families that are trying to survive, trying to make it in very difficult circumstances, this is not high on their agenda. Just getting their child to school each day is something that some of them can barely handle. And so there are other hardships that make this mechanism less than successful.

DR. GREENE: When you have highly restricted choice programs and No Child Left Behind, it's not much of a choice program, it's a very restricted one. When you have highly restricted choice programs, you shouldn't be surprised that not very many choose. Although it's also important that you don't need huge numbers of people actively choosing to get competitive effects. And so there are potential benefits for public schools . . .

. . . When it comes to the capacity of low income and minority families to choose. I think that if we have choices available that are more convenient, people will participate. And it's always true that more advantaged people will participate in choice programs at a higher rate than more disadvantaged people. It's true with food stamps. More advantaged people who qualify for food stamps bother to get food stamps relative to the participation rate for more disadvantaged people who are eligible for food stamps. This is not an argument against food stamps. It's an argument for trying to address barriers of participation among those who are born disadvantaged and it's just a recognition of reality. There is some part of the disadvantages that people have that make it hard for them to stay in the program and also make them disadvantaged, and it's just a recognition of reality. There are some . . . the disadvantages that people have that make it hard for them to stay in the program also make them disadvantaged. And so poverty programs face this all the time. And I think that we can understand school choice as part of any poverty movement.

DR. MITTLEMAN: The gentleman in the last row.

MR. WILCOX: My name is Bruce Wilcox and I think I'm unique in that I'm a trustee of both Teachers College and Manhattan Institute and so I'm very proud of both of our scholars.

This is more comment than question, but I was struck by a couple of things. I think Jay posed a very important simple question which was, "compared to what?" I think that's the question that always has to be held in mind. I think Hank, you know, put forward a list of criteria and criteria always have to be held in mind.

And I think that the solution to all of these questions will lie in very simple and honest recognition of human nature. For instance, people segregate. We're in a segregated institution right this minute. We are segregated around education right this minute. My two daughters go to all-girls' schools. My son went to an all-boys' school and we segregated, it's human nature.

The common values in the social-cohesion question—common values have to be very simple and very, very classic like, you know, as in the Ten Commandments: Thou shall not kill. And I think pretty much most people can agree on that. Except when somebody is trying to kill you.

So I think that in the social equity category, you know, we can't even strive realistically for equity and outcomes. What we can strive for is equity as a shot at some basic core, fundamentally redefined values about what is education supposed to achieve. And then I think that Jay had raised a very, very important question as compared to . . . what we thought as a mess. And I mean Mr. Bernstein here brought up the Sputnik, you know I mean I remember it . . . many people in the room lived that experience. That all of a sudden, the whole nation got very, very excited about our competitive standing with Russia. He also brought up Georgetown. I was there at a Grateful Dead concert in 1970, and there was no crucifix in the room.

So I think that you know, and I'll shut up in a moment, but I just think that the solution you know of Milton Friedman appeals to me because I fundamentally believe that a poor, single-mother crack addict still wants the same thing for her children, and I see nothing wrong with empowering her with the purchasing power that is already embedded in the tax base. That's what a voucher is. And I was a military kid, we have had vouchers in this nation for ages. Any military kid had a voucher that paid the local public school system.

So I think that if the goal is simple, and we are talking about how do we achieve these simple goals, that really there is a tremendous amount of overlap in what both of these guys do. They think they are on opposite sides of . . . trying to achieve. So that's a speech, sorry, a short one but I appreciate really your points of view.

DR. MITTLEMAN: We have about fifteen minutes left and I think I would like to collect several questions . . . .

RABBI FINKELSTEIN: A basic question both of you presented. Data based on studies, numerical studies and the responses of the students and the community. I deal with anecdotal evidence. My father, for whom this program is named, was the product of the public schools in the City of New York. From the public school in Brownsville to . . .

And I myself am also a product of the public school system in New York and so I've . . . attended day schools.

But when I visited a public school in 109th Street and Broadway, that when I went out on 108th Street, I went face to face with a Catholic parochial school. And the Catholic parochial school in the 1940s, the 30s and 40s when I attended, did not produce the kind of tolerant people . . . of today. Which is my way of saying that things change. And that what cannot necessarily—based on prognostication in the future are what the evidence is right now. That when you speak of the vouchers being productive of more cohesion, that question is, if those vouchers go to fundamentalist schools, are we going to educate people for democracy? And that's where the bottom line is.

This . . . was founded to further the idea of ideals of democracy and the sense of the unity of the American people despite the divisions in religious and racial grouping. Does a voucher system enhance the sense of democracy in this country or . . .

DR. MITTLEMAN: Let's get a few more questions. Gentleman in the back.

Q: Yes, I want to know if there have been any studies by anyone to determine whether competition . . . . Whether competition would increase the focus on performance in exams over learning, because measurement would be more determinative to a school's reputation and success. If schools are going to be competing for dollars with these vouchers, and then their reputation will be more at stake on outcomes and performance as opposed to just a general notion of learning education.

DR. MITTLEMAN: And the woman in the row . . . .

MS. BOTT: Yes, my name is Marianne Bott, I'm a student at . . . College and a frequent attendee of the Manhattan . . . And I also am the statewide education-finance advisor for the League of Women Voters in New York State, which has a position in opposition of charter schools.

And I on . . . helping organization make a decision as to whether we maintain that position. The position right now says no public monies for private schools. It doesn't say no charter schools.

My question is, how would you design a study of the continued worthiness of New York State charter schools? I might add I notice that other people are in New York State when they are asked about academic settings and they are told that there is this great study in Tennessee of reducing class size, they say well, that has nothing to do with New York. So I think that probably New Yorkers are most likely like to believe studies that are done within their own state, whether that should be true or not.

But I'm curious how would you study charter schools in New York state?

DR. MITTLEMAN: Let's get some responses to these questions and then we will take more questions.

DR. GREENE: Well, let's see. I guess I'll deal with the first question. Catholic schools change over time, that's true. So do public schools. They change over time and the evidence of it from your own experience is you went there, your children don't. Your father went there but your children don't.

The schools could produce you and they . . . could produce you and your father. And I wonder what the odds are that you send your children to the same school you went to or that your father went to, whether they would have the same [result]. And so things do change and they change academically as well as democratically. But our society in general changed, and so I'm not sure that the schools are what changed as much as our society.

Now also keep in mind that public schools have also changed, quite a lot of them come to democracy and tolerance. After all, not very long ago when Professor Levin was in school they would sing Protestant hymns in public schools. This is what they thought about non-Protestants.

Now my parents have the same stories about the Catholic kids who would chase them down the street and beat them up. I know these stories. But I'm not sure it's a reflection of school in the . . . effect of society. Schools may . . . have encouraged kids to chase them down and beat them up. But that may have been simply a reflection of everything else that was going on inside . . .

PROF. LEVIN: Let me just mention very quickly. Yes of course, if you have schools competing on the basis of the test scores, you are going to place a special emphasis on those. Just as NCLB does today. NCLB, No Child Left Behind, puts an enormous premium on the so-called test prep. And that's a concern. But does that mean, I guess the questions that you hear, I sound more like Jay—does that mean that it's impossible to design a system that has a range of educational concerns, as opposed to a couple of narrow test scores in math and reading.

And I'll just leave it as a question, although I would say that we haven't really tried very hard. And that gets us into the charter schools too in a way. New York State it turns out is one of the few states which I trust with charter schools. In this state, you don't renew the charter if the school is not doing well. But schools have only been closed in most other states on the basis of financial mismanagement or real corruption.

New York State is the first to close a school because a school in Harlem, not far from here, had children in the ninth percentile on one test reading and I think the thirteenth percentile in math, or it might have been the reverse. The parents came out and protested to give the school a chance even though year after year the school had said it was turning things around. It was just a school that had a lot of instability, a lot of problems and didn't seem to have the capacity to turn itself around. And the New York State, the final group, the State University of New York, because it is the regents or a regents committee responsible for the charter school, simply said no, the buck stops here and we made that commitment and we are going to close it.

It hasn't made the press here but two schools were closed in Rochester last week. One, by the way, run by Edison and the other by National Heritage, educational-management organizations, with terrible results, just terrible results. But what happened. Again the group responsible from the regents simply made a decision, despite protest.

Now there are two answers to the question of whether you use these criteria. On the one hand, the idea is that there are several criteria that should be used in evaluating schools. If you take the libertarian position, Friedman's position—let the parents decide. Had parents decided, the school in Harlem with its ninth percentile and its thirteenth percentile would still be open. So that's of concern. I think that the state does have an important role to play. It shouldn't be overly oppressive. Again there is going to be a tension and how we resolve that is going to be the real issue.

DR. GREENE: Well, I mean if Friedman then prevailed, there might be a range of options available to those families so that they might actually find ninth and thirteenth percentiles to be unacceptable. But we always have to ask the question compared to what. And so nine and thirteen percent may have been tolerable for them compared to their alternatives, which may have had [lower] test scores . . .

So these parents were making choices that were not necessarily irrational. And if you give people very limited ranges of choices, they will choose things that look bad to you. But they are better than something else.

Now actually the League of Women Voters' position on this, I mean if I understand them right, their position is no public money for private schools and therefore they oppose charter schools. But we should let them know that charter schools are public schools, they are not private schools. And if charter schools are private schools, then so is every other school that is not a neighborhood-assigned school. There are lots of things that go by the name public schools.

MS. BOTT: By the way, before everybody in the room chuckled, we're fully aware that legally—

DR. GREENE: No, I know, I know.

MS. BOTT:—they are public schools. I noticed, however, during the presentation frequently there are references to private schools.

DR. GREENE: I don't think I would refer to charter schools as private schools. I haven't done that, as far as I know.

MS. BOTT: Well, what I found with my organization is that there is a great deal of confusion, it's not just my organization, but what is a charter school—

DR. GREENE: Well, I think there is good—

MS. BOTT: —is not necessarily all the same—

DR. GREENE: There are good reasons for this confusion because many things about public schools are essentially private schools. For example, that not everyone can be admitted. Well that's true in a public school. That you have to test in. That's with public schools. But if you are disabled, they might tell you that you can't go there, that's true of public schools. That they do have to pay tuition to go there. That's true of public schools. That tuition is your house being bought with a premium built into the price of the house for your school. So there is good reason why people would be confused.

Now on the question, well, how can you assess the worthiness of continuing charter schools. The best way to do it is a random . . . . Charter schools must be required to accept, by lottery I imagine since . . . fair in most states, when oversubscribed. Carefully keep track, conduct the lottery, have them evaluate it, conduct the lottery, have everyone before the lottery occurs, and then carefully track the lottery winners and lottery losers. The lottery winners go to the charter school, while the losers go somewhere else, and continue testing them over time. And you will see if your charter schools make a difference for those who get to go to them by comparing the results of the charter-school lottery winners versus the lottery losers. That's a very good way to know the effect of charter schools.

MS. BOTT: Do you think that's going to happen in New York State?

DR. GREENE: If the League of Women Voters says we change our mind, we aren't sure whether charter schools are good or bad and we would really like to know, so we support a high-quality evaluation and an . . . on the issues and it's not that expensive.

MS. BOTT: I think you are being correct to say that we used the word charter school and immediately, in other words what Professor Levin was doing was defining then by design and there were within the categories—finance, regulation, and support services. I think it's much too simplistic to say we are going to study charter schools and compare them to non-charter schools. Why don't you study something like take a look at the level of finance. Why don't we study all schools in which X amount of dollars are being spent.

DR. GREENE: That's actually been done. That's been done. We know a lot about the effects of additional money on educational outcomes. And we have reviewed the literature that Rick [?] did. The basic finding is that there is really no additional benefit out of additional dollars in public-school spending. Now it's not that public schools don't need money to operate, they do need money to operate and there is some point—

MS. BOTT: And you spend $26,000 for your private-school kid, and that's where all of the parents who really care about their kids, and have the money to do it. That's where they send their kids. You are telling me that there is no qualitative evidence that better . . . will get better results with their—

DR. GREENE: That's not the relevant difference between the public and private school is that dollar amount. Because there are private schools in New York City that charge a fraction, that charge $4,000 in tuition and have better results than public schools that charge $12,000 to . . . . And so if spending, let's put it this way, if spending money were the cure, let's keep in mind over the last thirty years in real dollars the . . . inflation, we have doubled per-pupil spending, doubled. So that we are now spending nationwide a little more than $9,000 per child. And yet test scores over the last thirty years, according to . . . have been flat. They haven't gone down, they haven't been going forward, they are flat. Things are not getting better. Any time you double your spending and get nothing extra in return, you have to wonder what, you know, would you then say, I've got an idea, let's do it again, let's double spending again and then this time it's going to work. Well I think that would be foolish.

DR. MITTLEMAN: With only a minute left, I don't think I can take any more questions. Let's thank our speakers for a very stimulating event. Thank you, everyone, for coming.

Back to Past Programs