Hoosiers Show the Way


A nice piece recently published in the venerable Economist reports some good news out of the state of Indiana. The Hoosier state, under the enlightened leadership of Governor Mitch Daniels, has enacted a series of school reforms — reforms that are paying off handsomely for the children of the state.

The reforms crafted by Daniels and his superintendent of schools are interesting, among other reasons, because they are so wide-ranging. They include:

  • creating a voucher program for poor students;
  • encouraging and empowering more charter schools;
  • enhancing the autonomy of school principals to fire the obvious deadwood and respond to parents’ legitimate pressures;
  • requiring that teacher evaluations incorporate data on actual student performance.

Naturally, the rentseeking teachers unions hotly oppose these reforms (as they oppose almost all reforms, of any kind). Their position is: how dare these miserable, ungrateful, unwashed parents of kids in failing public schools insist on their right to send their kids elsewhere — or gain the right to see pertinent facts about the performance of the public schools?

The piteous cry is, “What is this country coming to?”

Of course, the deepest of the Indiana reforms is the establishment of a voucher program — which may well become the biggest in the country. Despite the unions’ vicious (and also morally vile) jihad against school reform in general and school choice in particular, there are now 32 voucher programs spread over 16 states. These programs educate only a small portion (210,000 students in total) of all America’s K-12 students, but they represent a growing threat to the dysfunctional status quo.

The anti-voucher forces trot out the usual lies: vouchers drain resources from public schools; they violate the separation of church and state. The replies are obvious. For every student who leaves a public school to attend a private one, yes, the district loses money, but it also saves the money it would have spent on that selfsame student. Apparently, unionized teachers can’t do simple arithmetic. Big surprise.

Further, the Supreme Court has already ruled that vouchers given directly to parents (who can decide to use them at religious, or atheist, private schools) do not violate the separation of church and state — no more than Pell Grants and the GI Bill of Rights, the benefits of which have always been usable at religious colleges. Apparently, unionized teachers don’t know history, either.

In fact, the voucher amount is usually much smaller, per student, than what is spent by public school districts. The Economist draws the obvious conclusion: vouchers save taxpayers’ money.

But I regard that as the least important advantage of vouchers. The most important, the crucial, advantage is that voucher programs (and other forms of school choice) rescue kids from stultified lives of needless underachievement.

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Jon Harrison

This is great news. I very much like getting these snippets about education reform that you've been providing.

As much as I oppose teachers unions, I'm thinking that "vicious" and "vile" are perhaps a little over the top in describing union opposition to reform. "Selfish" and "panicky" would be more accurate, I think.

Gary Jason

Look, I'm sorry if it makes people uncomfortable, but I like to speak the full truth. To resist ALL reform of a system that is clearly failing massive numbers of children is QUITE LITERALLY vicious (and vile). Any child who cannot read, write and compute at even an 8th grade level is going to be severely hurt throughout his/her working life, and very likely left in a marginal economic state, if not left outright poor. To do this to millions of children, rather than just allow some common-sense reforms (like vouchers), which have been adopted elsewhere and have not harmed decent teachers, is as vicious as knowingly building unsound roads or providing incompetent medical care. It is quite beyond selfish....

Federal Farmer

Still, the reforms are all mandates issued by the state of Indiana. Top-down reforms,even if they are market-oriented, will not provide the best education system.

Go full throttle on school vouchers, and then wipe out all the state standards, allowing individual schools to create their own standards.

If we imagine that grocery stores are similar to our school systems, we would not want to be restricted to a single grocery store in a geographic "district". But, even if we get to choose between grocery stores of other districts, the stores need to devise their own business models that separate them from each other. Otherwise, we are given vouchers to shop at a hundred grocery stores that are all the same!

As a teacher, I wish that conservatives/libertarians would not berate them so much. Although not intended, your words are very harsh on the lot of us. Please, show us that liberty is better for children and teachers! Tell us that we are not chained to the standards of the central planners and that we may compete, designing our own plans for education!

Gary Jason

Dear Farmer: Perhaps it would help if I told you that I have been a very low-paid adjunct professor for 35 years. I teach hundreds of students per semester, untenured, at a fraction of what my tenured collegues receive, because I revere teaching. Okay? It is precisely BECAUSE I revere teaching, that I get disgusted with those other teachers who refuse reform (accountability, and student choice).

Many teachers are superb, most are passable, but many are horribly bad. The bad ones cripple the potential for happiness of the students they teach, and need to be terminated. My argument is with those teachers in unions who refuse to enable the standard assessment of teachers, and the termination of the bad ones.

I have written much about this. In New York, the teachers unions enable even teachers who sexually molest students to remain on the job. In Chicago, the union went on strike to stop reforms to assess teachers--under the present "assessment" procedures, 99.7% of Chicago's public school teachers are rated as "good." Does that strike you as likely?

For 30 years, we on the right have been pleading with complacent teachers to reform the system, and HAVE MET A STONE WALL, even as our children's international rankings have declined decade after decade, in a world whose economy becomes ever more knowledge based. When I see on a daily basis the failed products of the public school system--students who literally cannot read at 8th grade level, taking college classes--I get very passionate. It's called righteous indignation.

For the record, for the millionth time: I favor the COMPLETE privitization of the education system IMMEDIATELY. I would institute a universal, nation-wide voucher system across the board, just like Sweden did in the early 1990s. But in the face of organized (VICIOUS) union opposition, I can't get what I dream of, so I at least try to get charter schools, tax credits for tuition to private schools, and other less than adequate measures.

One last point. Want to know something funny? After Sweden voucherized its schools, the teachers found THEIR JOBS WERE MORE ENJOYABLE. In other words, their unions were not working in their won interests all along.


We should begin to make the argument that education, as with healthcare and retirement accounts, should be "portable." Put another way, education dollars should go with the student, not with the school, and vouchers are a way of approximating that situation.

Eventually, the total cost of eduction can go with the students. Then, though we will still have public funding, all the schools themselves will in fact be "private" and will competitively vie for these dollars, at whatever levels the states choose to afford. Many benefits will follow, not the least of which will be a dilution, by greater numbers, of the teachers' union power. They, the teachers, will no longer be employees of the State.

Fred Mora

Dear Sir,

Thank you for reporting this growing scandal. The only responsible answer from us Federal lawmakers is to ban school vouchers. A simple executive order will suffice. Some would object that Presidential EOs are not meant for this and that using an EO for such a ban will be another anti-constitutional abuse.

Fortunately, the lack of reaction of the media guarantees that the ban will go unchallenged except maybe in some obscure, blue-border web site nobody in DC will ever read.

You sympathetic Federal lobbyist,

Ray Volting

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