Usually Freddie articles are pretty good, but he has gotten considerable pushback in the comments in his latest post You Don’t Get to Withdraw “Your Share” of Public Expenditures, Doofus.
He is right, broadly:
1. that schools are very limited in their ability to boost individual achievement, and that differences of pedagogical methods at best produce minimal to no improvement.
2. that geniuses/laggards will generally excel/lag regardless of what school they attend.
3. that despite mediocre Pisa rankings, American students are highly represented at the upper-end of the distribution of ability, such as top placings in science and math competitions.
4. that there is more inequality of ability within schools than between them.
The trouble is that we’re dragged down by a relatively small number of students that perform so terribly that they drag down our averages. That is indeed a problem, but it’s not primarily (or even secondarily, really) an educational problem. Rather it’s a complex and multivariate social problem that can’t be solved at the school level. Given the amount of money, energy, and manpower this country exerts on public education, whether defined in aggregate or per pupil, we should be able to confidently say that if there were any silver bullets available we would have killed all the werewolves by now. Unfortunately wonkism rules in this domain and core to the wonkist philosophy is that every problem has a policy solution.
He means **cough**blacks**cough**. What else could it be. Blacks consistently score on the bottom tiers of measures of academic achievement, no matter what. A commonly cited statistic online is that the wealthiest of black children perform worse on the SATs compared to poor whites. Whether you want to blame this on IQ or some other factor, there is no getting around this cold fact.
The problem with this article, and why he is getting a lot of pushback the comments, is that he’s conflating the collective with the individual/personal. Education, school choice is very much personal, and although the data he cites is correct in the aggregate, parents do not care what the ‘stats’ say, but rather which school offers the best environment for their children. It’s more than just grades, but not being beaten up or falling under the influence of ‘bad groups’. As someone in the comments notes, “Schools are were kids are socialized. People want their kids to be socialized into their values, and those values have diverged wildly.”
If you don’t like the city bus, you can try and elect politicians who will do a better job with public transit, but you don’t get to withdraw your portion of public funds to put towards a Honda Civic. Nor can you do that with the police and private security guards, the FDA with your own private scientists who test your foods and drugs for safety, or NASA and your own private spaceflight company. (Unless you’re Elon Musk, in which case you kind of can.) If you want to pay for your kid to go to private school on your own dime, go right ahead.
It’s like he’s implicitly arguing that parents should tolerate taxpayer waste and mismanagement because schools cannot boost individual academic performance, so what difference does it make. Yes, you do not get to ‘withdraw “Your Share” of public expenditures’, but it does not mean we have to resign ourselves to not doing anything about it. This comes across as too nihilistic and defeatist even by the standards of this blog, and many of his readers too.