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Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Voucher Aftermath

Some interesting and illuminating newspaper articles, some blog posts by Utah legislators, and a few thoughts of my own, including on how things will go in the next legislative session, where educational debate is concerned.

In the aftermath of Utah's defeat of Citizens' Referendum 1 -- school vouchers, that is -- I thought you might like to read some responses from various interested parties, if you haven't already, including some that show where the educational debate may go from here. I suggest the following.

News Reports

This Deseret Morning News article spans a range of responses to the voucher defeat, from one high-profile proponent's declaration that he is ashamed of Utah voters, to a spokesperson for the State Board of Education who is still spinning away on the other side. In this and a more recent Salt Lake Tribune article, you can see the discussion starting to turn to other ways to improve schools.

Another recent Salt Lake Tribune article notes that, with vouchers dead for a while, charter schools are "all the rage." (The following are my words, not the article's.) To be sure, rage is what public school establishment -- the unions and the bureaucracy -- seems to be trying with uneven success to conceal, when the topic of charter schools comes up. Charter schools are almost as much a repudiation of the establishment as vouchers would have been. For its part, the Tribune clearly didn't miss the charter-schools-are-evil memo. As you read this article, note that it says this:

Are [charter schools] really better? No one really knows.

No one but the parents, that is, including the ones quoted in the article. But we parents don't count.

Future Theme: Payback

Perhaps the most illuminating article is this Salt Lake Tribune piece, in which some education officials are quoted as saying they fear the legislative majority, embittered by defeat, will retaliate against the establishment for opposing vouchers. This is not a new spin, but it does tell us what the talking points will be during and after the next legislative session.

My prediction: If the Utah Legislature this winter does anything short of bowing and kissing the establishment's feet and handing them the master keys to the state treasury, with very little in the way of accountability for outcomes attached to additional funding, we will be treated to a bitter round of speeches about Legislative retaliation over vouchers. Of course, it won't be the establishment upon which the legislators will allegedly be avenging themselves, but the innocent schoolchildren.

Do you think I'm too cynical by half? Wait three or four months and see. See if there aren't some high-priced, high-profile fireworks when the Legislature continues its efforts to impose accountability on the very lobby that just spent most of a year preaching to us that voucher schools wouldn't be nearly as accountable as those model public schools are.

For much of the establishment, alas, "accountability" is something the Legislature should feel toward the establishment, not the reverse. And it is measured crassly in dollars. Especially beloved are dollars with relatively little -- forgive me -- accountability attached.

By the way, if you want to see real retaliation, watch the educational establishment attack certain legislators as they run for reelection next year.

Legislator Blogs

Some influential state legislators blog, including about the challenges of trying to work seriously to improve public education in a climate in which the only unacceptable answer is the real one, competition-induced accountability.

Rep. John Dougall (R-27) is worth reading on many subjects, but recent posts on education are particularly apt. I recommend "Payback? Only Those Resistant to Improvement." In fact, I recommend reading the comments on that post, even though reading comments at blogs (except mine) is usually foolhardy and probably unhealthy. Most of the comments on this Dougall post actually seem seriously aimed at improving education. There are only a couple of morons represented, so far.

See also Steve Urquhart's post, "Vouchers," from the day after the election. Even the comments on this post have some merit.

. . . Which Leads Me to This Final Thought

Maybe the biggest obstacle to intelligence and civility in online discussions generally is the ease with which flamethrowers can remain anonymous. My impression -- somewhat self-serving, I admit -- is that serious people are not generally reluctant to attach their names to their thoughts.

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