The Devil Is In The Details

Galen Clark Elementary, Merced, California, circa 1965

Galen Clark Elementary, Merced, California, circa 1965

Walter Russell Mead:

Mayors: Don’t Put Matt Yglesias in Charge of Your Schools

Slate columnist Matt Yglesias has harsh criticism for districting in public school systems. In most American cities, children can only attend the schools in their district, which Yglesias argues effectively turns these ostensibly public schools into the “private property of local homeowners.” As he sees it, this is a root cause of much of the inequality between high-performing and low-performing public schools:

In my view, over the long term the question of how linked schools are to particular places is a more important issue than the cliché debate over “charters” vs “traditional” public schools. In a zoning-free Yglesiastopia this might not be such a big deal. But in a real world where real estate markets are defined by location, location, location tying school access to location turns the school system into a form of private property. You can call a facility “public” all you like, but if the only way to gain access to it is to first buy your way into an expensive neighborhood then there’s nothing public about it.

But Yglesias’s “zoning-free” public schools ignore some very real logistical barriers. Theodore Ross at the Atlantic captures them well:

Yglesiastopia must be a place with infinite resources, one in which the good schools are large enough for all, and where no allocation process whatsoever—financial, racial, ethnic, linguistic, or residential—need be implemented. Let students flock to the quality schools and the problems in our educational system will disappear. Hail Yglesiastopia!

There’s something to this argument. Quality schools aren’t just a matter of good facilities and good teachers—although these are certainly important. Parents who are active and engaged in the school community are a key component of any successful school. Moving schools out of local communities and distributing children across the city will make it much more difficult for parents to get engaged and sever the ties schools have with their local community. A smart society realizes the determination of local families to build a good system and capitalizes on it.

Another effect of the Yglesias reform: an acceleration of middle class flight from the cities. Cities have been working like stevedores to convince professional works and higher income people to stay in the city once they’ve gotten married and had kids. One of the most important tools at their disposal: giving parents a reasonable certainty that their kids can go to good public schools. Take that assurance away, and roll out the welcome mat in the burbs. Watch the tax base decline and watch support for public education wither away.

If you want to wreck an American city, put an Yglesian in charge of the schools.

Part of the problem with our public schools is a legacy of Jim Crow segregation. In many southern states there were “white only” and “colored” schools. But it wasn’t just the southern states. One segregated school system was located in Topeka, Kansas, which was a “Union” state during the Civil War. Even California got into the act when the school district in Lemon Grove decided to put all the kids of Mexican heritage in the same school regardless of where they lived.

The U.S. Supreme Court put the kibosh on “de jure” segregation in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). They said that “separate” was inherently “unequal”. But that only dealt with official segregation. When all the black people live in one neighborhood then that neighborhood school will still be the “black” school. That’s what’s called “de facto” segregation.

Then somebody came up with a bright idea – start busing kids back and forth across town so as to achieve racial balance in all the schools. Lots of them smug Yankees who sneered at the southern segregationists weren’t to happy about this new development and “white flight” entered the political lexicon as white libruls took their kids and fled to the suburbs.

When I first started school pretty much everyone went to their local neighborhood school. If you lived between two schools you might have an option, but otherwise you went to the closest one. Almost all the kids walked or rode bikes to school back then, and some kids even went home to eat lunch each day.

In September 1970 busing started in Merced. Even though my hometown had no history of de jure segregation, most of the black and Mexican kids lived on one side of town. The City School district bought a fleet of buses and began transporting 2,900 kids back and forth across town every school day.

It wasn’t just the black kids riding buses. They used census data to determine where where the boundary lines were to be drawn and assigned schools accordingly. You could literally go to a different school than the kids across the street.

They also consolidated two high schools into a single school with one campus, which did wonders for our school sports teams. I graduated in 1978 and we had a graduating class of 822 students. We started with well over 1000. Our football team went to the conference championship three times while I was there and won twice.

From kindergarten though fourth grade I walked to school. From fifth grade through 9th grade I rode a bus. In 10th and 11th grade I walked. In 12th grade I drove.

Did all that busing do any good? That’s hard to say. If you bus kids across town every day they’ll stand in line and ride the bus with the same kids – kids that live in their neighborhood. These are also the kids they see after school and on weekends, holidays and school breaks. So guess who they make friends with.

Then add to that the tendency of kids to self-segregate with their own racial groups and you still have de facto segregation. But now the black kids spend their entire school careers as minorities. When they were at home, all the neighborhood kids were black or Mexican. But when they went to school, most of the kids (and teachers) were white. Could this affect their self-esteem?

I know, I know, we’re not supposed to ask such questions. Busing is good and holy, and anyone who says otherwise is a racist.

Getting back to Matt Yglesias, I am gonna give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that his heart is in the right place even if his head is up his ass. He suffers from that all-too-common progressive scourge known as do-gooderism.

I must confess that I used to suffer from the same condition. You see a problem and try to solve it. But your solution either doesn’t solve the problem or it make things worse. So you come up with another solution. Of course these problems are not your own, and you don’t have to deal with the consequences of the solutions. You are meddling in other peoples’ lives.

There is nothing wrong with a little bit of do-gooderism. It becomes a problem when you start trying to control other people for their own good. Then “mission creep” sets in as you start trying to control more aspects of the lives of more people. That’s the road to Vile Progdom.

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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66 Responses to The Devil Is In The Details

  1. votermom says:

    MattY, thank you for supporting school vouchers and school choice. LOL.
    Which is even better than his idea coz kids could use it to get into private schools (presumably).

  2. DeniseVB says:

    Klown Klass Photo? 😉

  3. 49erDweet (D) says:

    Fixing symptoms is fun! Fixing root causes? Not so much. Takes too much time and hurts too many feelings. So lets just stick with symptoms.

  4. D. Montgomery says:

    I’m not going to give him the benefit of any doubt.
    Didn’t he go to the Dalton School in NYC? Tuition about
    $35,000 – $40,000 per year. Isn’t he also the one who said
    there is no private property but just bought a 1-2 million condo
    in DC. Let’s drop over for a visit.
    It is guaranteed that his children, should he have them, will
    go a very expensive private school.

  5. yttik says:

    I’m a victim of busing! It was truly bizarre. I kid you not, in my MS English class I was one of 3 who actually spoke English. Our teacher was Hispanic too, and she would often revert to Spanish since most her class didn’t understand a word she said otherwise. It wasn’t all bad, she did teach us natives that there was no excuse for not getting straight A’s, since we were already born speaking the language.

    As to “poor” schools not performing as well, I’m not sure it’s that simple. I went to several poor schools, some of which were quite good. I also went to some well off ones, like the district where I currently reside. This school is flippin ridiculous and all we ever do is throw more money at it. They haven’t met the standards in 40 years, 30% drop out rate, etc, etc. You just can’t buy caring, leadership, pride, whatever the hell it is.

    • Califonia must have been different. In Kentucky, where I went to high school, black students were forced into busing, but white students were given the choice.

  6. piper says:

    Utopia is the place where you live accordingly to your ideology.

  7. votermom says:

    One thing that puzzles me – why does the left say “buy local” except when it comes to schools?
    Cookie-cutter schools, all must be of identically low-standards.

    • yttik says:

      Speaking of “identically low standards,” we’ve taken all the power and authority away from our schools (and parents.) I’m not suggesting that we go back to hitting kids, it’s just that in the olden days, you had a chain of command, some leadership, consequences, accountability. Today my school doesn’t even have detention, we have the “after school enrichment room.” It’s like something out of an Orwell novel. I’m always complaining, “there aren’t any adults working here!” Seriously, I’m almost 50 and it’s terrifying to be locked in a building with 200 teen agers and nothing to guide them with but the threat of “after school enrichment.” If I’m nervous, imagine how unsafe the kids feel.

      One thing I can say from having been a student, as sucky as an authoritarian system is, you sure feel a lot safer then you do in these systems where we’re going to “build self esteem and enrich kids into compliance.”

      • votermom says:

        One of the things I love about the charter school my kids go to is the discipline.
        Kids get detention, they get suspended, they even get expelled.
        Public schools can’t do any of that anymore.

        • myiq2xu says:

          Sure they can. We read all the time about some kid getting suspended for using finger guns or kissing another student. Taking a plastic butter knife to school in their lunch or giving another student a Midol gets them expelled.

        • DeniseVB says:

          You’re a good and involved mom too. Even the best schools are only as good as the love, support and discipline the children learn at home. I see that in all our parents and grandparents here at TCH. Not so much on all the vile prog blogs where parenting seems to be more about propagating special snowflakes than little citizens that can survive in the real world. (If Johnny can’t read, blame everybody but me).

        • votermom says:

          Aw, thanks!
          You’re right, we seem to have a lot of good parents (aka “mean moms & dads” around here. 🙂

      • DeniseVB says:

        We older boomers had an intense respect (or was that fear?) for our parents, teachers and school administrators. Add the fear of God for the churchgoers, you pretty much had what child abuse is called today. If you got in trouble in school, you worried your parents were “going to kill me”.

        Nah, not today, kids have more rights than their parents.

        • Jadzia says:

          I’m smack in the middle of Gen X and I was terrified of my parents and teachers. Of course, that may be the product of a largely rural (if itinerant) upbringing and things may have been different in the cities/suburbs back in the 70s and 80s.

        • DeniseVB says:

          Jadzia …. 70’s and 80’s are when I raised my kids, and you betcha they learned consequences of their actions. Of course it helped having a Marine for a daddy 😉

      • HELENK says:

        remember the days when if you acted up in school, you got detention and then had to try to explain to your parents when they grounded you what happened.

  8. votermom says:

  9. Somebody says:

    The Supreme Court held in Jenkins, which if my memory serves me was from Kansas City, MO. Anyway they held that school districts are not responsible for de facto segregation unless there is a nexus with housing policy. They followed along similar lines in Freeman V Pitts (Atlanta).

    Obviously Matt doesn’t have the 411 on the grand social experiments that have taken place across this nation. There are plenty of school districts with open enrollment. You can decide to enroll your child in any school within the district. The state of Florida has controlled open enrollment, the control part being you can’t force your way into an overcrowded school or a magnet school with entrance requirement. Still there are plenty of crap schools in this state so think again Matt.

    Low performing school become that way for a variety of reasons and there is no one quick fix for any of them. I spent a couple years of my life on an evaluation team going into low performing schools. I have a little bit of insight, but I’m certainly not an expert.

    • Agree on the no-quick fix solution. In my opinion, the problem has as much to do with ridiculous union protections and a lack of diversity in the teaching workforce as it does with the property tax scheme problem.

      • votermom says:

        I agree – the unions are a bigger problem since they are corrupt and incompetent.

      • elliesmom says:

        It’s not a lack of diversity in the teaching profession that’s a problem. Kids can learn from any teacher who’s skilled in his or her profession no matter what the race or ethnicity of the teacher. But 50 years ago teachers came from the top 10% of their college classes because women weren’t welcome in most other professions. Today’s teachers come into the profession struggling to pass basic teacher entrance exams. They are armed with a lot of prog ideology, but little else. I was stunned at how poorly the other teaching candidates in my masters in ed program did on the basic credentialing test in our state.

  10. Constance says:

    I couldn’t deal with the public schools because of their low expectations academically and behaviorally. So I paid for Catholic schools most of the time. I also didn’t like the amount of time wasted in busing kids all over the place when there is a school 6 blocks from our house. I don’t want my kids getting up an hour early to ride a bus when they could get more sleep and have a nice little walk before school. One thing I am disgusted by in both public and private schools is the lack of vocational training. When I went to public school they had both vocational and college prep, you picked your track. It is ridiculous to put people who have no way of paying for college and who aren’t academically oriented in a college prep program and that is why so many kids drop out. If you gave them job relevant training in High School they would come to school. Not all people are interested in learning a bunch of esoteric crap and that does not make them stupid or second class. Bring back vocational training and kids will stop dropping out.

    • myiq2xu says:

      You can’t have high expectations for behavior without enforcing discipline. But discipline interferes with the more important task of building self-esteem.

      Bad grades are bad for self-esteem too. So we give them all A’s.

      Then we wonder why Johnny can’t read.

      • Jadzia says:

        Hear, hear. I am trying to pound (not literally, of course) some sense and foresight into the head of my 13-year-old, who doesn’t understand that a grade of “B” now stands for “Bad Grade.” He wants to go to UCLA or Oxford! But doesn’t seem to see the connection between good grades (and all the other stuff the “prestigious” schools are requiring these days) and actually doing these things. Aargh. I have no self-esteem, and feel pretty unqualified for how to deal with a kid who has been taught by his school (and a father who lives at the tippy-top of Mt. Privilege) to have too much of it, in that he feels entitled to grow up and have the good life without doing much, you know, work.

        • myiq2xu says:

          I have had three 13 year olds, and many times I was tempted to literally pound some sense into them. Even My Darling Daughter, who when she turned 13 was possessed by demons.

          Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?

  11. myiq2xu says:

    BTW – The Gosnell jury is hearing closing arguments and could start deliberating today. No telling how long they will be out. There are a lot of charges to be dealt with.

  12. Sorry, but Yglesias is right. Tying school funding in with property tax maintains the current class structure. What he’s missing, and what would change his mind if anyone dared say it out loud, is that decoupling property taxes from schools (funding education through the general fund instead), and opening enrollment based on choice as opposed to location would introduce a concept called competition into public education. That might even result in superior mostly black schools. Now I haven’t read his article so I can’t say his proposal is superior, but his premise is correct.

    And btw, it’s racist to bus the black kids out and not the white kids in. Had that worked both ways, busing might not be the clusterfuck it is today, though white flight would still exist.

    • myiq2xu says:

      It did work both ways. I was one of those white kids that got bused in.

    • myiq2xu says:

      decoupling property taxes from schools (funding education through the general fund instead), and opening enrollment based on choice as opposed to location would introduce a concept called competition into public education.

      So what happens when all the parents choose the same school for their kids? What about the kids who get stuck in the loser schools?

      If California funded all the schools from the same general fund, who would be in charge of allocating funds? Some bureaucrat in Sac’to? What would that do to local school boards?

    • Constance says:

      Busing wastes two hours a day of childrens lives. That is not OK with me. They would be better off spending the time sleeping, exercising, being with their family and friends, engaging in creative play or even doing homework. My children were in school to be educated not to be pawns in popular sociological experiments. If the idealists don’t like segregation then they should have passed laws saying church congregations must conform to government determined racial quotas and bus the adults around. Or find other groups of adults to bus around. I find the idea of little kids waiting for a bus in the dark for a one hour ride to school when there is a school blocks from home appalling.

    • Somebody says:

      Hold up, in Florida each county is a school district by state law. The portion of your property tax for schools goes to the state and then they divvy it up based on a series of formulas. Some counties get MORE money than they pay in and of course some less.

      We still have good and bad schools. People still tend to cluster around those “good” schools. People still tend to buy homes in “good” school attendance areas. But the funding from school to school is the same, actually those “good” schools get less money per pupil. The “bad” schools get title one federal money, usually the “bad” schools get a “small” school stipend and/or “smaller” class size stipends. However the base allocation per pupil is the same in the good and the bad schools at least across the entire county.

  13. HELENK says:

    off topic

    what is going on here? state dept blocks lawyer for Benghazi whistle blowers.

    hey the boston bomber gets a lawyer, but not these guys

  14. HELENK says:

    ok right now our educational system is in a shambles and they want to add more before fixing what is broken. makes no sense to me.

    when my kids were school age and we moved to the suburbs one of the things that I looked at was the schools. most parents do the same.
    When I lived in the city my kids when to Catholic school. At that time there was no tuition to go to Catholic school and the kids got a better education and the discipline that was needed to learn

    • myiq2xu says:

      when my kids were school age and we moved to the suburbs

      So you were one of those “white flight” racists?

      (just kidding)

      Moving from the cities to the suburbs was/is not simply a matter of choice available only to white people. Black people can move to the suburbs too.

      It’s a money thing. People in the lower classes can’t afford it. And those people tend to be disproportionately people of color.

      So who is to blame?

      Did white people move to the suburbs to get away from minorities or because they preferred suburban life? The growth of the suburbs happens to have coincided with a period of widespread prosperity and economic growth.

      • HELENK says:

        no the white flight in Philadelphia was before I moved to the suburbs.
        until I went into foster home, I lived in the suburbs of delaware county near Philly. I remember telling my teenage daughter who was complaining about no matter where she went in the city somebody knew her father, I told her when we moved she would run into people who knew my family. Funny thing was she did.
        Delaware county was mixed race from before I was born.

      • Somebody says:

        White flight reminds me of this crazy theory I once heard someone suggest, shockingly someone with a little bit of power at least on a local level.

        Mobile impoverished zones. Put all the poor people in trailers and set up trailer parks in or near nice suburban white areas. Then if people move to another location, just pick up the trailers and move to that area. It was the opinion of this person that sooner or later people would stop moving once they figured out the poor would soon follow.

        This was a serious idea put forward by someone, as I said someone with a little bit of power. My response was “Are you nucking futs”

  15. votermom says:

    I have to react to Obama’s joke that he is “no longer the strapping young Muslim socialist he once was”

  16. myiq2xu says:

    If your kid is in high school and can’t read, the first thing I want to know is where the hell have you been all those years before?

    • elliesmom says:

      I was the team leader for my grade when I taught middle school. We sent home a mid-term report one October to a parent telling her her child was not performing up to expectations. We suggested a meeting. She didn’t respond. We sent home a crappy report card in December with a request for a meeting. She didn’t come. We sent home another mid-term report in February asking for a meeting. No response. We included a notice of possible grade retention in April’s report card. She hired a “parent advocate” to fight with us because we “hadn’t been giving her son our attention”. When we got done laughing at her, we scheduled the meeting. It cost her $500 for us to tell her advocate her son wasn’t going to be promoted to high school. She moved.

  17. votermom says:

    • votermom says:

      I guess they fear competition

      • myiq2xu says:

        When the third wave generation of sexually empowered feminists takes over there will be no more prostitution because women will be giving it away.

        • Jadzia says:

          Hasn’t that been the case for at least the last 20 years? If you haven’t already, I recommend you sit down and listen to “Exile in Guyville” — this cultural travesty (where young women are supposed to be giving it away while simultaneously ashamed of the perfectly normal desire to have a boyfriend) has been going on at least since my teen years, if not longer.

          And, uh, I love me some Liz Phair. I just wouldn’t turn it up all that high when the grandkids are around, if you know what I mean.

    • HELENK says:

      No it will not be climate change , it will be the democratic economic policies. you have to feed your family somehow.

  18. gram cracker says:

    Look at the consequences of forced busing in liberal Massachusetts (1974 – 1988) …
    “By the time the experiment with busing ended in 1988, the Boston school district had shrunk from 100,000 students to 57,000, only 15% of whom were white. In 2008 Boston Public Schools were 76% black and Hispanic, and 14% White. According to the 2000 census, Boston’s white (non-Hispanic) population is 54.48%, whereas Boston’s black and Hispanic populations together total 39.77%

    W. Arthur Garrity Jr. of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts laid out a plan for compulsory busing of students from predominantly white areas of the city to schools with predominantly black student populations.

    The conflict in Boston over busing primarily affected the traditionally Irish-American neighborhoods of West Roxbury, Roslindale, Hyde Park, Charlestown, South Boston and Dorchester and the traditionally Italian-American neighborhood of the North End. It also affected the community of Roxbury, a formerly Jewish section of Boston that by the early 1970s had become predominantly black.

    In one part of the plan, Garrity decided that the entire junior class from the mostly poor white South Boston High School would be bused to Roxbury High School, a black high school in a ghetto. Half the sophomores from each school would attend the other, and seniors could decide what school to attend.”

    In the 80’s and 90’s I worked extensively in Boston, Chicago and other locations all over the USA, Canada and Mexico. The most racially tense cities where I worked seemed to be Boston, Chicago and L.A. Racial tension isn’t limited to the Jim Crow south.

    • elliesmom says:

      One of the success stories of the Boston area is the Metco program where students from the inner city were bussed to the more affluent suburbs to go to school. In general, those kids did very well. But they were a self-selected group of kids. It took parental involvement and commitment to get your child into the program, and real buy-in for the kids to get on a bus and travel as far as 30 miles each way to go to school and stamina to do it every year. Participating in after school activities required creativity. But they were welcomed at some of the best schools in the state.

  19. HELENK says:

    Victor Davis Hanson

    this article made me think. do they even teach the classics in school anymore?

  20. Jadzia says:

    Having grown up in a series of EXTREMELY white rural areas, I have no experience with busing. That said, if I ran the world there would be 2 major changes to American education: (1) Neighborhood schools are great, but parents should also have the option to enroll their children in the neighborhood where they work — if both parents work and are commuting 2 hours from home, it’s a NIGHTMARE when little Johnny falls off the monkey bars on the playground; and (2) The school day would start and end a little bit later so that they were more compatible with a typical workday–it’s ridiculous to have to get the kids to school at 7:30 (which is completely incompatible with teenagers’ biological clocks anyway), and then have to worry about what they’re getting up to for 2-3 hours after school while the workday is dragging on.

    Obviously neither of these things are ever going to happen for so many reasons that I could turn this column into a book were I to enumerate them. And I am royally pissed off at Hollande and the Socialists here for (among other things) making the return of the 5-day school week for maternelle and primary school students (junior high and above do attend 5 days/week) a huge part of their platform, and then doing fuck-all about it because gay marriage suddenly became their #1 issue once elected. I am totally in favor of gay marriage, and I would totally have understood if the school thing got pushed back because the government was working on UNEMPLOYMENT and the ECONOMY, but I guess I’m just a bitter bible-clinging hick. (And no, I don’t know how to say that last part in French.)

  21. gram cracker says:

    For two years I volunteered at the “poorest” Title I school in Arlington, VA. Over 60% of the students qualify for free/reduced lunch/breakfast. The grandkids were there for the magnet Montessori program which attracted kids district wide via a lottery system. The school is also a neighborhood school with a traditional graded program.

    The school facilities, resources, and staff are excellent and are at least as good the neighborhood school the gkids now attend which is rated 12th in the state of VA based on 3rd and 5th grade test scores.

    Having spent an average of 2-4 hours a day at the district wide school I came to the conclusion that the key missing ingredient in reducing the so called “achievement gap” is the quality and quantity of parental/family involvement.

    Apparently you can’t legislate and require parents to read to their kids, help them with their homework or even provide food for them. Many of these kids parents don’t work outside the home but they won’t volunteer at their kids school. If you want them to show up at school you have to provide the parents with free food.

    So what do we do to about poor performing schools? Close those schools and bus all the kids to better schools? Take poor kids from their biological parents, make them wards of the state and place them into foster care in white, middle class homes? Can’t do that. Without parents take more responsibility for their kids education there isn’t much hope the outcome will improve.

    • myiq2xu says:

      We can send kids to better schools but we can’t afford to give them all better parents.

      • yttik says:

        Yes, but having crappy parents is no excuse either. If you still can’t read in high school, the fact that your parent’s didn’t read to you as a toddler is no longer relevant.

        • myiq2xu says:

          Unless Johnny has a disability there has been a systemic failure. And if he has a disability it should have been recognized and dealt with long before high school.

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