CURMUDGUCATION: ESAs and the Vibrant Marketplace

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

ESAs and the Vibrant Marketplace

Nat Malkus (American Enterprise Institute) is in US News touting Education Savings Accounts in an article that the page editor has entitled “Building an Education Marketplace” but the url names “The Perils and Promise of Education Savings Accounts for School Choice.” The latter is less poetic, but more accurate. But if you want to see what one of the long games being played in education reform is, this lays it out pretty well.

Scrooge McDuck’s Education Savings Account

We’ve met Malkus before. Last summer he scribed a piece about charters vs. public schools, and I looked into his background. From 2009 to 2015, this senior K-12 researcher at AEI worked with American Institutes for Research, the outfit that sounds like a research organization but is in the test manufacturing business. He graduated in 1997 from Covenant College, a liberal arts Christian college in Tennessee, with a degree in historical studies and later earned a Ph.D. in educational policy and leadership from the University of Maryland. His AEI bio lists four years as a teacher.

Noting that we have choice fans in DC and that the Supremes could be on the verge of declaring the Blaine Amendments, which cement the separation of church and state, to be unconstitutional, Malkus recaps the recent history of ESAs, which mostly means Arizona, though Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and Nevada are all giving it a shot.

Malkus has been studying up on this stuff because he has a book coming out, and he’s pretty frank about some of the virtues of ESAs–

ESAs circumvent Blaine Amendments because the state does not transfer the funds to schools or education service providers; parents do.

And that leads him to a clear, concise statement of how ESAs change the choice game:

ESAs promise more than vouchers because they provide educational choice rather than school choice. Whereas vouchers work like coupons that families can use on tuition at private schools, ESAs provide funds parents can use to customize education for their child. Parents might spend their ESA on private school tuition or on a blend of education services including college courses, tutoring and special education services, to name a few. 

Malkus is excited at the prospect of what vouchers couldn’t quite deliver– “a fully-functioning education marketplace.”

I’m not sure that’s so exciting for anyone except the vendors who want to cash in on that “vibrant marketplace.” Malkus recognizes some key questions, but he overlooks a few more keyer questions along the way. Let’s take his questions first.

A key question is whether ESA funding can provide choice for all students. ESAs are state programs and thus only transfer the state’s share of per-pupil public school funding to parents, but not funds from local or federal sources.

In other words, ESA funding will not get a poor student with no other resources into a fancy private school, nor allow them to assemble a piece-by-piece education program that would rank with what wealthy families could purchase from top vendors. But that is really only half of this key question, because one thing free and vibrant markets are really lousy at is providing services or goods for ALL customers. The most fundamental task of any responsible vendor of anything is to sort potential customers into two basic piles– worth the bother, and not worth the bother. My go-to example– FedEx and other private package delivery services do not compete for customers in isolated rural expensive-to-serve areas– they just hand the package off to the United States Postal Service.

In short, a fully-functioning free-market education marketplace will not serve all students. Furthermore, vendors will choose which customers they wish to serve, and not vice versa. In a free market, somebody is always left behind, and that would mean a complete change of the philosophy behind American public education. It’s absolutely true that some public schools have not always met this particular ideal, but to shift to pure choice means we give up even trying– unless you want to regulate the choice system in such a way as to insure coverage of everyone, which seems to run counter to the ideal of a vibrant marketplace. And that’s my point– vibrant marketplace and education for everyone are buildings sitting on two entirely different foundations.

Another open question is whether ESA programs will be big enough to build a vibrant marketplace of education services.

No. See above. What Malkus is really questioning whether or not states will allow vendors access to enough students to really build the market, which kind of makes my previous point. 

A final question is how the state will know whether ESAs are working. 

Malkus suggests that parent satisfaction might be one measure, but that’s a problem. A system like this would disenfranchise all taxpayers who don’t have children, and we lose the whole democratic piece of public education. Choice systems repeatedly go back to the idea that parents are the only real stakeholders in education, and that’s simply untrue– neighbors, employers, other voters, and future customers and clients of today’s students are all stakeholders in the educational system, and a choice system like this gives them no say. To his credit, Malkus seems to recognize this as an issue (both in his article and in the twitter conversation we’re having even as I’m writing this piece, because the internet is a freakin’ magical thing).

But this brings us back to the same old accountability debate. Either you believe that parents should be able to use their ESAs for anything from school tuition to an assortment of online courses to a pile of good books to an educational cruise to some educational games for the child’s X-Box or you believe that tax dollars extracted from citizens for the express purpose of educating children should be accounted for and spent in ways that are responsible and in accordance with certain educational standards.

Critics of public education have always been quick to criticize teachers and schools that said, “Hey, we know what we’re doing. Trust us,” and they have a valid point. But I’m not sure, “Hey, trust the invisible hand. It would never let anything Really bad happen” is any better.

Malkus reports that Arizona has played with some exit exams, but he correctly notes that ultimately “without some mechanism for evaluating participating students’ outcomes, determining whether the program is successful may be left in the eye of the beholder.”

Malkus is hopeful about “the promise of school choice,” and at the end of the day, I am not, particularly because choice these days is not really bothering to promise excellent education any more. The promise of school choice is now that there will be school choice. More varied and detailed and broken-up-into-bits choicier choice, which is really about lots of cool ways that vendors can finally gain access to that sweet sweet mountain of public education tax dollars.

Oh, and one other ESA question– these are always computed based on current cost-per-pupil in a state. In ten years, what will they be? How will the amount of ESAs be adjusted, recomputed, altered, made to not simply shrink with inflation? Who will conduct those negotiations– because I’m betting that will be part of some state-managed budget battles, and I can imagine a million ways that can end badly.

I appreciate that Malkus is asking some questions and not simply engaging in thoughtless boosterism, but I think the biggest central questions remain unanswered: “How does a choice system exist without eroding fundamental democracy and local control?” or “How does a choice system reconcile the desire for freedom from any constraints with a need for taxpayer accountability? or the biggest one of all being, “How would this system provide a better education for all students?”

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: ESAs and the Vibrant Marketplace

Report on Federal Policy Regarding Transgender Youth Ignores Transgender Youth | National Education Policy Center

BOULDER, CO (May 2, 2017) – Over the past two or three years, a great deal of attention has been given to transgender issues. In the United States, the transgender population includes an estimated 150,000 transgender youth. A Heritage Foundation report argues that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 does not require schools to protect these youth from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The report also fails to provide any insight into actual gender identity policies in schools.

Gender Identity Policies in Schools: What Congress, the Courts, and the Trump Administration Should Do was reviewed by Robert Kim, who is a William T. Grant Distinguished Fellow at Rutgers University, and who was until recently Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

The report criticizes the Obama Administration’s decision to enforce Title IX to protect transgender students, and it urges the Trump Administration and courts to take a very different approach, keeping gender identity protections for these students out of federal laws. Yet while transgender youth are at the center of this report on gender identity policy, these youth somehow go wholly unexamined by the authors.

The report never acknowledges or addresses: (a) legal developments that support the argument that gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination; (b) the near-consensus within the medical, scientific, and educational communities concerning how transgender students should be treated; and (c) other research and literature shedding light on the appropriate care for and education of transgender youth. The review also explains that the report erroneously asserts that transgender-inclusive policies will embolden men to enter women’s facilities to assault or abuse them.

What is entirely missing from this report – and what policymakers and educators urgently need — is guidance in an area that may be new or unfamiliar to them. Fortunately, many states and districts have adopted positive gender-identity-related laws, policies, and practices that answer questions and serve as useful guidance for other jurisdictions about how to successfully integrate transgender students in schools.

The review concludes that the Heritage report is simply not a research-based document on establishing appropriate policies related to gender identity. It is merely an advocacy document urging a more limited interpretation of a key federal civil rights law while never engaging with the issues facing transgender youth.

Find the review by Robert Kim at:

Find Gender Identity Policies in Schools: What Congress, the Courts, and the Trump Administration Should Do, by Ryan Anderson and Melody Wood, published by the Heritage Foundation, at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project ( provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

Source: Report on Federal Policy Regarding Transgender Youth Ignores Transgender Youth | National Education Policy Center

2,000 march in Grand Rapids to demand Respect, Dignity and Permanent Protection for All Immigrants

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

(Just as a matter of transparency. Yesterday, I participated in a march for immigrant justice by providing some security for those marching.)

An estimated 2,000 people turned out yesterday to march for dignity, respect and permanent protection against harassment, arrest and deportation.

Those marching were mostly Latinos, Latinix, and indigenous people from Mexico, Central America and numerous Caribbean nations. Some proudly displayed flags from their country of origin, while other carried signs with demands to stop Separating Families because of the decades-long policy of deporting those without documentation.

The march was organized by Movimiento Cosecha Grand Rapids, which is part of a national movement led by those most impacted by the repressive and unjust immigration policies in the US. The organizers had hoped to match the march that was held in 2006, when 10,000 people marched for immigrant rights, but fell way short of that goal.

However, in…

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Surge in LLC contributions brings more mystery about true donors

Donald Trump’s inaugural committee did well by almost any standard: Doubling the previous record for cash raised to fund festivities around a new president’s swearing-in, it took in contributions from every major sector of the economy, and from donors who had steered clear of his campaign prior to the election.

The committee also received about $10.6 million — or about 10 percent of its total raised — from roughly 60 limited liability companies, or LLCs — structures often set up by small businesses that provide favorable tax treatment while also protecting their owners’ assets.

That’s far more than President Obama got from LLCs for his 2013 inauguration. And when it comes to presidential campaign funds, the amount coming from LLCs in 2016 was almost double the take from them four years earlier.

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Source: Surge in LLC contributions brings more mystery about true donors

Who Sits on the Board of the Acton Institute: A collection of anti-union, anti-LGBT, anti-Choice, anti-Public Education and Pro-Capitalist group that is well connected to the national far right infrastructure

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

I have been writing about the Acton Institute for more than 20 years. My first article on the Right Wing Think Tank was published in 1994, was entitled, Lord-ing it over others: Local Think Tank Feels Right at Home. 

In that article I spoke about Acton’s mission, politics and who sat on their board of directors in the early 1990s. The Acton Institute has grown significantly since then, with dozens of staff members, the publication of books and lots of online media. The founder, Rev. Robert Sirico and many other Acton Institute staff members are regularly invited as guests on national media outlets, like Fox News. 

In that 1994 article, I did focus a bit on some of the members of the board of directors, since many of the members then were part of the larger far right network. This still holds true today. Therefore, I would like to spend the…

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Your Comment May Have Been Trapped in the Spam Folder

Diane Ravitch's blog

After learning that several regular commenters were unable to post comments, I contacted WordPress Support and told them of the problem. The two people I identified were, he told me, in the Spam folder. That was Ellen Lipubic and Artsegal. I realized I would have to review every item in the Spam folder to see if anyone else had been stranded there.

There were about 3,000 items in the Spam folder, and that was only the last 21 days! I scanned every single one and pulled out several regular contributors. Melissa Westbrook, Gitapik, Denis Ian, Jack Covey, Katie Osgood, Carolmalaysia, and several others.

I had to wade through hundreds of ads for Timberland boots, clock parts, contractors, sex ads, and ads in unfamiliar languages. Oh, and the ones that start by saying, “Hi, there, I love your blog. I want to start one too.”

Anyway, the lesson I learned was…

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