Sunday, March 21, 2021

Ending the Ivy League Mystique

Robert Pondiscio teaches in a public school in the South Bronx. His daughter attends a fancy private school. Every day he sees that different children live in different worlds.

So, Pondiscio thought it might be a good idea to encourage parents to try to find a place for their children in a new KIPP middle school. KIPP schools, as documented by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, have produced far better results than any public schools. They are like New York City’s Success Academies, charter schools whose pupils routinely score among the best in the state on standardized tests.

As you  know, teachers’ unions and their Democrat politician satraps want to shut down all charter schools. Successful educational experiences offend their relentless push for mediocrity. 

Then, Pondiscio takes it a step further and asks whether the problem of public schools can be solved by more school choice. What if parents can choose their children's schools freely. Won’t this add free market competition to the mix? It sounds like Milton Friedman.

He explains:

So I became a choice advocate, seditiously at first, quietly asking the parents of my students with younger siblings if they’d heard about the new KIPP middle school down the street. Over time, I become more vocal and adamant on the matter. My students deserved the same flexibility and freedom that I had to find a school that was the right fit. You don’t have to be Milton Friedman to grasp the essential logic: Break the monopoly of public education and the tyranny of zip codes, force schools to compete for students and funding, and they can no longer afford to be lazy, lousy, or both. Give parents the ability to vote with their feet—and take school funding dollars out the door when they go—and you’ve upended the traditional power dynamic. Parents are now consumers armed with options and a backpack full of cash. Simplicity itself.

And yet, what he calls the “pandemic of wokeness” has made this option less appealing. The reason-- as we have often remarked-- the best private schools have taken to indoctrinating their pupils in wokeness ideology. And yet, parents who count among the most affluent and the best educated bend over and submit. They are too afraid to complain or to fight back because they want their children to get into Brown.

There are now examples—lots of them—that suggest school choice is no match for the pandemic of wokeness that has seized K–12 education. At the high end of the market, the opposite dynamic has taken hold: The most advantaged, privileged, and powerful parents in America have been cowed into submissive silence when elite schools of choice adopt neoracist pedagogy and practices masquerading as “anti-racism.” The cutthroat demand for seats combined with social pressure to be woke has made those schools less responsive, leaving type-A parents, for a range of reasons, unwilling to buck these schools’ new orthodoxies.

In a recent Atlantic article, Caitlyn Flanagan also takes fancy private schools to task, beginning with Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. One recalls that the highly estimable Bari Weiss wrote a long article about that and other private schools for the City Journal. My comments here:

Flanagan ferrets out data that explain why parents at these elite school may seethe, but they don’t leave. Less than 2 percent of the nation’s K–12 students attend schools like Harvard-Westlake, however one-fourth of the admitted class of 2024 at Yale and Princeton attended one. At Brown and Dartmouth, it’s nearly 30 percent. “This is why wealthy parents think it’s life-and-death to get their kids into the right prep school,” Flanagan concludes, “because they know that the winners keep winning.”

One hastens to add that winners keep winning until they do not. In defense of Milton Friedman, we should ask how many of these parents are moving out of state to find a better education for their children. And one must ask how competitive these children are going to be in the marketplace after having their minds and their morals diminished by critical race theory. By that I mean, how long will corporations place a premium on educational institutions that turn young people into social justice warriors? The question is not whether, but when corporate hiring officers figure out that the only students worth hiring from these places are working in STEM subjects. 

Anyway, parents have not figured this out. So many of them are supinely accepting the new regime:

Money talks, but anxiety shrieks. When a school is perceived to be a golden ticket to something precious and rare, even the most discerning and well-connected parent becomes not an empowered consumer, but a supplicant willing to put up with nearly anything: attendance at annual antiracist orientations for family members; children as young as five years old instructed to “check each other’s words and actions”; students and parents sorted into “affinity groups” based on their race; and schools where children are told “if you are white and male, you are second in line to speak.” The standard logic of school choice advocates would suggest that parents at odds with all of this should be first in line to spend their money elsewhere. But it’s not just love that money can’t buy, it’s moral courage, too.

Pondiscio continues, writing about Flanagan:

But her essay unwittingly reveals the impotence of choice alone to fully empower parents and dissuade schools from programs and policies that are out of step with the values of families who pay for them. 

“Private-school parents have become so terrified of being called out as racists that they will say nothing on the record about their feelings regarding their schools’ sudden embrace of new practices,” Flanagan writes. “They have chosen, instead, anonymous letters and press leaks.” When choice-driven demand is high enough, it’s no different than when neighborhood schools have a monopoly: It’s the school—not the parents—holding the cards. They have no reason to change or even to listen, and everyone knows it.

And also:

In the end, school choice is no match for the promise of an Ivy League acceptance letter, groupthink, and social pressure to comply with elite schools’ determination to be “antiracist.” Weiss, one of our most fearless journalists, sees this clearly and calls it out. The parents in her story “are not parents with no other options. Most have the capital—social and literal—to pull their kids out and hire private tutors,” she writes. “That they weren’t speaking out seemed to me cowardly, or worse.”

Obviously, private tutors are not the answer. In the end the marketplace will solve the problem. Ivy league schools will diminish their reputations by teaching critical race theory and by guilt-tripping their graduates into incompetence.

Companies that hire from state schools will find that such employees are more capable, more competent and more effective than are the brainwashed masses produced by the Ivy league.

Parents do not know this yet. Those who do know it are protesting anonymously or moving to other states. They might even move to the suburbs. Or else, one suspects that they might be considering sending their children to boarding schools. I have not read stories about Andover and Exeter and the other elite boarding schools, but if they are avoiding the current wave of wokeness, they will surely become highly desirable for parents who care about their children’s educations. Hopefully, the Ivy league mystique will eventually be sundered by market forces.

1 comment:

Gringo said...

Companies that hire from state schools will find that such employees are more capable, more competent and more effective than are the brainwashed masses produced by the Ivy league.

As a graduate of a flagship state university, I doubt that compared to the Ivy League, state schools are that much different in the amount of woke brainwashing.