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Cato Institute blogger says school choice advocate Michelle Rhee should drop the regulation talk

In a post today on The Cato Institute’s @Liberty blog, Andrew J. Coulson writes former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee has some explaining to do in reconciling her support for voucher programs and her belief in strong regulation of all K-12 education.

Specifically, Coulson took to task a short op-ed Rhee wrote for the Huffington Post in which she explains, “schools that receive public funding to educate poor kids ought to be held accountable for student progress…like public schools, they should have to measure academic growth in objective ways, such as on standardized tests.”

The Cato blogger counters:

But isn’t this precisely the sort of “accountability” to which state-run schools are already subjected in minute detail, and which has coincided with stagnation or decline in academic achievement for two generations (depending on the subject) and a catastrophic productivity collapse? It’s worth noting that it is the freest, least regulated, most market-like education systems that consistently produce the most effective, efficient schools.

Education reformers who seek to use public tax dollars to subsidize private school tuition costs for poor students in under-performing classrooms are careful to frame their argument in non-partisan terms. The American Federation for Children, a leading school choice interest group, went to pains at their recent national summit stressing that point.

Historically, school choice players have been mostly Republican lawmakers and lobbyists. Yet the movement has hit its stride recently in calling upon a new cohort of Democrats fed-up with inner-city school decay. Whatever lip service Democratic school-choice advocates pay to transcending ideology, expecting its wing of pragmatic progressives to tow the line on a laissez-faire approach to education seems unlikely.

Indeed, the May print issue of Reason magazine makes clear “the conversion of some prominent Democrats has brought energy and life to the pool of exhausted political players.”

So far the movement has been shouldered by a more Libertarian wing. Sharing the reform space with the more regulatory-mind cohort is bound to cause tension.

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