The Great School Sell-Off

Long before Bill Clinton appeared on the

presidential horizon, he had, as governor of Arkansas, established himself as

one of a half-dozen national leaders in the public school reform movement of the

1980s. The movement was determinedly bipartisan, pragmatic, and nonideological.

In addition to Clinton, it included Republican governors Thomas Kean of New

Jersey and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, as well as independent Califormnia

State School Superintendent Bill Honig. These reformers sought, and generally

achieved, tougher graduation requirements; more rigorous curricula and

textbooks; competency tests for both students and teachers; merit pay or other

incentives for outstanding teachers; longer school days and school years; and

better funding for K-12 schools almost everywhere.

But before the decade was over, a combination of recession, budget cuts,

impatience, and political expediency helped start a deep and very ideological

current running in the opposite direction-- a retreat from public education.

With a lot of cheerleading from George Bush, the self-proclaimed education

president, more people began to ask just what the country had bought with its

school reform dollars. The greater the belief that the Germans and Japanese were

beating us in the global economy, the greater the influence of international

test results showing American students scoring behind their foreign

counterparts. As a result, the encouraging returns from the reforms of the

1980s--they were not great, as we shall see, but they were hardly

negligible--were ignored. The schools, according to the conventional wisdom,

were simply failing, and stronger medicine was required.

For the Bush administration, a growing number of conservative scholars and

businesspeople, and the religious right, that medicine was

vouchers--tax-supported "scholarships" allowing parents to send their

children to any school, public or private, in an educational free market. School

choice was also one of the few issues that could replace Communism in linking

the Republican Party's suburban conservatives with free-market libertarians and

Christian-right fundamentalists.


The idea is hardly new. Milton Friedman first proposed vouchers more than 30

years ago. In the 1960s, it was taken up by liberal reformers such as

Christopher Jencks and Henry M. Levin and by academics such as John E. Coons and

Stephen D. Sugarman at Berkeley. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan occasionally talked

about private school tuition tax credits but paired the idea so closely with

school prayer and even creationism that it looked more like an ideological crumb

for Christian fundamentalists than a serious policy.

Bush had come to office declaring the country couldn't afford vouchers for

private schools. But by 1991 the idea had become the centerpiece of his

education policy, with the support of respected activists like the Department of

Education's Alexander, former Xerox chairman David Kearns, and educational

historian Diane Ravitch.

A further event that gave choice intellectual respectability was the 1990

publication by the Brookings Institution, home of Democratic brains-in-exile, of

John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe's Politics, Markets, and America's Schools.

The book argues not only that the reforms of the 1980s were inadequate but

that such reforms couldn't succeed as long as schools were run by school boards,

superintendents, central offices, and departments of education--what the authors

disparagingly call "direct democratic control." The only way to escape

that, Chubb and Moe assert, is by letting parents choose among self-governing

schools, public or private, with state tax money following their children to the

schools they select, thereby building into schools a market incentive to offer

better service. The authors are uncompromising. "Without being too literal

about it, we think that reformers would do well to entertain the notion that

choice is a panacea....Choice is not like other reforms and should not

be combined with them as part of a reformist strategy....It has the capacity

all by itself to bring about the kind of transformation that, for years,

reformers have been seeking to engineer in myriad other ways" (italics


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Bush's one foray into a voucher plan was his call early in 1992 for a trial

federal "scholarship" program that would give 500,000 middle- and

low-income students $1,000 apiece to use in any educational setting. It was dead

on arrival in Congress, and given Clinton's support for public education, it

will likely never be heard from again. Equally significant, on the same day

Clinton was elected, Colorado voters by a two-to-one margin rejected a statewide

voucher proposal that would have given every parent a $2,500 "scholarship"

to pay tuition in any private or parochial school in the state--or even to pay

for home schooling.

Nonetheless, the broader idea of school choice is probably here to stay: The

question is whether it will be limited to the public system--or part of an open

market system where virtually any provider, public or private, could

participate. The Gallup Poll has traced a steady increase in support among

Americans for some version of parental choice; as usual, the detailed responses

(public versus private, for example) depend on how the questions are asked. In

principle, Bill Clinton supports choice, the American Federation of Teachers

supports choice, the Catholic Bishops support choice, the Houston Republicans

support choice. There are choice experiments in Cambridge, Massachusetts,

Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and other cities, and while their results

to date are both small and ambiguous, that hasn't slowed the movement.

California residents will vote in the June 1994 primary on a broad voucher plan

that includes all schools. Despite its obvious flaws, the accumulating fiscal

and social troubles of the schools give it an increasingly good chance of

passing. If the plan is defeated, it's likely to take all of the enormous

financial and political power of the California Teachers Association to do so.

(As this was being written, there was a possibility that California Governor

Pete Wilson would set a special election before 1994, in order to move it from a

primary election at which he himself might be challenged by the kind of

right-wing Republican who would gain from the turnout of fundamentalist

Christians come to support the voucher.) Perhaps more indicative yet, Chris

Whittle, whose commercial in-school TV news program, Channel 1, reaches 8

million teenagers (far more than watch all three network news programs combined)

is planning to create a national chain of 1,000 private schools called the

Edison Project by the end of the decade. Whittle may be betting wrong, but it's

hard to imagine that he expects to succeed without help from vouchers.

The issue, then, is not whether, but which kind. Will choice be limited to the

public system--with sensitivity for diversity and equal opportunity as well as

academic quality--or will it be privatized, divisive, and indifferent to the

commonweal? There is fairly broad agreement, though hardly unanimity, that as

part of a scheme of other reforms--increased school site control in

particular--choice within the public system has possibilities. However, these

possibilities, in turn, depend in considerable part on whether Clinton can

reverse the moral and social priorities of the past decade and halt the loss of

faith in community that has done so much to drive the rising interest in



Of all the sectors of American life, none seems so driven by the myth of a lost

golden age as education--time and other details unspecified--when all children

went to nice bright schools, sat in orderly rows before dedicated teachers,

learned what they had to know (by first learning "the basics") and

then graduated, every one of them, to become productive citizens.

Just to say that, of course, is to expose its absurdity. Until the 1950s, U.S.

schools were never expected to succeed with all children. Some attended only

five or six months a year and quit after the fourth or fifth grade; many more

left after the eighth grade to enter an economy that had plenty of unskilled and

semi-skilled jobs. Schools, accordingly, were judged not by their failures--by

dropout rates (a phrase that did not exist fifty years ago) or by how many did

not go to college or fell below some standard test score--but by their

successes. Blacks rarely figured into the education calculus at all.

One might even say that the golden age myth is itself a piece of vestigial

racism--those nice orderly classrooms were predominantly, if not totally,

white--but it's also important in explaining our pervasive discontent with the

schools and the calls for radical "restructuring" that are based on

it. No nation, Henry Commager once wrote, demands as much of its

schools--expects them not only to teach reading and writing, but patriotism,

morality, the evils of alcohol and tobacco (to which we have now added the

dangers of drugs and AIDS), not to mention driver education, good citizenship,

racial tolerance, self-esteem, and a hundred other things. And never have the

schools been required to do it with a population as diverse--not to say

troubled--as the schools do now. In 1970, one child in seven fell below the

poverty line; now it's closer to one in five, and in the elementary grades it's

closer to one in four. In 1970, 15 percent of the nation's school-age population

was nonwhite; now it's well over 20 percent. In states like California, where

whites are now a minority of the public school enrollment, one child in four is

on welfare; one in four comes from a home where English is not the primary

language. Los Angeles, the country's second largest school system, now enrolls

children speaking some 80 different languages. Of the 185,000 new children who

entered the state's schools in fall 1992, less than half came from homes where

the primary language is English.

The facile response to such data is that American schools have always absorbed

huge numbers of immigrants--Germans, Swedes, Italians, Poles, Russians, Greeks.

But never have they been expected to do it as completely and against such great

odds. Today there is a much smaller market for unskilled dropouts--quite the

contrary in this global economy--and thus no significant possibility that the

schools can forget about their failures, much less threaten to boot them out as

they could a half century ago.

That's not to say that criticism of American public schools is unfounded. Many

schools are mindless; many districts are paralyzed by self-serving

bureaucracies; many teachers, a lot of whom came from the lowest ranks of their

college classes, do as much to sabotage curiosity and thinking as they do to

encourage them. Nothing that follows should be taken as an indication that

things are fine in American education. But many of the common assumptions about

educational performance are wrong.

Dropouts. If one adds those who have graduated from high school (about

75 percent) and those who have a high school equivalency diploma, roughly 90

percent of young Americans are now high school graduates, the highest percentage

in history. Over 20 percent are college graduates. The percentage who drop out

of high school continues to decline--and that includes all races except perhaps

first-generation Hispanic immigrants, who often leave for extended returns to

the old country.

Academic Achievement in the "Basics." According to the

National Assessment of Education Progress, much of the decline of the 1970s,

though not all, was offset by progress in the 1980s. Black students, while not

yet on a par with whites in math and reading, made substantial gains through the

1970s and the 1980s.

Average SAT Scores. Although they sank badly in the 1970s, scholastic

aptitude test scores started to come back in the 1980s, particularly in math.

This rebound came despite the substantial increase in the percentage of high

school graduates (and thus the number of students not in the top ranks of their

classes) who now take SATs. The number of students taking more intense academic

programs in secondary school, like honors courses, advanced placement courses,

and more serious math and science courses, has risen substantially in the past


College Graduation Rates. Roughly 26 percent of all U.S.

twenty-two-year-olds obtained a bachelor's degree in 1987, according to the

National Center for Education Statistics, substantially more than in Japan (21

percent), Germany (13 percent), the UK or France (14 percent each). Similarly,

we outrank other major nations in the percentage of twenty-two-year-olds getting

a bachelor's degree in science and engineering. And since the institutions from

which they graduate continue to draw hundreds of thousands of foreign

students--we are far and away the world's leading exporter of education--the

complaints about curricular inadequacy need a lot of qualification.

Collectively, the data are nothing to cheer about. A lot of students don't know

in what century the Civil War took place or on what continent to find Ethiopia.

American thirteen-year-olds rank at or near the bottom in most international

measures of math and science proficiency. The comparisons may be somewhat

misleading since most of those countries begin specialized education at age

fourteen, placing more emphasis on high test performance in the earlier grades,

and since some teach geometry to thirteen-year-olds (usually taught to American

children at fourteen or fifteen). At the same time, however, even after the

reforms of the 1980s, U.S. students appear to do less homework and have less

demanded of them, either by schools or parents, than their foreign peers.

It's hard to know how much of that can be controlled by the school and how much

comes from our indifferent intellectual atmosphere. Given the enormous changes

in the demographics of American schools and considering the idiot culture in

which our students live most of the day, it's surprising the schools have done

as well as they have.


It's precisely the demographic and social factors that are driving some

middle-class Americans to buy their way out of the system. Some parents honestly

perceive schools to be unsafe; the schools can't deal with the diversity of

cultures; the systems are distracted by the avalanche of personal and social

problems that students bring and that no other institution addresses.

More and more voters are not parents, and more parents are not voters. That's

one of the reasons support for public education is eroding. In 1970, white

school children, who, of course, bring the most electoral clout, were fully 21

percent of the total population. In 1990, twenty years beyond the end of the

baby boom, white school children were 14 percent of the population. In the

suburbs, where parents are concentrated and have political clout, communities

still provide lavish support for schools, but increasingly they become islands

of exception.

Those groups who vote in high numbers, older people in particular, tend not to

have children in the schools, while Americans who have more children in the

schools have fewer votes per child and often don't exercise them. California's

Proposition 13, which was passed in 1978 and which set the tone for much of U.S.

social policy in the past decade, was largely a revolt of elderly people against

high property taxes at the expense of local services for children: schools,

parks, libraries. (This year, about 20 percent of California voters were parents

of school children, roughly half of what it was a generation ago.) Even now,

when local districts attempt to pass school bonds in California, they often

exempt property owned by people over sixty-five from the additional taxes.

The middle class, of course, is not alone in looking for escape or in

supporting vouchers. The Catholic church, whose remaining inner-city parochial

schools are struggling to survive, has been seeking government help for years.

And so have many inner-city black parents who desperately want some escape from

the brutal schools their children are forced to attend. With a modest voucher,

they could afford to attend those parochial schools; as a result, inner-city

parents lead the polls in their support for vouchers. There's also support from

the parents of Christian fundamentalist school children. But it's unlikely that

vouchers would enjoy their widespread attention without considerable

middle-class support.

For the conservatives who are now its greatest champions, choice may well have

an additional use. If the problem are the schools and not children, no one has

to concern himself too much about nutrition, health and day care, decent

housing, or the children's issue in general. The Wall Street Journal

editorial page, among others, is fond of quoting UNESCO data showing that the

United States spends more per child on schools than most other modern nations.

But the Journal fails to acknowledge that the universal day care in

France, the German social welfare system, the homogeneity of Japanese society,

or the universal health care and generous other benefits that nearly all those

countries provide--social programs that relieve the burdens on schools. The

blessings that the market is supposed to bestow on the schools tends to drive

the rest of the problem into obscurity. If the good people can get away from the

nasty kids, however defined, the conditions that shape those children's lives

become practically, politically, and morally invisible.


Terry Moe, who teaches political science at Stanford and is a senior fellow at

Brookings, says that the school market is like any other--he recently compared

it to the market for candy bars. People shop around, choose what's best for

them, and thus drive all competitors to improve their products. But there's no

empirical evidence of that. In a study of the one public-private plan

(Milwaukee's) now in operation, the Carnegie Foundation found that while the

small number of students who have been enabled to leave the public schools "feel

pleased with the decision they have made," more than 40 percent of those

who left the public schools in 1991-92 for a private school didn't return to the

private school in 1992-93. More important, there was "no evidence...that

the participating students made significant academic advances or that either the

public or the private schools have been revitalized by the transfers."

Overall, Carnegie found, as have others, that "choice is a wholly

unrealistic proposal for literally millions of children (because) there simply

is no other school within easy reach or, if there is, the alternative school may

be no better than the one close by."

Nor, despite their intimidating statistical analysis, do the theoretical

arguments in Chubb and Moe's book hold up. Those arguments attempt to define

what are "effective" public schools in terms of student achievement

and to prove they are like private schools--relatively autonomous. By that,

Chubb and Moe mean they are free of downtown bureaucracies and thus have "clear

goals...ambitious academic program, strong educational leadership." But the

difficulty of distinguishing correlation from cause seems overwhelming: Does the

heavy hand of bureaucracy generate school failure or is it itself the result of

failure? Is the "autonomy" that Chubb and Moe associate with effective

schools and all the good feelings among teachers and principals that come with

it the cause of student success or itself a result of students affluent, smart,

or motivated enough to make such autonomy possible?

Chubb and Moe's measure of student achievement fails to separate out such

things as student ability, motivation, parental resources (including

predisposition to academic achievement), as well as the general noise of the

surrounding culture. Even as Chubb and Moe seek to link private sector schools

with autonomy and effective organization, they fail to cite any correlation

between private control and achievement. In an essay in the Yale Law Journal

(October 1991), James Liebman even suggests that it may be precisely because

parents of children in private and suburban schools have so little choice--they

are already at the top of the heap and thus have to fight to protect the quality

of those schools--that their schools are so effective. In a real market system,

where schools are free to choose and expel students on any basis except perhaps

race, the effective choice may not be so much the parent's as the school's.

The voucher movement is silent about society's interest in common schooling. In

the West and Southwest, where the only semblance of community is the shopping

mall, the freeway, and the radio talk show, the public school is virtually the

last institution that spans the entire community, bringing together not only

children but their parents and often their neighbors in a common enterprise.

Public schools embody the idea of community itself--the democratic ideals of a

common culture that assimilates and integrates diversity even as it celebrates

it. That's not an ideal that, however short of realization, can be casually


What of children of parents who can't negotiate the market or are not

interested in their schooling at all? What of the need, especially now, to

acculturate immigrants? What of racial integration and understanding? One of the

great ironies is to hear people like former education secretary William Bennett,

who became apoplectic when Stanford University added a few nonwestern writers

and a few women to its western civilization course a few years ago, defend a

choice system that would feed tax money to Moonie schools, to the flat earth

society, to African nationalists (the Louis Farrakhan school?), or indeed any

other cultural separatist who could attract a few suckers.

Coons and Sugarman worry--with good reason--that unless voucher regulations are

carefully written, the affluent will use them to supplement private school

tuition while the poor will be stuck with whatever schooling the voucher will

provide. While that could be fixed by limiting vouchers to schools that charge

no more than the voucher is worth (which is what Chubb and Moe and Coons and

Sugarman propose), no plan yet overcomes other problems in an unregulated

market: that racial and ethnic segregation would rise, or that some parents

would not be able to find a school that will take their children. The advocates

of the California voucher argue that since they propose "scholarships"

averaging only about half of what existing public schools spend per pupil,

vouchers, if widely used, could save money. But since no plan that's made it to

the ballot significantly limits how or where vouchers can be used, vouchers will

not only become tuition supplements for private school parents but also an

inducement to those schools to raise their tuition.

Nor is it likely that any radically different voucher plan would go very far.

Any plan that is too restrictive about how and where a voucher can be used would

immediately lose its parochial and fundamentalist school constituency; any plan

that's too costly will look too blatantly like a raid on the treasury. Both the

Colorado and California plans provide roughly $2,500, about half what the public

schools spend. That's enough for a parish elementary school but no more than a

third of the tuition at a good private day school and not remotely enough to

educate a handicapped child or any other child with special needs.

Chubb and Moe would provide "add-ons" for such children, as well as a

whole range of other "special educational needs...arising from economic

deprivation, physical handicaps, language difficulties, emotional problems,"

all of it to be determined and refereed by an oxymoronic "choice office"

in each district. In addition, there would be an array of other

bureaucracies--to inform parents of their options, to place children who aren't

accepted by any school (which, of course, conflicts with their insistence that

all schools be autonomous regarding admissions and expulsions), to organize

transportation, and to monitor compliance with the health, safety, and

credentialing regulations that they seem to favor. That may not restore all of

the old school bureaucracy, but the groups that have put vouchers on the ballot

say they'll tolerate no such restrictions. As a "market," what this

most resembles is our two-tier medical system, with the assigned-risk schools

the corollary of the emergency room at the county hospital.


The more the system becomes a "market," the more the child and her

parents become customers rather than citizens. In the existing system, the

public schools have to register every child who lives in the appropriate

attendance area. With an unrestricted voucher plan and deregulated schools,

nobody has to take (or notice) anybody. The voucherites are designing a system

that will allow more people to buy their way out but that will lock the children

from whom they're trying to escape not just into their third-class schools, or

out of schools altogether, but into civic and political invisibility.

Voucher advocates are probably correct when they

suggest that just the possibility of choice will begin to challenge arrogant

school bureaucracies and unions. For example, while per-pupil funding in

California has sharply declined relative to the national average (from fifth

among the states in 1965 to roughly fortieth in 1992), teacher salaries there

have remained among the highest. The give, needless to say, has been in the

quality of the program. Can anyone think of a better formula for driving people

to the exits?

The voucher movement has already created a willingness in the public school

establishment to consider far more flexible arrangements. California's

legislature in fall 1992 authorized the creation of 100 charter schools--all

free from most existing curricular requirements, all liberated from most teacher

contract restrictions and credentialing requirements--that might never have been

approved were it not for the voucher proposal on the 1994 ballot. Meanwhile,

countless districts around the country are trying to decentralize school

control, to create schools within schools, to give parents and teachers more

local control and accountability, and, recognizing that different kids have

different interests and different learning styles, to allow parents and children

more choice among the schools. But vouchers are the ultimate weapon, and if the

threat is ever carried out, it may well be impossible to restore the traditional

common school. One can hear some future politician saying, "What, you want

socialized education?"

Many of the reform plans of the past decade, of course, have run afoul of the

same school boards, unions, and bureaucracies. But if the failures justify any

head-on fight, it's a fight to liberate the local schools from the stultifying

power of those organizations, not to launch a frontal attack on the principle of

the common school. In some cases, that fight has been slow, in part because

school boards, downtown bureaucracies, and state credentialing agencies are

reluctant to yield authority; in part because various groups of ideological

snoops and true believers demand an inventory of everything that's said or read

or done inside the schoolhouse (Catcher in the Rye? Witches? Birth

Control? Secular Humanism?); and in part because some state and local teacher

organizations continue to insist that teacher contracts be modeled on those of

industrial unions, with their tight work rules, their resistance to pay

differentials, their rigid seniority system, and their refusal to participate in

peer review or in anything else that could be regarded as management decisions.

In Los Angeles last year, teachers, protesting threatened pay reductions,

refused to appear for back-to-school nights. In other districts, teachers

refused to write recommendations for students applying to college.

But the voices at the top are beginning to send different signals. Albert

Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, has long been a

vigorous force for reform (including public school choice) and for the creation

of what he long ago called world-class academic standards. Keith Geiger, who

heads the National Education Association, may be showing similar flexibility.

Just as important, there are signs that teachers are driving their schools, and

often their whole school systems, to greater flexibility and school-site

innovation and accountability. Frank Newman, who heads the Education Commission

of the States, says school boards now seem to be more of a drag on innovation

and flexibility than any of the other major players in American education.

None of that should suggest that all institutional barriers against change are

gone. But neither is there anything that so far justifies the far more radical

attempt to finance a general breakout from (and breakup of) the public system.


Perhaps the greatest irony of the voucher movement is that even as it pretends

to be concerned with individuals, it so thoroughly focuses on abstractions: the

market, competition, the schools as institutions. But if one looks at real

schools or real children, it's clear that the solutions, like the problems, are

far more complicated and qualified. There are no panaceas here. The research is

not even clear on how much difference money, class size, or the school

themselves make. Still, there are a number of emerging conclusions.

The most successful schools are those with a clear sense of mission and shared

values--schools that foster cooperative rather than bureaucratic relationships.

That suggests that more school site control is preferable to more control by

downtown bureaucrats and that more diversity and choice is preferable to a

single model. Choice within the public system therefore makes sense, but as the

Carnegie study points out, probably only as part of a plan of broader reforms;

only if the schools are able to create sufficiently compelling programs; only if

there is enough reliable information and quality control so that the choices can

be made intelligently; and only if there are relevant programs even for marginal


One of the most interesting and celebrated of the public school choice programs

now in operation--East Harlem's--didn't begin with choice at all. It began with

attempts within a few schools to create distinctive and attractive programs--a

performing arts school, among others, a math-science school, a bilingual school,

a "bridge" school for tough-to-teach kids. Once these schools were

established, choice was necessary to allow the children to opt for those

programs. The voucherite faith has it the other way: that once there is a

market, other reforms will automatically follow.

But there is no real reason to believe that. If there is any moral

justification anywhere for limited vouchers, it's in the inner-city. But the

better alternative is to give parents a greater voice and to make the necessary

social investment--in health, in training parents to teach their preschool kids

(the model is an Israeli program that Hillary Clinton brought to Arkansas), and

in school-industry apprenticeship programs. The point is that real reform,

particularly in the cities, requires precisely the kind of broad social concern

that vouchers and an educational free market would allow the country to avoid.

To address that concern, federal education policy in the next couple of years

probably ought not focus on schools at all but on children. Maureen DiMarco,

California secretary of education and social services, has urged that if there

is more money for children, most of it should go not to the schools but to

health (especially prenatal care and nutrition), Head Start, day care,

counseling, housing, and recreation. Though extreme, such a focus reflects a

justified sense that the needs are more urgent in, and that the money can be

spent more effectively on, children's social services and parent training than

on an educational system whose reform depends primarily on the states and local


That's not to say the schools are well funded; many are not. But any additional

money for schools (most of it no doubt state money) should be disbursed only

with a quid pro quo--in curricular changes, school-site control, accountability

for teachers and parents, and, where real options justify it, public school

choice. Without these, little will change. Surely Bill Clinton, who was the

driving force behind the school reforms in Arkansas, understands that as well as

anyone. The essence of school reform during the 1980s, from Arkansas and

Mississippi to New Jersey and California, was its ability to use additional

funding to buy those higher standards for teachers, even a few halting steps

toward merit pay, as well as tougher graduation requirements and other

reforms--trading some flexibility from the unions and the bureaucrats for

greater tax support. The reforms fell short largely in their failure to get

enough reform for their additional tax dollars.

National performance-based testing can help. If done right--if we measure

higher order skills such as problem solving, historical analysis, as well as

writing and other creative work (all of which, of course, is expensive)--it may

do more to generate a realistic appreciation of how the nation's schools are

doing and how every particular school is doing against Shanker's world standard.

It certainly could shake up those very satisfied parents; and it could shake up

school boards, legislatures, and perhaps teachers colleges as well.

In the final analysis, however, the most important thing a Clinton

administration--or any national administration--could do now for schools is to

re-energize general confidence in government, in community, and in the efficacy

of public service. Private school vouchers, after all, are not much more than

the educational version of privatization in a dozen other areas. If the idea is

driven by a desire to escape from the latter day (mostly social) problems of the

schools, it can also be dampened by renewed confidence in government's interest

in, and ability to deal with, those problems. For the most part, schools are

local and state concerns anyway--the federal government funds no more than 6

percent of the total enterprise, less than it did when Reagan came to office in

1980. Though that federal contribution should be raised, what Washington mainly

can do is set the climate. And in the past decade, the climate has been awful.

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