Books: Readings

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In Straight Shooting: What's Wrong With America and How To Fix It, John Silber, president of Boston University, attacks the idea that public schooling can be improved "simply by spending more money on it":

[M]oney spent has very little to do with educational achievement. Studies I have made indicate that the correlation between the national decline in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and the level of teachers' salaries, for instance, is exactly 0. There is no correlation between teachers' salaries and performance on the sat

This is not to argue against an increase in teachers' salaries. It is rather to point out that increases in salaries will not necessarily improve the schools. ...

[N]or, surprisingly, are other ways of spending money very rel4evant. Total educational funding per pupil can account for only 9 percent of the sat variance among states. This is a noticeable but not significant factor.

One of the most striking facts to emerge from my investigations is that there is a high negative correlation between dependence on federal funds and sat scores. For instance, 31 percent of the variance in sat scores can be predicted from knowing only the level of federal dependency and putting a minus sign in front of it. This does not, of course, prove that federal funds are bad for learning, but it does suggest how ineffective federal spending has been in improving the public schools.

The reason is not hard to find. Local responsibility for quality is attenuated when a large proportion of the funding comes from outside. The vaporous presence of the federal government is no substitute for local taxpayers monitoring the stewardship of local taxes. When the people who pay for the schools are watching the people who spend the money, there is direct accountability, and quality improves. Federal funding shifts responsibility and accountability to Washington, beyond the control of local taxpayers and parents.

Harper & Row, 10 East 53rd St., New York, N.Y. 10022; 336 pp., $22.50 cloth.

Arguments for school "choice" could potentially serve civil-rights interests in school-desegregation litigation, argues Stephen Arons in an essay collected in Public Values, Private Schools, edited by Neal E. Devins.

Mr. Arons is a member of a group of prominent school-law experts currently backing a lawsuit urging the creation of a voucher program to enable black schoolchildren in Kansas City to attend desegregated private schools at public expense. In the following excerpts, he suggests legal strategies for advancing desegregation under choice plans that include nonpublic schools:

The most likely scenario would begin with an urban-school desegregation case in which the court already had found that the district in question had unconstitutionally created and perpetuated a segregated school system. This would remove the need, but also the possibility, of testing the legal power of adding the First Amendment argument to the equal-protection arguments to prove a constitutional violation, but it would leave intact the use of First Amendment arguments to gain a more meaningful remedy and to vindicate an independent right of choice.

The facts of such a case would also probably indicate that a high ratio of minority to white students in the school district would make traditional desegregation remedies, such as redrawn attendance zones, busing, and magnet schools, unavailing. It should further be assumed that adjacent suburban schools are predominantly white and could not legally be compelled to join a metropolitan desegregation remedy that called for reconfiguring suburban districts. ...

Under such circumstances, a federal-district-court judge might fashion a remedy including some reshuffling of student attendance patterns, the expenditure of additional funds to upgrade the quality of eduction of schools that remained segregated, and changes in the hiring patterns of faculty and administrators in the system.

But these options are limited in their ability to satisfy plaintiffs' demands for vindication of their constitutional right to desegregated schooling. More important, without a First Amendment claim of a right to school choice, there may be little to convince a court to go beyond these limited desegregation remedies.

Suppose, therefore, that some plaintiffs asked the court, based on a school-choice argument, to grant interested members of the plaintiff class scholarships or vouchers to be paid for by the defendant school district and state. The vouchers would be usable in complete payment for attendance at any suburban public school, or at any district or suburban private school willing to accept plaintiff children and provide them with an education satisfying minimum standards set by the court and the state's applicable statutes.

Were such a motion to be granted, and assuming that it was accompanied by a carefully worked-out mechanism protecting and monitoring plaintiffs' educational rights, a school-choice mechanism satisfying both equal-protection and First Amendment rights would be in place. The results might be beneficial to the cause of both desegregated schooling and the right of educational choice for all, but especially for minority families.

Falmer Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 1900 Frost Rd., Bristol, Pa. 19007; 309 pp., $49 cloth, $22 paper.

Vol. 09, Issue 08

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