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Robert Reich on Education

Former Secretary of Labor; Democratic Challenger MA Governor


Progressive vouchers: $14K for poor kids; $2K for rich kids

Spending on public schools should be replaced by vouchers in amounts inversely related to family income that families can cash in at any school meeting certain minimum standards. For example, the $8,000 now spent per child in a particular state would be turned into $14,000 education vouchers for each school-age child in a poor family, and $2,000 vouchers for each child in a very wealthy family.

School vouchers in this progressive form would improve overall school performance by introducing competition into the school system. They would also give lower- and middle-income families more purchasing power in the education market.

Some competitors would be organized as independent, nonprofit "charter" schools. I would also expect wealthy suburban school districts to compete vigorously for lower- and middle-income children and the generous vouchers they would bring. These upscale districts would need the money; they couldn't possibly meet their expenses at $2,000 per student.

Source: Aftershock, by Robert Reich, p.135 , Apr 5, 2011

Public higher education is waning under budget constraints

Across the US, public higher education is waning under severe budget constraints. Tuitions are rising faster than median family income. Meanwhile, elite colleges and universities are abandoning "need-blind" admissions policies, by which they guaranteed that any qualified student could afford to attend. Young people from families with incomes in the top 25% are 3 times more likely to go to college than are young people from the bottom quarter, and the disparity is increasing.
Source: I'll Be Short, by Robert Reich, p. 17 , May 2, 2002

Let any school enroll poor kids and funds that go with them

Bust up the concentration of poor kids in the same schools. Create incentives for them to disperse. Let any public school that meets strict standards of accountability compete to enroll these kids and receive the money that goes with them. That way, public schools in nearby wealthy suburban communities also will try to lure some of the poor kids their way in order to meet their budgets--perhaps sending out vans to collect them and drop them off.

Notice I haven't used the term "voucher." It's become so loaded--like abortion and communism--that you can't talk about vouchers without being tarred as either "for" or "against." Nothing else gets through. In a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal, I made a case for "progressive vouchers" and immediately became the liberal poster child for the pro-voucher movement. It was ironic because the whole point of the piece was that vouchers without a lot of extra money behind poorer kids are worse than no vouchers at all

Source: I'll Be Short, by Robert Reich, p. 69 , May 2, 2002

Progressive vouchers: more resources for poorer kids

In a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal, I made a case for "progressive vouchers" and immediately became the liberal poster child for the pro-voucher movement. It was ironic because the whole point of the piece was that vouchers won't work. They'll just sort American children even more--further concentrating the kids who are more needy and troublesome, or whose parents are less able to cope, in schools that are even worse than before--as every slightly better-off child runs for the exits. Such schools would end up with fewer resources per difficult child. America would become even more socially stratified. Let there be no mistake: Vouchers without a lot of extra money behind poorer kids are worse than no vouchers at all. We must not drain resources from our public schools, already resource poor. Poorer kids need more resources, not fewer.
Source: I'll Be Short, by Robert Reich, p. 69 , May 2, 2002

One big high-stakes test seems grossly unfair

Beware of another idea that's rapidly becoming an obsession: high-stakes standardized tests. They're the single biggest thing to have hit American education since Sputnik. Responding to the understandable demands for more "accountability," almost every school in the land is morphing into a test-taking factory.

I'm all in favor of making schools more accountable for what they do (or fail to do). By all means let's find out whether schools are doing their job by testing a random sample of kids in the school every year. Publish the test results without naming the kids. This would light a fire under schools that failed to make progress.

But it seems grossly unfair to rely on one big, high-stakes exam to decide whether a child gets promoted to the next grade, and especially unfair to rely on one test to determine whether a kid graduates from high school.

Source: I'll Be Short, by Robert Reich, p. 70-71 , May 2, 2002

Universal high-quality K-14 education; expand from K-12

Each year of education or job training after high school, whenever it occurs in the course of a career, increases average incomes by 6 to 12%. Many technical skills can be learned in a year or two by someone with a high school degree. In fact, one goal we should consider is universal, high-quality K-14. You heard me right: K-14.

In the early 20th century, states pioneered the concept of universal K-12. The 20th century economy and society needed it. For most of the century, education beyond 12th grade was a luxury. In the 21st century most young people also need at least two years of critical skills beyond the typical high school curriculum--technical skills, thinking skills, on-the-job learning skills.

By the same token, any young person who qualifies should be able to get a 4-year college education. Yet for many young people and their families, this dream is becoming unaffordable.

Source: I'll Be Short, by Robert Reich, p. 74 , May 2, 2002

School districts are self-sorting, whether public or private

Poorer children who require a lot of attention from good teachers are increasingly bunched together with other poorer children who also need a lot, within schools that have relatively few resources to begin with. Parents in poor communities tend to favor school vouchers, because vouchers at least give them a means of separating their children from troublemakers who use up even MORE of the scarce time and attention of teachers. Schools in a voucher system are freer to expel children who are particularly unruly. Parochial school have always had that option.

No one designed the educational system this way. Well-meaning parents think of their reliance on private schools, good public schools in upscale communities, charter schools, or school vouchers as means of obtaining as good an education as they can afford for their kids--not as means of excluding children more costly to education than their own. But in fact, these individual decisions add up to a large-scale sorting mechanism.

Source: The Future of Success, by Robert Reich, p.201-202 , Feb 8, 2002

Variable vouchers to avoid self-sorting mechanisms

The sorting mechanism is at its most pernicious when it comes to schools, whose quality now largely depends on the incomes of the families residing in the school district. Because families are sorting by income into different townships, and because about half of school funding still comes from local property taxes, families whose children are most at risk of failing in the new economy cannot afford the schools they most need.

School vouchers might improve the quality of schools, but we would need to guard against the possibility that the poorest children with the biggest learning or behavioral problems would get sorted together into the least desirable schools. One way to avoid this would be to make the size of the voucher proportional to family needs. Children from the very poorest families would have the largest and most valuable vouchers, thereby making the children sufficiently attractive for good schools to want to compete for them.

Source: The Future of Success, by Robert Reich, p.245-246 , Feb 8, 2002

We must prepare workforce for new economy

We must enable every person in the Commonwealth to make the most of their talents and abilities. That means affordable pre-schools; K-12 schools that are held accountable for results and whose teachers are paid enough to attract talented people to the classroom; community colleges that teach skills that businesses require; and the best universities in America. Progress has been made, but not nearly enough. A third of our workforce is unprepared for the work of the future.
Source: Campaign web site, RobertReich.org , Jan 25, 2002

Community Colleges are unsung heroes of workers

Community colleges are the unsung heroes of the working middle class, and we’ve got to link them up with people who need skills.
Source: Boston Phoenix article by Seth Gitell , Jan 17, 2002

Combine knowledge (know-how) with wisdom (know-why)

Knowledge is not enough [for college graduates facing today’s job market]. You’ll also need some wisdom. Knowledge is knowing how to accomplish something. It’s called know-how. Wisdom is knowing why you should accomplish it. Know-why. Wisdom involves values, judgments about what is important or worthy for you to be doing. Wisdom involves self-knowledge. In order to make wise choices about your life’s work, you’ll need to know something of who you are,
Source: Bates College Commencement speech , Jun 4, 2001

Grant $60,000 nest egg to high school graduates

[In his book] “The Future of Success” Reich proposes a way to grant a $60,000 nest egg to high school graduates, a sort of monetary gift that can be used to invest in school, the stock market, or a spanking new sports car. Naturally, conservatives scoff at the idea. But Reich doesn’t back down. “I think that conservatives may fail to understand the importance of giving young people a stake in capitalism, to get on the upward escalator with regard to education and asset ownership,” he says.
Source: Jamie Allen, CNN.com , Mar 5, 2001

Standardized tests are too one-size-fits-all for many kids

Standardized tests are the biggest thing to have hit American education since Sputnik. Responding to the understandable demands for more “accountability,” almost every school in the land is morphing into a test-taking factory.

Uniform tests present clear goals and give students, parents and schools ways to measure progress toward meeting them. But standardized tests are monstrously unfair to many kids. We’re creating a one-size-fits-all system that needlessly brands many young people as failures, when they might thrive if offered a different education whose progress was measured differently.

In our headlong rush toward “accountability,” we seem to be veering toward two extremes-either expecting every child to pass the same test or assuming that they are uneducable, relegating them to a vocational track.

Our challenge is to find different measures of the various skills relevant to the jobs of the new economy. It’s our job not to discourage our children, but to help them find their way.

Source: The New York Times, Op-Ed, “One Education Does Not Fit All” , Jul 11, 2000

New economy skills not measured by standardized tests

Responding to demands for more “accountability,” almost every school is morphing into a test-taking factory. Paradoxically, we’re embracing standardized tests just when the new economy is eliminating standardized jobs. Given the widening array of possibilities, there’s no reason that every child must master the standard high school curriculum that has barely changed in half a century. It’s our job not to discourage our children, but to help them find their way.
Source: NY Times, news section , Jul 11, 2000


Robert Reich on School Choice

Give poor kids a choice, but not via vouchers

Q: What is your position on educational vouchers for private education?

A: I’m against vouchers for private school but in favor of backing kids from poor communities and giving them a choice of public schools. I don’t want a system that drains from public schools; they need every penny. We need to raise the educational capacity of all schools so children are not sorted any more than they already are by the areas they can afford to live. And these poor children should have choices.

Source: Al Turco, Stoneham Independent , Mar 20, 2002

Never supported vouchers, despite interpretation that way

Q: Has your position on educational vouchers for private education changed over time?

A: I respect local decisions but will make the case for why public school choice is a good thing, especially the extra money it can bring to schools. Poor kids are often trapped in schools with little resources. One way to help them bust out of this cycle is to come back with more funding and allow students to choose the schools best using these funds. And I don’t think everyone who lives in the city wants to go to school in the suburbs. Kids want good schools near their homes.

I wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal that was interpreted as supporting private school vouchers, but then I wrote another piece soon after, explaining that that was not my position.

[Stoneham Independent editor’s note: Massachusetts communities have the option of opting in or out of the public school choice pool. The local School Committees vote. Stoneham, for example, opted out.]

Source: Al Turco, Stoneham Independent , Mar 20, 2002

Poorest children should get largest vouchers

Most of the people who have been losing out don’t have an adequate education--the first prerequisite to success in the new economy. So the best investment in their future prosperity is to improve their store of “human capital.”

The risk of most school voucher proposals is that the poorest children--normally those with the biggest learning or behavioral problems--would be sorted together into the least-desirable schools. One way to avoid this would be to make the size of the voucher proportional to family need. Children from the very poorest families would have the largest and most valuable vouchers, thereby making the children sufficiently attractive for good schools to want to compete for them.

Source: The American Prospect, vol.12, no.3,“New Economy” , Feb 12, 2001

$10,000 vouchers for poor kids in private & charter schools

The only way to begin to decouple poor kids from lousy schools is to give poor kids additional resources, along with vouchers enabling them and their parents to choose how to use them. Per-pupil public expenditures now average between $6,000 & $7,000 a year. Ideally, a child from America’s poorest 20% of families would receive a voucher worth between $10,000 & $12,000. Children from families in the next quintile would receive vouchers worth between $8,000 & $10,000. The vouchers could be used at any school that meets certain minimum standards, regardless of whether the school is now dubbed “public,” “charter’’ or ‘’private.’’ (Leave aside, for now, the tricky First Amendment issue of public money for religious schools.)

What would be the likely result of such progressive vouchers? Schools already in easy geographic reach of poor kids would get an immediate infusion of billions of dollars. Wealthier suburban schools would have even greater incentive to compete for students from poor families.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Op-Ed, “Progressive Vouchers” , Sep 6, 2000

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Page last updated: Jul 07, 2014