Michele: I just got back from The Netherlands.
John: I’m stoned, hold me.
U.S. Customs should have been more careful with AFTie Michele’s luggage. What other possible explanation is there for John’s post ostensibly skewering John Stossel by essentially arguing that choice and privatization has nothing to do with education in The Netherlands? I don’t carry any brief for Stossel or for privatization, but choice and what some would call “privatization” is pretty prevalent in The Netherlands. In fact, as Anne Bert Dijkstra, Jaap Dronkers, and Sjoerd Karsten report in Educating Citizens, “approximately 70 percent of Dutch parents send their children to schools that, although established by private associations and managed by private school boards, are nonetheless fully funded by the state government.” Because of the Dutch constitution religious schools are entitled to equal funding with other schools. In other words, John Stossel might be on firmer ground than AFTie John thinks.
State support for religious schools is pretty common in Europe. Usually, however, it’s for one particular religion, generally Catholicism or a Protestant denomination. Because of its history The Netherlands has a posture of neutrality reflected in the constitution and consequently different denominations run public schools including non-European religions such as Hinduism and Islam. That’s more unique. There are national examinations though so there are some elements of homogeneity across the schools; it’s not a free-for-all in the Friedman sense of things.
That said, the problem with many international comparisons commonly thrown around is that they’re reverse engineered: People find a country that does better than the U.S. on some measure and then claim that whatever characteristic they happen to favor must be the cause. So sure, some countries with centralized curriculum do better, but some do worse, too. Likewise for public support for parochial schools, choice, etc…It’s a basic correlation-causation issue. Not saying we can’t learn from other countries, just that we should be careful of simplistic lessons. This is particularly true if you happen to think there are unique or exceptional things in the American experience that should be reflected in how we order our public schooling.
Update: A sober and straight AFTie John responds (and with an outstanding pop culture reference).