The Purpose Driven Eduwonk

Matt Yglesias asks the profound ecclesiastical question “What Would Eduwonk Do?” in regard to school vouchers and Cory Booker.

Here’s the answer. First, I’m a big Cory Booker fan. He represents a new generation of urban leaders that excites me because they’re not afraid to tear down what is not working and build again. He’s a progressive in the best sense of that term. I’m thrilled that he won in Newark and if he can help get that city back on its feet the sky is the limit for his political career.

But I don’t agree with him on school vouchers. I understand the demand for them, and think that Democrats and the public school community had better respond more aggressively to that demand than they have to date, but I don’t see them as solution to what ails urban schools. My reasons for that are pragmatic (charter schools can offer more seats for students and transparency and information is vital to a well functioning educational marketplace and fixing urban schools requires, well, fixing urban schools, that’s more an issue of political will than choice alone though the two are obviously not unrelated) and also ideological, I think that a strong linkage between public money and public input and accountability is important in public education. So the issue with me isn’t choice per se, I’m all for that, it’s how to use choice to improve opportunities for students. And, it seems to me that as voucher programs get more regulated they are becoming more and more like good charter school initiatives anyway.

So how, the hysterics want to know, could I possibly support Cory Booker then because he’s a voucher guy? Well, the same reason I support and work with some other Democrats who support vouchers, the issue isn’t a deal breaker (and I’m pretty sure vouchers aren’t contagious) and has really taken on an out-sized importance in education debates. It’s an issue that reasonable people can honestly disagree about and, in addition to a more pro-reform posture, the Democratic Party must learn to tolerate disagreement about it fast because Cory and other younger urban leaders want change now. In 2000 when Time’s Tamala Edwards asked Al Gore about vouchers during the Harlem primary debate he responded with an answer about school construction and pre-K education. That’s a ticking time bomb for Democrats.

Ed Pol also weighs-in on all this here. And, if you can’t get enough Cory, Ed Next has rushed out its article about him (pdf).

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