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Wall Street Journal Letter to the Editor from Dennis Van Roekel

(Text of letter as submitted to The Wall Street Journal)

May 5, 2011

Letter to the Editor
The Wall Street Journal
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036

To the Editor,

Anyone who has shopped for groceries in a poor urban neighborhood or rural area would probably be perplexed by Donald J. Boudreaux’s May 5 article, “If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools.” As an educator I’m also perplexed.
It is ludicrous to equate teaching children to selling food, and anyone who makes such a comparison simply doesn’t understand education. Mr. Boudreaux also doesn’t seem to realize that grocery shoppers don’t enjoy equal choices in the free market. Grocery stores often cluster in high-income areas, leaving other neighborhoods to resemble what researchers call “food deserts.” Without a supermarket, many urban areas rely instead on fast food and convenience stores where food is costlier and choices fewer. According to a recent report by the Department of Agriculture, six percent of U.S. households don’t have access to the food they want to purchase.

If we abandon public education in favor of government vouchers as Mr. Boudreaux advocates, there would be a similar disparity in choices. Affluent parents could use publicly-funded government vouchers and send their children to any private school, siphoning off funds for quality schools convenient for most children and families.

The preference of most parents is still a great public school in their own neighborhood. In Mr. Boudreaux’s world, if public schools were like supermarkets, the most affluent students would always have their pick of nutritious fruits and vegetables, at the expense of less fortunate students left to snack on candy and soda. So we should focus on improving our public schools instead of diverting scarce tax dollars to private schools that have no obligation to provide equal opportunities.

People like Mr. Boudreaux claim that educators are trying to hold on to the status quo simply because we don’t accept radical and ineffective proposals like vouchers. We know what investments are needed to improve our schools: smaller class sizes, more high quality teacher training, involved parents, and a rich curriculum including math and science courses. The truth is the unions – teachers and support professionals – are working hard to transform public schools so every student succeeds, not treating students as bags of groceries.

Dennis Van Roekel
National Education Association
Washington, D.C.