Thursday, January 19, 2006

Eisendrath [another Vallas?] debates school vouchers with Berkowitz

Jeff Berkowitz: ...[I]f you were surprised to see, with that change, under a voucher system, all sorts of new private schools emerge to provide choices, then you would consider school vouchers and school choice?.

Edwin Eisendrath: Well, look--

Jeff Berkowitz: Just give me a “yes” or “no” to that.

Edwin Eisendrath: Yes.
Edwin Eisendrath, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who seems to think ideas have consequences, and goverment, at least in part, is about ideas and formulating good public policy. More and more, in substance, if not necessarily in style, it appears that Eisendrath is the second coming of Paul Vallas. If that thought takes hold, watch out Rod.
You can watch, on a podcast or on videostreaming, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Edwin Eisendrath debate and discuss school vouchers and many other public policy issues with show host Jeff Berkowitz. Please go to the end of the partial transcript, below or go here for the details on how and where to watch the show, and also to review some partial transcripts of the show.
Another partial transcript of the show is included below
Jeff Berkowitz: What would you do to make the schools better, if you were Governor?

Edwin Eisendrath: Well, let’s start with-there are all kinds of funding issues that we need to put on the table and talk about. There are all kinds of sort of common sense reforms that school districts can implement
, ranging from network effects between schools, to better teacher training, to helping empower principals in ways that they have not been in this state. Better training for principals. Better support on the management side. The state has to be a more active participant than they have been. In Illinois, as you know, the difference between what the state pays and what the locality pays in Illinois is forty-ninth in the nation. Forty-ninth.

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, you know, there are some people who say if you have greater local control and less from the state—and you study it across the states, as some people have, you will find that the quality improves, the greater the contributions from the local government, the less from the state government.

Edwin Eisendrath: I’d want to see that study because Illinois’s local contributions are the highest, save one, in the country, and our schools are nowhere near the best.

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, some are. Some are very good. We tape in Skokie, we’re near the Northshore, schools are quite good there, right?

Edwin Eisendrath: I know. I’m sorry. Where you have very wealthy communities. They can afford great schools. Up on the north shore, we have some of the best schools in the country. That’s absolutely true. But, you know that, that’s not, by itself, enough for this state. I would argue that having the best schools in the richest districts and miserable schools everywhere else-

Jeff Berkowitz: We spend a fair amount. In the city of Chicago, as you may know—did you teach in the city of Chicago?

Edwin Eisendrath: I did, for five and a half years—I did.

Jeff Berkowitz: The Chicago Public Schools, for five and a half years-
After you went to Harvard. You know, when you came out of Harvard, you were probably viewed as not qualified to teach in the Chicago Public Schools.

Edwin Eisendrath: I was absolutely viewed as not qualified.

Jeff Berkowitz: Right. So, you had to go to National Louis [University] to get a master’s degree to become—isn’t that ludicrous? Don’t you think you were qualified to teach coming out of Harvard?

Edwin Eisendrath: I think I thought I was and I was probably wrong. But, I’m not sure that what I learned in graduate school helped me so much,
but I got to be a good teacher by the time I left. Which is why we need to change the way we train teachers. There has to be more hands-on training—classroom management, the actual techniques of teaching.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, you’ve said you’re opposed to school vouchers and school choice, right?

Edwin Eisendrath: I’m opposed to funding by vouchers. You can have choice within a public system; you can let people move in a public system. But, I do think, because of the way people live, the patterns of living, when you go to a voucher system for schools, what you are really doing is, particularly given the way the funding formula works, you are really taking all of that money out of public education.

Jeff Berkowitz: But Chicago Public Schools currently spend about eleven thousand dollars, per kid, per year, now, that’s averaged across K-12, I understand that, but that’s the average expenditure, if you take the five billion dollar plus budget and divide it by the four hundred thirty-five thousand students, you come up with eleven thousand dollars, per kid, per year. Now, why not take that money, eleven thousand dollars, give it to the parents and say, “If you’re happy in the public schools, stay there. If you’re not, go to a private school of your choice.” How would they be worse off?

Edwin Eisendrath: Many would be worse off-

Jeff Berkowitz: Having that choice?

Edwin Eisendrath: The choice-- it is a false choice. The schools don’t exist; they don’t exist in neighborhoods where kids can go to them. So, again. This is why governing is not for the faint of heart, because you have to be willing to say to a guy like you who’s smart and has done his work and is able to present something as, “Wouldn’t it be great if people had this choice?” You’ve got to be able to say, “You know what-- that choice doesn’t exist. That’s nonsense.”

Jeff Berkowitz: What do you mean?

Edwin Eisendrath: Because there are no other schools for them to go to.

Jeff Berkowitz: That’s what a free market’s about. You know something about a free market.

Edwin Eisendrath: There isn’t a free market.

Jeff Berkowitz: You’re right, because they don’t have the purchasing power right now. There’s no sense in a private school locating next to a public school in Chicago, and the parents say, “Hey, I can go to that private school and lose the eleven thousand dollars in purchasing power that I have, or I can go to the public school.” Now, that’s no choice. That’s no choice.

Edwin Eisendrath: But, actually, the facts are different from that. Because Catholic schools do pretty well in Chicago, and they have forever. And, they’ve existed side-by-side public schools-

Jeff Berkowitz: They do well, but, increasingly, it’s a problem because they no longer have the low price labor. They no longer have the nuns and the priests who provide services at a lower price. They have to compete in a competitive market [for teachers].

Edwin Eisendrath: And, they do. It’s a viable, wonderful school system.

Jeff Berkowitz: If the public schools are as good as you say they are, why don’t you see if they can compete on a fair, level playing field?

Edwin Eisendrath: Well, first I didn’t say the public schools were good. On the contrary, I said they have a long way to go.

Jeff Berkowitz: But you’re saying they’re not good because of money, and I’m saying--

Edwin Eisendrath: No, I said there were a number of reasons, including the way we train teachers, principals, and the money problems are statewide.

Jeff Berkowitz: We can’t spend this whole show on vouchers-

Edwin Eisendrath: Please don’t tell me I said schools are wonderful when they aren’t, or put words in my mouth like that. That’s just not what I said.

Jeff Berkowitz: No, you are saying that for some reason, let me re-word that, re-phrase that, you’re saying public schools, for some reason, not that they’re good right now, but that the concept of public schools is such a good concept that you don’t want to give people that choice to go to a private school—I, for the life of me, don’t know why you’d say that choice is good within the public school system, but not good if you have a private school and a public school to compete. That’s the point I was trying to argue.

Edwin Eisendrath: I think that if that were the option, I would be in favor it. But there is not—there is not a choice. Because those private schools, not only do they not exist, but they would never exist for most of the students.

Jeff Berkowitz: If you became-

Edwin Eisendrath: You end up defunding education for the students who can’t move.

Jeff Berkowitz: If you became convinced I was right and you were wrong, which is possible, that in a free market, with five billion dollars worth of purchasing power for private schools possibly to get, there would be many more private schools than currently exist. So, if you were surprised to see, with that change, under a voucher system, all sorts of new private schools emerge to provide choices, then you would consider school vouchers and school choice.

Edwin Eisendrath: Well, look--

Jeff Berkowitz: Just give me a “yes” or “no” to that.

Edwin Eisendrath: Yes.

Jeff Berkowitz: Yes, you would. Okay. Thank you.

Edwin Eisendrath: But more than that. I’m not an ideologue. I’m a very practical guy and I look around the country for what are the best practices that have real results for children. And, we’ll bring them here, we’ll pilot them here, and we’ll try to grow them here. So, I’m always open to being shown that I am wrong and that there is a better way of doing something. Always. On any issue.
Edwin Eisendrath, running for Governor in the March 21, 2006 Democratic Primary in Illinois. The show was recorded on December 27, 2005 and it is airing at the Public Affairs Cinema [the Public Affairs Cinema is also airing a five minute interview with Eisendrath, taped just before Thanksgiving [See here]. The Cinema also archives a dozen recent, other Public Affairs episodes, each of which is available to be watched here. The "Public Affairs," show with Eisendrath [except for the last two minutes which were edited out] can also be viewed by going directly to the Illinois Channel’s Campaign 2006 link and clicking on the photo of Eisendrath under the heading "Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates." [See here]
Transcript drafts prepared by Amy Allen, who also does research for “Public Affairs,” and has her own political blog [See here].
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at