POLITICS: The draft and its results

Perhaps it’s best if Foster Rogers (“Bring Back the Draft,” Feedback, July 18) and all of us were reminded of the Vietnam War days when the military draft was active.

The US government deceived its way into declaring and waging that war –or was it just a conflict? – resulting in: the deaths of 50,000 Americans and 300,000 Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians; the destruction of much of the Vietnam landscape; and political, economic, and social-psychological upheavals that have merged with the reverberations of several centuries of the violent history of this nation.

This, to my way of thinking, is not a reflection of “greater common sense and balance to military engagements.” What was the “totally good reason” for the Vietnam War and so much death, violence and destruction?

To have or to not have a military draft is obviously not the choice that matters. To not engage in violence and war may be the right and only choice.

Someone, with a small bird cupped in their closed hands, asked another, “Is the bird alive or dead?” The other answered, “The bird is in your hands.”


EDUCATION: Charters don’t get better results

“The March of the Charters” (June 27) states that “the verdict is still out on whether charter schools can deliver better results than traditional public schools.” Actually there is a considerable body of empirical evidence, and the conclusions do not favor charters.

After a decade of reading instruction under No Child Left Behind, test results documented what the research had indicated from the beginning: the instruction did not improve students’ reading. Similar evidence is available for assessing the instructional value of charter schools, but as with NCLB, millions more children will be educationally damaged because the research will be ignored.

A Stanford University multi-state assessment, for example, found that while nearly half of the charters studied had reading and math results comparable to those of local public schools, the results of 37 percent of the charters were significantly worse, which included the reading and math achievement of black and Latino students. Only 17 percent of the charters produced superior education outcomes.

Similar results came from Mathematica Policy Research: The academic outcomes between charters and public schools were small or nonexistent. In reading, none of the results were significantly positive, and in some states and cities they were significantly negative.

It is worth noting that in another MPR study, charter schools, compared with urban public schools, had markedly lower student-teacher ratios (15/16-1) and lower percentages of poor students. Yet even these advantages failed to yield overall superior academic outcomes.

Among the charters, the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools, hailed as a premier chain, have produced similar inferior findings. The recipient of millions in corporate funds, allowing the schools to spend more on per-pupil instruction, KIPP hardly represents a level playing field with public schools. Yet despite its significantly greater per-pupil spending over local schools, 40 percent of its African-American male students left KIPP schools between grades 6 and 8.

These results are not unique to the US. A study done by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries found that whether it was Austria, Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, or other OECD nations, the educational consequences were the same: choice schemes that include charter schools harm more disadvantaged and low-income families.

Studies also uncover some of the inferior instructional qualities that help explain academic outcomes in charter schools. For example, the average public charter school loses 25 percent of its teachers every year, almost twice the turnover in public schools. What does that figure say about teaching expertise, especially for educationally needy students?

Yes, there are some excellent charters, just as there are excellent public schools, but it’s time to stop the smoke-and-mirrors game that portrays charters as the answer to educational and instructional inequalities. Instead, policy needs to be guided by a continuous line of studies (see, for example, “Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances,” Russell Sage Foundation) amply documenting the solution: address the poverty in children’s lives and the underfunding of their schools.


Gerald Coles is a researcher, writer, and lecturer on the psychology and politics of literacy and education. He was formerly on the faculty of the University of Rochester’s Warner School.


One comment

  1. Foster Rogers · · Reply

    As the writer of “Bring back the draft”, I welcome the comments of Doug Hoener. Concerning the Vietnamese War and all of its victims and costs: yes, we had the draft; because of public outcry the Vietnamese War was brought to conclusion. If we didn’t have the draft, how long would the Vietnamese War continued?
    With the war in Afghanistan, there is relatively little outcry: if we had the draft, wouldn’t we have been out of Afghanistan a long time ago? The families and others would not tolerate it, and those making the decisions are fully aware of this. It is much easier for those making military decisions to work with an all-volunteer military than with one that has been drafted, especially from when they consider political fallout.

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