Yes We Can!

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Austin Bramwell says we can’t fix bad public schools so we should just solve America’s affordable housing problems:

To reduce the number of such cases, how about this: since reforming schools is so inherently difficult, we should instead try to make housing more affordable even in the best school districts. I would consider first reforming zoning laws that restrict density and discourage/prohibit rental housing.

Kevin Drum thinks this is politically impossible and proposes that we fix the schools instead:

Or, on a more serious note, we could fund poverty and educational interventions with proven track records, allow schools more leeway to deal with incorrigible students, encourage our best teachers to work in our most challenging schools and allow principals to fire the ones who fail, promote experimentation via charter schools, and make sure every school is adequately funded. Feel free to add your own favorite ideas to this list. It’s a little messy and it’s no silver bullet — it’s a long, hard slog, if you will — but these are the sorts of things that will eventually make a difference. Best of all, some of it is even politically feasible.

But why not both!

Political feasibility is an important issue when you’ve got an actual bill before the congress that might or might not pass. Dennis Kucinich needs to stop being an idiot and start thinking more about political feasibility. But people who are just writing about national issues spend, in my view, way too much time thinking about political feasibility. Of course fixing bad public schools is hard. Of course curbing housing regulations that hurt poor people is hard. And of course building support for anti-poverty interventions is hard. Public interest reform is always hard.

And yet it’s possible. Problems do get solved. When baby boomers were born there was no Medicare, private citizens weren’t allowed to own telephones (really! look it up!), and black people generally couldn’t vote. We can fix zoning laws, we can improve education, we can get children out of poverty. Bad urban/suburban planning is hard to fix, but it’s also really important, and so is improving school performance.