Violence in Louisville Revisited

Recent violence in Louisville has thankfully started many public conversations about poverty, education and culture that otherwise be relegated to quiet, resigned laments at the dinner table. That Louisvillians are talking about this publicly is broadly to the good. Unfortunately, one well-worn claim about How We Got Here doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

In a piece that has more to recommend it than indicated here, Tim Druck writes:

We used to pay for real educators and leaders spending the time to teach youth who are currently neglected and forgotten. We used to have career and vocational programs for kids who aren’t necessarily college material – I know plenty of successful adults today who learned a trade in high school, anything from auto mechanics to printing to agriculture. Today, if you’re not college-bound, an athlete, or an entertainer, you are entirely on your own to find a trade or a career – no wonder ‘pro athlete’ and ‘gangsta rapper’ are the only goals of so many children. Kids don’t learn that there is success in working for a living – in our culture, in our education systems, in the media, either you are fabulously wealthy or you are nothing.

I include the latter part about vocational education because I agree with it almost entirely. The median salary for plumbers in America is about $49,000.

On the broader issue of what “we used to pay for”, I responded:

Tim responded:

And I responded with this:

Here’s the relevant chart:

This chart doesn't include the costs of school buildings, btw.
This doesn’t include the costs associated with school buildings, btw.

It’s a powerful testament to the power of public school salesmanship and media handwringing that the most carefully considered, thoughtful answer to basically any problem with public schools must always be, say it with me, More Funding.

It’s past time Kentuckians admitted that More Funding has been tried for decades. The persistent problems of low proficiency in reading and math in Jefferson county (despite decades of More Funding) should be laid squarely at the feet of the public school establishment and its defenders.

Kentucky is among a shrinking number of states with no charter schools and no private school choice. This, too, is a testament to the power of the public school establishment that has fought to keep students in failing schools.

But let’s be clear: School choice is not the silver bullet cure to my hometown’s violence. It is, however, a powerful way to engage parents in making one of the most important decisions on behalf of their children that they’ll ever make. If a robust transfer of power away from public schools and into the hands of low-income parents isn’t on the table, then I think it’s safe to call that intentional oversight yet another testament to the power of the public school establishment.

(Related: has a darn good website.)

Update: Alas, it appears Mr. Druck would rather punish the wealthy than help the poor

If the betterment of school district performance were the only relevant metric for school choice … Tim would still be mistaken.

Also, does anyone honestly care about school districts? Better to worry about how kids currently trapped in those districts get educated.

Violence in Louisville

My friend Terry Meiners has some very pointed thoughts on the recently high-profile violence in Louisville. I can’t say if I agree with what he says entirely – I haven’t lived there for ten years – but the closed-off nature of much of the media and political establishment in Louisville makes me suspect that we’ve been getting a far-too-rosy picture of the downtown area for some time.

The Manliest Town in America

Apparently it’s Louisville. At least according to GQ, which may not be the most authoritative source on manliness.

Having spent a decade living in Louisville, ego prevents me from saying that it’s not a manly town.

What’s funny is that GQ recommends the following:

On the way out of town, hit one (or six) of the distilleries that flavor the countryside around Louisville. Our current favorite is Buffalo Trace, located in nearby Frankfort, Kentucky. If you road-tripped all the way to Louisville, as I did, now would be a good time to ask your girlfriend to take the wheel.

This seems to presume that you’re headed east out of town. I can say with some level of confidence that if I wanted advice on manliness, I would not travel east from Louisville. Still, Buffalo Trace is worth a stop.

Goodbye, ear X-tacy

When I moved to Louisville from Murray, Kentucky in 1995, ear X-tacy was the place where you went to get your music. Period. With thousands of square feet situated in just the right spot on Bardstown Road, it served as a magnet for music evangelists, eager newbies and local bands vying for attention and a small share of Louisvillians’ music budgets. I’m almost ashamed to admit how much of my current musical tastes I first discovered in that store. Their trademark bumper stickers found their way onto instrument cases and served as a clear declaration that you liked music and you were from Louisville.

Like so many iconic record stores, ear X-tacy recently closed its doors. As part of a series entitled “Hard Times: A Journey Across America,” NPR reporter Debbie Elliott talks with ear X-tacy owner John Timmons. They tell the same story: It was the economy! Unfortunately, while the recession has taken its toll, the tale of the beleaguered local record store as told by NPR gets it just about completely wrong.

I have a less controversial claim: It was the creative destruction! Compact disc sales have bottomed out in the last decade, replaced largely with digital sales at places like iTunes. The only real bright spot of the physical product called music is the long play record, but LPs represent only a tiny fraction of music sales today. The consumer has spoken. Audiophiles are reverting to (or sticking with) LPs. Everyone else has gone digital. NPR’s story makes only passing reference to competitive pressure from digital sales.

I’m sad to see ear X-tacy go, but I have a wider variety of music available in seconds than ear X-tacy could provide with vastly more floor space and another million dollars in inventory. I doubt many of ear X-tacy’s departed customers would switch back to the slow, labor-intensive mid-1990s model of music distribution. There’s ample evidence that they’re plenty pleased with their choice.

Timmons rightly identifies strongly with the store he built that delivered so much value to customers like me. He should be proud. But blaming the economy for an obvious, decade-long trend is a bit like the local ice delivery man faulting the economy when his customers merely switched to Frigidaires.