One of the BEST things ever written about public education here at The Answer Sheet at The Washington Post. This is a guest post by Jeff Bryant, a marketing and communcation consultant for nonprofits. He writes about public education policy.
Here's his bottom line (to me - emphasis mine):
Furthermore, nothing about school choice, regardless of the form,
guarantees parents get the kind of school quality they desire. Studies
have shown that in a typical school choice program, the private
school services that parents mostly desire — small class sizes,
well-rounded curriculum, individualized services — will still be out of
reach for most parents.
He talks about people getting a laugh over the Texas GOP's education plank of their platform but goes on to say we really should be worried about Dems. He's right. If Obama doesn't watch out charters/TFA will be his NCLB (as NCLB is the tattered legacy of George W. Bush).
Speaking of Bush, here's something about Jeb:
Like so many “signs of progress” that school “reform” enthusiasts
like to crow about, Bush’s recipe for “reform” is little more than a
policy checklist that invariably includes instituting some form of
school choice (Parent Trigger, charter schools, etc.), grading schools
A-F, and evaluating teachers based on test scores.
Hardly ever do Bush and his followers connect this checklist of
reforms to actual positive impacts on children — because, in fact, they
For example, the "miracle" in Florida:
It turns out that the scores for Florida fourth graders had improved
mostly because the state suddenly started flunking large numbers of
third graders, so low-achieving third graders were still in third grade
when the fourth grade test was given. “With only the higher-achieving
students taking the test, the scores jumped,” according to an article in
“What’s more,” the article continues, “the state flunked a much
higher proportion of black than white students — no wonder the
achievement gap shrank.”
And vouchers? Diane Ravitch weighs in on our longest voucher experiment, Milwaukee:
In Milwaukee, after 21 years of vouchers, black students have among
the lowest scores of any city tested, ranked at the bottom along with
Detroit, Fresno, and Cleveland. Independent research has shown that the
black and low-income students in Milwaukee’s voucher schools have the
same low scores as the black students in the public schools. Their
scores are about the same as those of poor black kids in the Deep South.
Vouchers and competition did nothing for the children of Milwaukee.
(He also writes about Ravitch's finding of a $75 class in NYC that teaches parents how to pick a charter school.)
Exhibit A in Democrats’ inability to think critically about school
policies is the recent rush by many in the party’s leadership to embrace
“parent trigger” laws. These are measures that allow a majority of 50
+1 parents to shut down a local school and provide an alternative that
usually involves turning the school over to a private management
company, instituting a privately operated charter, or getting vouchers
to send children to private schools.
(Note: I-1240 would allow 50%+1 of parents OR teachers in a schools - there is NO other parent trigger law in the country as drastic as what is in this initiative.)
Democrats couch their support of parent trigger laws in the lofty
rhetoric of “a civil rights fight,” as former California state senator
Gloria Romero, who now runs that state’s branch of Democrats for
Education Reform, likes to put it. But regardless of whether backers of
the trigger are Democrats or Republicans, the argument for this policy
idea always boils down to “choice” and the belief that the
responsibility of educating the nation’s children needs to shift from
community to family, and parents need to be treated more like consumers
in the educational marketplace.
The idea of education policy driven solely by “choice” has been
pushed by Republicans since the Reagan presidency. Once upon a time
Democrats opposed school choice efforts, especially when these efforts
were called “vouchers.” But now, not so much. Why?
Nevertheless, many see choice as a panacea for underserved
communities to escape the traditional public schools that are struggling
with overcrowding and underfunding. Proponents of school choice
maintain that it poses as a solution for families to “escape their zip
codes” — a reference to the strong tendency in this country for school
quality to correlate with the relative wealth of the parents where the
school is located.
But a recent article in The New York Times
revealed that the benefits of school choice often accrue to the
The article reveals that in eight states, choice programs --
operating under the auspice of offering “scholarships” to needy students
-- “have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the
“Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools,” the article
notes, the programs have redirected some $350 million that would have
gone into public budgets to supplement tuition paid by families who
already send their kids to private and religious schools and pay
administrative fees to new privately operated groups who manage the
Another very real outcome that Democrats are not thinking of is how
choice tends to increase segregation.
conducted by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development) looked at the more than two-thirds of OECD countries that
have increased school choice opportunities for parents in the last 25
years. The review found that “providing full parental school choice
results in further student segregation between schools, by ability,
socio-economic and ethnic background, and in greater inequities across
Writing at Next
New Deal, blog site for the Roosevelt Institute, Amy Baral lays out
a school choice landscape that includes inter-district, intra-district,
and charter schools.
Regardless of the scenario, her conclusion is that “for poor
families, immigrants, or students without stable homes, the amount of
engagement and information required to make an informed decision is
difficult to come by.” And “middle-class parents are often better
equipped” and “have the education, skills, and resources necessary to
make an informed choice.”
Republicans versus Democrats?
But now, education policy has moved firmly into the
post-NCLB era, and technocratic approaches, like NCLB spawn Race to
the Top, are growing in increasing disfavor.
As always, in times of policy confusion, Republicans, with their
deep-pocketed backers, are at the ready to fill the void with rhetoric
about choice, competition, and markets. But Democrats don’t have to
meekly fall into line.
In fact, if you’re a parent who has ever waited in line, during the wee
hours of the morning, to be first in the door to enroll your three-year
old in the most prestigious pre-school program in your community, then
you already know what “school choice” is all about. It sucks. Now
imagine having to do that, in some form, for every child, in every
grade, until they finally graduate from high school. That is, indeed,
the logical consequence of school choice. So Democrats need to think
critically if that is what they really want.