Posted in Article Medleys, Charters, Choice, vouchers

2014 Medley #2: School Choice

School Choice: Charters and Vouchers

CHOICE

Indiana has one of the nation’s most extensive voucher plans, along with charter schools popping up everywhere. The privatizers are finding ways to strip more and more tax money out of the hands of public schools and their duly elected school boards. Instead money is being shifted to church coffers or corporate board rooms. The neighborhood schools are disappearing as school districts become overrun with publicly subsidized private “choices” for parents. Schools not in urban areas, where most of the privatizing is taking place, are feeling the pinch, too, having to consolidate and downsize…cutting teachers and programs…in order to keep their schools running.

The concept of America’s public schools as a public responsibility has given way to a short-sighted drive for “my money, my choice” with little regard for the community. The right-wing attack on community membership in the form of taxes has built a selfishness among Americans…as the “no more taxes” crowd screams their mantra, infrastructure crumbles, public sector workers are demonized and the government is run by government-haters. Parents who in the past would have chosen and paid for private schools for their children are now grabbing up vouchers and complaining that they have had to support public schools for years with their tax money. The fact that public schools benefit the entire community, state and nation, doesn’t seem to matter.

When the “choice” crowd first got started it was under the guise of improving education for all. Competition will force public schools to improve they said. Private schools and charter schools are the panacea which would improve education for all. We now know that’s not true, and the privatizers are playing on the selfishness and fears of the public.

School Choice Undermines Urban School Districts

While vouchers are always proposed as so-called solutions for poor children said to be “trapped in failing public schools,” in many states a child is not required even to have attended a public school before receiving a voucher…A new report by StateImpact Indiana documents that during the initial two years of Indiana’s relatively new voucher program, “income-eligible students had to have spent two semesters in public school” to be granted a voucher made up of funds taken from the state’s public school budget. But the rules keep being adjusted and the number of children who previously attended a public school continues to drop. “Indiana will pay an estimated $81 million in private school tuition this year, up from $15.5 million in 2011-12.”

…According to a Washington Post commentary on the Moody’s study: “…some urban districts face a downward spiral driven by population declines. It begins with people leaving the city or districts. Then revenue declines, leading to program and service cuts. The cuts lead parents to seek out alternatives, and charters capture more students. As enrollment shifts to charters, public districts lose more revenue, and that can lead to more cuts. Rinse, repeat….”

What Could Be Wrong With ‘School Choice’?

It’s not about children and improved educational outcomes any more. Now it’s just about doing whatever it takes to bring down the public school system, put more money into church schools and take what little tax money that’s left and put it into the hands of the corporate education reform industry.

Is it just Republicans and conservatives? The Democrats in the Obama DOE are running a privatization plan with Race to the Top as well…

Thomas wrote, “In the 1980s and 1990s, before a substantial body of research had emerged, vouchers were heralded as the panacea for a failing public school system. Once the shine wore off those lofty claims – since research shows little to no academic gains driven by any choice initiatives – school choice advocates began to change claims and approaches, attempting to stay at least one step ahead of the evidence throughout the process.”

…Laura Clawson recently observed, “While Republican politicians don’t see it as a civil right for poor kids to eat or have health care or a place to live, when it comes to charter school expansion or vouchers to attend private schools, suddenly it’s all about civil rights.”

Her conclusion was, “Republicans say ‘school choice’ but they mean privatization.”

So what do Democrats mean? [emphasis added]

The ugly truth about “school choice”

The Koch brothers want you to think the movement’s about racial justice and empowering parents. They’re lying.

…But there are a few serious problems with the school choice movement. Though it attracts mainstream conservatives like [Bill] Cosby, as well as Democrats like President Barack Obama, it is not, at its core, a bipartisan endeavor. Its most important backers are rightwing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other groups supported by billionaire rightwing ideologues like the Koch brothers. They want to dismantle public education altogether and run schools as businesses, judged as “successes” or “failures” based on abstract data taken from high-stakes standardized test scores.

CHARTERS

Few charter schools among Indiana’s overachieving schools

Studies nationwide have shown that charters haven’t done better than traditional public schools (TPS). Indiana is no exception.

It’s not just that charter schools got worse overall grades than traditional public schools. That’s not surprising, because many charters enroll disproportionate numbers of kids from low-income families. But even adjusting for poverty, charter schools fared worse.

Thirty-five percent of the state’s high-poverty schools – a total of 162 schools – received grades of A or B. But only three of those 162 were charter schools. Among all charter schools, 21.5 percent got an A or B, and most of those are not high-poverty charters…

School grades don’t prove that charter schools are doing a bad job, of course. There are issues with Indiana’s grading system; and the whole idea is applying a single letter grade to a school seems suspect. But the results do strongly suggest there’s no magic to “charter-ness” – that charter schools don’t have a monopoly on what works.

Diane Ravitch Rebukes Education Activists’ ‘Reign Of Error’

What was the original intent of charter schools?

What’s wrong with charter schools is that they originally were supposed to be created to collaborate with public schools and help them solve common problems. Because they have now been taken over by the idea of competition, they have become part of the movement to turn education into a consumer product rather than a social and a public responsibility. …

What I mean is that you go shopping for a school. I don’t believe in school choice. I believe that every neighborhood should have a good public school. And if the parents don’t want the good local public school and they want to send their child to a private school, they should do so — but they should pay for it.

Why charter schools need better oversight

What’s apparent from all these charter school scandals is that these schools need way more scrutiny and, yes, government regulation. But the charter movement and its ardent backers in state legislatures are adamantly against that. Charters, we’ve been told, “need to be free to innovate.”

Yet for all the “freedom to innovate” that charter schools have, the results of these schools generally fall far short of being, well, innovative.

VOUCHERS

National School Choice Week: It’s Really About Vouchers

There’s a very strong Culture War factor with privatizing public education. The Religious Right has been “against” public schools for decades (For example, in 1979 Jerry Falwell wrote, “I hope to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we don’t have public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them.”). Now they have political partners in conservatives and the 1% who are anxious to cash in on the public school tax money feeding frenzy.

Vouchers, of course, aren’t really about choice. Oh, there’s choice, all right – for the schools. They get to decide which students they will admit. They get to decide what to teach them. They get to decide who will teach there. They get to decide if they want to impose theology onto students…

So who does support vouchers? These days, it’s a three-headed beast. The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church wants a taxpayer-funded bailout for its flagging private school system. Religious Right activists hate “godless” public education and want tax funding for fundamentalist academies so they can teach things like creationism. Extreme free-market advocates (the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council, Betsy DeVos’ Americans for School Choice) want to dismantle public education because, well, it’s public – and therefore it must be bad.

This fight long ago stopped being about improving education. We know that vouchers don’t do that. This is all about ideology. Private sectarian groups – churches that raise millions every year tax free – want to pick your pocket to pay for their schools.

How ‘School Choice Week’ Misleads Americans About Vouchers

With the legislative new year in Indiana, privatizers got right to work. One bill going through the Indiana General Assembly currently (SB322) would allow voucher accepting private schools to opt out of the state test, ISTEP, if they took another national standardized test. This would effectively remove state accountability from the school…and prevent the state from awarding a grade using the states privatizer promoted and passed A-F grading system. So much for accountability.

Study after study shows that vouchers do not improve student education or academic achievement, fail to offer families informed school options, lack accountability to taxpayers and deprive students of rights and protections they would otherwise have in public schools. Although states have been successful in passing and expanding voucher programs, the programs themselves still remain unsuccessful education policy.

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.