The failure of “choice”,
Where will we find teachers for tomorrow?
PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD
Public Schools Week ends today, though for ninety percent of American schoolchildren the celebration of public education takes place every day during their local school year.
Why do the vast majority of our K-12 students choose public schools? Because public schools don’t choose their students. Every child has a place in public schools. No child is turned away. All children are welcome: children with different gender preferences, children of any color, any or no religious affiliation, rich, poor, athletically or academically gifted, or physically or academically challenged.
We support public schools because it’s important for us to have a society in which everyone is educated. Educated citizens make informed citizens. Informed citizens make informed choices. Informed choices make for a better society. Jefferson wrote (perhaps naively)…
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be…Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.
John Adams envisioned a public school system that provided for publicly supported schools across the nation.
The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the expense of the people themselves.
The public good is a concept that has always had to fight for survival against human selfishness and it’s no different in today’s world. Tribalism has replaced a shared public responsibility. We have become a nation in conflict, not cooperation.
Vouchers were born out of a desire to avoid integrating schools. When so-called “separate but equal” schools became unconstitutional in the United States proponents of segregation chose to close public schools and set up private schools using voucher programs. Today’s voucher programs benefit mostly religious schools that have the option to choose their students. Only certain students are allowed.
During Public Schools Week, we must recommit ourselves to defend the educational system that serves 90 percent of America’s children: our public schools. One way to do that is by opposing private school voucher schemes.
Reasons to oppose vouchers abound: The plans violate church-state separation and individual conscience because they force taxpayers to pay for private religious education. Voucher schools don’t improve academic performance. Many private schools engage in discriminatory hiring and admissions policies. Vouchers don’t require schools to be accountable to the public.
But there’s another equally compelling reason to oppose vouchers that often gets overlooked: Voucher plans subsidize private schools that serve a private interest, not the public good.
Those who feed the forces of tribalism distrust the concept of the public good. Since privatizers are in power, they are a very real threat to public schools.
President Donald Trump…
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos…
Private school lobbying groups…
Anti-government extremists: The simplistic idea that anything the government does is bad has a powerful hold on conservative thought in America. Because public schools are a very common manifestation of a public, government-provided service, they’re a high-profile target for ideologues who favor privatization of as many public services as possible…Never mind that public schools educate the vast majority of American schoolchildren and serve the public good.
Millionaires looking to make a profit: In her new book Slaying Goliath, education writer Diane Ravitch focuses on a band of millionaires (in some cases billionaires) who have decided to make education “reform” a priority. The problem, Ravitch writes, is that these would-be reformers don’t have backgrounds in education and naïvely insist that “market solutions” from the business community can be applied to a public service like education…
Americans support their public schools and are willing to pay for them, while most are unwilling to pay for private schools. That’s why voucher plans usually fail when put to a popular vote. States rely on legislators to fund voucher programs. [emphasis in original]
We surveyed likely voters. Here’s what they said:
Funding for Public Schools
- 64% think funding for public schools should be increased
- 26% think funding should be kept the same, and only 6% thinking funding should be decreased
- Of those who believe funding should be increased, eight out of ten would support an increase in funding even if it meant they would pay more in taxes.
Public Funds for Private Schools
- 73% agree with the statement we should NOT take away public funds from our public schools to fund private, religious, and home school education
- 64% of voters are…less likely to vote for an elected official who supports taking away funds from public schools to give to private schools, including 47% who would be much less likely to do so
Curmudgucation’s Peter Greene is a fan of public education, the public good, and shared public spaces…
I remain a fan of public education in no small part because it is one of the last shared public places left, even as it is being whittled away. It is a space that reflects the big unruly mess that is a democratic-ish country, and yes that means conflicts and negotiations and an unending clash of conflicting values and goals. But the proposed alternative–these people want something different so they’ll just go over there by themselves–requires a continued breaking of relationships, a repeated running away from conflict in place of resolutions. In fact, a worsening of conflict, because once separated into private slices, everyone can just create cartoon strawman versions of Those People Over There to revile and deride.
I’ve been reading about the ideal for years–if you want to send your kid to a private school for left-handed druids who don’t believe in evolution but do believe in global warming, and who want to play in a marching band, well, then, you should be able to make that choice. Everyone should have their own choice of a hundred separate different school systems. But we already know how well “separate but equal” works out. And by demanding that such a ecosystem of parallel schools be organized by free market forces, we guarantee failure, because the free market is great for picking winners and losers, terrible for creating equity among disparate groups.
THE FAILURE OF “CHOICE”
Those who are privatizing our public education systems are creating a system of winners and losers.
Surely some well-meaning parents and students celebrated. But they were joined by powerful people who, despite what they say, don’t believe that every child deserves a great school. Instead, these people believe in a certain kind of choice over all others. In their worldview, market choice is more important than democracy, parents are consumers rather than members of a broader community, and education is a competition between students, with winners and losers.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include information about the charter school scandal now swirling in Indiana…where virtual charter school operators paid themselves and their own businesses $85 million. The money came from state tuition support and included funds for students who were never enrolled in the so-called schools.
The legislature blames the Department of Education, despite the fact that the privatization laws passed in the Indiana General Assembly were lax enough to allow such cheating and conflicts of interest to happen.
This is not unique to Indiana. Privatizers around the nation regularly steal tax money from public schools. The Network for Public Education has been tracking charter school scandals. The current list includes more than two dozen scandals from across the nation in January 2020 alone.
Blaming the Department of Education for the abuses of charter school operators is like blaming the BMV for the actions of a drunk driver. Responsibility for lax regulations and oversight for both charter schools and voucher schools falls squarely on Bosma and the GOP supermajority. In cozying up to the deep-pocketed school-choice community, they ignored glaring examples of corruption here and elsewhere. It was almost 11 years ago when The Journal Gazette first reported on the suspicious real estate deals surrounding two Imagine Inc. charter schools in Fort Wayne – schools that eventually shut down with $3.6 million in outstanding state loans.
Charter school scandals are so common that the Network for Public Education began collecting them on a website and tagging them on Twitter: #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal.
WHO WILL BE TOMORROW’S TEACHERS?
Public schools are being starved by privatizers diverting tax money to charters and vouchers. Teaching in underfunded schools isn’t easy, so it’s no wonder that young people are turning their backs on careers in education.
Federal data shows during the 2008-09 school year, 18,113 people were enrolled in teacher preparation programs in [Indiana]. But in 2016, that number was cut by more than half; the programs training future teachers saw only 7,127 people enrolled.
|What message are we sending to the future?|