Koch Bros Funded Publication Criticizes – ME – on School Choice!

who-me2

You know you’ve made it when the Koch Brothers are funding a critique of your work.

Most of the time I just toil in obscurity.

I sit behind my computer furiously pounding away at the keys sending my little blog entries out onto the Interwebs never expecting much of a reply.

Sure I get fervent wishes for my death.

And the occasional racist diatribe that only tangentially has anything to do with what I wrote.

But a response from a conservative Web magazine funded by the world’s most famous billionaire brothers!?

I guess this is what the big time feels like!

The article appeared in The Federalist, an Internet publication mostly known for anti-LGBT diatribes and climate change denial. But I had the audacity to write something called “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice.”

I had to be taken down.

And they had just the person to do it – far right religious author Mary C. Tillotson.

You may remember her from such hard hitting pieces as “How Praying a Novena Helped Me Process This Election,” “Sometimes, Holiness is Boring,” and “Why It’s Idiotic to Blame Christians for the Orlando Attack.”
This week her article is called “Top 10 Reasons HuffPo Doesn’t Get School Choice.”

Which is kinda’ wrong from the get-go.

Yes, I published my article in the Huffington Post, but it is not exactly indicative of the editorial slant of that publication. Sure, HuffPo leans left, but it routinely published articles that are extremely favorable to school choice. Heck! Michelle Rhee is a freakin’ contributor!

So I don’t think it’s fair to blame HuffPo for my ideas on school choice. A better title might have been “Top 10 Reasons Singer Doesn’t Get School Choice,” but who the Heck is Singer and why should anyone care!?

Then she gives a quick summary of how my whole piece is just plain wrong: “Steven Singer of The Huffington Post would have you believe that when parents have more choices, they have fewer choices.”

That’s like writing “Steven Singer of Consumer Reports would have you believe buying a used car means you may not be able to get anywhere.”

I stand by that statement. They’re both scams, Mary. The perpetrators of school choice want to convince you to choose a school that gives you fewer choices than public schools do. Just like a used car salesmen may try to convince you to buy a clunker that won’t get you from point A to B.

Claim 1: ‘Voucher programs almost never provide students with full tuition.’

She says I’m wrong because I’m right. She basically admits most vouchers won’t pay the full tuition but that it’s still a help.

Okay. But parents have already paid for a full K-12 public school education that they will not have to supplement at all. That’s a much better value.

Moreover, Mary, you pretend that the cost of the voucher is going to pay for at least 2/3 of private school tuition. This isn’t true. Most of Donald Trump’s kids went to the Hill School in Pennsylvania for more than $55,000 a year. A thousand or two isn’t going to help much.

But Mary disagrees. Most rich folks aren’t eligible for voucher programs, she says, so the hyper elite academies are off the table.

It’s true that most vouchers are given to poor students, but that’s only temporary. The goal is to increase them to middle and upper class students. It’s the first thing they do after initially limiting vouchers to the poor. And she knows this. She’s read Milton Friedman, the conservative nutjob who thought up this scheme to destroy public schools. “The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system…” he said. How? “Privately conducted schools… can develop exclusively white schools, exclusively colored schools and mixed schools,” Friedman wrote.

What a brave new world you’re defending, Mary!

Claim 2: Choice schools don’t have to accept everyone.

She writes, “Singer would have you believe that charter schools and private schools receiving voucher money are cherry-picking the best students to stoke their egos and stats. This isn’t true, and even if it were, it would still provide more choices.”

Um. Okay. So you admit this could be true but it doesn’t matter. Choice is all that matters. Very telling.

Then she goes on to talk about schools that actually do pick their own students, and she argues that it’s okay.

It’s not, Mary. Schools that accept tax dollars should have to accept all students. Otherwise, you’re just guessing that somewhere out there is a school for all kids, but you’re doing nothing to ensure this is true.

Children and families from places destroyed by vouchers and underfunding of public schools such as Detroit have been complaining of this very thing. They go from school to school never able to find one that meets their needs. It’s not that this is a failure of the system either – this IS the system working properly! This IS school choice – a system that only ensures choice but never quality or excellence. It is predicated on the semi-religious belief that the market will take care of everything.

It doesn’t. Ask Dannah Wilson about it.

Claim 3: Charter schools are notorious for kicking out hard-to-teach students.

She acknowledges the point and then changes the subject. She says there are great charters out there like KIPP. Yes, KIPP – a system that does exactly what I just said it does! Look at the huge numbers of students KIPP schools kick out. Look at the very few who make it to graduation. This is a terrible model for your school. I guess Mary lives in a universe of alternative facts where terrible equals great.

I’m kind of embarrassed for you. Let’s just move on, shall we?

Claim 4: Choice schools actually give parents less choice than traditional public schools.

Mary says that every parent should have the right to vote with their feet? Why? I’m not sure. Maybe this explains her position:

“Singer writes, “If you don’t like what your public school is doing, you can organize, vote for new leadership or even take a leadership role, yourself.” But seriously, who has time for that? Some people, yes, but not the single mom working two jobs to make ends meet. It’s a lot easier—and a lot faster, which matters in the life of a child—to enroll a child in a different school than to slog through the political process.”

So it’s a lot easier to have fewer options? Mary, you just argued AGAINST choice. You just said choice is too much work. No one has time for choice? Make up your mind.

That is ridiculous. But moreover it’s untrue. Do you really believe parents have the time to go shopping for new schools every week? That single mom doesn’t have time to go to board meetings but she has the time to enter these charter school lotteries and hope her kids get in? And if they don’t, she has time to trudge across town to another school and when it closes suddenly, she has time to start the process all over again? And again? THIS is the time saving process!? When she could actually be building something as part of her community?

Claim 5: Charter schools don’t perform better than traditional public schools.

She just says both can be good or bad. This sidesteps exactly how bad charter schools can be. Charter operators can take all the money and run. Charters can close without warning. Cyber charters have been found to actually provide less education in math and reading than not going to school at all.

Traditional public schools can struggle, and when they do it’s almost always because they’re underfunded. Yet, they NEVER provide an education that is as bad as the worst charter schools. And most traditional public schools do the best they can with what they have. The problem is strategic disinvestment. We could make almost every traditional public school excellent if we just funded them fairly. But unfortunately billionaires like the Kochs are paying for people like Mary to convince us otherwise.

Claim 6: Charters and vouchers increase segregation.

She basically offers a defense of white parents who want their kids schooled separately from black ones. That’s just choice, baby, and choice is always good.
No, it’s not. We’ve seen that it is better for everyone if children are educated with diverse people. It helps them understand people unlike themselves. It builds a more tolerant and just America.

Yes, our traditional public schools have become more segregated because of the way district lines are drawn. But that doesn’t mean we should double down on segregation. It means we should fight to reverse it.

Then she tells a fairytale about Obama attacking choice schools in Louisiana. He CREATED that system! He was a booster of the all-charter system! He was not an enemy of school choice. Corporate Democrats are not the enemy of school choice! They love it! They are the allies of your own corporate masters, Mary. Do some research.

Claim 7: Charter and voucher schools take away funding from traditional schools.

She basically agrees with me and then says public schools should find a way to deal with it. That’s what private schools do.

But public schools can’t operate like private schools and they shouldn’t for many of the reasons already enumerated here. They accept everyone. They don’t intentionally segregate. Etc.

Moreover, instability is a terrible basis for a school. You want to ensure it will be there for children when they need it. You don’t want schools competing with each other for resources like businesses. Most businesses fail. You don’t want that for schools. You need them to succeed. That means artificially ensuring their success with a steady, reliable stream of funding just like you give to the military. You wouldn’t suggest the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines compete for funding. Why do that to our public schools?

Claim 8: Funding a variety of schools would be wasteful and expensive.

She says I’m thinking “bureaucratically, considering ‘school systems’ instead of the actual children who are the reason schools exist in the first place.”

Uh, these systems serve children. You need to be able to run them FOR THOSE STUDENTS.

Claim 9: School choice distracts from the real problems: poverty and funding equity.

She agrees that poverty is important. Then she pulls the old “throwing money at problems is a terrible idea” card. Public schools just need to find ways to cut costs. They spend too much. Blah, blah, blah.

She ignores the facts. Public schools spend dramatically different sums on students depending on whether they’re rich or poor. We need equitable school funding. That means spending more on poor children and not complaining about “throwing money” at the problem. No one complains about that at the rich schools where they spend so much more than the poor schools. No one calls it “throwing money” when it’s your own child. That’s “investing in children.” It’s only when it’s THOSE kids that it’s “throwing money” at the problem. It betrays a class conscious prejudice against the poor and – most likely – children of color.

She then goes on to complain about the increase in administrative costs at public schools. This is laughable! Charter schools spend so much more on administrative costs than traditional public schools! A study by Michigan State University and the University of Utah found that charter schools spend on average $774 more per student on administration and $1,140 less on instruction than do traditional public schools.

And then she talks about student achievement not increasing at public schools. Actually, it depends on how you measure it. Standardized testing is a poor measure of achievement. And when you adjust for poverty, our schools are some of the best in the world.

Claim 10: School choice is supported by billionaires, not the grassroots.

Here she just talks about all the events planned during school choice week.

Mary, these are attended by private and parochial schools during the school day. The staff is literally paid to be there. The school children are literally forced to be there because their schools are closed and they are bused in to these events.

That’s not grassroots. That’s the definition of astroturf.

Do some people support school choice? Yes. Less than 10 percent of America’s students attend these schools. But the overwhelming majority of Americans support public schools.

Mary goes on about all the people applying for vouchers but she ignores a much more pertinent fact. Whenever school vouchers have been put to a referendum, voters have always turned it down. This despite who-knows-how-many-millions of dollars in advertising and propaganda to influence voters to support it!

No matter what the position, you can find someone to support it. But the majority of school choice proponents are billionaires and corporatists trying to fool regular people into doing what’s not it their own best interests.

Just ask your editors at the Federalist, Mary. You and your article are a case in point.

But thank you so much for critiquing my article. I’m just a public school teacher. I so rarely get corporate employees writing responses to my work.

Frankly, I didn’t find your piece very convincing, but what do I know? I’m a union thug with an advanced degree, a masters and a national certification. I don’t represent Trump’s America like you do.

I just represent the majority who may one day wake up and take it all back.

School Vouchers Will Indoctrinate a Generation in Alternative Truths

screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-10-11-36-pm

My middle school students are good at telling the difference between facts and opinions.

Facts, they’ll tell you, are things that can be proven.

They don’t even have to be true. They just have to be provable – one way or the other.

For instance: “I’m six feet tall.” It’s not true, but you could conceivably measure me and determine my height.

Opinions, on the other hand, are statements that have no way of being proven. They are value judgements: That is good. This is bad. Mr. Singer is short. Mr. Singer is tall.

It doesn’t make them less important – in fact, their relative importance to facts is, itself, an opinion.

But today the very ability to prove facts has been called into question.

Our government has put forward statements that are demonstrably false: The Bowling Green Massacre. Undocumented immigrants commit massive amounts of crime. Donald Trump had the largest electoral college victory of modern times.

All of these should objectively be viewed as facts. They’re false, but they are provable. Yet when we resort to the kinds of things that should count as proof, we refuse to agree, we come to a clash of epistemologies.

Today, your truth depends more on your political affiliation than your commitment to objective reality.

There was no Bowling Green Massacre. No one was killed in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Certainly there was no large scale mass death perpetrated by terrorists. There were two Iraqi nationals arrested who had been planning an attack outside of the U.S. They had been buying guns and materials here because they were easier to get.

However, many conservatives refuse to accept this. They believe there was a Bowling Green Massacre. And they believe that it justifies Trump’s immigration ban.

The same goes for undocumented immigrants committing crime. They do NOT actually commit more crime than U.S. citizens. In fact, they commit less. They don’t want to attract unnecessary attention and risk deportation.

But once again many conservatives refuse to believe it. With no hard evidence, maybe some anecdotal evidence blown way out of proportion, they simply accept what they’re told by their government and their chosen media.

And Trump’s electoral college victory? He won 306 of 538 electoral votes and lost the popular vote. Forty-five Presidents won by a greater margin. And only two Presidents had a lower popular vote tally.

These are just numbers. I don’t know how they’re controversial or how anyone can disagree, but many conservatives do.

Don’t get me wrong. Liberals do it, too, though to a lesser degree. Ask most liberals about President Barack Obama’s education policy and you’ll get a gooey story about support and progressivism. It isn’t true.

img_6439

One popular meme shows Obama lecturing a tiny Trump about how he should invest in education and respect parents and teachers. Yet Obama never really did those things, himself. He held federal education funding hostage unless districts increased standardized testing, Common Core and charter schools. THAT’S not what parents and teachers wanted! It’s what huge corporations wanted so they could profit off our public schools!

But to many liberals Obama is some kind of saint, and any evidence to the contrary will be accepted only with great reluctance.

THIS is our modern world. A world of alternative facts and competing narratives.
Part of it is due to the Internet and the way knowledge has been democratized. Part of it is due to the media conglomerates where almost all traditional news is disseminated by a handful of biased corporations that slant the story to maximize their profits.

People end up picking the sources of information they think are trustworthy and shutting themselves off to other viewpoints. There is no more news. There is conservative news and liberal news. And the one you consume determines what you’ll accept as a fact.

As bad as that is, Trump’s education policy is poised to make it much worse.

He wants to radically increase the amount of school vouchers given to students. These allow federal dollars to be used to send children to private and parochial schools. As if the fly-by-night charter schools weren’t enough.

It’s a scam. A get rich quick scheme for corporations at the expense of students. But perhaps the worst part is how it exacerbates our world of alternative facts.

Students at private and parochial schools don’t learn the same things as public school students. At many religious schools they are indoctrinated in conservative market theory and a Biblical view of history and science.

You think we can’t agree on the truth or falsity of facts now? Just wait! What counts as a source will be radically different for the first generation of kids sent to such disparate schools.

This isn’t just about cashing in on education dollars today. It’s about creating a generation of adults educated with school vouchers who accept far right ideas about the world as bedrock truths. Climate change and evolution are hoaxes. Trickle down economics works. Slavery benefited slave and master alike.

These are the false truths the Trump administration hopes to seed into a larger portion of the next generation. And when you indoctrinate children so young, there is little hope they’ll ever be able to see beyond what they’ve been taught.

Conservatives counter that liberals are doing the same thing today in our public schools. That’s why they want to send their children to the private and parochial schools. They don’t want their kids taught about modern science without reference to God. They don’t want them to learn history that puts socialistic policies in a positive light. They don’t want them to learn that white people were ever inhuman to people of color.

And how do you argue with them? How do you have a productive conversation when you can’t agree on what proves a fact true or false?

This is the challenge of our generation.

I don’t know how to solve it, but I know that school vouchers will make it exponentially worse.

Republicans Suggest Federal Role in Education Be Limited to Bribery

imrs

Hey! Let’s repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965!

Let’s hobble the Department of Education!

Let’s make the federal role just handing out bundles of cash to private and parochial schools!

That’s apparently how you improve public education. You make it private.

And you completely eliminate any protections for students’ civil rights.

THIS is the brave new world of Trumpian education policy. It’s called HR 610 and was introduced by Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa.

You may Remember King. He introduced an amendment in the U.S. House that would have prevented Harriet Tubman from replacing President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Sure she was an abolitionist, women’s suffragist and hero who rescued scores of black people from slavery in the Underground Railroad. Why would we want her to replace a former slave trader and architect of the Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears!?

His new piece of wonderful legislation – not at all written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – would turn the U.S. Department of Education into merely an authorizer of block grants to qualified states to participate in a nationwide voucher program.

The department would give out money to local districts to give to parents to home school or send their children to private schools.

In effect, the federal government would become a booster for private and parochial schools. Uncle Sam would be offering free cash to private interests, corporations, entrepreneurs and business people if they can just convince parents to choose them over the public school system.

Which brings up the question – what about that public school system? Would it still receive the federal help it currently does? Would there still be Title I Grants to schools serving impoverished students? What would happen to Pell Grants? Who would make sure states are doing their jobs? Where could we go to find accurate data about how our schools are doing nationally and not just state-by-state?

These are questions that have not fully been answered. It’s possible some of these services could fall back on other governmental departments as they did before the creation of the Department of Education in 1980. However, more likely this would be a redistribution of billions of dollars that used to go to public schools now going to private hands.

Moreover, abuses against students on the grounds of civil rights, gender, special education, etc. would skyrocket with little to no recourse. And we would be in the dark about how well we were educating our nation’s children.

Oh! And the bill also would reduce nutrition standards for school lunches and breakfasts.

I’m not kidding.

King apparently is troubled that kids are eating too many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and drinking low-fat or fat free milk. He is against reducing salt, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals. And he doesn’t think children’s nutritional needs should be met within their caloric requirements.

I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that these regulations were proposed by the Obama administration. It has nothing to do with undoing legislation from our first black President. It’s all about the children.

King’s bill, HR 610, is not to be confused with a similar bill by Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie that would simply dismantle the Department of Education in one year.

Massie, who introduced his one page, one sentence bill on the same day DeVos was confirmed, is a Tea Party Republican Libertarian. He supports disbanding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and allowing guns at the nation’s schools.

He is a hardcore Trump believer. During the election cycle after revelations about the candidate’s admitted sexual molestation of women surfaced, Massie famously said, “Trump is better than 90 percent of the congressmen I serve with.”

His bill, HR 899, reads in total:

“The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

As crazy as it sounds, Massie’s motivations are comprehensible. He wants to return complete control of education to the states.

It must be admitted that the Department of Education has overstepped the bounds of its authority during the last two administrations. When it was formed three decades ago, it was supposed to be a tool to support public schools, ensure student’s rights weren’t being violated and giving a boost to the poor. However, President George W. Bush made it all about standardized testing and giving slush money to charter schools. Obama was supposed to right these wrongs but, being a corporate Democrat, he only increased and administered them more efficiently.

The Department of Education is a tool, and like any tool, it can be misused. That doesn’t mean it should be disbanded. Republicans wouldn’t ban all guns because of instances of gun violence. Why disband the Department of Education because administrations of both parties misused it? Put it in check with proper regulations…

Oops. I think I’ve lost them.

Anyway, despite Massie’s slavish devotion for all things Trump, the President appears to be siding with King.

Trump and his mega-donor Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, have already shown their commitment to King’s voucher legislation.

On Tuesday, they invited ten parents and teachers to Washington, D.C., to talk about their education agenda.

Who did they invite? One was a public school teacher. One was a public school principal for a building specializing in special education. One was a public school parent who also had children in private school.  The rest were homeschoolers, charter school parents or private school representatives.

So 70-80% of the people they invited were not associated with public schools. The Trump administration has made it clear that they are not interested in serving public school students. They are primarily concerned with children going to private and parochial schools who currently make up less than 10 percent of the country’s students.

During the meeting, Trump even praised a “Nevada charter school” that he had visited.  This school is a religious school where students pledged allegiance to the Bible for the former Reality TV star. (Don’t believe me? Watch the video by clicking here.) Like many private or parochial schools, the one Trump praised is notorious for regularly excluding students with disabilities.

The Trump administration is apparently not very concerned with special education students. DeVos refused to commit herself to defending these students during her confirmation hearing (and still was confirmed by Republican legislators!). Moreover, one of the first things the Department did after DeVos took over was to shut down its Webpage for students with disabilities and direct users to another page with fewer resources.

Currently, Republicans control both houses of Congress. They could easily ram through this legislation and Trump would almost certainly sign it. Moreover, there are numerous corporate Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey who may be overjoyed that the ideology they have pushed for their entire careers have finally been proposed by Trump.

The only thing standing in the way of this wrecking ball bill is parents and teachers.

We flooded our lawmakers phones, emails and town halls during the DeVos confirmation. We demanded a qualified candidate with a commitment to public education. But because she and her family have paid more than $200 million to these same GOP lawmakers, they voted for her anyway.

Will they continue to override their constituents? Only time will tell.

As the Trump administration continues to unravel and public support plummets for him and his corporate agenda, resistance will become more politically possible.

All we can do is keep up the pressure. Keep calling. Keep emailing. Keep showing up at lawmakers offices. Keep marching in the streets.

Eventually, these people will have to listen to us – or else we’ll stop them at the voting booth.

But will public schools last that long?


You can email your U.S. Representative about HR 610 by clicking HERE.

America’s Founding Fathers Were Against School Choice

3551131_f520

 

One of the founding principles of the United States is public education.

 

We fought a bloody revolution against England for many reasons, but chief among them was to create a society where all people could be educated.

 

Certainly we had disagreements about who counted as a person. Women? Probably not. Black people? Doubtful. But the ideal of providing a quality education for all was a central part of our fledgling Democracy regardless of how well we actually lived up to it.

 

In fact, without it, our system of self-government just wouldn’t work. A functioning Democracy, it was thought, couldn’t exist in a nation where the common person was ignorant. We needed everyone to be knowledgeable and enlightened.

 

That’s why we have public schools – so that an educated citizenry will lead to a good government.

 

Our founders didn’t want a system of private schools each teaching students various things about the world coloring their minds with religious dogma. They didn’t want a system of schools run like businesses that were only concerned with pumping out students to be good cogs in the machinery of the marketplace.

 

No. They wanted one public system created for the good of all, paid for at public expense, and democratically governed by the taxpayers, themselves.

 

Don’t believe me?

 

Just look at what the founders, themselves, had to say about it.

 

More than any other fathers of the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson preached the Gospel of education and its necessity for free governance.

 

As he wrote in a letter to Dr. Price (1789), “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

 

He expanded on it in a letter to C. Yancy (1816), “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

 

James Madison agreed. As the author of the Second Amendment, he is often credited with giving gun rights primary importance. However, he clearly thought education similarly indispensable. In a letter to W. T. Barry (1822), he wrote:

“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

 

Our first President, George Washington, saw this to mean that the goal of education should be knowledge of good government. He wrote in Maxims (1854):

“And a primary object of such an Institution [Public Education], should be the education of our youth in the SCIENCE OF GOVERNMENT. In a Republic what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty is more pressing on its legislature, than to patronize a plan, for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

 

For his part, Jefferson had even more egalitarian ends in mind. For him, the most important aspect of public schooling was that it should be open to all social strata of society.

 

He wrote in his response to the American Philosophical Society, (1808), “I feel … an ardent desire to see knowledge so disseminated through the mass of mankind that it may, at length, reach even the extremes of society: beggars and kings.”

 

In short, Jefferson envisioned a public school system that educated everyone regardless of social class or wealth.

 

This is very different from 18th Century education in the United Kingdom. Rich children went to grammar schools with vastly different curriculums for boys and girls. But the poor were left to their own devices. Though many English towns had established charity schools – sometimes called Blue Coat Schools because of the color of children’s uniforms – there was no general law guaranteeing an education to the poor. Moreover, most schools included religious instruction, usually that of the Church of England. Children who belonged to other denominations often went to their own academies. In many cases, a formal education was eschewed altogether in favor of a 7-year apprenticeship for a trade or working at home.

So what Jefferson and others were proposing – free, secular education for all – was revolutionary.

 

Moreover, it would be essentially public, not private. Jefferson’s immediate predecessor as President, John Adams, famously said in Defense of Constitutions (1787):

 

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and 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 public expense of the people themselves.”

 

 

The result of such a national commitment to public education was immediately felt. Schools were built quickly throughout the country but especially in the more urban North. By 1800, the literacy rate exceeded 90 percent in some regions – extraordinary for the time period.

 

Data from indentured servant contracts of German immigrant children in Pennsylvania show that the number of children receiving an education increased from 33.3% in 1771–1773 to 69% in 1787–1804.

 

 

By 1900, there were 34 states with compulsory schooling laws; four of which were in the South. Thirty of those states even required attendance until age 14 or higher. As a result, by 1910, a full 72 percent of American children attended school. By 1918, every state required students to complete at least elementary school.

 

 

And these schools became increasingly public. Though the Colonial period was marked by more private schools than public, by the close of the 19th century, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones. This was just as Jefferson had foreseen.

 

He believed there was a place for private enterprise, but education wasn’t it. In his sixth Annual Message (1806) as President, Jefferson wrote:

 

“Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation.”

 

In other words, Jefferson saw room for some aspects of schooling to be private such as selling books, supplies, etc. Some things are accomplished better by private enterprise, but not all. Only the “ordinary branches” of schooling can be best served by “private enterprise.” The roots of the tree, however, must be public. It just makes sense, after all. You wouldn’t run a business like a school. Why would you want to run a school like a business?

 

He stressed that only an institution focused on the public good, only a public school system, can provide the best education. And he again stressed its necessity for the health of the entire country.

 

In Notes on Virginia (1782), Jefferson wrote:

 

“An amendment of our constitution must here come in aid of the public education. The influence over government must be shared among all the people. If every individual which composes their mass participates of the ultimate authority, the government will be safe; because the corrupting the whole mass will exceed any private resources of wealth: and public ones cannot be provided but by levies on the people. In this case every man would have to pay his own price. The government of Great-Britain has been corrupted, because but one man in ten has a right to vote for members of parliament. The sellers of the government therefore get nine-tenths of their price clear. It has been thought that corruption is restrained by confining the right of suffrage to a few of the wealthier of the people: but it would be more effectually restrained by an extension of that right to such numbers as would bid defiance to the means of corruption.”

 

Truly, the founders saw public education as a way of stopping their new nation from becoming as corrupt as England. By spreading the vote to more people, it was necessary to increase the education of the citizenry. That way, it would be difficult for special interests to sway the government unless what they were proposing was for the good of all.

 

Chief among the corrupting influences of English education was religion. It wasn’t that our founders were irreligious. They were skeptical of dogma, of the close relationship between church and state in the United Kingdom and how the one was used to enforce the other.

 

As Madison wrote in a letter to Edward Livingston (1822), “Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

 

Jefferson made this clear in his letter to Thomas Cooper (1822):

 

“After stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish, each for itself, a professorship of their own tenets on the confines of the university, so near as that their students may attend the lectures there and have the free use of our library and every other accommodation we can give them; preserving, however, their independence of us and of each other. This fills the chasm objected to ours, as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences… And by bringing the sects together, and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality.”

 

In other words, Jefferson desired those interested in religious matters to broaden their knowledge beyond their own belief system. It was essential that American minds were not closed by strict canonical religious instruction. He saw this as necessary to the exercise of free government.

 

One can only imagine at what horror he would regard the modern voucher system, where tax dollars are used to fund parochial schools teaching just this same primacy of doctrine in the formation of students’ worldviews. He wanted Americans with open minds full of competing ideas, not mentalities instructed in the one “right” way to act and think.

 

And the cost of providing such an education – though considerable – was worth it.

 

Ben Franklin (as later quoted in Exercises in English Grammar (1909) by M. A. Morse) allegedly said:

“If a man empties his purse into his head no man can take it from him. An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

 

Adams concurred in his 1776 Papers:

 

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

 

And Jefferson in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell (1816) wrote, “If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.”

 

Moreover, as a man of wealth, himself, Jefferson had no problem bearing the burden of the cost of a robust public school system. In his Autobiography (1821), he wrote, “The expenses of [the elementary] schools should be borne by the inhabitants of the county, every one in proportion to his general tax-rate. This would throw on wealth the education of the poor.”

 

How far we have strayed from these ideals.

 

Our current policymakers are doing just the opposite of the founders. They skimp on education, slashing budgets especially for the poor. They seem to champion both private schools and ignorance. Education is not a necessary public good – it is something to be hidden and kept away from the masses.

 

Today’s policymakers and politicians seem to actually want voters to be uninformed so they’ll vote for ignorant lawmakers and bad policies. They’ll vote against their own interests.

 

This goes against everything our founders stood for. It is counter to the ideals of the American Revolution. It is un-American.

 

There is nothing more representative of the ideals of our nation than the public school system. And anyone who attacks it attacks the heart of the nation.

Why Are So Many Democrats Behind Backdoor School Voucher Expansion in Pennsylvania?

 democrats_neoliberalism

 

Democrats are supposed to be liberals, progressives.

 

That means upholding the Constitution and the Separation of Church and State.

 

So why are so many Pennsylvania Democrats sponsoring an expansion of the state’s de facto school voucher bill?

 

A total of 11 out of 84 sponsors of HB 250 are Democrats. The bill would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.

 

The Commonwealth already diverts $200 million of business taxes to private and parochial schools. That’s money that should be going to support our struggling public school system.

 

The new bill would add $50 million to each program for a total of $100 million more flushed down the drain.

 

Pennsylvania has a budget deficit. We’ve cut almost $1 billion a year from public schools. We can’t afford to burn an additional $300 million on private and church schools.

 

 

We expect Republicans to support this regressive nonsense. Especially in gerrymandered Pennsylvania, they’ve gone further and further right to please their Tea Party base and avoid being primaried.

 

But the few Democrats left in the House and Senate are likewise in districts that would never vote Republican. You’d expect them to get more and more progressive. Instead, even here we see them taking steps to the right!

 

Democratic sponsors of the bill are almost exclusively from the state’s urban centers – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

 

They are:

 

Vanessa Lowery Brown (Philadelphia County)

Donna Bullock (Philadelphia County)

Dom Costa (Allegheny County)

Daniel J. Deasy (Allegheny County)

Michael J. Driscoll (Philadelphia County)

Jordan A. Harris (Philadelphia County)

William F. Keller (Philadelphia County)

William C. Kortz II (Allegheny County)

Joanna E. McClinton (Delaware & Philadelphia County)

Harry Readshaw (Allegheny County)

Mark Rozzi (Berks County)

 

These corporate tax giveaways are based on the premise that our public schools are failures and that students must be rescued from them. The Commonwealth has developed a list of approximately 400 “failing schools” and created a voucher-like system allowing students living near them to take public taxpayer money to go to private and religious schools. Students can also go to another public school in a different district, if they will accept them. However, few public schools take part in the program because school boards know it’s just another attempt to weaken their districts.

 

How does the state define a “failing school”?

 

Partially it’s based on standardized test scores. Districts with the bottom 15% of reading and math scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSA) and Keystone tests are supposed to earn this label. However, the state has been notorious for including districts that actually are making academic progress.

 

Since low test scores are highly correlated with poverty, that’s the real indicator. If you live in a poor enough district, you’re probably eligible.

 

What about charter schools?

 

It’s funny you asked. Though they often have subpar test scores, they rarely are included on the state’s list of “failing schools.” They even exclude most of the state’s execrable cyber charter schools. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that students in every single Pennsylvania cyber charter school performed “significantly worse” in reading and math than their peers in conventional public schools. But somehow that’s generally not failing enough to earn you a voucher-like tax credit.

 

How can we tell that students at private and parochial schools are doing better than those in public schools?

 

We can’t.

 

The scholarship organizations have no auditing requirements and almost no reporting requirements. Moreover, private and parochial schools don’t have to take the federally-mandated standardized tests! So there’s no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison!

 

But here’s the best part. The EITC law prohibits state administrators from requesting any information related to academic achievement. You’re not even allowed to ask!

 

However, the law goes out of its way to remove regulations on how these tax dollars are spent. For instance, schools taking these tax credits can spend as much as 20% of the money to cover pure administrative costs.

 

Yet the public schools are still responsible for many of the costs of students living in their attendance areas but who use these de facto vouchers. For instance, there’s no limit to how far away an EITC student can go with their publicly-subsidized scholarship. But the student’s home district is legally obligated to provide transportation for up to ten miles.

 

Vouchers have been repeatedly defeated on every referendum held on the subject in the entire country. One of the reasons people have been up in arms against Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary has been her support of vouchers.

 

What do voters have to do to tell legislators that they don’t want school vouchers – no matter what you call them? What do voters have to do to show that they support our public school system – a system that despite being underfunded and weighed down with corporate education reforms remains one of the best in the world?

 

And when will Pennsylvania’s Democrats start acting like Democrats on the subject?

Kids Deserve a Quality Education – not the PURSUIT of a Quality Education

dannahwilson2-678x381

On Tuesday, Dannah Wilson, a 17-year-old student in Detroit came to Washington, D.C., with a message for Betsy DeVos, the current nominee for Education Secretary.

She said:

“My four siblings and I have attended 22 schools in search of satisfaction. … A satisfaction that our eyes haven’t seen. A satisfaction that our hearts can only hope for. A satisfaction that has been stolen from me for way too long because of the naive and narrow policies pushed by Betsy DeVos. That Detroit students are denied daily due to the privately institutional lies by Betsy DeVos and her duplicates.”

After three hours of confirmation hearings, DeVos was nowhere to be seen.

Running on only 3 hours of sleep and after waiting for 7 hours to speak with DeVos, Wilson spoke, instead, to people who would listen – a gathering of members of the AFL-CIO.

Her powerful statement was recorded by the members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and posted to their Facebook page where it has gone viral.

As with anything involving unions, skeptics will dismiss the whole thing as a publicity stunt. That the AFT decided to add an annoying musical score to the video will only heighten that skepticism.

However, there is one thing that can’t be denied – Wilson’s sincerity. Her eyes tear up and her voice chokes as she tries to get the words out. You may discount her as a talented actress, but she rings true to me.

Moreover, speaking out in this way is decidedly against her own self interest. She attends Cornerstone Leadership and Business High School, a Detroit private school with a $5,000 annual tuition. Expanding voucher programs likely would reduce the cost of attending her school.

But no. Wilson is firmly against DeVos, who has spent $200 million or more pushing lawmakers in Michigan and throughout the nation to enact vouchers and reduce charter school regulations.

What struck me most was her story of searching for a quality school and being unable to find one.

Corporate school reformers aren’t pushing for quality schools. They’re pushing for choice.

It’s the difference between a right and a freedom.

The Declaration of Independence famously defines “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as “inalienable rights.” As such, it guarantees “Life” and “Liberty” outright, but as to “Happiness” we are only guaranteed “the pursuit” of it.

(Today we recognize certain limitation on both Life and Liberty, but even at its inception, the framers limited our right to Happiness as merely the freedom with which to pursue it.)

There is a similar limitation being made with regard to school choice.

Supporters want students to be able to pick between public and private schools. But that doesn’t mean they have to do anything about ensuring any of these schools actually do a good job at helping kids learn.

It’s a subtle point but one that’s often overlooked.

Parents and children want a quality education. They don’t want choice unless it will lead to that quality education.

If we only guarantee choice, we aren’t giving parents and children what they want and need. In fact, we’re ignoring them in favor of those who would benefit from mere choice – charter and private school operators.

Parents don’t want to have to search through dozens of schools to find one that will actually teach their children. Nor would transferring from school-to-school in a desperate attempt to find one of quality be beneficial to students. No, parents want whichever school their children attend to be excellent.

And once we see that, we see Wilson’s point.

There is no federal right to an education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities are provided a “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE), but that’s as far as the federal government goes. As it stands, it only applies to certain children who qualify, and even then it is under constant legal challenge and review.

Traditionally the responsibility has fallen to the states through interpretation of the 10th and 14th amendments. Likewise, most states explicitly guarantee an education as part of their individual state constitutions. However, issues of fairness, quality and equity are constantly in doubt.

It’s hard to underestimate how backwards the US is in this regard. According to the Constitute Project, 174 countries include a right to education in their Constitutions – nearly every one included in the available global record. A child’s right to an education is included in international laws like the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The latter agreement, the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history, has been ratified by every member of the United Nations except Somalia and the United States.

Policymakers love to demean the US education system in relation to international test scores. It should be noted that almost all of the countries our students are being compared to guarantee their children’s right to be educated.

Instead, we’re trying to avoid any national responsibility. States are trying to limit their responsibility. And school choice legislation is attempting to throw it all on parents without giving them any tools except guaranteed options.

The real issue at the heart of this debate is the value of private vs public systems. Choice advocates say only privatized schools will provide the best schools, but this is demonstrably false.

Many of our public schools are excellent. You’ll find them especially in richer neighborhoods where they spend more per pupil than poorer districts with less local tax revenue to draw upon. Imagine if we committed to fairly funding them all. Imagine if we committed to bringing all of them up to that same standard.

School choice is a shell game meant to district you from this point. If the goal is providing all children with an equal, free, and adequate education, the policies of someone like Betsy DeVos take us in the wrong direction.

They will only lead us to more tears from brave children like Wilson who have to travel far from their homes to confront uncaring would-be Education Secretaries.

The Racists Roots and Racist Indoctrination of School Choice

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-8-10-02-am

“Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination.”
-President John F. Kennedy

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Billionaires and far right policymakers are pushing for school choice.

I say they’re pushing for it because voters always turn it down.

Every single referendum held on school choice in the United States has been defeated despite billions of dollars in spending to convince people to vote for it.

But advocates aren’t discouraged that the public isn’t on their side. They have money, and in America that translates to speech.

The Donald Trump administration is dedicated to making our public schools accept this policy whether people want it or not.

But don’t think that’s some huge change in policy. The previous administration championed a lighter version of these market-driven plans. The main difference goes like this: Democrats are for charter schools and tax credits for private and parochial schools. Republicans are for anything that calls itself a school getting your tax dollars – charter schools, private schools, religious schools – if some charlatan opens a stand on the side of the road with the word “school”in the title, they get tax dollars.

In all this rush to give away federal and state money, no political party really champions traditional public schools. Ninety percent of children attend them. In opinion polls, a majority of Americans like their local community schools. But like most things Americans want, politics goes the other way. Universal healthcare? Have Romneycare. Universal background checks on all gun sales? Nah. That sort of thing.

However, what often gets lost in the rush of politicians cashing in on this policy is its racist roots.

You read that right. School choice was invented as a mechanism of white flight. Before the federal government forced schools to desegregate, no one was all that interested in having an alternative to traditional public schools. But once whites got wind that the Supreme Court might make their kids go to school with black kids, lots of white parents started clamoring for “choice.”

It was intended as a way to get around Brown vs. Board. In 1953, a year before that landmark decision, many white southerners felt it was vitally important to continue a segregated education. They deeply desired to continue having “separate but equal” schools for the races, yet the US Supreme Court seemed ready to strike that down.

Enter Georgia’s Gov. Herman Talmadge who created what became known as the “private-school plan.” Talmadge proposed an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to empower the general assembly to privatize the state’s public education system. “We can maintain separate schools regardless of the US Supreme Court by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision,” Talmadge said.

The plan goes like this. If the Supreme Court mandates desegregation (as it did), the state would close the schools and issue vouchers allowing students to enroll in segregated private schools.

Fortunately, Talmadge’s plan was never implemented in Georgia. But it became the model for segregationists everywhere.

In Prince Edward County, Virginia, the plan actually came to fruition – sort of.

Two years before the 1959 federal desegregation deadline, local newspaper publisher J. Barrye Wall explained what county leaders were planning:

“We are working [on] a scheme in which we will abandon public schools, sell the buildings to our corporation, reopen as privately operated schools with tuition grants from [Virginia] and P.E. county as the basic financial program,” he wrote. “Those wishing to go to integrated schools can take their tuition grants and operate their own schools. To hell with ’em.”

Ultimately the county refused to sell the public school buildings. However, public education in Prince Edward County was nevertheless abandoned for five years, from 1959 to 1964. During that time, taxpayer dollars were funneled to the segregated white academies, which were housed in privately owned facilities such as churches and the local Moose Lodge.

The federal government struck down the program as a misuse of taxpayer funds after only a year, but even so whites benefited and blacks lost. Since there were no local taxes collected to operate public schools during those years, whites could invest in private schools for their children, while blacks in the county were left to fend for themselves. Since they were unable and unwilling to finance their own private, segregated schools, many black children were simply shut out of school for multiple years.

In other states, segregationists enacted “freedom of choice” plans that allowed white students to transfer out of desegregated schools. Any black students that tried to do the same had to clear numerous administrative hurdles. Moreover, entering formerly all-white schools would subject them to harassment from teachers and students. Anything to keep the races apart in the classroom – and usually the entire building.

Eventually, segregationists began to realize that separate black and white schools would no longer be tolerated by the courts, so they had to devise other means to eliminate these “undesirables.”

Attorney David Mays, who advised high-ranking Virginia politicians on school strategy, reasoned:

“Negroes could be let in [to white schools] and then chased out by setting high academic standards they could not maintain, by hazing if necessary, by economic pressures in some cases, etc. This should leave few Negroes in the white schools. The federal courts can easily force Negroes into our white schools, but they can’t possibly administer them and listen to the merits of thousands of bellyaches.”

Mays turned out to be somewhat prescient. Though desegregation efforts largely succeeded at first, in the last 20-30 years whites accomplished through housing and neighborhood segregation what they couldn’t legally enforce through outright school segregation. District lines were drawn to minimize the number of blacks at predominantly white schools and vice versa. Moreover, since funding was often tied to local property taxes, whites could legally ensure black schools got less resources than white schools. And with standardized tests constantly showing students at these schools as failing, policymakers could just blame the school instead of what they’d done to set the school up for failure.

Today racist policies undermine much of the structure of our public schools. We should acknowledge this and work to peel it back. We need to ensure all schools are equitably funded, that class sizes are under control, that all students get a broad curriculum and the services they need. But in the absence of a new, robust desegregation policy, our schools will always be in danger of racist programs that can easily select which students to benefit and which to ignore.

Instead of doing this hard work, we’re engaged in resurrecting the school choice policies of the deep South and universalizing them across the country. School vouchers are extremely similar to Talmadge’s private school plan. The main difference is that vouchers don’t close public schools outright, they simply allow them to be defunded and ignored. With universal school vouchers, public schools often become the de facto holding area for whichever group of children the private schools refuse to accept or who can’t afford private school tuition even with the vouchers.

Charter schools are built on the Prince Edward County model. They’re administered as private institutions yet claim to be somehow public. As a result, they’re allowed to bypass many of the rules that protect students at public schools from discrimination and fraud. In effect, they’re largely unregulated. In the modern age, that means they can be incredibly substandard for long periods of time and no one knows or intervenes. The kinds of scandals perpetrated at some charter schools are simply not possible at traditional public schools. Some charters close without notice, have facilities used as nightclubs, involve taxpayer funds used for non-school purposes such as apartments for mistresses, the purchase of yachts, etc.

In both cases, charters and voucher schools often cater to mostly one race rather than another. That increases segregation at both these facilities and traditional public schools. But voucher schools can go a step further. They can even put racism on the curriculum.

Supporting the racial order is often what’s actually being taught at private and religious schools. They are infamous for revisionist history and denying climate science. What’s less well-known is how they often try to normalize racist attitudes.

The American Christian Education (ACE) group provides fundamentalist school curriculum to thousands of religious schools throughout the country. Included in this curriculum is the A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press textbooks.  A Beka publishers, in particular, reported that about 9,000 schools nationwide purchase their textbooks.

These books include the following gobsmackers:

“[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”
—United States History for Christian Schools, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2001

“God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”
—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

“A few slave holders were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.”
—United States History for Christian Schools, 2nd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 1991

“To help them endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave Christian slaves the ability to combine the African heritage of song with the dignity of Christian praise.  Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is from the bondage of sin. By first giving them their spiritual freedom, God prepared the slaves for their coming physical freedom. ”
-Michael R. Lowman, George Thompson, and Kurt Grussendorf, United States History:  Heritage of Freedom, 2nd ed. (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1996), p. 219.

“Africa is a continent with many needs. It is still in need of the gospel…Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government.”
—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, 3rd ed., A Beka Book, 2004

Gay people “have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.”
—Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999, Bob Jones University Press, 1998

Brown v. Board of Education is described as social activism by the Supreme Court: “While the end was a noble one – ending discrimination in schools – the means were troublesome… liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution.”
-Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998 – 1999 (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998), p. 34

These are claims that are uncritically being taught to children at many voucher schools. If this were happening only at private schools, it would be troubling that racists were indoctrinating their children in the same hatred and bigotry of their parents. However, that we’re actually using public money – and planning to expand the amount of public money – to increase the racism and prejudice of the next generation is beyond troubling! It’s infuriating!

School choice does not enhance civil rights. It is inimical to them. It is part of a blatant policy to make America racist again. We cannot allow the Trump administration and any neoliberal Democrats who quietly support his ends to undo all the progress we’ve made in the last 60 years.

The bottom line is this – voters don’t want school choice. It does nothing to better childrens’ educations. It is a product of segregation and racism and even in its modern guise it continues to foster segregation and racism.

If we care about civil rights, social equality and democratic rule, school choice is something that should be relegated to the dust heap of history. It’s time to move forward, not look back fondly on the Confederacy, Jim Crow and segregationism.