Proponents of the market-based approach to schooling often say that school choice is “the civil rights issue of our time.” We have heard this refrain from sources as diverse as Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, and Arne Duncan.

But scholar Julian Vasquez Heilig refutes this idea.

Read the entire article, which as always from Heilig, is brilliant.

We know what works, he writes, based on research and experience over many years. Here is what works:

  • Curriculum that represent diverse populations (Vasquez Heilig, Brown & Brown, 2012).
  • An accountability system that doesn’t stigmatize students who score poorly on only one measure of success— high-stakes tests (Vasquez Heilig, Young & Williams, 2012).
  • An accountability system that doesn’t hide students who fall through the cracks while simultaneously claiming fantastic results (Vasquez Heilig, 2011a)
  • An accountability system that recognizes the unique needs of English Language Learners relative to high-stakes testing (Vasquez Heilig, 2011b).
    • Teachers that have more than five weeks of training (Vasquez Heilig & Jez 2010).
    • Teachers that have more than 30 hours of “alternative certification” training (Vasquez Heilig, Cole & Springel, 2011).
    • Schools that don’t have a 40% attrition rate for their African American students (Vasquez Heilig, Williams, McNeil & Lee, 2011).
    • Schools that have vibrant public arts programs (Vasquez Heilig, Cole & Aguilar, 2010).
    • Schools that have low student-teacher ratios (Vasquez Heilig, Williams & Jez, 2010).
    • Schools that don’t have to cheat and game the system to make their numbers for NCLB (Vasquez Heilig & Darling-Hammond, 2008)
    • Districts and schools that actively seek to desegregate schools (Richards, Stroub, Vasquez Heilig, & Volonnino, 2012).
    • Schools that utilize innovative disciplinary approaches to stem the school-to-prison-pipeline (Cole & Vasquez Heilig, 2011).
    • Schools that have teachers in every classroom who are teaching in field and have extensive training in classroom management, curriculum development and pedagogy (Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin, & Vasquez Heilig, 2005).

Here is the conclusion:

This essay demonstrates that school choice is a civil rights issue, but not as currently framed. First, school choice, on average, does not produce the equity and social justice that proponents spin (Wells, Slayton, & Scott, 2002). Second, school choice has created a motely alliance between privatizers and traditional civil rights proponents that is not in the best interest of poor and minority students (Wells, Lopez, Scott & Holme, 1999). Scott (2013b) posited,

Can we imagine Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, or Rosa Parks marching on Washington to secure the right for parents to compete in lotteries for spaces in free-market schools? Rather than these figures, the managers of such reforms in fact seem to be emulating another iconic cultural figure: Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning libertarian economist whose 1962 best-selling book was entitled “Free to Choose.”

Moving our schools from the public sector to the private sector is a false choice. Instead, as the research concisely demonstrates, parents and students should be able to choose a neighborhood public school with the important characteristics that are already established in the research literature and consistently observed in wealthy high-performing public and private schools. Access to those choices in democratically-controlled neighborhood public schools is the civil rights issue of our time— large-scale privatization of education is not.

This article appears in the Texas Education Review, the new student run journal at the University of Texas at Austin. Retrieve the pdf of this article here. See the entire issue here.

Citation: Vasquez Heilig, J. (2013). Reframing the refrain: Choice as a Civil Rights issue. Texas Education Review.1(1), 83-94.