Edward Johnson is an advocate for high quality public schools for all children. He lives in Atlanta. He has studied the works of G. Edwards Deming, who understood that you don’t blame frontline workers for problems with the system. If things go wrong, fix the system.

He wrote the following letter to Rev. Diane Daugherty about the absurdity of “choice” as a fix for the system (see her letter after his). In fact, “choice” is an abdication of responsibility by those who have the power to fix the system. They turn problems over to the market and hope for the best, ignoring the well-documented fact that the market deepens pre-existing inequities.

Of course, anyone who thinks that the Walton family, the DeVos family, Trump, ALEC, and other plutocrats are committed to civil rights and equity is either hopelessly naive or on their payroll.

He writes:


Rev. Diane Daugherty,

Thank you for lending your voice to the matter. Interestingly, one may take your understanding as a key aspect of the law research paper Opt-Out Education: School Choice as Racial Subordination, by Osamudia R. James, currently Vice Dean, University of Miami School of Law.

Atlanta superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Atlanta school board members, and BOOK, including especially its supporters UNCF and Andrew Young Foundation, would do well to learn from Vice Dean James’ paper.

But it may be unreasonable to expect any of them would. For example, this AJC article makes clear the superintendent, arguably Atlanta school choice proponents’ leader, holds an unshakable mindset fixated on commercializing public education in Atlanta by transforming it from a systemic public good into disparate private consumer goods, à la KIPP and others. So transformed, and unlikely to have resulted in improved schools, parents as consumers may then choose a school for their child just as they would choose a McDonald’s Happy Meal for the child. So goes the superintendent’s reasoning.

The pushback that arose in response to the superintendent’s profane conflation of consumerism and public education prompted school choice advocate Robert Holland to rise in her defense, with an attempt to say what the superintendent really meant to say. Holland, at the conservative and libertarian public policy think tank The Heartland Institute, blogged “The School Choice Generation Wants a Full Educational Menu.”

The Atlanta superintendent, school board, and BOOK would also do well to take from their partner and supporter, Walton Family Foundation, a lesson about how consumerism’s choice really works. Last week, the AJC and other media reported that, “based on a number of factors, including financial performance,” the Waltons made the decision to close their Lithonia Sam’s Club at Stonecrest. Was the store’s consumer community consulted or otherwise involved beforehand? Nope. Did the store’s consumer community have a choice? Nope. Now that once consumer community fears the Waltons have put upon it more problematic, if not new, food desert they did not “choose.”

The lesson, then, is who, in consumerism’s commercialized world, truly has choice and who truly does not.

Diane Ravitch offers an excerpt from Vice Dean James’ paper that amplifies the lesson (my emphases):

“James advocates for limitations on school choice ‘to prevent the disastrous social consequences–the abandonment of the public school system, to particularly deleterious consequence for poor and minority schoolchildren and their families–that occur as the collective result of individual, albeit rational, decisions. I also advocate for limitations on school choice in an attempt to encourage individuals to consider their obligations to children not their own, but part of their community all the same….The actual impact of school choice cannot be ignored. Given the radicalized realities of the current education system, choice is not ultimately used to broaden options or agency for minority parents. Rather, school choice is used to sanitize inequality in the school system; given sufficient choices, the state and its residents are exempted from addressing the sources of unequal educational opportunities for poor and minority students. States promote agency even as the subjects supposedly exercising that agency are disabled. Experience makes clear that school choice simply should not form an integral or foundational aspect of education reform policy. Rather, the focus should be on improving public schooling for all students such that all members of society can exercise genuine agency, initially facilitated by quality primary and secondary education. Ultimately, improving public education begins with preventing its abandonment.’”


This is Dr. Daugherty’s letter to the Atlanta Board of Education:


From: Diane Dougherty [mailto:doughertyadd@gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 8:01 PM
To: EdJohnsonAfQPE <edwjohnson@aol.com>
Cc: AfQPE@aol.com; bamos@atlantapublicschools.us; cbriscoe_brown@atlanta.k12.ga.us; epcollins@atlantapublicschools.us; jesteves@atlantapublicschools.us; lgrant@atlantapublicschools.us; nmeister@atlantapublicschools.us; pierre.gaither@atlanta.k12.ga.us; mjcarstarphen@atlanta.k12.ga.us; annwcramer@gmail.com; Erika Y. Mitchell <eymitchell@gmail.com>; Kandis Wood <kandiswood@gmail.com>; Michelle Olympiadis <michelle.olympiadis@gmail.com>; education@naacpatlanta.org; president@naacpatlanta.org; info@bookatl.org; david.mitchell@bookatl.org; Naomi.Shelton@uncf.org; sekou.biddle@uncf.org; cmeadows@morehouse.edu; mbinderman@geears.org
Subject: Re: BOOK and newly installed Atlanta Board of Education Members

BOOK seems to promote better outcomes outside any effort to make existing public education better. Their methodology seems to create parallel academic structures diminishing schools that need an infusion of structures and funds. To me their short term efforts will not evolve into a sustainable plan 30 years from now. Without any data that supports their perceived “Better Outcomes, BOOK’S emphasis on School Choice has proven a poor strategy in decimated African American schools in Tennessee, Michigan and Louisiana….in spite of billions spent…why would there be improved outcomes here if it has not worked there? Rev. Diane Dougherty

Diane Dougherty, ARCWP

Avondale Estates, GA 30002