Archives for category: School Choice

Christopher A. Lizotte of the University of Washington and Dan Cohen published an interesting research paper about how market-driven policies have been promoted and sold. The paper was published in 2014-2015, and the trends described here have become more powerful, promoted by some of the wealthiest people in the nation. The title of the paper is “Teaching the Market: Fostering Consent to Education Markets in the United States.”

Abstract. Marked-based reforms in education have garnered the support of politicians, philanthropists, and academics, reworking the nature of public education in the United States. In this paper we explore the methods used to produce consent for market-based reforms of primary and secondary (K-12) schooling in the United States, focusing on two case studies to interrogate how this consent is generated as well as how these reforms are resisted in place. In doing so we illustrate how market-making in public services is a contested terrain and the importance of understanding the nature of their roll-out at the local level.

Here is a brief excerpt:

We understand this shift toward marketization in education and its recent acceleration as being situated within the broad neoliberal shift towards privatization and deregulation of formerly public goods that has taken place over the past thirty years. As in other sectors that have been subject to this treatment, this process has occurred not simply through the retreat of the state but through the deliberate repurposing of the state to reshape its institutions in the image of a market (Peck and Tickell, 2002); indeed, many of the reforms that have taken place within education are the result of explicit state policies to create market pressures within education (Lubienski, 2005): These policies include (to name a few): the imposition of standardized testing as a method through which schools can be ‘judged’ by the market, the threat of school closures for ‘failing’ schools, and the use of selective grants to reward schools and districts conforming most closely to principles of deregulation and privatization. Crucially, however, these marketization processes require careful priming in order to generate public consent for market-based reforms. In particular, the marketization of education is powerfully promoted through the notion of school ‘choice’. Presented as an apolitical and socially neutral mechanism for allowing parents to maximize their children’s educational opportunities, choice is endowed with a moral authority that obscures the power inherent in who can exercise the power to choose and the available range of choices. This choice, it is argued, finds its natural expression in the expansion of markets as a supposedly level playing field where the best-performing options rise to the top and those that fail are eventually discarded. Indeed, as Rose (1999) claims, choice, defined as the individual maximization of opportunities, has become the litmus test by which good membership in the polity is defined. In this light, the term, like those used to describe other market-making projects in public services, hides assumptions about what kinds of choice can be legitimately exercised and under what circumstances. The power to ‘choose’ as it is understood under contemporary capitalism is a highly individualized capacity that seeks to maximize one’s return on investment. Other alternative possibilities tend to fade out of view in the language of most market-based school reformers.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding is a champion of public schools in a state with many charters and vouchers.

He writes:

A primary purpose for the creation of the common school system for all the children of all the people was to maintain a republican form of government. Knowledgeable people in unity with one another will ward off tyranny, in favor of liberty and equality. A virtuous government operating for the common good is the goal.

Common is a term of art that has universally-accepted meaning. As applied to school, it indicates a place or institution that serves all children free of charge, paid for by taxation. It relates to the community at large, in a symbiotic relationship.

Common means “belonging to all, used jointly, shared by all.” The “common” system is required by the Ohio constitution, and the “system” must be thorough and efficient.

Tax-supported vouchers and charters are foreign to the common school system required by the constitution. They are not only foreign to the system, but are parasitical in taking funds away from the common system. These schemes divide, rather than unite. They serve not all, but selected students. Their goal does not necessarily match the goal of the common system—to maintain the republican form of government. Their relationship to the community is often strained or non-existent, as opposed to symbiotic.

The No Child Left Behind Act Has Put The Nation At Risk

Vouchers Hurt Ohio

William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540 |ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net| http://ohiocoalition.org

In 2005, Ohio launched a new voucher program to “save poor kids from failing schools.” The voucher program served 3,000 students and cost $5 million.

Now the state’s voucher program serves 69,000 students and costs Ohio taxpayers $628 million annually. Voucher advocates want more.

The legislature continually rewrote the rules for eligibility to expand the number of students who can get a voucher.

At first, only students assigned to schools in “academic emergency” – the state’s lowest rating – for three consecutive years could apply for a voucher.

A year later it became schools in either academic emergency or academic watch for three years. Six months after that, the requirement dropped to two of the last three years.

In 2013, lawmakers created an income-based scholarship for all kids regardless of their home district. Then, they removed the requirement that kindergartners be enrolled in their local public school first and later expanded it all the way up to high school students.

Today, roughly half of Ohio’s families are eligible for an income-based voucher because the limit for a family of four $65,500 of annual household income.

Not many children are being “saved.” Most voucher schools perform worse than the public schools that the students left.

Most kids who use EdChoice scholarships perform worse on state standardized tests than their public school peers, a 2020 investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer found. null

In 88% of Ohio cities where vouchers are used, the data showed better test results for the public schools. And when it came to Ohio’s eight largest cities, five of the districts (Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati) reported higher proficiency levels.

Akron City Schools had the biggest difference, scoring nearly 8 percentage points higher than the private schools in its area.

Public school advocates say that’s because many of the schools on the voucher list aren’t failing. The criteria for getting on the list is wrong, not the schools.

The goal of voucher advocates is not to “save poor children from failing schools,” but to transfer public funds for parents to use at private and religious schools, even though their public schools are better.

The talented investigative journalist Jennifer Berkshire reports on the changing politics behind charter schools. Democratic support for charters, once led by the Obama administration, is waning. Betsy DeVos made clear that school choice is a Republican goal.

She writes:

In 2019, when West Virginia passed legislation that allowed for the creation of charter schools, it represented yet another feather in the cap of the school-choice movement. Nearly three decades after the creation of the very first publicly funded, privately managed school, in Minnesota, charters now educate more than 3.3 million K-12 students in 7,500 schools across the country, and West Virginia—where lawmakers ignored the fierce opposition of the state’s teachers’ union—became the forty-fifth state to allow them.

Yet today the charter school movement itself is perhaps more vulnerable than it has ever been. Unlikely allies in the best of times, its coalition of supporters—which has included progressives, free-market Republicans, and civil rights advocates, and which has been handsomely funded by deep-pocketed donors and Silicon Valley moguls—is unraveling.

Much of the blame rests on the hyperpolarized politics of the Trump era. Under Betsy DeVos, the lightning-rod secretary of education, Republicans rediscovered their love for private school vouchers and religious education. And with the taste for all things neoliberal on the wane within today’s Democratic Party, charter schools, long the favored policy plaything of the liberal donor class, are simply a harder sell….

The GOP’s most stunning move was to enact, without a single Democratic vote, the Hope Scholarship Program, a sweeping voucher program aimed at moving students out of what the right refers to derisively as “government schools.” Starting in 2022, West Virginia parents who withdraw their children from public schools will receive their child’s state share of public education funding—approximately $4,600 in 2021—to spend on virtually any educational cost: private school tuition, online education programs, homeschooling, tutors, even out-of-state boarding schools. Newly school-age students whose parents never intended to go the public route are also eligible for the funds, which can be banked and spent on future expenses, similar to a health savings account.

While West Virginia’s moves were the most dramatic, legislators in 18 states, including Florida, Indiana, Arizona, and New Hampshire, were close behind, creating private school–choice initiatives or expanding existing ones. Although lawmakers pointed to the pandemic’s shuttering of public schools as part of the justification, schools—both public and private—in most of these states remained open. For all of the bluster from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others about the importance of in-person schooling, the GOP’s favored school-choice programs increasingly bypass traditional classroom learning altogether. Instead, parents are encouraged to use publicly funded “education freedom accounts” to purchase an array of education “options,” much like television viewers who eschew cable packages for à la carte channels.

Charles Siler, a former lobbyist for the pro-privatization Goldwater Institute in Arizona, says that the GOP’s increasing hostility to public schools could ultimately harm charters as well. “The real target here is taxpayer-funded public education, and that’s a category that includes charters,” said Siler.

NPE ACTION’S NEW PROJECT TO BRING TALES FROM THE FRONTLINES OF PUBLIC SCHOOL ADVOCACY

Public schools remain incredibly popular among Americans across the political spectrum, even under the strains of a global pandemic and a divisive political culture being inflamed by opportunists seeking to push radical, unpopular agendas. Parents, students, volunteers, and communities who rely on and cherish their public schools deserve to be heard now more than ever. Public Voices for Public Schools, a community project of the Network for Public Education Action, launches today with tales from the frontlines of public school advocacy.

Unfortunately, public education in America has been under systematic attack for decades by an axis of right-wing political radicals, self-appointed reformers, opportunists, segregationists, and wealthy special interests, all working together to dismantle and privatize our treasured public schools. Their efforts have done lasting harm to students and their communities, and it is time those communities have a platform where their stories can be shared.

“After my two sons enrolled in a private school thanks to vouchers, I began to understand that school is about more than academics,” said Dountonia Batts, a former voucher parent. “As charter schools and vouchers expanded, the school system in Indianapolis was falling apart. All of the high schools in our neighborhood had been shut down, even as charter high schools were popping up. I realized I could no longer accept school vouchers for my children because it was unethical.”

People like Batts rarely get a chance to be heard, especially by policymakers who are often targeted for pressure by pro-privatization groups with access to campaign donations and full-time public relations machinery. That’s why Public Voices for Public Schools is so important, as it is a place to elevate the regular people in our community and help them have access to the tools to engage their elected representatives directly.

“Once I understood that our funders wanted us to help them burn down the entire public school system, I realized I had very different intentions than the school reform movement,” said Gloria Evans Nolan, a former Missouri education reformer. “I could see for myself the toll that education “reform” was having on my city. The result was that our sense of community was dropping away. We were also losing our history. Every school I attended is now closed.”

Public Voices for Public Schools will regularly bring you stories from parents like Batts and Nolan, students, academics researching the effects of privatization, along with many others. Visit us at pv4ps.org where you can join our shared community and always be kept up to date. You will learn what you can do to preserve a pillar of our democracy, our neighborhood public schools.
*************

Ethan DeWitt of the New Hampshire Bulletin and NPR reported on the partisan divide surrounding vouchers. Republicans budgeted for 28 students but expect between 1,000-5,000 to enroll. Democrats worry that the cost of vouchers will spin out of control.

Both should worry that the evidence base for the efficacy of vouchers shows high attrition rates and meager or negative academic results. Furthermore, the voucher advocates repeat the big lie that a state grant of $5,000 will give poor kids the same opportunities as rich kids, whose families pay far more for private schools.

During a two-hour event sponsored by the conservative advocacy organization Club for Growth, DeVos and Pompeo applauded New Hampshire’s initiative. And they framed the effort to allow public money to help students attend private schools as essential to closing the country’s achievement gap when compared to other developed countries.

Here is a link to Pompeo’s speech.

“The same chance”? Not so. Saying it doesn’t make it so.

Representative Mel Myers, Democrat and ranking member of the NH House Education Committee, sent me the following comment:

You have to remember that this voucher policy was slipped into the budget with no public hearing on this bill version. Our House Education Committee heard a similar bill which was tabled after a rigorous challenge on the part of the Democratic members of the committee. During the remote hearing, over 1000 signed up and over 800 were in opposition. Our Governor Chris Sununu and Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut continue their agenda to dismantle NH education which has always ranked in the top five in the nation.


Rep. Mel Myler

Ranking Dem

House Education Committee

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, reports the heartening news that support for school choice has declined in the latest poll by EdNext. EdNext is a pro-choice journal funded by the Hoover Institution and of there pro-choice organizations and individuals.

Support for Charters and Vouchers Has Dropped

Despite the myth that the pandemic resulted in an increased appetite for privatized alternatives to public schools, the opposite is true, according to a new poll just published by EdNext. Support for both charter schools and vouchers is down by substantial amounts. Only 33% of all Democrats now support charter schools–that’s an all-time low.  Less than half of all Americans (41%) now support them. Your constant advocacy for public schools and against privatized alternatives is paying off.

Democrats are beginning to see the pattern in the rug: Whatever is being pushed by Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch, the Walton family, and every rightwing foundation is not in the public interest.

Readers of this blog have followed the advance of privatization of public school funding for nearly a decade. We know the big foundations and individuals that support privatization. We have followed their activities and watched as all of their strategies have failed to match their promises. The great puzzle, to me, is the indifference of the mainstream media. While they cover political scandals of every variety, they are just not interested in the sustained campaign to divert public money to schools there privately managed,to religious schools, to other private schools, and even to homeschooling. The media rightly criticized Betsy DeVos’s crusade for school choice, but as soon as she left office, they lost interest in the issue. Meanwhile, red states are rushing to open more charter schools and fund more vouchers.

Maurice Cunningham explored this issue in a recent post on the blog of the MassPoliticsProfs. He chastises the Boston Globe, but the same complaint could be directed to most mainstream media.

He begins:

Suppose WalMart swept into Boston and spent millions to acquire Market Basket. The town would go ballistic. It would be covered every day in every media outlet, front page of the Boston Globe. But the Walton Family Foundation of Arkansas—the exact same heartless* mercenaries—spends millions of dollars to take over public schools and it gets ignored. Why is that?

He discusses “Hidden Politics” and “the Politics of Pretending.” He has written frequently about astroturf groups and how they present themselves to a gullible media as authentic spokesmen for parents or for some other groups.

That’s the PR facade, he says. What really matters is: who is funding these groups? Why doesn’t the media care?

I always thought that if out-of-state billionaires could be proven to have entered the state using local fronts to change Massachusetts education policy that would be a great, great, great story. I’ve been proven wrong again, and again, and again. I still think it’s a great story, it’s just a great story that only gets told at a small political science blog. Why is that?

Why is that?

Peter Greene has written a powerful case against the argument of the school choice lobby, who insist that children should choose a school that affirms their parents’ values. The choice lobby says that it causes conflict when students go to school with others who don’t share their worldview and challenge their beliefs.

Greene refutes this assertion:

The argument here, pushed daily on Twitter by Cato’s Neal McClusky, is that “public schools leave people no choice but to be at each others’ throats” and that the system leaves no choice but to either ban or impose policies and ideas. Therefor, the argument goes, school choice offers a chance to make all the conflict go away. Folks over here can choose a school that actively pursues diversity and anti-racists policies, while folks over here can choose a school that actively blocks such policies. Allowing diverse school approaches will, the argument goes, somehow reduce the conflicts currently tearing at the social fabric of our country

So first we get a school that separates from the original public district so that it can keep out all sorts of diversity and anti-racist programs. But then that school splits over a conflict about whether or not to teach creationism. Then the creationism school splits over an argument about which books to ban from the school library, and then that school splits over policies regarding LGBTQ+ students. The continued spinning off of entities based on new policy disputes will be familiar to anyone who knows the Protestant church. Meanwhile, many parents will factor in location and student body demographics for their decisions, and of the many schools spun off to “settle” the various disputes, half will fold because they don’t make enough money. 

In the end, “Well, if they don’t like that policy, they’ll be able to choose a school with which they agree,” will turn out to be a false promise.

Some choices are not healthy.

We have seen the use of school choice to avoid conflict before. After Brown v. Board of Education, lots of folks decided they had a problem sending their white children to school with Black students, and they “solved” that conflict by creating schools that let them choose segregation. When it comes to the current CRT panic, there may well be some schools that have gone a step too far with their anti-racist work (though–plot twist–those schools keep turning out to be not public ones). But an awful lot of the panic is fueled by folks opportunistically whipping up some good old-fashioned white outrage over encroaching Blackness, and we’ve been here before.

Some choices are not good for the country. We do not benefit from having a bunch of white kids taught that slavery wasn’t so bad and the Civil War was just about state’s rights. We do not benefit from having students taught that science isn’t real. We do not benefit from having students taught that Trump is really still President and 1/6 was just some unruly tourists. And we so very much don’t benefit as a society from schools that segregate both students and content based on race. Not all possible choices should be available. 

Bubbles do not banish conflict.

I agree with the part of the premise that says, more or less, “Holy crap, but we are spending a lot of time arguing bitterly and separating ourselves into chasm-separated camps!” What I don’t get, at all, is how separating the children of these warring factions into their own separate education bubbles is going to help. How will having been immersed in nothing but the particular view of their parents’ camp prepare them to be workers, neighbors, and citizens in a society where other people with other views exist. 

Upon graduation, will they proceed to a college or trade school that is also designed to strictly fit with their parents’ beliefs? And then will they search, diploma in hand. for employers who also embrace only the world view that these well-bubbled citizens have been taught is the One True View? 

How does growing up in a bubble prepare you for life outside it–particularly if your bubble teaches things that are neither nuanced or accurate views. 

Greene has much more to say about why it’s wrong and unhealthy for society to encourage growing up in a bubble, where the only people you meet agree with you.

Open the link. Read on.

Chris Lubienski is a professor of education policy at Indiana University. He wrote recently with Amanda Potterton and Joe Malin about the deceptive rhetoric of school choice rhetoric. Thirty years ago, the school choice movement boasted that charters and vouchers would “save poor children from failing public schools.” They claimed that private schools outperform public schools. Now we know that school choice does not produce academic improvement for students; that many pick their students and discriminate against the children they don’t want. “Success” for school choice means expansion of charters and vouchers, not better education for students.

Last week, Forbes magazine published an article on how “School Choice Keeps Winning.” Interestingly, “winning” isn’t defined as helping kids learn. Indeed, the article avoids that issue because evidence indicates that school choice is actually failing on that front. Instead, Forbes uses the term to celebrate the expansion of choice programs in many GOP-led states.

The language used in the Forbes article reflects a rhetorical strategy that school choice advocates have adopted in recent years. We (Joe Malin, Amanda Potterton, and Chris Lubienski) analyzed how language favoring educational choice is increasingly shaping U.S. educational policy for a new article published in the journal, Kappa Delta Pi Record. Key features of some dominant narratives include shifting the focus away from academic results (where choice advocates had, for years, insisted there were great gains). Instead, in view of a slew of recent studies showing students in choice programs experience a relative decline in learning gains, choice advocates like Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump have been moving the goalposts to focus on personal narratives and claims of school choice as “liberty,” “freedom,” or a “civil right.” Public schooling is often framed as a “failing” enterprise, and thus a burden on the taxpayer and on poor families. This language often implies that education should be organized like a “business,” with families as “consumers” of the privatized benefits of schooling.

But we also note emergent, counter-narratives which support and envision a strong, broadly supported public education system. For example, in 2019 in Kentucky, superintendents joined together to oppose a bill that would create a scholarship tax-credit program for private schools. They engaged in urgent news press gatherings and via social media to highlight the importance of adequate funding for the state’s public schools. One superintendent said:

We’re all in this business to help students, we are in public education. And it’s a very simple fact that over the last ten years the percentage of funding from the state has continued to dwindle. The burden on local school districts has continued to increase. Teachers feel it the same that we feel it. Every one of our employees feels it. So, we feel very passionate and we’re all very united for this idea that we cannot continue to allow the state to siphon funds away from public education.

Another superintendent, illustrating real-time funding concerns they have, said:

You need to prepare and provide for all of our students, all of our learners, and 21st century learning is much more diverse than what it was 20 years ago. So to provide them specific needs at the expense of another funding mechanism or while we are losing specific funding streams has made it difficult. We are faced a choice: do we keep Read to Achieve or do we buy textbooks? Do we buy textbooks or do we offer in-house professional development? Those are difficult decisions, decisions that have been made, will continue to be made by myself and colleagues, to benefit our children. But it’s beginning to become very difficult, because you are getting to the meat of services to kids, and when that becomes a problem it inhibits their learning, it inhibits their opportunities, it disallows us to create additional avenues that they would be interested in pursuing, be it career choices or whatnot. So, it does become a very problematic scheme when you look at it in that way.

And this was all before the pandemic. So, now in 2021, we believe these concerns regarding public school funding are clearly still relevant.

The analysis finishes with talking about what lies ahead and why words matter in policy and practice amid continued, evolving efforts by some to further privatize public resources.

The recently published article is available here. If you can’t gain full access, a pre-print version is also available here — or, feel free to email Joe at malinjr@miamioh.edu

Citation

Malin, J. R., Potterton, A. U., & Lubienski, C. (2021). Language matters: K-12 choice-favoring and public-favoring stories. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 57(3), 104-109. https://doi.org/10.1080/00228958.2021.1935175