Archives for category: Supporting public schools

Cecily Riesenberg, a teacher at Caprock High School in Amarillo, Texas, wrote an opinion article for the Amarillo Globe-News. She explained why vouchers will benefit the most affluent families and offer low-quality schools to most other students.

She wrote:

Both sides of the aisle agree that education needs reform. At first glance, vouchers seem like a great solution. Who wouldn’t think that parents should have “freedom,” and “choices,” and that more “competition” will make the market stronger. But that simply isn’t what the data shows.

Data shows that vouchers benefit the wealthy who need it the least, hurt the disadvantaged the most, abuse taxpayer dollars, and erase the separation between church and state. Vouchers act like a discount for wealthy students already in private schools. Picture a country club that won’t allow any new members, but now their current members get to use taxpayer money to subsidize part of their dues. Not only is everyone else stuck at the public pool, but now we’re all paying for a few people to go to the country club, and we have less money to maintain or upgrade the public pool. That’s how vouchers work in the states that have them.

There are three kinds of private schools. The first type are elite, exclusive, “country-club” schools that don’t want or need more students and won’t accept vouchers at all. These schools are able to stay elite because of their exclusivity. Then there are new private schools that pop up after states implement vouchers. New private schools don’t focus on quality education at all – they use taxpayer money to market themselves to attract more students and take more public money. After a few months, families realize these schools can’t offer what they were selling. Students withdraw, but the school keeps the money. Most of these schools close within four years, but not until after they’ve made a profit, and the students are left further behind. The third type of private schools are subprime schools that need taxpayer money just to stay afloat. These schools have a 40% failure rate.

Vouchers only offer the illusion of choice.

Many states have tried vouchers, the data shows they failed and abused public resources. Not only do charters and private schools in Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana, have worse educational outcomes than public schools, but when so many programs receive public money, it’s impossible to monitor where the money goes in the same way that public schools are held accountable. In Arizona, for example, an audit showed that parents were using taxpayer dollars to buy kayaks and take vacations. We can’t claim to value fiscal responsibility and support a shady cash grab for corporate charters, “service providers,” and bank fees.

Rural areas will be harmed the most by vouchers, because there aren’t enough students to make opening new schools profitable. But rural public schools would still lose enrollment and funding as some parents use vouchers for homeschooling or online schooling. Again, the quality of these options is almost always lower than public schools.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Abbott are always ready to listen to their wealthy donors and the corporations that are lined up like vultures to make a buck. Recently, Governor Abbott has been on a whirlwind tour of private Christian schools to sell his agenda. He even came to Amarillo on March 2nd to speak at San Jacinto Christian Academy, a tiny school that serves less than 400 students. But the governor refused an invitation to tour Amarillo ISD public schools and listen to the tens of thousands of teachers, students, and parents who would be harmed by vouchers. Even if San Jacinto offered a world-class education, they would never have the capacity to serve a significant number of Amarillo’s students.

There are answers on how to actually reform education. We can follow the lead of countries like Finland that consistently rank high on international measures of reading and math skills. Finland doesn’t have vouchers. They don’t even have private schools. There, every school is public and wellfunded. Every student can get a quality education from their neighborhood school, and every student has an equal opportunity to achieve. Finland attracts the best and brightest to the teaching profession by requiring a masters degree and paying them as much as doctors or lawyers. Finnish teachers are empowered, respected, and trusted – essentially the opposite of how teachers are treated in Texas.

Imagine Texas as a state that consistently ranks higher in education than other states and countries, where students excel academically and socially, and find fulfilling careers post-graduation. We can get there, but it will not be by following Governor Abbott’s orders. The governor’s orders will only lead to the wealthy donor class pocketing taxpayer money while the average student falls further behind.

We know what works. So why don’t politicians want to do it? Simple – it’s impossible to monetize and profit from this approach the way they can with vouchers.

Reach out to your state senators and representatives to let them know that public schools are the bedrock of our communities. We need to make them stronger instead of tearing them down and selling them for parts.

The right to public education is enshrined in our constitution. We have to guarantee that right to every child, regardless of race, income, or zip code, and the best way to do that is by fully funding public schools.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, asks you to show your support for #AbbottElementary, the delightful weekly show that favorably portrays the real life of teachers, students, and public schools. The show was written, produced by, and stars the amazingly talented @QuintaBrunson.

Carol writes:

ABC’s award-winning sitcom Abbott Elementary is the story of a wonderful group of teachers who stick with a challenging Philadelphia public school because they love teaching and kids. In recent episodes, it has been critical of the effects of charter schools.

It seems hard to believe it, but “Ed Reformers” are attacking its creator, Quinta Brunson, on Twitter.

Please stand up for Abbott Elementary & Ms Brunson by copying and tweeting the Tweets below. The show and its producers need to know you stand for truth-telling and for public schools.

Thank you @AbbottElemABC & @quintabrunson for yr amazing show that dares to tell truth abt how charters hurt public schools. Love the show. Keep up the great work! I love #AbbottElementary

How small @JeanneAllen & @edreform look trying to suppress @AbbottElemABC from criticizing the charter system by lying about @quintabrunson. I love #AbbottElementary

When @AbbottElemABC critiques Pa billionaire trying to undermine public schools w/charters, @edreform goes on the attack. Pathetic to go after a beloved show & its beloved creator/star @quintabrunson. Gotta say it. I love #AbbottElementary.

You can read about the show’s critique of charters here and the Jeanne Allen controversy here including the Tweets in which Brunson pushes back.

Thanks for all you do,Image

Carol Burris

Network for Public Education

Executive Director

A friend in South Carolina sent me this public statement by a fearless district superintendent. He asked questions that most state legislators cannot answer. He knows that vouchers will subsidize the tuition of students already in private schools, and that private schools retain the right to refuse any student they don’t want.

J.R. Green, Ph.D, superintendent of the Fairfield County district sent out this letter:

Do the Advocates of “School choice” really believe in “School choice?”

Recently the South Carolina Senate passed S.39, a controversial voucher legislation that proposes to provide parents up to $6,000/year of state money to attend a private school. At full implementation by year three, the voucher program will cost approximately $90 million/year. Proponents of the legislation suggest that school vouchers empower parents to select the school that best fits the needs of their children. But does this legislation actually empower parents, or private schools that will ultimately benefit from the infusion of state revenue? The undisputed fact is that S.39 will provide private schools with state revenue, yet allow those same private schools to pick and choose the students they elect to serve. In essence, we are providing private schools with public money, without a commitment to serving the public student.

I respect any parent’s right to choose the educational option they see is best for their child. However, receiving public funding should obligate these institutions to serve all public school students, just as public schools are required to do. Private schools who receive this funding should not be allowed to deny students because they are Exceptional Education students, failed to meet qualifying scores on entrance exams, level of parent participation, etc. All students who request admission should be accepted. Amendments were offered during the debate of S.39 that would ban discrimination based on religion or disability. Those amendments were rejected and as a result would allow a private school receiving state revenue to deny a student because of an intellectual disability or physical handicap. This is the current reality for private schools in South Carolina, and I respect their right to restrict enrollment, as long as the school is being funded with private money. However, the acceptance of state money must require a different standard. During the senate subcommittee hearing debating the voucher legislation last year I shared the published admission criteria for a local private school. The school clearly outlined the following:

• Does not provide a program of study and support for students with learning disability, an IEP, or 504 plan.

• Married students, pregnant students, and or biological parents will not be allowed to attend.

• Reserves the right to reject any application for admission or employment and further reserves the right to terminate any association with students if it determines that such association is incompatible with the aims and purpose of the school

This clearly represents private school “choice” not parental “choice.”

Finally, since the Education Accountability Act of 1998, the general assembly has touted the benefits and necessity to administer yearly assessments to public school students. These assessments have been advertised as the key to improving education outcomes in South Carolina, and essential to ensuring the public can readily measure the return on the education investment. I’m perplexed as to why the private schools that would receive public funding would not participate in the same system of accountability? Why would these schools not be required to administer the same state assessments, and publish their data just as public schools are required to do? If this system of accountability is necessary and appropriate for public schools, it should be necessary and appropriate for private schools accepting public funding.

Although I think the legislation is unconstitutional, and represents little value to improving student outcomes, if the South Carolina General Assembly is committed to making school vouchers a reality, these schools must be accessible to all students, and accountable to the public just as public schools. Let participating schools open up their doors to all students, administer and publish the same assessments as public schools, and let the chips fall as they may.

J.R. Green, Ph.D.


Fairfield County Schools

Bravo, Dr. Green!

I had the pleasure of speaking by Zoom to a meeting of the Pastors for Florida Children. The event was reported by Baptist Global News.

The morning session was also addressed by Baptist minister and retired Arkansas Judge Wendell Griffen. Although we have never met, our messages were in synch: Do not let the authoritarian Governor Ron DeSantis intimidate you!

Baptist minister and retired Arkansas judge Wendell Griffen stood before an audience of faith leaders and education advocates in Tallahassee, Fla., March 9, pointed to his lapel and dared Gov. Ron DeSantis to have him apprehended for being politically and racially aware.

“I wore a ‘woke’ button on purpose. I want to get arrested for being woke. I plead guilty to being woke. I want to be convicted of being woke,” Griffen said during a prayer breakfast sponsored by Pastors for Florida Children.

Wendell Griffen

Griffen, a BNG columnist and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, urged the in-person and virtual interfaith and multiracial audience to be equally defiant of Florida’s political leaders. “Be a community of prophets but teach as one and correct, confront, organize, interact, defy, dissent, disrupt.”

Jewish, Christian and Muslim participants who prayed ahead of the speeches by Griffen and education historian Diane Ravitch focused on DeSantis’ prohibition of books that teach about racial injustice and inclusion….

Please open the link and read his bold, wise, and brave advice.

Ravitch opened with a double-barreled barrage at DeSantis’ efforts to dismantle freedom of inquiry in public schools.

“I write a daily blog, and I find that it’s being overwhelmed by the bad news from Florida,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything good coming from your elected officials. If anything, it seems to be building a more and more authoritarian empire to control the thinking of everybody in the state.”

She said DeSantis seems to be going out of his way to disprove Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous saying that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“Your governor and your legislature are trying to flatten that arc so that it does not bend
towards justice,” she declared.

Current political events in Florida do not impact public schools alone, Ravitch said. “Florida today is at the very apex of a movement to turn the clock back a century, to turn the clock back on religious freedom, on racial justice and on all the evolution we have experienced over this past century to make ours a more just society. Your governor is creating a model of thought control and calling it freedom. Every time I see him standing in front of a banner that says ‘freedom,’ I’m reminded of George Orwell’s 1984, where freedom equals slavery.”

The conservative attack on the concept of “woke” is another sign of burgeoning authoritarianism, she said.

“We have to redeem that word. It means being awake — awake to injustice, awake to history, awake to all the things that are wrong in our society and that have been wrong over the centuries. And his (DeSantis’) idea of woke is simply to eliminate critical thinking about history and even knowledge of history. And this is very dangerous.”

And that’s only the beginning.

Steve teaches in Polk County, Florida. He left a comment about where to find a wealth of choices: in public school. Choice advocates claim that public schools are one-size-fits-all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Charter schools and voucher schools are one-size-fits-all. They may exclude students they don’t want, for any reason. They may have a religious core that appeals to one-size. Home-schooling? You can’t get any more one-size-fits-all than learning at home. If you want indoctrination, go to a religious school; if you want education, go to a public school.

Do you want choices? Go to a public school!

Steve writes:

You want choice? Here, in the seventh largest school district in the state, you can choose AP, college-dual enrollment, Cambridge, ACCEL or International Baccalaureate for academics.

You can enter a career academy for aeronautics, health fields, architecture, criminal justice, education, culinary, graphics, CAD/CAM, engineering, legal studies, design, veterinary science, finance, biotechnology, construction. and others.

There are outstanding fine arts programs, with graduates going on to Broadway, television, and the tourism entertainment industry.

Play sports? The state lets you transfer to any school you want. You could join the state champion football team or state champion girls basketball team.

Want something hands on, such as, diesel mechanic, HVAC, auto repair, IT, or welding? Two public vo-tech high schools offer those programs.

All this choice is available in the public system.

So, the issue isn’t choice at all. This is about what vouchers have always been about since the days of massive resistance in Virginia.


Stephen Owens is an evangelical Christian who has thought deeply about the importance of public schools in our society. He has a Ph.D. In education policy from the University of Georgia and is Director of Education at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. His blog is called “Common Grace, Common Schools.”

Let’s begin my argument for public schooling by making the familiar strange. There are aspects of public schooling that you do not see in any other facet of American life that need to be evaluated to better understand the institution’s value. Our familiarity with them takes away their novelty, but they are unique nonetheless. I think of us like a child who has Kelly Clarkson as an aunt. Just because she thinks of the singer as “Aunt Kelly” doesn’t mean we all have aunts who can sing like an angel.

Not only are parts of American public schooling unique, but reflect central tenets of the Christian faith. I want to explore three of them in the next few posts: inclusion, equity and accountability.

To put it concisely: I believe in the American cultural and political environment the public school is best situated to offer the highest quality service for all and, most specifically, the poor. I believe this is known, in my faith tradition, as common grace.

Now when I say the “poor” I’m not just talking about those who have more needs than resources, but a more generalized group of people that, for one reason or another, have structural obstacles to academic success. Students with disabilities and children who speak a language other than English at home are two perfect examples. Further, I don’t mean to imply that the state of a family’s bank account should be conflated with a child’s worth. Being “poor” in this sense cannot mean a person has less intrinsic value. The poor in this blog instead denotes a looser title for those children for which a neutral bystander might say, “good for them!” if the child were to perform a task common to the ruling class such as graduating from college.

I believe public schools are most valuable as a tool to lessen human suffering on the poor–one of the primary, and possibly only, ends of good governance—but that is not to say that its benefits end with this group. In fact, with few exceptions, I’m convinced that public schools are a service that have shown to support allpeople groups in our country. Foundational to this belief is the fact that public schools are required to provide services to every single child that arrives.

Inclusion. Public schools (in their current state) are for everyone. The road to the schools I attended in the 90s is paved with hard-fought legal protections for children that the majority culture would rather not teach. Throughout American history school leaders had to be forced to educate women, immigrants, Black people, students with disabilities and undocumented students via government compulsion. Each of these groups had to wait for laws to be changed to gain the advantages that white, rich, Protestant males shared since before our country was founded. This is not ancient history. My mom was a junior in high school when disabled kids got the right to a public education (1975). Undocumented children were guaranteed the same right two years before I was born (1982).

Inclusion, at least by this definition, has required blood, sweat and tears. It would be foolish to assume that inclusion is natural. In fact, inclusion is so unnatural to the way we consider schooling that its inverse remains a feature of excellence in the public mind. Consider elite schools’ relationship to exclusion: the ability to reject applicants based on test scores or income signals quality in a way that other schools could never replicate with performance alone. Post-secondary education is our best example here. Rejection rates for the Ivy Leagues not only “prove” their superiority but create it. For how could Harvard do poorly as a school if they’re allowed to choose to only educate the top seven percent of all those that apply?

It is only the common, or public, school which is left to teach all who enter her doors and, once inside, compelled to provide basic opportunities to each by threat of legal action. Inclusion, since it has been won, can be demanded.

Here I need to be explicit: inclusion is a good thing. Too often advocates for public schools treat inclusion as a burden to bear—“we can’t turn away students like private schools…”—instead of their greatest strength. Inclusion at some level acknowledges dignity in every person; Christians ought to be familiar with the concept via imago dei (the image of God). Early in Genesis the reader learns that God created humans in His image, bearing His likeness. Theologians have explained this concept differentiates humans from any other created thing by our spiritual/moral/missional similarity to the Creator. There is nothing that can remove this distinction, so every person you and I have ever met “looks” like God in some form. I’m convinced that this concept should be celebrated as the starting place for who is allowed where.

Now consider: where else is this the case? Think about your daily life, what physical spaces are compelled to not only accept everyone, but to give them foundational services? The other day a family came into a coffee shop where I was working and just sat. I will admit to being surprised. They didn’t buy anything, just sat on a couch near me while the kids looked at their iPads. I’m so used to private spaces that I did not think those people belonged until they bought something. This belief did not come out of thin air, many of the places that we imagine as public are only available if we have money, genius, status or some other item to trade. Outside of government programs (public parks, public transit, etc.) it’s hard to imagine a comparable institution to public schools besides hospitals. While I believe there are several similarities between schools and hospitals (nurses and teachers have long seen commonalities between how they are treated, for example), two major differences are apparent: 1) hospitals don’t exist in many rural communities and 2) no one has gone into debt because of the services provided by public schools.

I am, as I hope I’ve made clear up to this point, big on inclusion. But what are the public schools forced to include all children to? What occurs in the inner circle that has for generations been open only to the few? The generally-accepted answer to this question, and more broadly the question of “what is the purpose of education” usually falls into two categories–socialization and skill acquisition. When I describe the need for public schools to include all people it is with the latter purpose in mind. Poor children have been historically kept from learning the skills that are needed to earn living wages. A strong school system can help ensure higher wages, better health outcomes and decreased likelihood of entering the criminal justice system. On the path to living wages (and therefore less human suffering) there are few hurdles higher than failing to graduate high school and college.

The need for public education, and the majority-culture’s attempt to restrict it to the few, has a long history in our country. Tunis Campbell, the father of public education in Georgia, recognized a strong education as necessary to support formerly-enslaved people in post-Civil War Georgia. Without the ability to read, Campbell knew that freed men would continue to be subject to, among other racist practices, predatory labor contracts. Rev. Campbell spent the years following Sherman’s march setting up schools for freed people and is as responsible as any person for the state constitution’s inclusion of a right to public education for all children. He believed education sat alongside land ownership, a just court system and community service as necessary keys to a good life for Black Georgians.

Bringing it back to the present, I will put socialization to the side for now and will describe how the very nature of common schools supports poor families more than their richer neighbors. There are many facets of public schooling which we take for granted but that are frankly unbelievable. Every morning a transit system crawls cities, towns and rural counties to pick up any child that arrives to the stop on time and take them to their school. This service is provided at no additional cost to the child’s family whether they live one mile from the building or 30. In a country that tends to require the ownership and maintenance of a personal-transport vessel as the price for admission to society, the school bus itself is a marvel. It’s far from the only one. Health care, multiple meals and career guidance are all things that richer families can pay for but are often out of reach for the poor. In the public school each (via school health clinics, free food and school counseling) are provided part and parcel to poor public school children. If any one of these services were not already a part of schooling in America, it is impossible to imagine them being created and, more importantly, paid for with public funds. It is services like these that do not neatly fit into a definition of schooling but have become a pivotal safety net for struggling families in our nation. To ignore the role of public schools as welfare is convenient but unhelpful.

To ignore the role of public schools as welfare is convenient but unhelpful.

I’d go as far as to say that the true measure of a school is their support for the poor. The brutal truth of schooling in the U.S. is that parental income is strongly predictive of educational outcomes. While we like to imagine a true meritocracy, the real difference is whether your parents have enough money to provide 1) security (food and housing), 2) accountability, 3) targeted support and 4) social capital. So, any time I come across the “conventional wisdom” of the superiority of private schools it sounds like someone bragging that Georgia beat Vanderbilt in football. Duh: Kirby and…whomever is coaching Vandy… are dealing with two qualitatively different pools of players. If we’re really going to provide the measure of a school, look to the services provided to those that the Bible refers to as “the least of these.”

When you compare the test performance of wealthy Americans to other nations it’s clear we are on par with, or outperforming, every other country in the world. What makes our system “mediocre” is our treatment of poor children. Generations of white supremacist policies have ensured that wealth is concentrated in white families. So, the limitations of our public school system cannot be separated from our nation’s original sin. The good news is that income does not have to equal destiny. Research has shown that investment in public schools can and does level the playing field, but the investments have to go to the schools and/or children that need them the most. Another word for this is equity. I will write about equity in the next post.


Yesterday, both houses of the Virginia Legislature rejected Education Savings Accounts, aka Education Scam Accounts.

The Virginia Mercury reported:

All four bills put forward by Republicans this year to let parents use state education funding to cover the costs of educational opportunities outside the public school system failed to make it through this year’s General Assembly.

One bill carried by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, died in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Two others carried by Dels. Phillip Scott, R-Spotsylvania, and Marie March, R-Floyd, failed in Republican-controlled House Education subcommittees

The most promising, House Bill 1508 from Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, initially cleared the House Education Committee, which Davis chairs, but ran into trouble later in the legislative process.

That bill, which gained the support of numerous Republicans including Lt.-Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, would have created the Virginia Education Success Account Program, a proposal that would allow parents to set up a savings account funded with state dollars that could be used to cover educational expenses outside public schools in Virginia. Funds could be used for costs like tuition, deposits, fees and textbooks at a private elementary or secondary school in Virginia.

Last month, Davis estimated that an average of $6,303.25 could have been available per student. The program would only have applied to students previously enrolled in public school or who were starting kindergarten or attending first grade for the first time….

Davis said when the bill reached the House Appropriations Committee Friday, he was one vote short of what he needed to pass the legislation and agreed to send it back to the Education Committee in hopes of fast-tracking it through the approvals it still needed. He told the Mercury he considered adding a delayed enactment clause to the proposal to skirt concerns about the current budget cycle but said the committee was “one day short” of exercising that option.

But that bill died in committee.

Democrats opposed all of these measures, because they would take funding away from public schools.

Over the past few days, I have received a number of hostile tweets, comments on my blog, and Instagram comments, accusing me of hypocrisy because I support public schools but sent my own sons (now ages 60 and 55) to private school. I am touched, even baffled, that anyone is upset by decisions that I made half a century ago.

It was easy to see who inspired these denunciations of me: Christina Pushaw, who is one of Ron DeSantis’ closest aides, and Chris Rufo, the man who led the phony crusade against critical race theory. They seem to think they unearthed a dark secret. That’s absurd. I’m guessing that Governor DeSantis doesn’t like what I write about him in my posts and tweets. I’m flattered.

The question of where my middle-aged sons went to schools is a nothing-burger. For the past decade, my blog bio has said that my two sons went to private school.

Pushaw and Rufo were outraged that I tweeted during “school choice week”:

“The best choice is your local public school. It welcomes everyone. It unifies community. It is the glue of democracy.”

They tweeted their “discovery” that my sons went to private school. The outrage of these two prominent right wingers generated two articles attacking me as a hypocrite.

One appeared on a news site called, titled:

“Who is Diane Ravitch? ‘Hypocrite’ NYU prof who sent her children to private school urges parents to pick public schools”

The article quotes Pushaw’s tweets, as well as tweets from others responding indignantly to my alleged hypocrisy.

The Daily Mail in the U.K. published an unintentionally hilarious article with this title:

“NYU education professor tells parents to send their kids to public school – before being forced to admit she send hers to private schools

It was never a secret that my sons went to private school. I was never “forced to admit” that fact.

Why did I send them to a private school?

After college, I married a New Yorker in 1960 whose family had a long tradition of attending private schools. My husband enrolled in the private Lincoln School in 1936! Like him, our sons went to private schools. When I started my career as a writer, I was conservative. I wrote articles in publications like The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and The Public Interest. I opposed affirmative action, identity politics, and the Equal Rights Amendment. I believed, like Governor DeSantis, that the law should be colorblind.

However, I was never a racist. I was never contemptuous of public schools, because I had graduated from them and was grateful for the education and teachers I had, and the opportunities they opened for me.

In 1975, I earned a Ph.D. In the history of American Education from Columbia University. I was an adjunct professor at Teachers College from 1976 to 1991, when I left to work in the first Bush administration as Assistant Secretary of Education for Research and serve as Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.

After my stint in the Bush administration, I rejoined the board of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and was invited to be a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute (which now employs Chris Rufo) and at the Hoover Institution. All three are very conservative and support school choice, as did I. I even went to Albany on behalf of the Manhattan Institute and testified on behalf of charter legislation in 1998.

When I came back to New York City, Teachers College asked me not to return because of my conservative views. I was hired as an adjunct at New York University, where I was a faculty member from 1995 to 2020, when I retired.

In 2007, after a long and deep immersion in the conservative education world, I began to change my views. I began to realize, based on frank conversations within the conservative think tanks, that charters were no better and possibly worse than public schools unless they cherrypicked their students; that clever entrepreneurs and grifters were using some of them to make millions; that voucher schools were usually ineffective, had uncertified staff, and did not save poor kids; that standardized tests are not valid measures of learning; that the emphasis on tests was actually ruining education by narrowing the curriculum and encouraging teaching to the tests.

The more I reflected on the poor outcomes of conservative policies, the more I doubted the ideas I had long espoused. In 2008, I began writing a book in which I renounced my conservative views. I rejected high-stakes testing, school choice, merit pay, evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores, and the entire corporatist school “reform” agenda.

The book—The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic Books)—was published in 2010, and it became a national bestseller. My change of mind and change of heart were widely reported in the national media.

Today, I am no longer a conservative. I support equal opportunity and equal justice for all Americans. I am sensitive, as I always have been, to the unjust and inhumane treatment that Black Americans have suffered. I endorse critical race theory, because it is a way of studying and evaluating why racism persists in our society and devising ways to eliminate it. Racism and other forms of hatred are a cancer in our society, and we must end them.

And so, Ms. Pushaw and Mr. Rufo, I hope I have answered your question. I enrolled my youngest child in a private school in 1965 and my second child in 1970 because I was a conservative. A lot happened to me in the years between 1965 and 2023, more than I can put into a tweet. I hope you understand why today I am a passionate advocate for public schools and an equally passionate opponent of public funding for private choices.

From my life experiences and many years as a scholar of education, I have concluded that the public school teaches democracy in a “who sits beside you” way; it teaches students to live and work with others who are different from them. The public school, I realized, is the foundation stone of our diverse society. It deserves public support and funding.

The AFT commissioned a highly reputable polling form to find out how voters think about the big education issues. The poll was conducted after the election last November. Bottom line: Voters want better, well/resourced public schools; few are interested in the Republican agenda of fighting “wokeness,” censoring books, and choice.

New Polling Reveals GOP/McCarthy Schools Agenda Is Unpopular and at Odds with Parents’ Priorities

Latest Data Show Parents, Voters Reject Culture War Agenda, Support Academic Focus and Safe Schools Instead

WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers today released new national polling that shows voters overwhelmingly reject House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s anti-school, culture war agenda. Instead, voters want to see political leaders prioritize what kids need to succeed in school: strong fundamental academic skills and safe and welcoming school environments. 

“The latest education poll tells us loud and clear: Voters, including parents, oppose McCarthy’s agenda to prioritize political fights in schools and instead support real solutions, like getting our kids and teachers what they need to recover and thrive,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. 

“Rather than reacting to MAGA-driven culture wars, voters overwhelmingly say they want lawmakers to get back to basics: to invest in public schools and get educators the resources they need to create safe and welcoming environments, boost academic skills and pave pathways to career, college and beyond.”

According to Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates: “One key weakness of the culture war agenda is that voters and parents reject the idea that teachers today are pushing a ‘woke’ political agenda in the schools. Most have high confidence in teachers. Voters see the ‘culture war’ as a distraction from what’s important and believe that politicians who are pushing these issues are doing so for their own political benefit.”

Polling conducted by Hart Research Associates from Dec. 12-17, 2022, among 1,502 registered voters nationwide, including 558 public school parents, shows that support for and trust in public schools and teachers remains incredibly strong: 

  • 93 percent of respondents said improving public education is an important priority for government officials.
  • 66 percent said the government spends too little on education; 69 percent want to see more spending.
  • By 29 points, voters said their schools teach appropriate content, with an even greater trust in teachers.
  • Voters who prioritized education supported Democrats by 8 points.
  • Top education priorities for voters include providing:
    • students with strong fundamental academic skills; 
    • opportunities for all children to succeed, including through career and technical education and greater mental health supports, as examples; and 
    • a safe and welcoming environment for kids to learn.
  • According to voters, the most serious problems facing schools include:
    • teacher shortages;
    • inadequate funding; 
    • unsafe schools; and 
    • pandemic learning loss. (And, critically, voters and parents are looking forward to find solutions: by 85 percent to 15 percent, they want Congress to focus on improving schools through greater support, rather than through McCarthy’s investigation agenda.)

“COVID was terrible for everyone,” added Weingarten. “Educators and parents took on the challenges of teaching, learning and reconnecting and are now asking elected officials to focus on the building blocks of student success. Instead, legislators in 45 states have proposed hundreds of laws making that harder—laws seeking to ban books from school libraries; restrict what teachers can say about race, racism, LGBTQIA+ issues and American history; and limit the school activities in which transgender students can participate. Voters are saying that not only are these laws bad policy—they’re also bad politics.”

In state after state in the November midterms, voters elected pro-public education governors and school board candidates and rejected far-right attacks on teachers and vulnerable LGBTQIA+ students. 

The survey’s confidence interval is ±3.0 percentage points.

Click here for toplines, here for the poll memo and here for the poll slides.

Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently spoke at Calvin University in Michigan. As one of the university’s most prominent graduates, her remarks were received with respect.

Dr. John Walcott, a professor of education at Calvin University, wrote an article for the school newspaper in which he expressed respectful disagreement with her ideas. The full article is worth reading. It takes courage for a professor to take issue with a state and national leader such as DeVos, especially in a religion-focused university.

Be sure to open the link and read the comments.

He began:

On Nov. 17, Calvin University hosted an event with Betsy DeVos. DeVos served as Secretary of Education during the Trump administration and is a graduate of Calvin University. In making the announcement, President Boer described the event as part of efforts “to hear from people who bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives to important conversations.”

DeVos served as Secretary of Education during the Trump administration and is a graduate of Calvin University. In making the announcement, President Boer described the event as part of efforts “to hear from people who bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives to important conversations.”

I understand and respect the desire of our university to welcome to our campus a distinguished alum who has a long history of involvement at local, state and national levels. Furthermore, I agree that it is important to provide space for “diverse perspectives” and “important conversations.” We must strive to be a community willing to ask tough questions and engage deeply with important issues in our world.

I believe that an opportunity for additional engagement with these issues is especially necessary because of the problematic nature of much of what Secretary DeVos proposes when it comes to education. For example, her call to support “students and not systems” fails to recognize that student learning can be supported by teachers, curriculum, financial resources, school administrators and, yes, in many cases may even require a building conducive to learning. It is easy to demonize systems, but the use of this sort of false dichotomy is ultimately unproductive.

In that spirit, I suggest that we continue the conversation started at this event. The event used an interview format that did not provide opportunity for the sort of conversation and debate that are required to dig deeply into important issues related to educational policy and the state of education in our nation. Near the close of the event, Secretary DeVos stated her ongoing desire to “debate and advance” the policies for which she advocates. I agree that we need to debate these policies and, as a university community, think deeply about issues that relate to education and political engagement and how God calls us to seek justice and be agents of renewal in our world.

I believe that an opportunity for additional engagement with these issues is especially necessary because of the problematic nature of much of what Secretary DeVos proposes when it comes to education. For example, her call to support “students and not systems” fails to recognize that student learning can be supported by teachers, curriculum, financial resources, school administrators and, yes, in many cases may even require a building conducive to learning. It is easy to demonize systems, but the use of this sort of false dichotomy is ultimately unproductive.

We also need to carefully consider Secretary DeVos’ focus on parental choice and individual rights as the basis of her calls to change our educational system. This perspective ignores the function of our schools as a public good, an institution at the core of our desire to promote democratic values and the flourishing of all students. We need to think carefully about the purpose of education in a democratic society and about the role of public schools that have been part of our nation’s commitment to education since before the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Our call to seek justice and be agents of renewal in our world may push us to prioritize the needs of our community and of the most vulnerable in our society over individual rights.

As an educational scholar and researcher, I recognize the need to carefully examine the impacts of policies that use the language of choice and freedom on student learning and on public schools. For example, advocates for school vouchers, which allow parents to use public education funds for tuition in private schools, argue that these policies can be the key to improving student outcomes while ignoring research that does not support these claims. For example, Dr. Christopher Lubienski (Director of the Center for Evaluation and Policy Analysis at Indiana University), summarizing research since 2015, states that “every study of the impacts of statewide voucher programs has found large, negative effects from these programs on the achievement of students using vouchers.”

A thorough discussion will explore the impact of DeVos-supported policies on school funding. Recent reports from Florida note that this year, school vouchers will divert $1.3 billion from public schools, and reports from states like Arizona, New Hampshire and Wisconsin show that the overwhelming majority (80%, 89% and 75%) of students utilizing vouchers were already in private schools before the programs began. We need to ask if public funds should be given to schools that are in some cases not required to comply with regulations related to special education, federal civil rights laws and curriculum standards. We should engage critically in questions regarding the role of teachers’ unions before dismissing out of hand their role in public education. And we should critically examine the rhetoric that is currently a part of the so-called “culture wars,” especially as it relates to education. I am concerned that Secretary DeVos has contributed to a misrepresentation of critical race theory and may be perceived as aligning with groups and individuals that have advanced a harmful narrative directed at the LGBTQ+ community.

These are just a few of the many complex and vitally important issues that need to be a part of a deeper conversation. I am not criticizing the decision to host Secretary DeVos, a distinguished graduate with years of activism in the public sphere. However, as a faculty member in the School of Education, it is important to me that the broader educational community understands that this does not signal an endorsement of her policies and perspectives by the School of Education. And I remain hopeful that we, as a community, will embrace the opportunity to not only offer diverse perspectives, but also engage deeply in important conversations of what it means to think deeply, act justly and live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world.