Archives for category: Supporting public schools

In the education world, currently controlled by a coalition of billionaires and the rightwing think tanks and legislators they finance, public schools have some valuable friends. Among them are the National Superintendents Roundtable and the Schlechty Center. If your school board is looking for a new superintendent who believes in public schools, these are the go-to sources. They are the anti-Broadies. Since James Harvey, the Director of the National Superintents Roundtable is retiring, the two organizations are merging. Jim Harvey is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

Here is their press release:


The National Superintendents Roundtable will merge with the Schlechty Center this fall


Seattle, WA – The National Superintendents Roundtable and the Schlechty Center have entered into a partnership to merge on September 30, 2021, bringing two veteran, non-profit organizations together under one roof to better serve school superintendents. The Schlechty Center will provide a legacy home to the National Superintendents Roundtable after its founder, Dr. James Harvey, retires at the end of the year.

Both organizations have spent decades delivering professional development and strengthening relationships among superintendents. The Roundtable, the successor to a Danforth Foundation network established in 1992, has operated since 2006; the Schlechty Center was founded in 1988 and its Superintendents Leadership Network was established in 1997. Both organizations believe fiercely in the value of public education.

The National Superintendents Roundtable and the Schlechty Center’s Superintendents Leadership Network will maintain their own names, membership, and programming, with opportunities for superintendents to join in some activities together.

“The Roundtable is delighted to become part of the Schlechty Center. There is great synergy between the two organizations. Dr. Phillip Schlechty was one of the giants of American public education over the past 50 years. The Roundtable is honored to be associated with his name,” said Harvey, the group’s executive director.

“The Schlechty Center is honored to become the legacy organization chosen to carry forward the excellent tradition and impact of the National Superintendents Roundtable. One of our cornerstone beliefs at the Center is the critical role of superintendents as moral and intellectual leaders. We are truly excited to broaden our interaction, design, and facilitation of deep learning with superintendents from across the nation. The impact of bringing together our cumulative 150 voices around the key issues that all leaders face in public education today will be high leverage for the field,” said Dr. Steve McCammon, president and CEO of the Schlechty Center.

Harvey will retire in December and assist the Schlechty Center part-time to facilitate a smooth transition in 2022. McCammon will become the Roundtable’s new executive director on January 1, 2022, in addition to the continuation of his role as president and CEO of the Schlechty Center.

About the organizations:

Based in Seattle, Wash., the National Superintendents Roundtable (superintendentsforum.org) is a community of 90 school superintendents committed to just and humane schools. Besides bi-annual conferences focused on policy and social factors in education, members take study missions to learn how other nations organize their school systems. The Roundtable also conducts research—adding to the conversation about U.S. school performance overall.

Based in Louisville, Ky., the Schlechty Center (schlechtycenter.org) is a private, non-profit organization that partners with education leaders to nurture a culture of engagement in their organizations, with the ultimate goal of increasing profound learning for students. Schlechty Center staff consult with school district leaders on strategic planning, school improvement planning, systems design, and the design of professional learning and classroom experiences for students. The Center’s Superintendents Leadership Network is a fieldtrip/experience-based network that draws on Schlechty frameworks and learning organization theory to build organizational capacity to focus on engagement at all levels.


Contact
National Superintendents Roundtable: Rhenda Meiser
(206) 465-9532, rhenda@rhendameiser.com
Schlechty Center:
Nicole Bigg
(502) 931-3046, nbigg@schlechtycenter.org

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I’ll be sending you occasional notices to remind you that the end of the pandemic means the return of the annual conference of the Network for Public Education. This will be your opportunity to make connections with friends and allies fighting for public schools across the nation. Join us!

Our Network for Public Education Action conference will be an in-person conference on October 23 and 24 in Philadelphia.It will be terrific. So much has happened in the world since the 2020 conference was canceled due to Covid-19.

We will have wonderful keynote speakers including Little Steven, Jitu Brown, and Noliwe Rooks.

We will have panels that include stopping school privatization, lifting up community schools, creating inclusive schools free of systemic racism and valuing democracy in schools. That is just a sample. The full schedule will emerge soon.

Best of all, we will be together in a beautiful hotel in the City of Brotherly Love.

The conference theme is Neighborhood Schools: The Heart of our Community. As we emerge from a year of isolation, that theme is more important than ever.

If you registered for the 2020 conference and did not request a refund, you are registered for the conference but be sure to register for the hotel.

The discounted rooms are going fast.https://book.passkey.com/gt/218126437?gtid=3b2e4f0403f2a2b9544e40207d650ccb
If you did not register for the 2020 conference, don’t wait. We have only about 50 spots left.
https://npeaction.org/2021-conference/
We need each other and NPE needs all of us to adovocate for public education.

See you in October!

The privatization movement is built on the ideology of “a backpack full of cash.” Give the money to the family and let them spend it where and how they want. The money is not actually in the child’s backpack, but handed out to families to spend as they wish. If they want their child to attend a religious school or a private school or a for-profit school or a virtual charter school or home school, here is a voucher worth $5,000.

This approach discounts the obligation of the community and society to provide certain basic goods and services that are available to everyone. We have public beaches, public parks, public transportation, police, firefighters, and other goods and services that are the responsibility of government. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if we don’t have children ourselves. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if our own children are grown and are no long in school. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if our own children attended private schools. That’s what a community does to make sure every child is educated. It is the job of the polity to assure that all public schools have equitable and adequate resources.

The “bait and switch” of the school choice is to individualize the social obligation and turn it into a consumer choice. This is a deceptive way of evading society’s obligation to ensure that every school, wherever it is located, has equitable and adequate resources. All schools should have the resources they need for the children they serve: well-tended buildings, a library with up-to-date technology, a full arts program, experienced teachers, small classes, a curriculum that includes history, science, civics, mathematics, literature and foreign languages.

But some very rich people don’t like paying taxes so poor kids can have what their children have, and they have persuaded many legislators to buy into the hoax of school choice. Persuasion takes the form of campaign contributions, and they are very generous with their efforts to evade taxes that serve the good of all.

This reader explains:

I just don’t get why it is so hard to get the message across that we are not purchasing our own child’s education, we are providing a public good that educates all children. We are not buying the right to use roads or police and fire services, we are participating in the funding of those common goods for the entire community.

This situation points out the importance of avoiding public/private partnerships or at least structuring them much differently (to avoid huge tax write-offs). If everyone pays their taxes, the needs of the community will be met through that common collection. When private sources get to direct what happens, that means the common good has been sabotaged. No private entity should be dictating what the common good will be.

Tom Ultican explains why he spends so much of his time fighting for public schools.

The original cause for my supporting public education was that my rancher father married a school teacher. Growing up on a southern Idaho ranch, I learned many philosophical and theoretical reasons for supporting the establishment and maintenance of public schools from my mother. However, it was from watching mom and her dedicated colleagues in action that I learned to truly respect and appreciate public school.

I remember stories of my father being warned that he better not treat that women wrong. For several years in a row she won the Elmore County sharp shooting contest. She didn’t like to chop a chicken’s head off so she would pull out her rifle and shoot it off.

Mom had some old school attitudes but maintained a mind of her own. There was a period in which she had to come home at lunch time and milk the cow. One Friday, after having to chase the cow across King Hill creek again, she had had enough; didn’t discuss it just loaded that cow into a trailer and took it to market.

In my home, there was no doubt about the value of education and also an abiding belief that the American public education system was unparalleled. My father was a high school basketball referee and an ardent supporter of music study.

As was common in the community, school events were family events. Helping the local school was one of the main missions of our civic organizations whether it was building viewing stands at the football field or sewing costumes for school plays.

My grandfather was an immigrant from Scotland who came to America on the Lusitania. Three years after his arrival that ship was sunk by a German U-boat killing 1,800 passengers and further pushing America into engaging with World War I.

It was through family in Scotland that my mother became familiar with the British Education system. She learned of its high stakes testing which was deciding a child’s education path; if that education would continue and weather it would be academic or vocational. To her, the great advantage for America’s schools was they did not have these kinds of tests determining a child’s future. American students were not immersed in testing hell.

Instead of being sorted out by testing, American students had multiple opportunities to reenter the education system in whatever capacity they desired. Immature 11-year olds, did not have their futures decided by dubious testing results.

Still today, Idaho has a greater than 90% white population making it one of the whitest places in the world. It used to be even whiter.

I did not meet a Black person until I was a 17 years-old high school student. That year the University of Idaho Vandaleers gave a concert at my high school. A local rancher’s wife threw an after party for the choir and that is where I met Ray McDonald. Not only was he a talented singer, he was also one of the top running backs in America who would soon be drafted in the second round by the Washington DC professional football team. All I really remember is I was star struck and he was a friendly guy who played piano.

Although there was very little racial diversity in the community there was significant religious diversity. We had Mormons, Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Assembly of God and other denominations attending our schools.

In a 2001 interview conducted at the Gathering, Richard DeVos lamented that it was awful that public schools had replaced churches as the center of communities. He did not identify whose church was going to be accepted as the community center.

The unifying factor in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho was the public schools. Children from rich families and poor families grew up together in those schools. At school functions, parents from the disparate religious sects came together and formed common bonds. Political decisions concerning community governance were developed through these school based relationships.

Public schools became the foundation for democratic governance in the region plus it was literally where people voted. To me, it is unfeasible that a healthy American democracy does not include a healthy public school system.

America’s Founding Fathers Believed in Public Education

The second and third presidents of the United States advocated powerfully for public education. Thomas Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing out of common farmers the enlightened citizenry that would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson contended,

“The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”

When Jefferson who was a former ambassador to France was queried about the French Revolution, he responded, “It has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.” He called for the establishment of universal free public education claiming it as a requisite for the survival of a democratic republic.

Jefferson and his peer John Adams were integral to the founding of the United States. Jefferson is credited as the main author of the Declaration of Independence. Our system of government with its bi-cameral legislative branch, judicial branch and executive branch came about in great measure because of John Adams’ advocacy.

Like Jefferson, Adams also saw public education as crucial for the survival of our fledgling democracy. In a 1775 essay, he wrote:

“reformation must begin with the Body of the People which can be done only, to affect, in their Educations. the Whole People must take upon themselvs the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expences 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 expence of the People themselves”

Shortly before the American Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had published the controversial novel Emile, or On Education. He was widely condemned by the ruling elite for the religious views expressed in the book. However, the main portion of the book was about education. Rousseau’s character in the book was a tutor for children of the wealthy. That was the nature of education in the 18thcentury. Only children of the wealthy had the wherewithal to be educated by private tutors or in one of the few private schools.

Jefferson and Adams were calling for egalitarian progress giving common people the tools required to be self-governing. They were calling for a public school system.

It was the Massachusetts education advocate, Horace Mann, who more than any American political leader was responsible for the nationwide spread of public schools. With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the fabric of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being that instrument.

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Integrating the Protestant religious view into the common schools caused a split in communities. The burgeoning Catholic immigrant population did not want their children indoctrinated with an anti-Catholic ideology. Following the civil war, these influences irrupted into the “Bible Wars.” Author Katherine Stewart shared that it was in this atmosphere that “President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse.”

Stewart also shared an insightful admonition from Grant:

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Early in the 20th century, public schools had been established serving every community from coast to coast. The results from this vast American public education experiment shine like a lighthouse beacon on the path of Democracy and social happiness. A nation that entered the century as a 2nd rate power ended the century as the undisputed world leader in literacy, economy, military power, industrial might, cultural influence and more.

Today, unbelievably, more and more forces are agitating to undo public education and even American Democracy itself.

As the 21st century dawned, the American public education system was facing a billionaire financed attack. Instead of financially enhancing public schools, libertarians called them “failures” and too expensive. They called public schools “monopolies” shutting out private business that would surely outperform “government schools.” Hopefully the aphorism attributed Lincoln is true: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

Peter Greene is well-known as a blogger, a teacher, a columnist for Forbes, and a humorist. He taught in the public schools of Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years. He wrote this article at my request.

He wrote:

I believe in public education.

I believe in the promise that every child should have a free quality education. And not by going out to shop for it, to hunt it down like looking for deals on a toaster or a used car, nor to travel far from home to find it, nor to have to beg and apply and hope that the school will accept them, but to have it delivered to them in their own community without exception.

Not that we’ve always hit the bullseye in this country. Our system of tying school financing to housing leaves much to be desired. The same forces of racism and economic inequity that twist and turn our society as a whole also leave their mark on our education system. Those forces include the rise of “I’ve got mine, Jack” culture in which folks don’t want to have to worry about what anyone else needs.

We’re living through a time of unprecedented assault on public education. Members of the data cult, free market advocates, social engineers, profiteers and privatizers (some sincere in their concern, and some motivated by base opportunism) are looking for ways to dismantle the system, disenfranchise parents and taxpayers, and to “liberate” billions and billions of taxpayer dollars. Their ranks are filled with education amateurs who don’t really know what the heck they’re talking about. 

What none of these disruptors promise is an education system that delivers a quality education to every single child in the country. Nor do they promise accountability to the taxpayers who fund the system, nor a system that is owned and operated by the citizens of the community. 

Only public education has those goals as its North Star.

I devoted my professional life to public education because I believe in it. I believe in the goals and promise of public education. I believe that every child in this country deserves a chance to learn, to grow, to discover and become their best selves, to learn what it means to be more fully human in the world (a whole host of things beyond the measure of a bad standardized test). I believe in a system that brings trained, qualified professionals into every community, for every child. 

We will always struggle with challenges. What is required for a quality education? How can each child’s individual needs best be mt? What makes a good teacher? But as long as our North Star is the promise of public education, and not a higher test score or a better ROI, we can navigate those difficult discussions. And we can navigate them in a thousand different ways, as individual communities work out the local education system that best suits them.

That’s the other beautiful part of our public education system—it’s not actually one education system, but thousands and thousands of local individual systems set in every kind of community imaginable. All the variety present in America is there in our schools as well. It is a big, beautiful, sprawling, messy monument to our highest aspiration, our dream that every child can grow and rise because we all, together, work to lift every child up. 

So I believe in the promise of public education. May we continue to sail toward that North Star.

Nancy Bailey is a retired teacher and a terrific blogger. She and I co-authored a book called EdSpeak and DoubleTalk: A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. We have never met in person but I asked her to help me revise a similar book that I published a decade earlier; it had become obsolete. Now it is the go-to book to understand education jargon and decipher hoaxes. It was a joy to work with her. Nancy wrote this post for me while I was out of commission having surgery.


Why I Write About Students and Public Schools

Democratic Public Schools

Ensuring that the public has access to good public schools after Covid-19 is more critical than ever. We cannot go back to continuous high-stakes testing and schools that punish teachers and students, especially our youngest learners. Schools should also not be allowed to continue to collect unregulated data through online assessments. Parents need stronger FERPA laws. 

I think we have also learned with this pandemic that parents and students value public schools, that technology is a tool but can never replace the classroom.      

Americans own our schools through a democratically elected school board, or at least we should. We lose that ownership when outsiders with ulterior motives to privatize or change schooling’s nature make schools more like a business. They convert the system to charter schools or change curriculums to serve companies that will make money on the school district’s new plan.

The more involved corporations become with public education, the more changes occur within public schools. Common Core, high-stakes standardized tests, the reliance on AP classes and SAT and ACT testing from the College Board, and many tech programs convert public schooling to a privatized system. 

It is crucial to protect public schools from individuals or corporations who wish to remove the “public” in public schools. Parents should be able to be involved in how their schools function. We need parents, teachers, and the community to be active participants in how public schools serve children bringing Americans together. 

School choice fans believe parents should choose their school, but this is a false argument. Most private school administrators will determine who to accept to the school. Charter schools may choose students by lottery, which is not parent choice either. Even if a student is randomly selected, charter schools can always counsel students out.

Charter schools were initially supposed to be for teachers to run. The charters doing the best jobs are likely run by or highly influenced by real teachers. But many charters are run by Educational Management Operations (EMOs) that set the rules and are prone to scandal. For years, charter schools have primarily served children of color, often with harshly run curriculum and punishing discipline. 

It is hard to see why America needs two systems of education. It further divides people, and charter schools are still substandard to a well-run public school system. Charters that work, run by real teachers, could become alternative schools in a public school system.  

Helping students work together in public schools—students with all kinds of backgrounds and students of color—will bring us together as a nation. The diversity in our country should be cherished, not destroyed by privatization. 

When public schools are valued, when school boards are elected and work with the constituents to better schooling for all children, it is the best that democracy can be. We must afford every child a chance to learn in a well-managed, excellently staffed public school. 

Teaching

I learned to be a special education teacher in the seventies when the All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 became law. It was amazing to see schools open their doors for all children, and universities begin offering specialized classes for different special education areas. I saw it as a shining moment in America.

My undergraduate degree was to teach students with emotional disabilities, with a minor in elementary education. I took challenging coursework. My student teaching took place at one of the best residential treatment centers in the nation, Hawthorn Center, along with an elementary school near Detroit where teachers worked well together, especially in reading. 

Hawthorn Center has struggled with funding since I student taught there, yet many parents desperately search for residential treatment. The elementary school where I student taught closed long ago. I struggle to understand this.  

In the meantime, Teach for America claims that you can teach with five weeks of training, or maybe it is six weeks now. Many from this group go on to lead schools in states and the nation when they never had the kind of preparation necessary to teach children! 

Writing

I write about these issues and more. It is sometimes overwhelming that public schools have so many concerns and how children and teens face such hurdles to get good schooling in America. There is no reason why this country should not have the best public school system in the world for all children!

Gary Rubinstein is well known to readers of this blog, as I have posted almost all of his blogs. He is a career high school math teacher in the New York City public schools. I met Gary about ten years ago, when I had made a complete turnaround in my views about testing and choice. I was working on an article about “miracle schools” that fudged their data and discovered that Gary was an expert on reviewing school-level data and exposing frauds. He helped me write an article (“Waiting for a Miracle School”) that appeared in the New York Times in 2011, and he has continued to be a friend ever since. Gary’s analytical skills have been invaluable in fighting off idiotic “reforms,” like evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores (known as VAM). In his multiple posts on that subject, he showed its many flaws. For example, an elementary teacher might get a high score in reading and a low score in math, posing the dilemma of whether the district could fire her in one subject while giving her a bonus in the other. I confess that I am a person of The Word, and I have never taken the time to learn how to put graphics into my posts. I can’t even reproduce charts. I only do words. So when I need to post a pdf or a graphic or anything else that is not words, I turn to Gary for help and he is always there for me. In addition to being a math and computer whiz, Gary is an author. As most of you know, Gary began his career working for Teach for America. As he explains below, he became disillusioned with the “reform” spin just as I became disillusioned with the propaganda about testing and choice. Gary writes about how strange it is to be frequently attacked on Twitter and other social media by “reformers.” My admiration for him is boundless.

Gary writes:

I got into blogging almost exactly ten years ago, just after the Teach For America 20 anniversary alumni summit.  Until that time, I was unaware of the politics of education and the emerging education reform movement.  I had seen ‘Waiting For Superman’ and knew it was propaganda, but I didn’t quite understand who was benefiting from it or what the possible negative side effects of it could be.

But at that conference it became very clear to me what was going on during a ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel discussion.  I watched as Michelle Rhee, whom I had known from years earlier when we worked together at the Teach For America training institute, and Dave Levin, who I had known for a lot of years from when we were teaching in Houston around the same time.  At the end of the conference, Arne Duncan made an odd speech about how great it was that he shut down a school and fired all the teachers and now it is a charter school in which every student supposedly graduated and got into college.

It sounded fishy to me.  Having worked, by that time, at three different schools that had low standardized test scores, I knew that a school can have good teachers but still have low test scores.  I suspected that there was more to the story than Arne Duncan was saying so I did my first investigation.  Little did I know that it would lead to a ten year adventure that would give me the opportunity to be an investigative journalist and help save the world.  As an added bonus, I made a lot of friends, got a following to read my writing, appeared on NPR and also on a TV show called ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’  But there was a downside to this attention because I also became a target of various known and unknown internet personalities who have attacked, ridiculed, and slandered me.  I think that on balance the good outweighed the bad, but it is sad to me that I have had blog posts about what an awful person I am and there have been podcasts about how I don’t believe in the potential of all children.  Students of mine have googled me and located some of these smears and asked me about them.  It’s hard to explain to them that I’m embroiled in a strange war where the FOX news of education wants to vilify me for telling the truth.

Here is a recent example where Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart, the CEO of the Education Post website, compares my views with those of Charles Murray of ‘The Bell Curve’ fame.

I suppose my story is that I was the right person at the right time and in the right place.  The small group of resistors to the misguided bipartisan teacher-bashing agenda needed someone like me.  I was a Teach For America alum so I had that whole ‘war veteran against the war’ kind of credibility.  I was very patient and able to comb through state data.  I was a math major in college so I was able to do some basic statistics and make the scatter plots that helped the cause so much.  You may or may not know that I have slowed down a lot on my blogging.  After about 7 years of intense blogging, I started to burn out.  Fortunately other bloggers came on the scene and took up the cause and have been great.  I do try to blog from time to time still, but I have also been doing other projects, like my recent effort to explain all the essentials of elementary school, middle school, and high school math in one ten hour YouTube playlist.  These efforts come from the same source — the desire to help students learn.  Whether it is by fighting off a destructive element or in providing a free resource that anyone in the world can access, I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last ten years.

I want to thank the great Diane Ravitch for taking me under her wing and for being a great mentor and friend.  I wish for her a speedy recovery from her surgery.

Here is a presentation I did at Tufts University describing my journey from teacher to crusader:

Karen Francisco is the editorial page editor of the The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in Indiana. She is one of the few journalists who are outspoken supporters of public education. I met her when I visited Fort Wayne in 2010 after the publication of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. She offered the following post to help me get through the period when I am in the hospital and unable to write. She is brave, thoughtful, and relentless in standing up to the powerful elites in Indiana who are dismantling a once much-admired public school system.

Why I fight to save public schools

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor, The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette

There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in which an airplane passenger looks out the window to see a monster dismantling the aircraft engine. His terror escalates when he realizes he’s the only one who can see it happening.

There have been many occasions over the past two decades where I have felt like William Shatner’s character in that classic episode: Why don’t people realize public education is being dismantled in front of their own eyes?  

That’s my motivation for fighting for public schools.  People must understand what’s at risk.

It was as a parent that I had my first glimpse of the destruction underway. On a back-to-school night in September of 2000, I listened as a middle school math teacher complained that he would not be introducing any new material until the state’s standardized tests were administered.  He had been instructed by the administration to spend the first six weeks of the school year reviewing fifth-grade math lessons to bolster performance on the tests.  I instantly knew why my then-sixth-grader was, for the first time ever, complaining he was bored in school.

As an opinion journalist, I have opportunities other parents don’t have to question elected officials. When our editorial board met the next week with the Indiana superintendent of public instruction, I recounted how my children were spending so much time reviewing past lessons, and I asked Dr. Suellen Reed why so much emphasis was being placed on standardized testing.  

She launched into the accountability talking points I could eventually recite by heart. It was my first clue that not everyone saw the damage I sensed was beginning to occur. A costly scheme to label public schools with failing grades would help convince taxpayers and parents that children from low-income households needed vouchers to escape those schools. 

To her credit, Reed would be among the first of Indiana’s elected officials to acknowledge where high-stakes testing was headed, but her resistance cost her the position she held for four terms.  The governor wanted a superintendent supportive of his privatization agenda, so he tapped Tony Bennett, an affable high school basketball coach with a newly earned superintendent’s license. Together, they pushed through massive charter school expansion and a voucher school program. When he signed the bill, Gov. Mitch Daniels literally gave it a kiss.

I am fortunate to work for a publisher who is a strong supporter of public education, so our editorial pages became a persistent voice challenging Indiana’s unbridled rush to privatization, and I was eager to write editorials and bylined columns about what was happening all around us. The governor’s press secretary called my editor to complain after I served on a panel at a public education advocacy event. On a visit to our newsroom, Bennett told me he thought of me as one of those angry parents screaming at the coach from the stands. 

Unfortunately, our editorial voice was about as effective as one of those basketball parents. The vast majority of our readers and area lawmakers were either supportive of the far-ranging privatization effort or silent.  It would have been easy to give in to the complaints from some readers that our editorial board was wrong to oppose school vouchers, if not for the voices of educators and academics.  

“The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” by the esteemed proprietor of this blog, was a revelation. I had the opportunity to interview Diane about the book and later to meet with her when she delivered a lecture at our regional university campus. Her address energized a growing community of ed reform critics. including Phyllis Bush, a retired Fort Wayne teacher who galvanized a group of educators under the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. In West Lafayette, Indiana, Superintendent Rocky Killion teamed with Steve Klink, a staunch public education supporter, to produce  “Rise Above the Mark,” a 2014 documentary that was an early warning cry about the growing obsession with testing and its detrimental effects on education. The Indiana Coalition for Public Education joined the fight. Its board now includes three of the four former Indiana state superintendents, with Bennett being the exception.

I wish I could say Indiana has seen some success in fighting off the privatization monster, but that’s far from the truth. More than $1 billion has now flowed to private and parochial schools through the voucher program, with no accountability.  A scandal involving a virtual charter school cost taxpayers at least $85 million, with seemingly no concern from lawmakers or taxpayers. In the current legislative session, the Republican supermajority is throwing everything at school choice: income limits that make vouchers available to wealthy families, ESAs, full funding for online-only schools and more.

There was a time when newspaper editorial boards could move mountains. As my industry has withered, that is no longer the case. But I’m taking heart this year in a growing number of voices questioning the support of private and parochial schools at the expense of Indiana public schools. It seems like there are now many of us aware of the destruction and determined to stop the monster before it sends public education crashing to the ground. 

Two prominent Idaho citizens, Jim Jones and Rod Gramer, warned that proposed voucher legislation violates the clear language of the Idaho state constitution and threatens the future of public schools.

Jim Jones is the former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and former Idaho Attorney General and Rod Gramer is president of Idaho Business for Education.

They wrote:


Supporters of privatizing education are about to change the Idaho Constitution and 130 years of education policy without going to a vote of the people. Instead, those who want taxpayers to fund private schools should take their case to the people and let them decide as the Constitution requires.

Idaho’s founders were clear when they adopted the Constitution that the Legislature should support public schools. In Article IX, Section 1 they wrote: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform, and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

The Founders did not say the Legislature should fund private schools. They did not say the Legislature should fund religious schools. In fact, in two other sections of Article IX they specifically said no taxpayer monies should go to fund religious schools.

Yet on page two, line (b), House Bill 294 says that state funds can be used for “tuition or fees at private schools.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that if a state spends funds on private schools it must also provide funding to religious schools, thus allowing House Bill 294 to undermine both the letter and spirit of the Idaho Constitution.

This attempt to undermine the Constitution is piggybacked on the popular Strong Families, Strong Students program Governor Little created last year to provide computers, internet service and tutoring to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If that’s all the bill did, we would support it. But the bill’s sponsors slipped in the private school tuition provision and made it sound like the bill was a harmless continuation of the Governor’s program. Several lawmakers and veteran reporters missed the bill’s real impact.

Supporters of House Bill 294 have some powerful allies like the Idaho Freedom Foundation which advocates for the abolishment of public schools. Another backer is “Yes. Every Kid” which is funded by the Koch Network, created by the billionaire Koch brothers. It is buying time on Idaho TV stations proclaiming how the bill benefits families. Of course, they don’t mention that it threatens the future of our public schools and violates the Idaho Constitution.

Instead of listening to out-of-state billionaires, legislators should listen to our founders and generations of lawmakers who clearly believed that the state’s responsibility is to fund public schools, not private or religious schools.

There is another reason lawmakers should listen to our founders. Idaho ranks last in the nation in spending per student and is already out of compliance with the Constitution’s mandate to fund a uniform and thorough public school system.

This shortage of state funding has caused local communities to raise their own property taxes by millions of dollars to ensure that their schools can operate. If the state cannot fund our public schools adequately, it makes no sense to divert badly needed state funds to support a private education system too.

Ultimately, the people of Idaho should decide whether to change the Constitution and fund private schools. That’s what our state’s founders intended, that’s what the Constitution says, and that’s what we should do. Not have the Legislature make an end run around the Constitution – or the people of Idaho.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, watched the Senate confirmation hearings of Miguel Cardona for Secretary of Education. She was delighted to hear his responses on issues that matter to friends of the public schools.

She wrote for this blog:

On February 3, I tuned in and listened to Dr. Miguel Cardona’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education.  I was anxious to hear his response to questions about school choice, integration, equity, testing, and schools’ reopening.

I was curious to see if Dr. Cardona would, like his three predecessors, Duncan, King, and De Vos, carry the banner for charter schools and seek to expand the Federal Charter Schools Program. Was he someone who believed that setting schools in the arena to compete benefits students?  Does he prefer the private governance of schools?

The first question on school choice was asked by Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, who voiced his support for all manner of school choice.

Cardona had a practiced response. He did not mention vouchers. He gave the nod to charters saying that some are excellent, which is true. But then the incoming Secretary signaled where he would put his time and treasure.

“Most parents want to send their children to their neighborhood school. It is important to support all schools, including the neighborhood schools that are usually the first choice for families in that community.”

That statement gives me hope. Cardona did not fall into the trap of using the term “traditional public schools,” a term coined by the charter community. 

“Traditional public schools” is and was always meant to be a disparaging term. Cardona’s innovative elementary school was not “traditional.” The high school I led that had an enriched, challenging curriculum for all where support and racial integration of classrooms and activities were the highest priority was not “traditional.” 

Cardona deliberately chose the term–“neighborhood” to describe public schools. Unlike his predecessors he did not use “traditional” to distinguish them from charters.  And he stated that they are, as our friends at Journey for Justice remind us, “usually the first choice for families in that community.” 

If the listener did not understand what he meant by “neighborhood schools,” he clarified the term later.

He used the term “public,” then corrects himself, saying that charters are public schools (they are legally defined as such in his state). He then talks about the need to support neighborhood schools. He says, “Our neighborhood schools need to be schools where we want to send our children, and he calls neighborhood schools “the bedrock of our country.” Wow.

No person who has spent their life in public schools, especially in leadership, is universally liked. Miguel Cardona has his critics. But as I listened to Miguel Cardona, I was filled with hope. He is devoid of Duncan’s folksy goofiness, the arrogance of King, and the burning hatred of all things public of De Vos.

Miguel Cardona is a public school guy. He chose to spend his life walking among children in public school halls. He knows the road he is traveling, and the stars that guide his way will not be charter schools, vouchers, or billionaire reformers.