Home > Uncategorized > Resegregation Facilitated by Charters? Not to Worry “..because “this is not the civil rights era.”

Resegregation Facilitated by Charters? Not to Worry “..because “this is not the civil rights era.”

Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss’ post today discusses School Choice Week and, as her headline accurately notes, “What passes for acceptable school choice rhetoric is appalling”. Ms. Strauss’ opening section of her post includes this concise description of pro and anti choice groups:

School choice proponents say that charter schools (including ones run by for-profit companies) offer parents important options for their children’s education and that traditional public schools have failed in many places. School choice opponents say that school choice is aimed at privatizing the public education system and that many of the choices being offered are not well-regulated, sometimes discriminatory and siphon funding away from local school districts.  

She then reprints a blog post from Sarah Lahm, a Minneapolis based writer who formerly worked in public education, who attended a National School Choice Forum at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis… and what she heard would have enraged the namesake of that institution. From my perspective as a progressive, however, it was not surprising.

Ms. Lahm noted that she was disappointed at the lack of bi-partisanship because the panelists consisted of one Democrat who was an advocate of charter schools, one right-leaning Republican, plus one far-right lawyer who wholeheartedly endorsed public funding of religiously affiliated charter schools. Ms. Lahm “...quickly realized how thoroughly (bipartisanship) has become cover for groupthink. If both Democrats and Republicans support the dismantling of our public institutions, then shouldn’t you, too?” Any progressive observing the passage of the “bipartisan” Every Child Succeeds Legislation” rallies that ESSA, like NCLB and RTTT before it implicitly– but perhaps more subtly— supports the dismantling of public schools. It succeeded because neoliberal thinking has captured the center and consequently both Democrats and Republicans support the notion that markets can solve every problem and save every child…. and charter schools are predicated on the notion that schools, like groceries and hardware supplies, are commodities.

And one of the major consequences of the commodification of schools is the notion that segregation is a choice made by consumers. A concept that was appallingly underscored in this section of Lahm’s post:

The morning’s panel began with a quick dismissal of the desegregation lawsuit filed in Minnesota last fall, which, if successful, could require the state’s charter schools to develop and implement integration plans. The panelists seemed to agree that the resegregation happening across the country now is simply due to “parental choice.” Reichgott Junge — the Democrat — declared herself “not neutral” on this topic, and told the audience not to worry because “this is not the civil rights era.” 

Given the free market attitude of charter school providers, Ms. Junge is right, this is NOT the civil rights era… it’s the New Jim Crow era where African American “consumers” are “choosing” to live in neighborhoods full of substandard housing or in dilapidated housing projects while affluent whites “consumers” are choosing to live in pristine suburbs. It’s the same as the bad old days before Brown vs. Board of Education where blacks chose separate but equal schools.

Ms. Lahm, sitting in a forum in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis wonders:

What would our education policy discussions be like today, if America had turned out “less Reaganite” and “more Humphreyish”? The hammering narrative of failure, applied with force to our nation’s public school system, found fertile groundin the Reagan era, of course, through the hyped “Nation at Risk” report. That report helped propel America away from further investment in public schools, and towards school choice schemes (hint: privatization).

Now we have another crossroads: will we sustain the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the free market neoliberalism he espoused or find out what America could be if it were “more Humphreyish”? The next few weeks will tell us.

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