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“Choice” Undercuts Education as a “Common Good”… and We WILL Pay the Price

May 7, 2017

Wendy Lecker, a Connecticut Attorney and columnist for the Stamford Advocate wrote a short but powerful essay,  describing how “choice” undercuts the notion of public education as a public good. She opened the essay with this description of education as a “public good”:

Political theorist Benjamin Barber, who died April 24, wrote about the importance of education as a public good. “Education not only speaks to the public, it is the means by which a public is forged.”

As he noted, education transforms individuals into responsible community members, first in their classrooms and ultimately in our democracy. Local school districts are also the basic units of democratic government.

Michigan professor Marina Whitman recently noted that the essence of a public good is that it is non-excludable; i.e. all can partake, and non-rivalrous; i.e. giving one person the good does not diminish its availability to another. 

Ms. Lecker then illustrates that “choice”, where public education is treated like a commodity that consumers can acquire, is completely contrary to this notion. She writes:

In operation, choice makes education rivalrous. As a New York appellate court observed, diverting funds from public schools to charters ‘benefit a select few at the expense of the ‘common schools, wherein all the children of this State may be educated.’”

She then describes how “choice” resulted in increasingly segregated schools in New Orleans and allowed profiteers to flourish in other cities across the country. Her conclusion, based on the evidence she presents:

Across this country, public money is diverted from public schools to charters with no consideration of need, quality or the impact on the majority of public school students. The result is invariably the creation of exclusive schools, out of the reach of voter oversight, at the expense of public schools that serve everyone. 

Ms. Lecker notes that despite claims of charter advocates to the contrary, after being in place for more than 20 years there is no evidence that charters better than public schools. Moreover, the funds diverted to charters that are taken away from the revenues for public schools leave those schools “…without resources to serve the most vulnerable and communities disenfranchised by unelected school boards.”

She concludes her essay with this:

As Barber predicted, “What begins as an assault on bureaucratic rigidity becomes an assault on government and all things public … (destroying) a people’s right to govern themselves publicly … (and) to establish the conditions for the development of public citizens.” Reforms that gut public education attack democracy.

Privatization in the name of efficiency or based on the premise that “government is the problem” is corroding our democracy. We need to reverse this trend before we all serve corporate oligarchs who have no accountability.

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