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Privatization Undercuts Public Schools’ Mission to Educate Care of ALL Children

June 16, 2017

I get Diane Ravitch’s posts in one feed at the beginning of each day and it often leads to serendipitous juxtapositions. Yesterday was a case in point where she posted an op ed article by Arthur Camins from Huffington Post early yesterday and then posted a summary of the National Education Policy Center’s (NEPC) critique of a report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Cities advocating that States use ESSA funds to replace democratically elected school boards with either state-managed school districts or privatized charter schools.

Camins’ essay, titled “Why We Should Care About the Education of Other Children”, underscores the fact that one of the primary missions of public education is to prepare tomorrow’s citizens. He makes the case in his opening paragraph:

It is time to care about the education of other people’s children. Other people’s children are or will be our neighbors. Other people’s children – from almost anywhere in the United States and beyond – could end up as our coworkers. Other people’s children are tomorrow’s potential voters. How, what, and with whom they learn impacts us all. That is why we have public schools, paid for with pooled taxes. They are designed to serve the public good, not just to suit individual parent’s desires.

Mr. Camins’ emphasizes that this ideal is being undercut by today’s political consensus that parents should focus primarily on the well-being of their own children. This consensus is embodied in the bi-partisan ESSA legislation that applies this principle by giving states more control over how they spend money in the same way that “choice” programs and vouchers presumably give parents more control over how money is spent for their own children. He offers a concise analysis of the three prongs of this consensus, and where this consensus ultimately leads:

…“Just worry about your own child. Do whatever you must to find the best school for her.” That is the thinking behind the current bipartisan embrace of three key features of charter schools and the renewed Republican push for vouchers: Schools competing for student enrollment; Parents competing for their children’s entry into the best-fit school of their choice; Schools governed privately rather than through democratically-elected school boards. As these strategies gain acceptance and spread, the result is to undermine education as a collective effort on behalf of the entire community. Divided parents and their communities end up with little collective voice. Similarly, without unions, teachers have no unified influence. Millions of personal decisions about what appears to be good for a single child at a moment in time is a recipe for divisiveness, not collective good. 

On the same day, Ms. Ravitch offered the rebuttal of a Fordham Institute report that advocated that States use their ESSA funds to give parents a bigger voice in their child’s education by directing funds to vouchers and other choice initiatives. Written by researcher Gail L. Sunderman of the University of Maryland, the NPEC critique notes the Fordham Institute report:

…omits research that would shed light on the (choice) models, and it fails to take into account the opportunity costs of pursuing one set of policies over another. It also relies on test score outcomes as the sole measure of success, thus ignoring other impacts these strategies may have on students and their local communities or the local school systems where they occur. Finally, and as noted above, support for the effectiveness of these approaches is simply too limited to present them as promising school improvement strategies.

In effect, Ms. Sunderman suggests there is no basis in research for supporting any policy that gives parents more choice— and, as noted in previous posts, there is a lots of evidence that indicates vouchers erode educational performance at the overall level. That is, when the focus is on educating my children while ignoring other children ALL children pay the price… and communities pay the price as well.

Mr. Camins hits the nail on the head when he explains why we persist in supporting policies that ignore other children and create huge and widening divisions in school quality. He suggests the the reason so many of our schools are failing is not because of the absence of choices for parents. Rather, they are

…the result our country’s refusal to do anything substantive about the residential segregation and distrust that continually enable, perpetuate, and exacerbate inequity. The differences are the result of growing inequality, concentrated poverty, and the purposeful oblivion of those who live comfortable stable, if insulated lives. The differences are the result of an intentional political campaign to convince folks in the middle of the socioeconomic spectrum– whose lives are hardly easy or secure– to blame other people who struggle even more, rather than the wealthy 1% who wield the levers of economic and political power.

It may be subversive to suggest that those at the very top of the economic pyramid are intent on keeping those in the lower 99% at each other’s throats, but the evidence seems to support Mr. Camins’ assertion. Here’s hoping those in the “lower 99” start looking out for each other..

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