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Charlotte NC Newspaper Article Illustrates How Game is Rigged… But Doesn’t Say So

July 21, 2017

The title of Keung Hui’s article in the Charlotte News Observer poses this question: “NC Public School Enrollment Falls As More Choose Other Options. What Does That Mean?”. Unfortunately the article doesn’t explicitly give the right answer, which is: “It means the system is now rigged against public schools”… but it does offer lots of evidence to support that response. These quotes, for example:

Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, says the expanded choice is part of a concerted political strategy to paint the public schools as failing. As an example, he cited the state’s school performance grades – A through F – that are largely based on the passing rates of students on state exams.

“It’s not an accident that we’re seeing an increase in scrutiny of public schools through testing and grades, which tell us nothing more than the socioeconomic status of the students at the school, and those same test grades are being used to justify providing more private options,” Poston said…

“There are very powerful and well-funded interests that are seeking to profiteer off public education at the same time that our public schools are being tested and stigmatized by school performance grades,”

Lawmakers have made a number of education-related changes including:

  • Lifted the cap on the number of charter schools and made it easier for them to expand their enrollment. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that are free from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow;
  • Created a voucher program to help families who meet income guidelines pay for tuition at private schools;
  • Created programs for parents of special-needs students to pay for their child’s tuition at private schools and cover other education-related expenses;
  • Made it easier for home-school students to take classes from people who are not their parents.

Natalie Beyer, a Durham school board member, said the state has been pursuing a privatization agenda in education that’s moving taxpayer dollars away from democratic oversight.

“It’s alarming for taxpayers because in North Carolina we have state law that has created a separate-but-unequal loosely regulated system of (charter) schools,” Beyer said. “When I look at any measure of student achievement, statewide or nationally, all the research shows the best investment is in a high-quality public school system.”

Mr. Hui presents the facts to support the conclusion that the legislature has rigged the system against public schools. The standardized tests will rate 50% of the public schools as “failing”, and those will be the schools serving children raised in poverty. State funds formerly directed exclusively to public schools governed by elected boards are now being given to parents who enroll their children in private schools. Private schools are deregulated, which means they are allowed to hire non-certified teachers, not required to offer free-and-reduced meals, not required to admit students with IEPs, and not required to meet building codes and transportation codes that apply to public schools. And the lack of “democratic oversight”, mentioned in passing, means that many charter chains are governed by out-of-state “edupreneurs” who have no abiding interest in the children they serve beyond an assurance that they pass the state tests and follow whatever discipline codes they put in place.

Not only did Mr. Hui not draw the obvious conclusion that NC’s system is rigged against public schools, he used language that implicitly identified schools as a commodity:

Traditional public schools still educate the majority of students, with their 1.4 million children representing 82.1 percent of the state’s K-12 students. But the market share was at 86.6 percent in the 2010-11 school year.

This kind of reporting reinforces the perspective of profiteers who want voters to conceive of public schools as competing in a marketplace. When education reporters use this kind of terminology, it is further evidence that the cards are stacked against public education because the “marketplace” favors deregulated private schools overseen by profiteers who answer to shareholders over tightly regulated “government schools” overseen by elected officials who answer to voters.

And to further reinforce the profiteers, Hui concludes his article with this quote from Darrell Allison, president of Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a pro-choice, pro-privatization advocacy group who said:

When our backs are against the wall, when we’re forced to change, that’s where innovation comes from. That’s where creativity comes from. I’m betting on our traditional public schools and our non-traditional public schools.”

What Mr. Allison is implying is that competition will yield innovation and creativity, one of the articles of faith of the profiteers. But innovation and creativity are hard to come by when your primary focus is on improving test scores that are based on socio-economics. It’s even harder to come by when you have to educate all the children who reside in your county and you have to do it with less money. So what does it mean that “NC Public School Enrollment Falls As More Choose Other Options”? The answer is clear: the game is rigged against NC Public schools.

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