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School Choice

Let’s be honest about school choice

Ed Reform Strawmen must die

School choice strawmen are a formidable army that thinking people have yet to defeat.

Nevertheless, we must keep trying.

As a reader who casually consumes education debate in mass media, I understand if you see school choice as a stealth scheme, devised by racist wealthy people to destroy wonderfully performing public schools that produce annual bumper crops of democratic fruit in the form of well-adjusted citizens.

Our teachers work so hard, and our schools get so little funding. Fix those two things, and there is no need for choice. Or, so we’re told.

Add to the mix a towering voice like the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten, who tells you that charter schools – which are one primary form of school choice – are the “polite cousin of segregation,” what else would you believe?

On that point, I’d ask you to consider the fact that Weingarten started two New York charter schools herself, which, perhaps it logically follows, makes her the gentle aunt of segregation. If nothing else, it makes her a good symbol for the duplicitous nature of education politics and debate.

The truth is that school choice theory predates the convenient points in time that its critics use to bludgeon it. Long before the racist “segregation academies” school choice opponents rightfully say were erected in the south to publicly fund white private havens from desegregation, there were full-blown choice programs that provided vouchers for families to use at public or private schools. The oldest of these programs dates back to 1869 in Vermont.

And, to broaden the scope, we should call in Ashely Berner’s excellent research that explains school choice as a global norm in advanced countries. In fact, the United States is an educational outlier for not publicly supporting private education.

In a report she wrote for the Manhattan Institute (“The Case for Educational Pluralism in the U.S.”)she says:

A majority of the world’s democracies support school systems in which the state funds and regulates but does not necessarily operate, a mosaic of schools. The Netherlands, for example, supports 36 different types of schools—including Catholic, Muslim, and Montessori—on an equal footing. The U.K., Belgium, Sweden, and Hong Kong help students of all income levels attend philosophically and pedagogically diverse schools. So do most Canadian provinces. Funded schools in these pluralist systems are also subject to robust regulations and, in some cases, to a common academic curriculum. Educational pluralism does not guarantee high academic performance and strong civic behaviors, but when this system is well-executed, it makes such outcomes more likely. Importantly, educationally plural countries also provide for what the U.S. calls “district schools”; a third of Dutch students attend them. The difference is that, in educationally plural systems, many types of schools are considered to be part of the public education system.

Realizing that most of the world disagrees with us on how much opportunity governments should afford citizens when it comes to learning environments for children, we have to question the politically stubborn antipathy for private schooling and the prevailing parochialism of one-size-fits-some government schools. Some traditional schools do amazing things for their students while others fail spectacularly to provide even a basic level of education. The same can be said for all other forms of schooling. A great option for one family may be an outstandingly bad one for another. From that view, choice is not about defining any school as good or bad as much as defining it a school as good or bad for a specific child.

I write about choice frequently because having been a parent for three decades I know kids have different needs. My little mathematician may need an other school than my baby artist or my special needs student. Sending them through one all-purpose schoolhouse door may not only be suboptimal, but it might also be inhumane knowing what I know about their needs.

Does it help to tell families like mine that we should concern ourselves more with the impact our school choices have on the system than how the system impacts our children?

Further, what good is an education system that prioritizes its welfare over the welfare of the vulnerable populations it supposes itself to serve?

I don’t ask these questions to be a heretic to America’s public education precious little temples as much as to be a realistic and ruthless guardian of my children’s’ intellectual development. Still, I know my voice alone isn’t enough to conquer the tower of oppositional rhetoric generated by public employees or their unions. Especially when they count ideologically intoxicated journalists, servile politicians, overly-lettered academics, and posh parents who benefit from the existing system that privileges some families to the detriment of other families as their adherents.

So, to rescue school choice and its history from the dull thinkers so dominant in our country’s facile discussion about education, it’s essential to consistently broaden the conversation with the voices of thoughtful people of note from past and present.

To that end, I raise a quote from famed sociologist James S. Coleman. In a 1977 U.S. News & World Report article, he prescribed school choice to remedy deteriorating conditions in public schools.

He said:

[There are] three key problems [that] face the schools right now :

One is the dissatisfaction of parents and students – because of the feeling that the schools are not working well.

Secondly, there is the extreme loss of the schools’ authority, particularly with regard to maintaining discipline.

Third is the reduced levels of academic achievement at schools everywhere – in small towns; big cities and suburbs.

If there were one change that I would make to resolve these problems, it would be to introduce vouchers, or entitlements, for parents to use in educating their children.

Under that system, each family would be given a voucher that would permit it to send children to any school – public or private – in any school district regardless of where the family lived. The value of the entitlement would be roughly equivalent to the per-pupil expenditure in the public school.

The school that received the voucher would then cash it for operating funds. It would work very much like food stamps, except it would benefit all persons instead of just low-income persons, and people wouldn’t have to pay for it as they do in differing degrees for food stamps.

The advantages of such a plan?

To begin with, it would allow more authority for teachers and principals because the students would not be compelled to go to a particular school, but rather to one of their choice. This allows the school to demand more of those who choose wide range of schools, including those that have very different educational philosophies and curricula.

Furthermore, competition between schools – particularly public and private – would be raised because there would truly be a mixed economy in education, with State-run and privately run institutions serving as models for each other.

In addition, I believe a voucher system would help resolve the problems of segregation and white flight. It’s not going to wholly solve those problems, but it will help prevent segregation which currently occurs on the basis of residence. It would especially aid lower-class and black families because it is they who are most restricted in their schooling on the basis of their residence. It would also reduce the fears of parents – black and white – whose children are, under some current desegregation plans, transferred to schools, not of their choice far than their homes.

Finally, it can restore a sense of control over their children’s education on the part of parents who feel they have been pre-empted by professional educators, administrators, and organizations.

Agree or disagree with this analysis of family-based school choice; you would be wrong to argue that it is the ignorant pulp of an ill-willed plutocrat. That type of demagogic shorthand is a go-to weapon for school choice opponents. It is also a dishonest one. I prefer fair people to debate urgent and critical issues like educational inequality or poor educational outcomes more productively.

While not a cure-all to educational failure, research shows promising signs that school choice stokes improvements beyond test scores: it improves political and economic freedom; increases graduation rates; and even reduces crime and unplanned pregnancies.

Those favorable results, while not an answer to all the critics, add context to school choice. Properly understood through its actual proposals and its documented history, choice has always been rooted in improvement, parental power, opportunity, hope, and social fairness. It is more characterized by its earliest start in Vermont’s tuitioning program, and in its best modern example, in Milwaukee where Black leaders and families fought for and won America’s first modern choice program.

Let’s put the strawmen in the barn and have a worthy debate.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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School Choice

Distance learning spare students chaotic classrooms

Veronique Mintz is a 13-year-old student in New York who isn’t having troubles with distance learning that we hear so much about in the media. She isn’t missing the social interactions of in-person schooling because, as she tells it, those interactions were rife with distractions that impeded her ability to learn.

Over three years of middle school Veronica’s classes were disrupted daily by students “Talking out of turn…Destroying classroom materials…Disrespecting teachers…Blurting out answers during tests…pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground.”

Things are different now that she’s learning at home. The upside of school closures is that she has a quiet, safe, and productive place to learn at her own pace without a demand for student collaboration learning activities that hold the most dedicated students hostage to the varying motivation levels of fellow students.

Writing for the New York Times opinion page, she says:

I have been doing distance learning since March 23 and find that I am learning more, and with greater ease, than when I attended regular classes. I can work at my own pace without being interrupted by disruptive students and teachers who seem unable to manage them.

Students unable or unwilling to control themselves steal valuable class time, often preventing their classmates from being prepared for tests and assessments. I have taken tests that included entire topics we never mastered, either because we were not able to get through the lesson or we couldn’t sufficiently focus.

I do not envy a middle-school teacher’s job. It’s far from easy to oversee 26 teenagers. And in my three years of middle school, I’ve encountered only a few teachers who had strong command of their classrooms — enforcing consistent rules, treating students fairly and earning their respect.

I go to a school that puts a big emphasis on collaborative learning; approximately 80 percent of our work is done in teacher-assigned groups of three to five students. This forces students who want to complete their assignments into the position of having to discipline peers who won’t behave and coax reluctant group members into contributing.

Distance learning gives me more control of my studies. I can focus more time on subjects that require greater effort and study. I don’t have to sit through a teacher fielding questions that have already been answered. I can still collaborate with other students, but much more effectively. I am really enjoying FaceTiming friends who bring different perspectives and strengths to the work; we challenge one another and it’s a richer learning experience.

We spend so much time defending the rights of students that struggle with self-regulation, motivation, and focus that perhaps we forget the students who take school seriously and show up fully present to learn. Given the fact that classroom management practices aren’t likely to calm increasingly disinterested students distance learning is one way to address the needs of students like Veronica who deserve every opportunity to learn in a quiet, respectful, and knowledge-rich setting.

Remember, equity means every student gets what they need to thrive.

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School Choice

School choice takes student from bullied to bolstered

Never forget: publicly-funded school choice isn’t about politics, billionaires, or hatred of traditional public schools.

It’s about opening doors for kids.

When the education establishment and its dogmatists engages in scare tactics and shame campaigns intended to close the roads to opportunity that school choice provides for millions of students, we must stand up for the families who have good reasons.

Watch this video below and you’ll meet Keenan Cooper, one of those millions of students. He’s a North Carolina student at Cornerstone Christian Academy who is “the first student in the state of North Carolina to earn a scholarship to go to college through the scholastic 3d Archery Association.”

So, how did he get to this place of success? Listen to his mother Kena Cooper as she explains the situation that motivated her to desperately seek a scholarship to get Keenan out of a public school where he was increasingly depressed, into a private school that supported his needs and led to a “metamorphosis.”

She says:

Picking up my son from middle school, he got in the car, he turned around and looked at me and his face was stained with tears.


And I said what?

I just put breaks. He said I can’t take it no more. I can’t do it. I said what you mean? What’s wrong? He said “they keep picking on me, they keep messing with me, they keep bullying me. I’m not getting help.” 

I felt like I what do I do?

was going through the mail and there was a pamphlet that said “how would you like for your child to attend a private school for free? We have scholarships.” I turned it over because I was looking for the little small print around the sides to say, you know call this 900 number, but it was legit. It was real. I was like God and I was like, okay, I’m gonna take every take a stand at it we’ll see what happens and then the next you know, we got the call to come to rally and speak to.


I am one of the 4,046 [who received the state-funded scholarship]. I want my child as well as the other parents are here want their child to have a quality education that their children are not looking at as a number but as a person. 

Watch the video:

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Alabama parents arrested for recording staff abuse of their autistic child

Did you know school principals can issue warrants and their school resource officers can arrest parents for something like recording staff abusing their children? Me either.

The parents of a middle-school girl in the Talladega County School System were arrested because they provided their autistic child with a recording device so that she could secretly capture staff verbally abusing.

From what the family says, they captured 28 instances of abuse, but there’s one problem.

Apparently, the school district’s policy prohibits the use of recording devices at school.

Read this nonsense and tell me you’ve heard anything more asinine.

The charges stem from their daughter Jessalynn’s use of a hidden recorder to document her treatment at Childersburg Middle School, part of the Talladega County School System, the couple claims. Jessalynn is severely learning-disabled and autistic, and she suffers from seizures, anxiety and depression.


According to her parents, in November, Jessalynn turned her recorder over to the school. Jones, the principal, then wrote a warrant for their arrest.

The McEwens say they were driving down the street in front of their house when they were pulled over and arrested by several school resource officers from Childersburg Middle.

“We were surrounded by three county cop cars like we were murderers,” said McEwen.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources also launched an investigation into the couple.

DHR records show the department removed Jessalyn and another minor daughter from the family’s home last fall for five weeks while they obtained a psychological evaluation that concluded there was not sufficient evidence to support mental abuse or neglect.

Did you know school principals can issue warrants and their school resource officers can arrest parents for something like recording staff abusing their children?

Me either.

For all the talking we do about the school-to-prison pipeline, and schools that fail to serve students with special education needs, we don’t hear so much about it when it happens in traditional public schools (at least not as much as when it happens in charter schools).

In this case, the parents are facing real consequences:

If convicted, they each face a $100 penalty or 90 days of hard labor. The truancy law not only governs the enrollment and attendance of children, it also says parents can be charged with a misdemeanor if they fail to “compel” their child to behave “in accordance with the written policy (or) school behavior adopted by the local board of education.”

This is a story that should make anyone see the benefits of school choice.

Read the whole story here.

h/t to Jason Bedrick for posting this story.

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