"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Who Is Doing the Choosing of School Choice?

Clint Bolick, President and Chief Counsel for one of the lead school privatization outfits, editorializes, nay, rhapsodizes this week in the the Wall Street Journal on all the recent strides made by the school voucher crowd. Missing from the success stories, however, are the historically-reliable opinion polls that continue to show Americans opposed to school vouchers that take money away from public schools. Not mentioned, either, is the smackdown of the J. Bush voucher plan by the Florida Supreme Court, a decision that promises to end Jeb's reign with a whimper, rather than a bang. Or how about the big plan in Ohio, where only a handful of parents signed on for vouchers (and many of those were religious school parents looking to avoid tuition payments).

What Bolick shows in his op-ed is the same kind of feeble imagination and limited either-or thinking that school privatizers are known for, those who are either legally on the payroll at ED or those who are getting their government funds in more creative ways. These binary thinkers present their two options, and that’s it: 1) continue to support the failing urban schools, or, 2) support vouchers. There is a new implication to their false dichotomy, however: if you don’t choose the voucher solution, that makes you an uncaring racist who is willing to leave these children behind in failing schools. Remember the “bigotry of low expectations” of those who do not support NCLB?” Same deal:
For Democrats who truly believe in social justice, that presents a terrible dilemma: Either forcing children to remain in schools where they have little prospect for a bright future, or enlisting private schools in a rescue mission. Democrats are increasingly unwilling to forsake the neediest children.

Forsaking the neediest children is, of course, exactly what school privatization does, but it does so by forsaking the children and the families of these children who are told, essentially, that they are not worth the effort to make their communities and schools better. By shutting down their schools, they are told that their communities are not worth saving and their school choice is to be limited to a voucher that will only buy them a seat in a marginal private school or in a church school—regardless of their religious beliefs.

Bolick would have something else added to the message to the urban poor: not only is the government going to give up on addressing poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity in your community, but the government is going to pay corporations with tax credits to put their names on the vouchers that you will receive to buy a marginal education for your children, one for which there is no evidence of being any better than the one you are leaving.

If Mr. Bolick and his faux bleeding heart corporationist friends at the Wall Street Journal are really interested in the “neediest children,” they would be willing to encourage public tax credits for corporations who do the public good, rather than using public dollars to pay corporations to shut off the civic life blood that the public schools have historically provided (at least in communites that we have not given up on).

Mr. Bolick, check out what is going on in the poor schools of Chattanooga, Tennessee, as reported by John Merrow this week. This is a great example of business, private foundations, and the government sitting down at the same table to figure out how to save their schools and the children and teachers that comprise them. It would seem from Mr. Bolick’s proposals, however, that he prefers de-enterprise zones rather than offering enterprising incentives for corporations to help end failure and poverty in urban centers (very good business for corporations, by the way).

Bolick does offer a bit of news with his rhapsody, and it relates directly to the final solution that the privatizers have had in mind ever since NCLB was crafted to assure the failure of public schools, offered here in apocalyptic tones:
For children in chronically failing schools, the day of reckoning is fast approaching: Legislation to add private school options to NCLB will be introduced next month. Democrats who supported private school relief for Katrina children to alleviate a disaster will be forced to confront the reality that New Orleans schools were in crisis long before the hurricane appeared--and so are millions of other children in inner cities across the nation.

I strongly suspect that Bolick knows that the proposal to add vouchers to NCLB is destined to be DOA, especially when it is not at all clear if NCLB will even survive the reauthorization debate. The likely failure of vouchers, if proposed, however, will be accompanied by efforts to negotiate for the real option that the privatizers are pushing— and that, of course, is the charter option as the transition phase to privatization. There has yet to be conceived a more underhanded way to shrink the influence of elected school boards and the rights of teachers and parent groups. Once those are gone, and control is essentially placed in the hands of administrator/managers, then Whittle, Inc. and White Hat, Inc. will be ready for the next phase.

Whether our distracted and uncaring Congressmen will notice the obvious manipulation, I would not bet on it without an outpouring of support for public schools from constituents. After all, the lead-up to Iraq provides plenty of evidence they weren't even reading the papers, then. The manipulation to shut down public education will take some educating by all those who care enough to act to preserve the public schools, thus preserving the possibility of preserving and renewing the Republic.

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