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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Krash Course #4: Bizarro Robin Hood

In the DC Universe exists an opposite (of sorts) to Superman—Bizarro Superman.

In the corporate education reform universe exists an opposite to Robin Hood—Bizarro Robin Hood.

This opposite, the school choice advocate, lacks the irony and dark (and sometimes slapstick) humor of the comic book alternate universe because school choice Bizarro Robin Hoods steal from the poor to give to the rich—while claiming they are serving the poor. Yes, these Bizarro Robin Hoods are real-world personifications of George Orwell's doublespeak and doublethink.

South Carolina appears closer than ever to falling for the school choice propaganda. School choice advocacy, funded by Howard Rich and Koch money across the U.S., has become a moving target, but the newest bizarre ploy has been to claim that choice is primarily for the impoverished children and their families—a beacon of hope to lure the public into believing in both the power of the free market and (ironically?) the power of the government to afford people in poverty the same choices as the affluent.

A typical argument comes recently from Randy Page, president of the Orwellian-named South Carolinians for Responsible Government: Private choice helps students, schools.

This, however, is Bizarro Robin Hood propaganda. Here is what the school choice advocates always fail to share:

Private schools (of the free market) do not outperform public schools when student characteristics are considered.

School type (public, private, or charter) is not the determining factor in educational outcomes, but the most powerful influence on student achievement remains the home and community of the child.

• Throughout the history of choice models, the outcomes have never lived up to the choice advocates' claims; see Minnesota, Milwaukee, and Florida (despite the claims otherwise). Choice has, however, produced some corrosive outcomes, including re-segregating schools.

• School choice involves much more than tuition or per-pupil expenditures. To have choice, families must have access to transportation and often have to incur costs related to supplies. No current choice package provides families in poverty the enormous funding needed to produce genuine leveling of the playing field.

• Tuition tax deductions are available ONLY to those families paying taxes, result in only a small percentage of the deduction amount, and are therefore in practice lining only the pockets of the affluent.

• Choice plans always create transient student populations. Few parents ever take the choices offered, and then those few who do, tend to return to their home schools in just a few years. This shifting of populations isn't healthy for students and distorts the data needed to determine if educational quality is being addressed.

• Parents often (if not primarily) choose schools based on factors other than educational quality—factors including religion and socio-economic stratification.

Beware Bizarro Robin Hood claiming that school choice is for poor families...

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