It’s Time to Move on School Choice Reform

 

Teachers’ unions appear to have run into a buzz saw. On October 25, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten tweeted enthusiastic support for a Washington Post article titled “Parents claim they have the right to shape their kids’ school curriculum. They don’t.”

By November 6, Her message had drastically changed. “Parents have to be involved in their kids education. They must have a voice. At the same time, we have to teach kids how to – not what to think.” Sure, Randi.

In the interval, there had been a reality shock: the Virginia governor’s election, this time with an electorate that had wised up. Parents had been appalled when they remotely observed the overtly racist curriculum their children were being taught and then shocked at the blowback, including being charged with “white supremacy” when they protested.

Moreover, they now realized the unions were responsible for the damaging school Covid shutdowns.  Weingarten herself pressured legislatures and school districts into closures. Unions influenced the Biden CDC into adding new and impossible conditions for reopening. They threatened outright strikes if school districts tried to re-open for the 20-2021 school year.

Voters were not amused. When Terry McAuliffe vowed “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” the damage was done. Polls showed challenger Glenn Youngkin gaining 15-17 points among parents in the last weeks of the campaign. Education-oriented voters swung from favoring McAuliffe by 33 points to a nine-point Youngkin advantage.

Weingarten’s response was that the reports had all been a massive misunderstanding, that it was actually the teachers’ unions that had tried to re-open the schools. Her pathetic gaslighting attempts were ignored.

The longtime symbiotic relationship between the teachers’ unions and the Democrats may be fraying. They both earn the other’s loyalty. According to OpenSecrets, 99.72% of the AFT contributions in 2020 went to Democrats. Fully 97% of AFT donations have gone to Democrats since 1990.

In Virginia, McAuliffe bagged $1 million from the unions. AFT ran ads for McAuliffe and Weingarten personally stumped for him.

Their money isn’t wasted. As governor, McAuliffe had vetoed nine school choice bills. This year, he affirmed on CNN “I will never allow [school choice] as governor.” Nationwide, Democrats have been able to stymie the movement for universal school choice in spite of growing majorities in favor.

The Democrats are in a sticky situation now. According to RealClearOpinion research, voters’ support for school choice surged from 64% to 74% in just the last year. Another poll showed 78% approve of Education Savings Accounts, the most comprehensive method for funding parental choice directly.

Voters have expressed particular contempt for politicians (and educators) who send their own children to private schools but deny the same privilege to less fortunate children. 62% of voters said they would be less likely to vote for such a hypocrite.

Terry McAuliffe, for one, got the message. The veto king sent his five children to private schools. When asked about it on NBC this year, his verbatim quote was “Chuck, we have a great school system in Virginia. Dorothy and I have raised our five children.” You’ve gotta love it.

Democrats are stuck with a policy that is not only morally and educationally wrong but is a political loser. Advocates for children and parents should seize the opportunity to not only win some elections but to fundamentally reform the structure of education in America into a system that serves students and parents, not bureaucracies.

Teachers’ unions must be publicly held accountable. These organizations which relentlessly pound a “for the children” theme have a wretched record of not promoting their educational interests.

In the 1960s, when the unions first rose to influence, about $3,000 ( inflation-adjusted) dollars were spent per student. Today that number is over $13,000. Yet academic achievement and the ethnic gap have stubbornly failed to improve.

Not all of the spending increase has gone to teacher salaries and not all of the fault for academic failure is theirs. But as the dominant influence in education policy for the last half-century, unions must bear major responsibility for the dismal outcomes.

Parents’ rights advocates: take heart. This is our time.

Published in Education
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  1. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Whenever the subject arises I want folks to look at New Zealand in the mid eighties.  When the UK joined the EC  New Zealand lost British subsidies for their miserable educational system and their socialist government opted for radical change.  They fired all, repeat all, of the educational bureaucracy and turned schools over to teachers and parents.  The money went to parents who then had every school in the country to choose from.  Teachers got rid of lousy teachers which are known, and led their schools in competition with other schools for students.   It was all public but all private competition.  They went from the bottom of western schools to the top right behind Singapore in one year.  Kids could choose any school in the country.  We must do something similar, charter schools have to fight every inch of the way to wrench power from the States and unions and we do not have the time necessary to win that fight.  States or at least cities in the US not run by Democrats could do something similar to New Zealand.  We’ve allowed the left to convince us that private  can’t work because some can’t afford it or parents don’t know enough to make those choices and subsidies are too complex.   New Zealand won that argument, reduced budgets drastically and simplified choice.  Parents know and in areas where they don’t, enough do so that those schools will die.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I Walton (View Comment):

    Whenever the subject arises I want folks to look at New Zealand in the mid eighties. When the UK joined the EC New Zealand lost British subsidies for their miserable educational system and their socialist government opted for radical change. They fired all, repeat all, of the educational bureaucracy and turned schools over to teachers and parents. The money went to parents who then had every school in the country to choose from. Teachers got rid of lousy teachers which are known, and led their schools in competition with other schools for students. It was all public but all private competition. They went from the bottom of western schools to the top right behind Singapore in one year. Kids could choose any school in the country. We must do something similar, charter schools have to fight every inch of the way to wrench power from the States and unions and we do not have the time necessary to win that fight. States or at least cities in the US not run by Democrats could do something similar to New Zealand. We’ve allowed the left to convince us that private can’t work because some can’t afford it or parents don’t know enough to make those choices and subsidies are too complex. New Zealand won that argument, reduced budgets drastically and simplified choice. Parents know and in areas where they don’t, enough do so that those schools will die.

    This is the best plan. 

    Of course, let’s acknowledge that poor kids will still get screwed. 

    • #2
  3. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    I Walton (View Comment):
    New Zealand won that argument, reduced budgets drastically and simplified choice.  Parents know and in areas where they don’t, enough do so that those schools will die.

    I had not heard this. Is the system still in place?

    • #3
  4. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Tom Patterson:

    Advocates for children and parents should seize the opportunity to not only win some elections but to fundamentally reform the structure of education in America into a system that serves students and parents, not bureaucracies.

    The only good system is no system. Abolish compulsory schooling – the ultimate school choice policy. 

    • #4
  5. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    I think it is long passed the time for choice. When I started teaching back in 1967 I found out pretty quickly how incompetent the public education system was. At that time Phonics was being reintroduced into public education after years of whole word recognition in teaching reading. I had gone to private schools throughout my primary and secondary education. I had never even heard of word recognition as a reading learning technique, but it was pretty obvious to me, even as a brand new teacher, that it completely lacked the necessary skills that allowed a student to sound out a new word by phonetically breaking it down. However, it took several years in the public schools throughout the nation before phonics was reintroduced. 

    This ridiculous fashion likely begun in schools of education, the major source of stupidity in the nation, was one of many I saw over my years in teaching. I had never had a teacher in my entire schooling who was the product of a school of education or state licensing. Every teacher I had was an expert in their particular field and hired for their knowledge and excellent teaching ability. They were likely not paid as well, nor did they have the multiple benefits provided to public school teachers, but they were superb. In my classrooms over the years I used the techniques I had learned from them, and, as a consequence, I had what was considered to be far above average success in working with what was, unquestionably, the most difficult population of students in the schools, those classified as level 4 Emotionally/Behaviorally Disabled. The level indicates that they were in a self-contained classroom. Because most administrators would gladly forget that that particular population existed, I was left pretty much alone to do my thing, my way.

    However, I saw what was happening in the regular program. What I saw was bussing,magnetic schools, the end of industrial arts classes and music, targeted learning programs that used pre and post tests, but which took so long to actually pretest the students that by the time the teaching part began more than half of the year was over, and post tests had to begin shortly thereafter. That program cost the district millions, and the kits that were used ended up in attics and storage areas a year later. There were a host other failed experiments over the years. What they never seemed to try were the simple, basic techniques I grew up with which consistently turned out educated people. 

    The idea that everyone should go college was absurd on its face, but that idea likely destroyed a lot of kids who would have been great mechanics, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and other jobs, essential to a civilized society, that pay well and certainly aren’t demeaning. Instead the schools have turned out generations of illiterates unable to do the simplest math or anything else for that matter. An alternative is absolutely necessary.

    • #5
  6. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

     

    In my post above there wasn’t room to speak to the primary reason for public education, to produce citizens who can participate meaningfully in the politics of their country. They, the modern public schools, have foregone civics and history in favor of a leftist political agenda the source of which goes back to the Frankfurt school and its “visionaries.” Their disciples make up the faculty of every state school of education, and they work diligently to brainwash their students and to further influence the educational establishments at the federal, state, and local levels. The public schools as a whole have never been great, but at one time they did reliably turn out educated people. That is less and less possible as the goals have changed and with them the curriculum.

    • #6
  7. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Instugator (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    New Zealand won that argument, reduced budgets drastically and simplified choice. Parents know and in areas where they don’t, enough do so that those schools will die.

    I had not heard this. Is the system still in place?

    I left New Zealand over 40 years ago and haven’t tried to explore the subject.  I spoke to a New Zealand education Minister in Jackson Wy some 15  or so years ago who described the system as going strong.  It’s easier to centralize than to decentralize  but New Zealand is tiny, and homogeneous.  We have states and wide competition so we could make it last as long as we understand and parents become and remain engaged.  Education  in states that adopt freedom and competition will exceed  states that don’t.  The centralizers are always strong because they command federal budget and power, so the fight is relentless and it always is everywhere, but we gave up on education and have to aggressively take it back in states where parents care and governors don’t back teacher’s unions.

    • #7
  8. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I Walton (View Comment):

    Whenever the subject arises I want folks to look at New Zealand in the mid eighties. When the UK joined the EC New Zealand lost British subsidies for their miserable educational system and their socialist government opted for radical change. They fired all, repeat all, of the educational bureaucracy and turned schools over to teachers and parents. The money went to parents who then had every school in the country to choose from. Teachers got rid of lousy teachers which are known, and led their schools in competition with other schools for students. It was all public but all private competition. They went from the bottom of western schools to the top right behind Singapore in one year. Kids could choose any school in the country. We must do something similar, charter schools have to fight every inch of the way to wrench power from the States and unions and we do not have the time necessary to win that fight. States or at least cities in the US not run by Democrats could do something similar to New Zealand. We’ve allowed the left to convince us that private can’t work because some can’t afford it or parents don’t know enough to make those choices and subsidies are too complex. New Zealand won that argument, reduced budgets drastically and simplified choice. Parents know and in areas where they don’t, enough do so that those schools will die.

    That’s an impressive story. Wow. 

    We had a similar breakthrough in Massachusetts years ago. One town, Lexington or Sudbury, I’ve forgotten which one, had decided to never accept money from the feds or the state of Massachusetts. Then they were free to run their schools the way they wanted to. Within a year or two, their students were surpassing everyone else in the country on standardized tests, most importantly the SATs. 

    Independence. It’s the only way to go. 

    • #8
  9. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Eugene Kriegsmann (View Comment):
    The idea that everyone should go college was absurd on its face, but that idea likely destroyed a lot of kids who would have been great mechanics, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and other jobs, essential to a civilized society, that pay well and certainly aren’t demeaning. Instead the schools have turned out generations of illiterates unable to do the simplest math or anything else for that matter. An alternative is absolutely necessary.

    I think we need to be clear in our terms. What you are talking about is liberal arts colleges. None of the trades have apprenticeship programs anymore that replace postsecondary licensing education. Every nurse and police officer, at least in Massachusetts, must have a bachelor’s degree to even get into nursing or law enforcement.

    The topics covered in liberal arts education should be studied throughout one’s life. They enrich our lives beyond measure. We just need to separate career-track education from purely intellectual pursuits. If we clarified this in our own minds, the schools would follow, and the finances would be clear.

    I also applaud the intention of those people who wanted a single college-bound track in middle and high schools. I am completely sympathetic to what they were trying to achieve. I have yet to meet the guidance counselor I would trust anyone’s life with. Kids go through phases. It is not up to the public high schools to determine who gets to go to the liberal arts colleges and who does not.

    When we merged into a single college-bound track, the place we were looking at was Europe where such decisions were made about children when they were very young and on the basis of flawed standardized testing. We were smarter and more respectful of our fellow Americans than the rigid class system Europeans were about their fellow Europeans.

    I met a brilliant guy from Switzerland who came here forty years ago because all he could ever be was a plumber in Switzerland. He resented it mightily.

    The number one rule for educators should be, “We will not interfere in a child’s self-determination.” Tracking students interferes with their personal autonomy.

    I desperately want more education options for students. Half of our kids need a job that will allow them to live independently from the moment they graduate from high school.

    For all kids, we need to stress lifetime learning opportunities such as the University Without Walls in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the Harvard Extension School. And we need to keep them connected to educational resources they can tap throughout their lives should they ever want or need to.

    Education is a lifetime pursuit. It’s never done. :-)

    • #9
  10. Linc Wolverton Member
    Linc Wolverton
    @LincWolverton

    I’m surprised that one or more of the states with an initiative process hasn’t moved to a 100% voucher system good for public or charter schools. I live in Washington State, which does have an initiative process, but I suspect the state is too liberal to go for 100% vouchers.

    The initiative would have to deal with any remaining obligation of the public-school system, such as bond repayment and pension funds for existing teachers and how to handle existing public-school properties. And for voucher-reimbursement purposes, it probably should separate out the teaching of religion as an educational subject as opposed to religious worship (though the Supreme Court may clarify the issue somewhat in this term).

    • #10
  11. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

     

    MarciN (View Comment):

    I think we need to be clear in our terms. What you are talking about is liberal arts colleges. None of the trades have apprenticeship programs anymore that replace postsecondary licensing education. Every nurse and police officer, at least in Massachusetts, must have a bachelor’s degree to even get into nursing or law enforcement

     

    A school of education is not a liberal arts college. It is a program specifically designed to turn out “teachers”. I never attended an undergraduate school of ed. I did take graduate courses at the School of Education at the University of Washington and at New York University after I received my BA in Biology and MS in Marine Science and MA in Classical Theater. The classes I took at NYU and UW were, in a word, idiotic. They were essentially what are called Methods Classes, classes designed to teach you how to teach specific areas of elementary and secondary education. I needed to take those courses to complete my license requirements. They were useless in terms of what I actually did in my classroom. The few I took in the area of Special Education were taught by people who has little or no actual classroom experience in a sped classroom in an actual school. I am not sure what is taught undergraduate classes in the school of ed, but I can tell you that written language skills that were essential in Liberal Arts are definitely not taught. As a department head I had the responsibility for going over Individual Educational Programs developed by teachers in my department. I can honestly say that any paper with as many spelling and punctuation errors as those documents contained would have been returned to the student ungraded and simply marked as unacceptable. I had any number of teachers I worked with brag to me that they hadn’t read a book since graduating from college. They were very different than teachers who were my mentors throughout my own education. Sixty years later I still remember the names of many those teachers, including ones in the elementary grades. They weren’t just teachers, they were intellectuals. The current batch are about as much intellectuals as their students are “scholars”, a term my last principal insisted we use when discussing our students.

     

    • #11
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