5 Biggest Lies About the Right-Wing Corporate-Backed War on Our Schools
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National School Choice Week, a pet project of big corporations and conservative billionaires like the Koch brothers, kicked off Monday with celebratory forums throughout the country. Billing itself as a social justice movement committed to “ensuring effective education options for every child,” “school choice” has actually become a deeply divisive wedge issue for the right. But the folks at School Choice Week would prefer that you didn’t know that.
On their website, you can find photographs and videos of shiny happy children of all races and ethnicities. And you’ll see that Bill Cosby is a major supporter. And since he has a doctorate in education and has acted as a philanthropist on behalf of many African-American schools, many will see his endorsement as an important mark of legitimacy.
But there are a few serious problems with the school choice movement. Though it attracts mainstream conservatives like Cosby, as well as Democrats like President Barack Obama, it is not, at its core, a bipartisan endeavor. Its most important backers are rightwing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other groups supported by billionaire rightwing ideologues like the Koch brothers. They want to dismantle public education altogether and run schools as businesses, judged as “successes” or “failures” based on abstract data taken from high-stakes standardized test scores.
Access to opportunity is replaced with demands for universal “excellence” and “achievement,” in which teachers are punished for student “failure.” This pits parents against teachers, and it ultimately sidelines already marginalized children of immigrant families, poor children, and/or children of color.
But you won’t see any of these shortcomings acknowledged in the video below:
To counter some of the misinformation School Choice Week organizers are disseminating to the public, I give you the five biggest lies you’ve heard about school choice:
1. It’s not about racial justice and equal opportunity.
In fact, school choice often makes inequality worse. But because public schools have not solved the achievement gap between white and black children in America, proponents of school choice dishonestly take up the mantle of the Civil Rights Movement.
It isn’t that all aspects of school choice are objectionable to educators. Dennis van Roekel, president of America’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association (NEA), acknowledges that school choice can benefit underserved populations some of the time. He says magnet schools – that is, schools in poor neighborhoods that provide a range of diverse classes for students not usually offered in public schools – are a good model for school choice. Such schools draw students who are attracted, for example, to advanced arts or sciences programs. The extra funding ensures that magnet schools, located in poor areas, become a district’s best schools. Van Roekel sees this as a worthy innovation that furthers equity, and says the NEA supports it.
His organization also supports teacher-led schools that empower teachers to administer schools and tailor them to the needs of students. He even says that some charter schools – that is, independent public schools designed to fill a specific community’s needs and are less regulated that other public schools – are good ones. He thinks there is room in public education for some charter schools.
But he doesn’t think they’re a viable answer to inequality everywhere. He cites a 2009 Stanford study, which found that only 17% of charter schools provided better education than regular public schools. And that, he says, is not acceptable to the NEA because “it ought to be better than that. It needs to be 100 percent.”