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A Blatant Double Standard

December 12, 2015

Yesterday’s editorial in the Oklahoman shows the clear intent of school voucher supporters. They want private schools to have the benefits of taxpayer support, but with none of the accountability.

Starting with the first paragraph:

AS lawmakers debate policies giving Oklahoma students greater education choice, including the use of taxpayer funds for private schools, it’s important to keep regulation of those programs to a minimum. Counterproductive red tape only drives providers away and robs students of opportunity.

You read that right; this is the same newspaper editorial board that has argued for A-F Report Cards, tests to determine 3rd grade promotion and high school graduation, college and career readiness standards, and countless other red-tape reforms over the last several years. Now they’re telling us something we already figured out: every bit of that is counterproductive. It robs students of opportunity. The editorial board may be worried about that type of nonsense driving away potential private education providers. My concern is the extent to which it has contributed to driving away public providers.

You mean you want me to meet more mandates for more students with less funding, and continuing decreases to my take-home pay? Where do I sign up?

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Yes, red tape and accountability mandates are just as responsible for driving good teachers away as the lack of raises over the last eight years. But wait; there’s more:

For example, some argue that any private school accepting students with state-funded scholarships should be required to administer state-mandated tests and report results. Yet that requirement can dramatically limit participation of quality private schools. Greene noted state tests can impact a school’s curriculum and instruction.

I have a question for the educators here. Have you ever had students who were so close to getting the point of a lesson, the theme of a story, or the connection between two historical events, and then, for some inexplicable reason, they just don’t have that final moment where it all comes together? That’s how I feel reading this paragraph.

Of course tests impact a school’s curriculum and instruction. They’re the number one reason for many of the misguided decisions that have happened in schools over the last 15 years. If you’ve ever had a child who had to give up music, art, or recess to spend more time on reading and math, blame the testing culture that this very paper has supported for more than a decade. It’s almost as if they are doing everything imaginable to make the public school experience suck while offering up private schools as a pristine alternative.

I have a better idea. Let the teachers teach the kids. They actually know what they’re doing.

I also want to key in on the phrase “quality private schools.” How do the writers define quality? With public schools, they use a misleading rating system based on test scores. Are Bishop McGuinness, Cascia Hall, and Oklahoma Christian School worthy of an A? Maybe. How would we know? They seem like great schools, but we don’t have A-F Report Cards telling us so. If fear of accountability is going to drive away the quality private schools, then maybe that word doesn’t mean what we think it means. It’s why the organized homeschool lobby in Oklahoma seems to want nothing to do with vouchers.

Side note: as of right now, SB 609, which carries the water for vouchers in the 2016 legislative session, only includes private schools. Although that could change at a later date, there’s no reason to think homeschooling language will be added to the bill in the next five months.

“A lot of private schools don’t teach the state curriculum — on purpose,” Greene said. “They have their own vision of what an educated person is, and that’s what they’re teaching. That’s why they’re private schools. They’re alternatives. They’re something different.”

Believe it or not, most of us who work in public education also have a “vision of what an educated person is.” What we’re doing right now doesn’t resemble that vision. What we’re doing right now limits student autonomy and teacher professionalism. What we’re doing now flies in the face of cognitive development. What we’re doing now is borderline malpractice – and it’s all proscribed by policies that non-educators created.

By the way, the words in quotes belong to University of Arkansas professor and frequent OCPA contributor Jay P. Greene. (I know you’re shocked that there would be a connection between OCPA and the Oklahoman.) Here’s more of what he thinks of public education, from his own blog:

Two of the great pillars of our country are equal rights and freedom for diverse beliefs. Neither of these pillars is consistent with a government school monopoly, nor with the educational oligopoly of limited school choice.

A monopoly or oligopoly exists by stamping out the rights of challengers in order to protect the privileges of the powerful. When educational entrepreneurs are denied the right to start new schools on equal terms with dominant providers, all of us lose. A society where the education of children is controlled by the few is a society that doesn’t respect equal rights.

And the education of our children is at the very heart of how we all live out our most central beliefs about life and the universe. Our country can never fully live up to its commitment to freedom for diversity until we undo the monopolization of education. Part of the reason we created the government school monopoly in the 19th century was bigotry and a childish fear of religious diversity. It’s long past time we, as a nation, grew up. Let’s leave those fears behind us, in the nursery of our national history.

Let’s be clear about which institution better protects equal rights and freedom for diverse beliefs. In public schools, we accept all comers. We don’t care what gender or color you are. We don’t care if or how you worship. We accept you if you’re straight, gay, or transgendered. We take students from birth to age 21 with all kinds of physical and learning disabilities. And I’m not just paraphrasing my district’s compliance statement. This is what I really believe. This is what most of us in public education believe. This is who we are.

Public schools embrace diversity. If you want greater homogeneity, look inside the private schools in your community.

Greene also brings us back to the dreaded Blaine amendment. Representative Jason Nelson was on Twitter this morning rattling this familiar cage too.

In case you don’t have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, as I don’t, let me sum it up for you anyway. Those of us who oppose school vouchers must be religious bigots. We believe that public funds should not be used for sectarian purposes.

I haven’t re-read all of my old blogs (or Claudia’s, or Rob’s), but I don’t remember this being the center of our arguments. I don’t remember this being the center of any argument made by the OEA, CCOSA, or the OSSBA, either. No, we tend to focus on the fact that this state does a horrible job of funding the public schools and we don’t want to see the stream diverted to private schools that select their own students and answer to no one (at least not publicly).

We teach all the kids we get. Pardon us for not wanting to share funding with schools that want to teach only those students they deem worthy. Back to yesterday’s editorial:

Similarly, requiring private schools to accept all applicants in order to receive state funds can change a school’s culture and mission. In theory, Greene noted participating Catholic schools could be required to accept students who are virulently anti-Catholic. How does that make sense?

It makes no sense. None of it makes sense. I don’t want to tell the Catholic schools (or schools tied to any other denomination or faith) that they have to accept students disruptive to the way they teach their beliefs. I also don’t want to pretend that these schools have the same purpose as public schools.

As my daughter says, “You do you.”

“The only schools who are willing to do whatever the state tells them they must do are the schools that are most desperate for money,” Greene said. “If you don’t have enough kids in your private school and your finances are in bad shape, you’re in danger of closing — probably because you’re not very good — then you’re willing to do whatever the state says.”

At this point, I’m wondering if the Oklahoman editorial board wrote this or just cut and pasted from the Greene playbook. What I’m reading now is that the writers – whoever they are principally – want precise metrics for judging public schools but apply reasoning such as “probably because you’re not very good” to private schools who would accept any state accountability for funds. Funny, that’s the same logic the Oklahoman typically uses against the Education Establishment when they gripe about us speaking our minds.

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Diligently moving forward, the Oklahoman and Greene turn to direct attacks on public schools:

Public schools don’t accept all comers. Districts typically serve students in a limited geographic area. Since many of the better public schools are in upper-income areas with more expensive housing, this means many schools are effectively off-limits to low-income families. Public schools also routinely decline to serve students with significant special needs. Those students are sent elsewhere.

First of all, I want to thank the Oklahoman for saying what those of us in the Rebel Alliance have been saying all along. Yes, many of the “better” schools are in upper-income areas. That’s not a coincidence, you know. Since the upper income areas tend to have wealthier families, and wealthier families tend to have higher educational attainment in the home, and since their children tend to have  better pre-natal care and nutrition from birth to age five, and since affluent homes tend to have more books and words and vacations and stability and such, it only follows logically that the schools there would be full of students that we couldn’t screw up if we tried.

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On the rest of this paragraph’s point, thousands of Oklahoma students attend schools out of their geographically-assigned district. In fact, I think at least one prominent voucher supporter in the Legislature has children attending school in another district. As for the claim that we send our high-needs students elsewhere, Mr. Greene should probably know that the sending district still pays the bill for these students – and it’s huge. Sometimes the least-restrictive environment (LRE) in which we provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) is much more expensive than what the district receives through special education funding for that student. Then again, maybe you’d actually have to do my job for a few minutes to know that.

Here’s the closing:

Some public school administrators will object that they should also be exempt from testing and accountability requirements. If lawmakers give parents the power to freely use taxpayer funds to put a child in any school, that’s a point worth debating down the road.

But for now, school choice policies should give parents true alternatives — not force private schools to become another version of the status quo.

That’s me: some public school administrator. It’s not that I don’t want accountability requirements. I just want some that make sense. I just want to know that the people who write them into existence won’t insult me with drivel such as this. For us, the status quo has become public education policy crafted by members of two of this country’s “royal” families (Bush and Kennedy) – two people who never spent a day in public education. Nobody should have to live like that – private, public, or homeschool.

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We have over 30 legislators who will serve their last year in 2016 because of term limits. For a few, passing a voucher bill into law would be a legacy accomplishment. It may even be the stepping stone that some want to use moving into the statewide races that will be up for grabs in 2018. The campaign has begun.

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  1. December 22, 2015 at 12:30 pm
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