Thanks for the Metaphor
Thursday evening, I did not attend the school choice summit at Oklahoma City Community College. I registered for it. I went to it. Unfortunately, I did not get in because I had been flagged as a security risk.
It wasn’t just me. Other people I know didn’t get in, including my wife. We were told by one of the event organizers that OCCC had initiated the flagging process. Trent England had even tweeted as much the day before.
In fact, I am concerned about accuracy. That’s why my wife called the OCCC police to find out why we had been labeled as security risks. They said the event organizers had flagged us. I’ll let the event organizers and the college work out their differences on that one. It sounds complicated.
This was an interesting week, to say the least. I was called a thug, a bully, and a racist before being labeled a danger to society at large.
I can laugh at two of those labels. Bully? Thug? Please. The two people slinging these barbs view dissent as violence, apparently. And one of them used to work for Janet Barresi (who I spotted at the summit Thursday, by the way).
The third label infuriates me. Yes, I oppose vouchers. That doesn’t make me racist. Nor does supporting vouchers make you racist. We can believe different things without any of us being horrible people. We can, however, look at the experiences of other states that have taken this path.
For example, an August 2016 report released by the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch showed that vouchers were disproportionately used by white students.
Ohio’s original voucher program, called EdChoice, allows students assigned to low-performing public schools to seek acceptance to a private school that accepts vouchers. A Dispatch analysis of 2014-15 data shows that the schools eligible because of their failing test scores were 61.3 percent black, but black students represented 48.5 percent of the students who were attending a private school on a voucher that year.
Whites made up 21.4 percent of the students attending qualifying low-performing schools, but 33.4 percent of those who applied and were accepted to a private school under the voucher program, state records show.
Add in a second, fast-growing Ohio voucher program, known as the EdChoice expansion program, which provides low-income students with vouchers even if they aren’t assigned to a low-performing public school, and the enrollment grows even more disproportionately white.
While census data show that about 29 percent of school-age children (ages 5-17) who live in poverty in Ohio are black, black students make up only 18.4 percent of expansion vouchers granted in 2014-15. Whites made up 64.3 percent of the expansion program, but only about 56 percent of the Ohio kids in poverty. The expansion program paid for more than 3,600 vouchers in 2014-15, triple the amount awarded the previous year.
The article also cited research showing that vouchers weren’t raising academic achievement (emphasis added).
A Northwestern University research team, commissioned by the conservative, pro-school-choice Fordham Institute, found Ohio’s voucher students tend to be more economically advantaged and higher-performing academically when they enter private schools, but they then get worse educational results than their peers who stayed behind in their public schools. While that study did not find any racial bias in the data for 2007-13, it focused on a narrow band of voucher-eligible students and not the lowest-performing, highest-poverty schools.
It appears vouchers are re-segregating schools in Ohio. Oh, also in Arizona.
There may be more; I haven’t looked. That’s a post for a later date. I don’t want to discuss the relative merits of the various school choice options right now. I want to discuss the event we weren’t allowed to attend.
We arrived a little after 6:30. As we approached the venue, we noticed people were exiting it. I spoke briefly with Senators Kyle Loveless and Rob Standridge, both of whom represent a small portion of my school district.
It was actually the third time I had seen Standridge Thursday. First was at our district’s legislative breakfast. He even stuck around after we finished to talk with two highly-interested Midwest City Bombers.
After that event, I went to the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Budget Summit. There, he was speaking on a panel about health care issues. At both events, he said things he knew would be unpopular with people in the crowd. He still showed up, and he said them. He believes what he believes, and in many cases, I believe something different. It doesn’t mean I won’t listen to him.
That was my intent Thursday evening. When I saw Standridge outside in the cold, he complimented me on the intelligence and thoughtfulness of my students. I thanked him again for coming to the breakfast.
Then I ran into Loveless. He was unable to make it to the breakfast, but we had a cordial conversation. We always do. I know he’s pro-voucher. He knows I’m not. We’re still civil. We probably have common ground somewhere. Besides, he had posted this invitation on Facebook earlier in the day.
Pro or con, Loveless wanted all of us to come out and hear the keynote speaker. That includes me. I’m a naysayer. I still wanted to listen.
What I didn’t realize when I ran into Standridge and Loveless is that everybody was coming outside because of a fire alarm.
I hope whoever pulled the fire alarm is arrested. It’s a crime. It creates a public safety issue. Whether it was someone trying to disrupt the event or not, it’s never ok to do that.
When OCCC cleared the alarm and started letting people come back inside, we stood in line for the registration table. Since we had pre-registered on Eventbrite, we assumed this would be simple.
One of the people ahead of us was told that she was on a list and wouldn’t be allowed to enter. Then another. And another. They moved past the table to ask why, and one of the organizers said that campus security had given them names of people not being allowed to enter. My wife went with them to hear the explanation. Meanwhile, I asked the people working the registration table if they had my name. I was on the list too. So was my wife.
Shortly, few more people I know arrived. Some were also blocked. Some were not. We stood and talked for a few minutes and then noticed someone beyond the rope taking our pictures from several different angles.
In turn, we got a few pictures of him.
We hammed for the camera. We visited for a few minutes. We left. Before we left though, we got to see former State Superintendent Janet Barresi enter. I wasn’t quick enough to get a selfie with her. Maybe next time.
It didn’t take long for the news to reach several of my friends. I was getting text messages before I reached my car. Once I was home, I was both being praised and attacked on Twitter. Since then, I have had several good conversations with people who were inside the event. They were angry both at the protesters for being a disruption, and the event organizers for denying people admission. I have even made peace with one person who attacked me on social media Thursday night when tensions were highest. To be fair, we both made the effort to make the conversation more civil.
I wasn’t at the summit very long, so I can’t speak to the level of disruption that occurred (other than the fire alarm). Brett Dickerson, writing for Oklahoma City Free Press, described some of what happened Thursday evening.
Close to time for the main program to begin in the auditorium something or someone triggered a fire alarm in the Visual and Performing Arts Center. The fire department found no fire and the conference went on.
It added to an already tense day due to warnings earlier in the week that the conference might be disrupted.
Then, a group of about 20 noisy protesters arrived. They tried to enter the main exhibit hall outside the auditorium where the closing activities were to be held in the Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Organizers balked at the tickets protesters showed the entry desk workers and did not let them pass on into the event. Entry to the event was only through one door with campus police nearby.
And so, that’s where the protest was held.
“This is funded by the Koch Brothers! This is funded by ALEC! This is funded by the Walton family! This is funded by Betsy DeVos, who is about to be confirmed as Trump’s secretary of education,” shouted Mark Faulk, a well-known local activist on the political left and one of the organizers of the protest.
Brett also captured video of this exchange.
Honestly, I don’t see the point of this. From what I’m seeing, most of the people behind Faulk agree with him. Most of the people facing him don’t. I’m going to guess no minds were changed. One bubble came crashing into another bubble.
My friends who were allowed to enter didn’t have their minds changed either. The rhetoric against traditional public schools was predictable. Unions. Bureaucrats. Nothing has changed in 150 years.
Again, that’s a post for another time. I caught some of the keynote speaker’s address on Facebook Live, and I do have some thoughts about it.
I have a semantic problem with the discussion we’re having, however. Or maybe it’s better to say not having. When people or groups try to paint me as being against school choice, they’re not being accurate. I’m against vouchers. I have mixed feelings about charter schools, but I don’t categorically oppose them. I have no problems with parents homeschooling their children. I don’t even mind that Oklahoma as a state doesn’t regulate homeschooling.
I have issues with the idea of tax dollars being used for private schools or individuals as they wish with no oversight or accountability. Private schools can deny admission to students.They don’t have to follow state academic standards or participate in required state testing. Taxpayers would have no rendering of how that money is spent. Some of those pushing hardest for vouchers like to compare total per-pupil spending in public schools to the tuition in private schools. Conveniently left out is the fact that private schools spend more than just the tuition they receive. For one, they rely on donations from patrons at large and from the families they serve.
The biggest issue I have is calling it choice when the school doesn’t have to choose the student back. Imagine a family walking into the office of a private school, voucher in hand, and asking to be admitted. The private school might say yes. It might say no.
It’s sort of like how having a ticket for a public event at a public college doesn’t necessarily get you in the door. I can’t count how many people in the last couple of days have pointed out that similarity.
The district I lead has over 14,200 students this year. Many are transfers. They chose to be with us and we let them in. A similar number have transferred out to other districts. School choice already exists. And I don’t oppose it.
Maybe some day I’ll spend more time talking about what I like and what concerns me about charter schools. Again, that’s another post. And I’ve offered several people with different opinions a chance to write guest posts. None have accepted, but the offer is still there.
I’m going to take another stab at this in a month. On Tuesday, February 28, Oklahoma Watch will host a discussion about school choice at Kamp’s in Oklahoma City.
School choice is back on the legislative agenda this year in a big way, as lawmakers weigh proposals to create a form of vouchers and expand tax credits for private-school scholarships.
To provide insights, Oklahoma Watch will host a public forum with Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), and Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA).
Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor David Fritze will moderate the discussion. Those interested in attending are encouraged to register and come with questions.
I have registered. So has my wife. So have many of my friends. The event is scheduled for an hour, but we’ll be there with questions to ask. Before that, though, we’ll listen to both participants with open ears.