In response to the 10/25/2012 post, “The Hidden Agenda of Choice” a reader writes:


I do find the logic in this post below the blog’s typically high standards.

On the other hand, thanks for encouraging everyone to vote out those who put our school funding in the toilet. It won’t immediately change anything, I know, but we keep pounding on the rock. 

Here is my critique of the post:

The authors of “The Hidden Agenda of Choice” cannot go unchallenged for their fuzzy logic, outrageous statements, or blatant attacks on fellow public schools, namely charter schools.

Fallacy #1: Since when is KIPP (or any other school) maintaining “soft (but real) requirements of continued attendance of the child” deemed unconstitutional? Every school should require student attendance and ask for regular parent participation.

Fallacy #2: Anyone who believes that charter schools operate “outside the bureaucratic entanglement of government bodies” has never worked in a charter school. The Texas bureaucratic entanglements for all public schools (including charters) include PBMAS, AEIS, FIRST (financial monitoring), Data Validation Monitoring, PAR Monitoring, State Accountability Monitoring, Federal Accountability Monitoring, State Performance Plan Monitoring, Residential Facility Monitoring, Data Validation and Verification Monitoring, special education requirements, ESL, 504, and the list goes on and on. Just which outside “entanglements” is the author referring to?

Fallacy #3: The author’s leap from operating outside “bureaucratic entanglements” to sidestepping civil and constitutional rights is incomprehensible. To coin a legal phrase, civil and constitutional rights do not disappear at the charter schoolhouse door. And those “pesky civil and constitutional rights”are never sidestepped.

Fallacy #4: And now, as if throwing charters under the constitutional bus wasn’t enough, we jump into the author’s favorite (and always under the surface) agenda – vouchers. If you can’t fight charters as public school competition, then let’s throw in vouchers and attack private and parochial schools, too.

Fallacy #5: It has been argued before in this blog that the rich are proposing vouchers to save money. Incredibly, the author would have us believe that the wealthy would destroy public education as we know it (italics mine but intent his) for a $5,000 “tax break to the wealthy” (see 9/25 post). The theory goes: 1) Make the state accountability tests harder; 2) Claim schools are failing; 3) Keep the conspiracy alive (e.g. OMG: they killed TPM because it looked like schools were doing OK!); 4) Therefore, failing schools need to rescued by “school choice” and “vouchers”. What an amazing conspiracy theory, and all so the rich can save more money!

Fallacy #6: The author then proposes his own school choice plan – basically the “So you want school choice? I’ll give you school choice!” program that says let parents demand anything they want from a school. You don’t like testing after 8th grade? Done. You want your kid to take English on-line? Done. You want to set your own accountability standards for your child (no, really, I’m not making this up – see the 9/26 blog “Pretty Lies and Powerful Truth (Part B). Done. Imagine the nightmare, the frustration of teachers and administrators, trying to implement this outrageous proposal. Imagine this free-for-all parental system and the demands it would make as it ruined any ability to run any schools.

Now, to put my cards on the table, I run a charter school system and am very pro public schools. The dollars we get to run our schools are the same tax dollars that any other child gets. And I’m proud that charter schools in Texas have given thousands of students (mostly low income) a public school choice, and, I believe, a better education. But let me say a few words in defense of Milton Friedman who proposed vouchers over 50 years ago as a way to get government out of helping the “producers” of education (namely, schools) and into helping the “consumers” of education (namely, parents). He felt this was government at its best. And as to providing vouchers to parents to attend any school, well, here are his own words:

“As to the benefits of universal vouchers, empowering parents would generate a competitive education market, which would lead to a burst of innovation and improvement, as competition has done in so many other areas. There’s nothing that would do so much to avoid the danger of a two-tiered society, of a class-based society. And there’s nothing that would do so much to ensure a skilled and educated work force.” ( Dec. 2005 interview).

Now, I am not a voucher proponent. But the difference between Milton Friedman’s purpose for proposing vouchers (to equalize and improve the school system, especially on behalf of the poor) and the reasoning on vouchers by the author of these posts (to benefit the wealthy) is vast and ironic. I think I’ll side with the Nobel Prize winner on this one. And whenever I hear someone like the author of these LYS posts argue so vehemently and irrationally against choice (on which our very economic system was founded), it makes me wonder what interests they really have at heart – our children or our status quo school system? As for me, I say let our schools be rich, competitive marketplaces of ideas and practice and then let the parents decide what is best for their children. We will all – students, parents, teachers, administrators, the rich, the poor, and society as a whole – be better off.

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