Your editor has known for some time that Diane Ravitch acolyte Leonie Haimson — who has spent as much time over the years criticizing reformers such as President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for sending their kids to private schools as opposing the expansion of charters and other school options the school reform movement supports — exercises the very school choice she opposes by sending her daughter to private school. Last week, someone had even mentioned that Haimson was planning to send her other child to private school as well even as she was working with Ravitch and other traditionalists on forming the Network for Public Schools, which regards choice as part of the “privatization of public education” they oppose. Yet I didn’t write about this fact (or the fact that the once-respectable Ravitch herself sent her own kids to private schools) in part because I didn’t think it was worth mentioning in advancing the ability of all families — including those from poor and minority backgrounds, who, unlike Haimson or even I, lack the means to escape the worst American public education has to offer. Considering that all humans have, at one point or another, behaved hypocritically (as well as committed other sins), railing against this one example wasn’t worth the time. In any case, I figured someone more objective on this matter than I would eventually report on it anyway.
From where I sit, I also believe that reformers need to behave in a more-principled manner than our opponents. This means not resorting to bringing the personal lives of our opponents into these fights. This includes talking about the decisions they make for their children, even when they talk publicly about that matter themselves, which is brought out by pointing to the contradiction between Haimson’s public opposition to expanding school choice and very private decision to exercise it. Sure traditionalists such as Haimson and Ravitch have resorted to such nastiness — including teaming up with the American Federation of Teachers last week to criticize StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee for the school choice decisions she and her ex-husband had made. The fact that Rhee has actually walked her talk — including sending her kids to D.C.’s public schools while serving as the district’s chancellor — and is a strong advocate for expanding high-quality school options for all families (including pushing for the passage of Parent Trigger laws and supporting the expansion of vouchers Haimson and her allies oppose) is more than enough to counter their demagoguery.
As a movement, reformers don’t need to point out Haimson’s hypocrisy — or even engage in the gutter rhetoric she has aided and abetted through her association with Ravitch — to defend expanding opportunities for all families to provide their kids with schools worthy of their genius. All that is needed is to point to a few realities: That because of Zip Code Education policies that traditionalists defend, far too many parents and caregivers are stuck sending their kids to dropout factories and failure mills that condemn their children’s futures. That too many poor and minority kids are denied access to comprehensive college preparatory learning because of failed policies and practices traditionalists defend such as ability tracking and special ed ghettos used to place kids struggling with literacy that adults don’t want to teach. That families who demand stronger roles in shaping education for their kids, especially black and Latino households, are often treated as nuisances and worse by teachers and school leaders whether their kids attend big-city schools or those in suburbia. And that families shouldn’t have to put up with this.
It is absolutely amoral to deny families their God-given right to shape education for their kids. It is completely unacceptable to tell families that they shouldn’t have the ability to help their kids escape failure or transform the failing schools in their communities. And it is just plain wrong to restrict families from building brighter futures for the children they love. As reformers, we know that expanding school choice — from charters to vouchers to tax credit programs to Parent Trigger laws to online learning options — is the key to ending the nation’s education crisis. More importantly, as men and women who care for the futures of children and respect the efforts of families to help them succeed, we know that expanding choice is also the moral thing to do. You cannot say you want to help all kids succeed and then declare that their families shouldn’t have as many options to help our kids do so. And no one, not even Haimson, can deny it without betraying their intellectual and moral dishonesty.
All that said, it is nice to see GothamSchools’ Geoff Decker do stellar work in breaking news yesterday on this contradiction between Haimson’s public criticism of expanding school choice and her very private decision to embrace it. And even nicer to see how her fellow traditionalists (including Ravitch) are attempting to justify her contradiction (and accusing Decker of smearing Haimson) instead of arguing for providing poor and minority families with the range of options to which Haimson (along with many of them) avails herself. This matter speaks louder than words to their amorality and intellectual charlatanism.