I favor integration on buses and in all areas of public accommodation and travel,. I am for equality. However, I think integration in our public schools is different. In that setting, you are dealing with one of the most important assets of an individual — the mind. White people view black people as inferior. A large percentage of them have a very low opinion of our race. People with such a low view of the black race cannot be given free rein and put in charge of the intellectual care and development of our boys and girls.
Martin Luther King, in 1959, presciently understanding why integration as school reform doesn’t work. This is why reformers must focus on providing all kids in every neighborhood with high-quality school options, not on integration.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
King, in his I Have a Dream speech, issuing a challenge to every reformer to be antagonists for our children and transform American public education for them. This is the subject of this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast.
On this Martin Luther King Day edition of the Dropout Nation Podcast, RiShawn Biddle explains why we should be antagonists for transforming American public education the same way the civil rights leader was hostile against Jim Crow segregation.
You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.
Two years ago, your editor reminded reformers — especially school choice activists within the movement — about the need to learn from the lessons of scandals that rocked Florida’s McKay voucher program as well as controversies affecting charter schools and the for-profit college sector. Because vouchers and voucher-like tax credits, like charters, and other forms of choice, are relatively new aspects of American public education, they were vulnerable to the same charges of low academic quality and fiscal mismanagement leveled by traditionalists opposed to expanding options. Requiring private schools accepting children using vouchers to participate in state testing regimes — something already done by schools run by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches — would be a key step towards assuring taxpayers that children were receiving the high-quality education they deserve, provide families with the data on school performance they need to make smart decisions, and ultimately, help reformers make the case for expanding school options for all kids.
Since then, Indiana has embraced the approach suggested by Dropout Nation in its launch of the nation’s largest school voucher program while Louisiana has also made participation in state testing a key part of its expanded choice regime. And this week, in the release of a new report on improving accountability for school choice, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has smartly embraced this approach. Yet the very idea of school choice programs (and the private schools who take taxpayer dollars) being subjected to the same levels of accountability we demand of traditional districts is anathema to some school choice purists — most-notably Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute’s school reform team, University of Arkansas’ Jay P. Greene, the otherwise-sensible Robert Enlow and Greg Forster at the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation, and Matthew Ladner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Their arguments against accountability not only fail to stand up to intellectual and moral scrutiny, but actually give traditionalists reasons for opposing further expansion of choice altogether. School choice cannot expand or succeed without strong accountability measures that can help children attain high-quality options that help them gain the knowledge they need for lifelong success.
Fordham’s report, which was written by Adam Emerson, the think tank’s now-former point man on school choice, comes amid last month’s report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that D.C.’s Opportunity voucher program and its operator, the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, couldn’t verify if schools looking to serve voucher students were eligible to participate in the program, as well didn’t provide families with timely and up-to-date information on private schools so that they could at least shop for options. Those revelations cast an unfortunate pall over the program’s overall success in helping kids in the nation’s capital escape failing traditional district schools, and that of other programs across the nation. So one wouldn’t think Fordham’s recommendations would be considered all that controversial.
Requiring students receiving vouchers to take state tests is the norm for voucher programs in Indiana and Louisiana and required by voucher programs serving Milwaukee and Cleveland, two of the oldest in the nation. As Greene’s University of Arkansas colleague, Patrick Wolf, determined in a 2012 study of Milwaukee’s pioneering voucher program, this move, along with other accountability measures and the choice program’s effort to expand high-quality options, helped children participating in the program achieve “significantly higher levels of reading gains than their carefully matched peers in MPS after four years”. Same is true of Fordham’s recommendation that states publicly disclose the results so that families and taxpayers can know exactly how kids are learning. Such a step will help families make smart decisions about school options based on how well children — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds — are being served.
Meanwhile the think tank’s recommendation that states rank schools serving children receiving vouchers on the quality of their outcomes (and ultimately, weed out those operators failing children) should hardly be cause for controversy. It is nothing more than an extension of efforts within the school reform movement to weed out (and shut down) failing traditional public schools that harm the futures of children, as well as efforts among charter school advocates within the movement to weed out similarly laggard operators. Identifying faltering private schools and barring them from accepting children receiving vouchers wouldn’t lead to them being shut down; after all, they can still continue to peddle their services. But keeping them from receiving taxpayer funding for shoddy instruction and curricula would do plenty for all children.
Yet purists among school choice activists within the movement are aghast that Fordham would even offer such recommendations. Why? For one, there’s the belief that accountability will somehow stifle diversity and innovation in curricula and instruction in private schools. This is a view similar to those offered by opponents of Common Core reading and math standards, a group that includes Cato’s education crew and the Friedman Foundation. As Cato’s Bedrick declares, requiring private schools serving children receiving vouchers to participate in state testing will “make it all but impossible for schools to experiment with new ways of tailoring education to the needs of individual children”.
But this argument doesn’t hold up. For one, Bedrick and his allies can’t offer any evidence that test participation requirements by existing voucher regimes are stifling diversity and innovation. Why? Because it isn’t so. Catholic schools, which participate in state tests, continue to provide high-quality religious-based teaching and curricula throughout the nation, especially to poor and minority children in the nation’s big cities. If anything, testing requirements along with other accountability measures, actually help children in voucher programs attain high-quality education without stifling diversity. This is clear from Wolf’s study of the accountability measures developed for Milwaukee’s voucher program, and clear so far from Indiana’s own voucher initiative.
As for innovation? Certainly there is the amazing work of the Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii in developing culturally-based education for the Native Hawaiian children it serves. But as your editor noted two years ago in a commentary on Common Core, there’s not much of it going on, especially among private schools, in the first place. This lack of innovation cannot be blamed on voucher and tax credit programs; after all, a mere 245,854 children are served by the programs, according to the Alliance for School Choice. Nor is lack of innovation necessarily a bad thing; after all, novel developments in curricula and instruction don’t necessarily lead to improvements in student achievement. But for school choice purists such as Bedrick to argue that requiring private schools serving voucher students to take state tests somehow stifles non-existent innovation is intellectual hogwash. The fact that private schools don’t have to participate in school choice programs at all if testing and other accountability requirements bother them also makes the argument offered by Bedrick and his allies completely specious.
If anything, this requirement, along with other accountability measures for school choice programs, can advance innovation by providing much-needed data on school performance that can be used by school operators to figure out what works and areas of need to help all kids succeed. A private school headmaster, for example, could use state test data along with other data gleaned from diagnostic assessments a school may already use to restructure how teachers are working in classrooms. Entrepreneurial teachers and school leaders, both in private as well as in traditional public and charter settings, can also use the data to launch new schools that serve particular groups of children served by voucher programs.
But this disdain for Fordham’s recommendations among school choice purists isn’t shocking. From their perspective, accountability should be something done by families choosing schools, in short, voting with their feet. Enlow, in particular, argues that families can already make smart decisions without any kind of accountability or school performance data in place for their use. How? Citing data from Friedman Foundation’s recent study on how families in school choice programs make decisions, Enlow essentially declares that families could simply use metrics such as class size ratios, information on school accreditation, even the percentage of a school’s graduates accepted and attending college, as proxies for accountability.
Yet Enlow and his allies know all too well that these input measures are insufficient for use by families for evaluating school options, much less for any form of accountability. Why? Because they don’t show the most-important outcome: How schools are improving student achievement and preparing kids for lifelong success in adulthood. Three decades of research has long ago shown that here is no correlation between smaller class sizes (or student-teacher ratio) and student achievement. The fact that school accreditation is as shoddy as teacher credentialing also makes it insufficient for judging the ability of schools to improve achievement. As for the percentage of students accepted and attending college? This tells families nothing because what really matters is the percentage of kids who actually graduate in three-to-six years; a school can do a poor job of preparing kids for higher ed completion and still send high numbers of kids to college.
Meanwhile Enlow fails to admit is the underlying reason why families judge schools by these measures: Because they don’t have high-quality data on school performance — including test score growth data and even data on how teachers improve student achievement — that they need for better decision-making. Certainly families can make smart decisions if they are provided comprehensive-yet-simple data on school performance. But this cannot be achieved without objective measures of how well schools are serving children. State testing regimes (including analysis of student test data through Value-Added Measurement) are the most-objective and best way to measure school, teacher, and student achievement. Given the high stakes for the futures of children that come with school decisions, Enlow and his allies are being irresponsible in advocating for the continued use of shoddy information that is useless for families, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds who need school choice and high-quality data the most.
But it isn’t just about families. What Enlow, Bedrick, Ladner, and Forster fail to acknowledge is that the expansion of school choice cannot continue without assuring taxpayers that the programs will be operated effectively and that they will do a better job than traditional districts of improving student achievement. Sure, three decades of research clearly shows that expanding school choice improves student achievement. But as I noted two years ago, school choice isn’t an unqualified success. When choice programs aren’t subjected to strong accountability and oversight, they become vulnerable to scandals that do damage to the cause of expanding school choice, even if they are isolated incidents compared to their overwhelming benefits. Especially given that choice programs are relatively new players in American public education, and thus vulnerable to attacks from traditionalists, choice activists, along with the rest of the reform movement, should do all they can to ensure that the initiatives are working to the benefit of the kids, families, and taxpayers they serve.
More importantly, strong accountability is at the heart of the school reform movement itself. The school reform movement has long ago showed that it isn’t enough for taxpayers and families to trust traditional districts. Demanding that all school operators provide high-quality instruction and curricula to our children is critical to stemming an education crisis that condemns far too many kids to the abyss. We cannot demand accountability for traditional districts and not for choice programs. It is simply intellectually, ethically, and morally unacceptable for school choice purists to tell taxpayers to simply trust that the programs are working properly. It also makes taking such a stance makes school choice purists no different than traditionalists who make the same arguments to defend failing traditional district schools.
Reformers shouldn’t have to save the expansion of school choice from true-believers more-concerned with dogmatically defending their favored reform than with implementing the kind of accountability necessary for ensuring children are being properly served — and ultimately, the futures of children for whom they say they are concerned. Bedrick, Enlow, Ladner, Forster and other school choice purists should stop arguing against Fordham’s sensible recommendations, and should work on developing new accountability measures that can bolster support for expanding school choice all kids deserve.
On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, RiShawn Biddle explains why there should be no controversy — and in fact, reformers should support — the Obama Administration’s effort to reduce the overuse of suspensions and expulsions. Decades of data and research has shown that the harshest school discipline doesn’t work for kids, fails to address the literacy and other academic issues behind student misbehavior, or aid in building cultures of genius in which they can learn.
You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.
Over the past couple of years, Hamlet and Olesia Garcia have learned the hard way about the Zip Code Education policies that punish families, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, for being unwilling to accept the worst American public education. While the circumstances that have led to Hamlet and Olesia facing a jury trial next month in a suburban Philadelphia court are different than that of Kelley Williams-Bolar and Tonya McDowell, the Garcias have used their struggle as an opportunity to fight strongly for expanding school choice and Parent Power for all families. The Garcias deserve the support of every reformer and every person who wants brighter futures for all children.
In this Best of Dropout Nation from December 2012, Editor RiShawn Biddle explains why Hamlet and Olesia’s battle against Zip Code Education policies should inspire all of us to push for expanding school choice and end restrictions on the opportunities for all children to attain high-quality education. Read, consider, follow the Garcias on Twitter, and support Hamlet’s and Olesia’s legal fund.
For an illustration of the ridiculous of families facing criminal charges for the laughable non-offense of “stealing education” — and end Zip Code Education policies such as restrictions on inter-district choice that perpetuate these problems — consider the case of Hamlet and Olesia Garcia of Philadelphia.
Hamlet and Olesia, insurance agents who own their own firm, had placed their daughter into an elementary school, Pine Road, that was next door to their home — and across district lines — in the Lower Moreland Township district last year after the couple had separated. This shouldn’t have been a problem. After all, Olesia had moved in with her father, who lived in the district and through his property taxes, was paying plenty into its coffers. But when Olesia moved back with her husband two months before the school year ended, the Garcias kept their daughter in the school so she could finish out the year because, like most caring parents, they wanted to do their best to provide their child with a stable (and high-quality) school culture.
But since September, the Garcias have been battling with Lower Moreland and the Montgomery County District Attorney, both of which have apparently decided to make an example of the family for daring to send their kid to school. Despite the taxpaying status of Olesia’s father and the fact that the Garcias even offered to pay back the district for the those last two months — and even pay the district to keep their daughter in that school for this school year (the daughter is now attending a private school), the Garcias now face criminal theft charges (and the dire consequences that come with conviction) for an act that hardly merits either an indictment, or the expense Lower Moreland spent to hire a private investigator to look into the family, or even the costly prosecution being pursued.
Hamlet and Olesia can at least say they have folks on their side. Within the last couple of months alone, Democrats for Education Reform (and the head of its California branch, Gloria Romero), Connecticut Parents Union President Gwen Samuel, and other Parent Power activists have jumped into the fray. They, in turn, have brought the harsh spotlights of national media outlets to bear on how Lower Moreland (which has few Latino or black students in its enrollment) has only pushed to prosecute the family of one of the few minority kids that had attended its schools. [Dropout Nation, being supportive of the Garcia family, asks you to sign this Change.org petition, or call up Montgomery County D.A. Risa Vetri Ferman at 610-278-3090 to demand that the charges be dropped.]
Certainly the Garcia’s case isn’t similar to that of Kelley Williams-Bolar, whose conviction for stealing education attracted national attention last year or that of Connecticut grandmother Marie Menard. Nor is their case that similar to Annette Callahan, the Waukegan, Il., mother of five whose effort to provide her youngest two children with high-quality education led to a battle with the Beach Park district over sending her kids to its schools, even though her ex-husband was a taxpaying resident there. And clearly the Garcias don’t face the same plight as Tanya McDowell, the homeless Bridgeport, Conn., mother who will spend the next five years of her life in the Nutmeg State’s York Correctional Institution for sending her son to a modestly-better school in the Norwalk district.
At the same time, Hamlet and Olesia are no different than Kelley, or Marie, or Annette, or Tanya in their pursuit of providing the kin they love with brighter futures. This included making sure that their daughter stayed in a nurturing school environment even as they themselves struggled to deal with the strain that comes with marriages facing trouble. Pine Road Elementary was not only the neighborhood school for Olesia’s daughter while she and her mom were living with her grandfather, it is also two miles away from the home in which her dad still lived (and much-closer than William A. Loesch Elementary, the Philadelphia district school the daughter had previously attended); so sending their child to Pine Road assured that their daughter would still be able to see both her parents even if they were no longer together. Given how close Pine Road was to Hamlet and Olesia’s home (further away by just a mile or so, than Loesch), the very fact that a family’s school choices are restricted by boundaries — especially when as taxpayers to Pennsylvania’s state government, they finance Lower Moreland’s budgets, also makes the district’s efforts to prosecute the family even more laughable.
All in all, the Garcia case once again shows why we must put an end to archaic Zip Code Education policies that restrict families (especially those from poor and minority backgrounds) from providing their kids with high-quality education.
In many ways, stealing education prosecutions are just manifestations of this longstanding opposition among district bureaucrats and other traditionalists to expanding school choice, and their desire to maintain their preferred approach to American public education. From where they sit, expanding choice will lead to the end of public education as they prefer it (government-run, no private-sector or parochial school players, and uninterrupted funding whether or not they do the job of improving student achievement). The very idea that families are capable of making smart decisions for their kids if given high-quality data, and should be lead decision-makers in education, also disturbs them. After all, they distrust families, and think that only they, the supposed experts, should decide which kids should get highly effective teachers and comprehensive college-preparatory curricula. This desire to keep control over funding and policy (along with the long-term fiscal crises resulting from decades of feckless spending) is one reason why districts hire investigators to keep tabs on families they suspect are attending schools outside of their boundaries. It also explains why districts in Louisiana (along with affiliates of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers) to kibosh the Bayou State’s school voucher program, and traditionalist-minded school leaders in Michigan are up in arms over Gov. Rick Snyder’s push to overhaul school funding.
But this opposition to expanding choice (along with the stealing education prosecutions that partly emerge from it) wouldn’t be such a problem if not for the hemming and hawing among states about taking over the full funding role that they need to undertake in order to make choice and other reforms a reality. Thanks to decades of battles over equal funding of schools and efforts at property tax relief, states now provide the plurality of all school dollars, accounting for 48 percent of all school revenues nationwide. Pennsylvania is an exception, with the state only providing 36 percent of school funding (and less than a fifth of Lower Moreland’s revenue). States could easily pave the way for choice by replacing all local funding with state dollars, essentially turning the dollars into vouchers that follow every child to whatever school, public, private or parochial, they so choose.
Yet save for a few — including Snyder, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, and outgoing Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels — governors and legislators haven’t fully embraced moving towards full state funding. This reticence exists even though it isn’t that hard to do politically, and can be done as part of an effort to reduce property taxes (half of which usually are poured into the coffers of traditional districts). But because state leaders aren’t willing to do so, this stalemate allows districts can justify opposition to school choice; after all, they can oppose school choice because they still collect local property tax dollars and parents outside their boundaries don’t provide those funds (even though they are financing the same schools through their state income taxes). At the same time, the districts can even deny choice to the children they are supposed to serve by continuing zoned school policies.
The consequences are borne by four out of every five children and their families, who have no access to school choice, and are thus stuck with whatever is offered in traditional districts. Especially for poor and minority families, this means subjecting their kids to educational neglect and malpractice that endangers their futures. This unwillingness to overhaul school finance also perpetuates one of the tenets of the Poverty Myth of Education held so deeply by so many education traditionalists: That poor and minorities don’t share the same interest in providing their children with a high quality education as they do, and won’t do whatever it takes to help their kids succeed. This racialist and condescending notion never considers the reality that for these families, simply moving from one zip code to another can be economically impossible — and given that districts often arbitrarily change their zoning policies, even moving residences doesn’t guarantee high-quality school options.
But it isn’t just an academic problem. As in the case of the Garcias (and for McDowell), even those families who want to structure education in ways that ensure their children have stability — even when circumstances aren’t necessarily so great — are also stymied by Zip Code Education policies. Considering that marital discord and splits has always been a part of life even before the turmoil unleashed by divorce laws in the 1960s (legendary business titan John D. Rockefeller was himself the product of a single-parent home), ending Zip Code Education policies can help families do all they can to shelter their kids from the storms of life. American public education shouldn’t make it harder for parents to do what’s best for their children.
Lower Moreland and Montgomery County should cease their prosecution against Hamlet and Olesia. More importantly, reformers should use the Garcia case (and that of Kelley, and Tanya, and Annette, and Marie) as an opportunity to expand choice by overhauling school funding. And this will help all families provide high-quality education to our children.
From the Dropout Nation family to all our readers, enjoy Christmas! Enjoy the Christmas card — and scenes of transforming American public education — below. And God Bless!