Thursday, June 11, 2015

Can't we do better than access?

Here's a piece of rhetoric that charter-choice advocates love to use:

" empower school districts to ensure that all kids have access to high-performing schools."
             -- PennCAN

"All options need to be on the table to improve schools so every child has access to the best teachers and every family has access to great school choices."
             -- Jenny Sedlis, Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY

"Having access to great school facilities will help these young people reach their full potential."
              -- Bobby Turner, CEO, Canyon Capital Realty Advisers (praising Rocketship)

"...low-income urban areas facing myriad challenges and whose families don’t have adequate access to great schools."
             -- Andy Smarick

The Challenge of Promoting Equal Access to Quality Teachers
             -- Headline of article by Mark Dynarski on Brookings website

"...equal access to great teachers is every child’s constitutional right..."
              -- TNTP on Vergara verdict

"His vision... includes expanding access to great schools"
             -- DFER, just about every time they go to bat for a candidate

I could do this all day, but you get the idea. A recurring theme among charter promoters and choice advocates is to argue for every child to have access to a great school.

So let me ask you a question. You've worked really hard at your job, and you have bills to pay. Would you rather have access to some money, or would you like to have the money. Would you like to work at a place where everybody has access to a nice paycheck, or would you like to have a nice paycheck? When you are hungry, do you want access to food, or do you want food?

In the charter context, "access" is a great little weasel word-- limiting, but not as obvious as "chance."

After all, if I said everybody at my company would have the chance to earn a good paycheck, would you guess what I was up to pretty quickly?

Maybe some charter-choice boosters just aren't choosing their words carefully enough. They need to step up their game.

Because I don't think giving every child "access" to a great school is much of a goal. I can meet that goal by saying, "Hey, I built a great school that can only hold twelve students, but all 2,000 students in the area had access to it." It smacks of exactly the sort of cherry-picking and sorting that charter fans (except Mike Petrilli) don't have the nerve to fess up to. "Access" says "Yes, we gave every kid the chance to prove they deserved to go to Awesome Charter High, but not all were found worthy." "Access" is a word or built-in excuses-- we gave Chris access to a better school, but Chris didn't have what it takes to make use of it. Left some childs behind? Oh well. At least we gave them access.

"Access" is also a word of transport. It implies that every child, to get to a great school, will have to go somewhere else. It says that we can't do anything about the student's present school except provide the means of escape, an open door to Somewhere Else (that she may or may not have the stuff to pass through).

With that one word, charter-choice boosters write off public schools and most of the students in them.

If you still can't see it, just think about how the picture changes if we change the rhetoric to saying, "Our goal is for every single student in the US to be in a great school."

Well, look at that. Suddenly, the option of trying to fix the schools that children are already in-- that option is back on the table. Nor can we make excuses about how a student had "access" to a great school, but just couldn't walk through that door. Maybe we still want to commit to charters and choice (or not), but we have to make an equal-or-greater commitment to bringing existing public schools up to greatness as well.

We don't need to give children access to great schools. We need to give them-- all of them-- great schools.
empower school districts to ensure that all kids have access to a high-performing school! - See more at:! - See more at:
empower school districts to ensure that all kids have access to a high-performing school! - See more at:


  1. I went to your final link and then found another:
    if it wasn't serious it would be laughable.
    An abundance of non-sequiturs!!!
    One might think they've been reading Darrell Huff's "How to Lie with Statistics".