Saturday, April 8, 2017

Field Guide To Choice Advocates

The world of choice/charter/voucher advocacy has always been a barely-tacked-together quilt of varying interests and goals. The elevation of Betsy DeVos to Secretary of Education under His Royal Trumpness has stretched-- and in some cases snapped-- those bonds. When choicers appear in your neighborhood, you could find yourself dealing with select sub-species of the breed; you can use this handy field guide to determine what, exactly, you're dealing with.

Concerned Parents

In the charter-choice world you will form time to time encounter parents whose frustration and bad experience with their local school district has driven them to seek alternatives. They want charter schools because they want to put their child in one. Many of these choicers spend only a short time in the movement, lasting only about as long as it takes them to discover that their charter presents all the same problems they encountered in public schools, except for communication and responsiveness, which is worse.

A key identifying feature is that these choicers actually have actual children in the local system. This is the only choice variety that cannot be faked. It is always appropriate to open a dialogue with Concerned Parents-- they have real issues, real concerns, and the highest sincerity index of anyone we'll encounter on this list. They have something to say about your local public school, and you should listen to them.

Social Justice Advocates

Similar to the concerned parents, but without the actual local children. They have noticed on the federal, state or local level that systemic racism and neglect can cause, in particular, major urban school districts to fail the non-wealthy and the non-white, and they have concluded that an alternative system might be the better choice.

This is a dwindling species. Charter/choice advocates had a chance to ally with these folks, but steadily scamming, failing, and silencing local voices, the larger movement has lost credibility with the people at ground level (see also "NAACP Charter Moratorium"). You can spot authentic SJA's because they can stop talking about charters and choice long enough to also discuss equitable funding. You can also spot them by looking at whose voice is actually being amplified. Fake SJAs are sure they know what's best for Those People. Real SJAs actually let Those People lead the conversation.

Competition Junkies

Their argument is that everything is made better by competition. They will complain about the "monopoly" of "government" schools. The strong should thrive and the weak fall under the wheel. With a competitive choice system, schools will sharpen their edges to become the best, cutting open the veins of mediocrity so that all the boast are lifted on a rising tide of the losers' blood.

Ask the competition junkies what should become of the losers and the students who go to school in them. The unspoken assumption of competition junkies is that there are winners and losers and if you lose, it's because you deserve to lose, which means you deserve whatever bad things happen to you because of it. Cookies are for closers. If you are trying to argue that this system is unfair or damaging, expect some mansplaining about weakness and snowflakes.

Free Market True Believers

The government should be taken completely out of the education business, education should be provided by a broad assortment of providers (not just schools, but companies that provide courses and microcompetencies as well). Education is a big beautiful $600 billion marketplace, and for too long entrepreneurs have been forced to gaze at that lush field longingly, drooling through an impenetrable wall of rules and regulations. Tear down that wall! Give vendors free and unfettered opportunity to get onto that playing field. The corollary is that parents should also be free to spend money at any of those newly-free companies.

If all of this flexibly creative disruption results in more students getting a worse education, that's completely beside the point for the FMTB. For them, there is no higher value than unrestrained vendors and unaided buyers chasing each other through rolling fields of money.

The Brilliant CEOs

These guys aren't ideologues-- they're just businessmen who would like to make a buck and run an edu-business. Unlike the Free Market True Believers, CEOs believe there should be some rules, because it's bad for business when you let a bunch of undisciplined incompetents and fraudsters ruin the brand. Plus they're pretty sure they can take everyone else in a fair fight. The CEOs are pretty sure they're the smartest guys in the room, and the system they like is the one that lets them implement their personal vision without having to answer to other people, whether it's the damn teachers (doesn't the help know its place?) or the idiot elected officials (Can't we get rid of elected school boards?).

It's not that they want to make more money; it's just that money is how you keep score, and they are playing to win, to show the world that if Brilliant CEO was given complete control, the freedom to hire and fire and set hours and wages. Brilliant CEO wants choice because he wants to be able to create his school system from the bottom up rather than dealing with any system that already exists. You can't really debate or discuss with these guys because, sorry, you're just beneath them.

Jesus School

I've heard it more than once from folks in my own neck of the woods. "Originally, most societal organizations were para-church groups. We lost the government, the schools, the hospitals. The country would be better if we took them back."

When implemented, vouchers have proven to be a windfall for private religious schools, sometimes pulling them back from the financial brink. But these choicers are not in it for the long haul. They would like to get tax dollars directed away from public schools and toward private religious schools (where they feel that money rightfully belongs) until, some day, the Christian schools are big enough and successful enough that the public system can be shut down-- or at least scaled back until it's a lightly-funded holding pen for the children of infidels.

These folks have been around for a while, consigned to the fringe both by public attitude and the law. But now that one of their own is the Secretary of Education, they're feeling pretty feisty.


The most notable example would be the segregation academies that sprang up across the South after Brown v. Board. Their basic position is that we need choice because they don't want their kids mixing with Those Other Children. They would also rather not pay taxes to support the schools for Those Other Children. This group tends to speak in dog whistles because they know that, even with Trump as President, open racism is only socially acceptable under select circumstances. Expect to hear about letting students find the school that is the best fit, or which gives them the most comfortable social experience.

Union Crushers

We can't fix the existing system because of the union. The teachers union controls everything, from selecting school board members to setting their own wages to taking advantage of a tenure system that keeps even the worst teachers on the planet fully employed for a full decade after they die. This group is pretty sure that the whole public school system is a scam set up by NEA and AFT, a fake "education" system set up so that a bunch of lackluster halfwits can steal public tax dollars that they turn around and hand over to the damn unions. The only possible solution is to burn the public union-infested system to the ground and replace it with one where teachers are paid $1.50 an hour and like it and don't act so smug all the time just because they went to college.

Frauds and Charlatans

They really only have one goal, and that is to run an education-flavored scam that puts more money in their pockets. They will gladly pretend to be members of any or all of the above groups as long as it gives them an angle they can play that will get them what they want. And since now it's apparently okay to use even the highest public office in the land to enrich friends and family, these guys will be more brazen and omnipresent than ever, from the legislators in Florida who make sure their family charter business is well-cared for to Buffalo school board member whose board position helps him make big bucks from charter business and says, when called on it, "I'd be a friggin' idiot if I didn't."

They close their schools mid-year, make themselves filthy rich with public tax dollars, implement education plans with no educational experience or training, use charters as a tax dodge, and run every kind of scam you can imagine. Often they are shameless, but just as often they pretend to share the goals and values of whatever charter-choice advocates are leading the charge that particular day. You can't really talk to them, because they will either keep changing their story or, when pinned down, will just not care.

Charter/choice advocates can take any of these forms, and they can hold these positions with varying degrees of sincerity. These different varieties of advocate also come with a full range of knowledge, from a handful with actual education experience and training all the way to the many clueless amateurs who think that because they once went to school, they know everything. Learn to recognize the difference between these breeds so that you know whether to approach with caution, conversation, or stubborn contrariness.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, you've knocked it out of the park.

    What a great summary and description of the various categories.