Reading educational perspectives from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation is like opening a letter with a nice stamp, a handwritten address, and some hearts drawn on the outside.
Yet, once you open it up, what falls out is nothing but glitter. No letter. Nothing really of substance. Just a mess on the floor that requires cleaning.
But I know that I will still open any letters from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation because as a public school activist, those letters will inevitably revalidate that I am on the right side of the school choice argument.
Hood’s latest missive on school choice appears in EdNC.org’s Perspective section. It is entitled “Exaggeration won’t stop school choice” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/31/exaggeration-wont-stop-school-choice/).
Its tone is condescending and entitled. Its substance is watery. And its covert claim of taking the moral “high road” in the debate over school choice in NC smells of garbage juice. Consider the final line of his op-ed.
“Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally.”
For a man who fronts organizations founded and led by Art Pope, the idea of having a rational conversation on public issues in this arena is like walking into a dialogue with someone who will only allow you one word for every sentence he says and who will not allow you to present evidence because it may actually refute any nebulous claims he makes.
But he will smile and shake your hand as if you are on the same side.
John Locke as a philosopher embraced empiricism, practicality, and strong observation. And while Mr. Hood loves using the word “empiricism” and “empirical” to define his “proof” he offers in this instance another lofty, general, glittering, and amorphous claim that what North Carolina has done to reform public education is strongly beneficial.
And it is beneficial – for those who are seeking to make a profit like Art Pope.
But Mr. Hood did offer to discuss this rationally, so here are some claims that he makes and that I will “rationally” refute.
- During the 2016-17 academic year, nearly one out of five North Carolina children were educated in settings other than district-run public schools. In Wake County and some other urban areas, the percentage was even higher.
He is right on both counts. Also, it needs to be noted that over one out of five North Carolina children live in poverty. And while Wake County has a higher percentage of students in non-public school settings, it might be worth noting that the budget shortfall for funding the public schools in Wake County is one of the more well-known shortfalls in the state as far as supporting public schools. Just do a little research.
- To opponents of parental choice in education, the trend signifies an elaborate plot to destroy public schools by denigrating their accomplishments and funding their competition. To other North Carolinians, the rising share of children attending charter, private, or home schools simply reflects the fact that more opportunities are available, more families are exploring them, and the state’s education sector is becoming more diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly.
Actually, a “rational” person could look at what has happened in the past five years in NC and see that there really is a dismantling of public education. Look at the money that is being used to fund charters, vouchers, and other “reforms” that have no “empirical evidence” showing that they are successful.
Just take a look at this : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/18/the-assault-on-public-education-in-north-carolina-just-keeps-on-coming/. That’s an elaborate plot.
Of course other North Carolinians might see “school choice” as a road to more opportunities but is it really offering a more “diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly” experience?
Today the News & Observer had an editorial entitled “The hidden cost of vouchers” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article165488352.html). All North Carolinians should read this.
When they passed the ill-conceived program to hand taxpayers’ money to lower-income people to pay for private schools for their children, Republican lawmakers didn’t bother to point out the fine print – that the $4,200 maximum might not cover expenses such as food and transportation. And it also doesn’t cover the full tuition of private schools, many of which are church-affiliated…
There’s a cynical side to this entire program as well. Yes, the $4,200 can cover a lot of expense at small church schools, for example, but wealthy Republicans aren’t going to see any of the Opportunity Scholarship recipients in the state’s most exclusive private schools, the ones that cater to wealthy families. Tuition in those schools is often $20,000 and above.
Parents with kids in public schools where arts and physical education programs are threatened, where the best teachers are leaving the profession to earn a better living, might point directly to Republicans in the General Assembly as the culprits. This voucher program was little more than a slap at public schools, which Republicans have targeted since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011. It is a bad idea that is getting worse, and getting more expensive, and the only positive in it is in the eye of the beholder – private school enrollment has gone up since the program started.
Would Mr. Hood like to rationally refute this?
The op-ed in the N&O also references an NC State study led by Anna Egalite which offers some rather “empirical” data that seems to take Mr. Hood’s claims and send them back for reconsideration (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/). It too is worth the read.
Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, is also quoted in the N&O op-ed. I am willing to bet my salary as it would have been if the General Assembly had not messed with the schedule I saw when I came into the profession that Nordstrom is much more educated in current public education issues than Mr. Hood and could offer more “rational” perspectives on the issue of school choice – calmly or otherwise.
- I’m in the latter camp, obviously. I’ve advocated school choice programs for three decades. My parents, former public-school educators, were supporters of the idea throughout their careers and influenced me greatly on the subject. If you disagree, I probably won’t be able to convince you in a single column about the merits of charter school expansion or opportunity scholarships. But I will offer this observation: exaggerating the case against school choice isn’t doing you or the public any favors.
No, Mr. Hood will not convince me. But if he thinks that what is being offered by myself or other public school advocates is exaggeration, then I would claim that Mr. Hood is compressing and ignoring the truth because he never refutes the evidence offered by public school advocates. In fact, he never offers any proof that vouchers and charters are showing evidence of high student achievement here in North Carolina.
Mr. Hood says that he has “good reasons, both theoretical and empirical” for his claims. What are they? Where is the data from North Carolina? The only time I have heard a “pro-school choice” official mentioning even talking about empirical evidence as far as North Carolina’s reforms are concerned actually helping low-income students.
Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.
The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.
Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).
Doesn’t sound like empirical data to me. Sounds like avoiding the actual debate. I would also like to see Mr. Hood explain his point of view in reference to the NAACP’s recent call for a charter school moratorium.
Or, what is found in this report: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/federal-study-of-dc-voucher-program-finds-negative-impact-on-student-achievement/2017/04/27/e545ef28-2536-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?utm_term=.e45590a4a1db.
“Students in the nation’s only federally funded school voucher initiative performed worse on standardized tests within a year after entering D.C. private schools than peers who did not participate, according to a new federal analysis that comes as President Trump is seeking to pour billions of dollars into expanding the private school scholarships nationwide.
The study, released Thursday by the Education Department’s research division, follows several other recent studies of state-funded vouchers in Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio that suggested negative effects on student achievement. Critics are seizing on this data as they try to counter Trump’s push to direct public dollars to private schools.”
Or even this report from the NY Times: “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html).
- Elementary and secondary education is becoming more like the rest of the education sector, and more like a health care sector that features lots of taxpayer funding but a diverse array of public, private, and nonprofit hospitals and other providers.
Actually, Mr. Hood is right in this respect when he compares public education to health care. Just look at the refusal to extend Medicaid for the very families who would qualify for vouchers and you see how the refusal to fully fund public schools only makes matters unhealthier.
- There is an impressive body of empirical evidence suggesting that as district-run public schools face more competition, their students tend to experience gains in test scores and attainment as school leaders rise to the challenge.
There’s that word again – “empirical.” Funny how public education works really well when it is collaborative rather than competitive, but it is worth mentioning that in a state that routinely has principal pay ranked around 50th in the nation, actually keeping school leaders is an obstacle created by the very people who brought us reform.
- And because the state’s choice programs are targeted at disabled and lower-income kids, the enrollment changes wouldn’t represent some kind of neo-segregationist conspiracy.
Apparently, Mr. Hood didn’t read this:
He could just confer with Lt. Dan Forrest on its contents.
Or maybe he hasn’t fully digested this (which was sent to me, but I cannot verify its source, so if you find it, please let me know):
The last statement before he offers the “Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally” conclusion, Mr. Hood says, “Competition improves performance.”
When the North Carolina General Assembly stops gerrymandering districts and enabling policies that seem to be ruled unconstitutional like Voter ID laws then the playing field might be leveled somewhat.
Then Mr. Hood might see how the performance of his op-ed and its baseless claims really offer no competition to the truth.