About That “Is it time to hit reset on public education in North Carolina?” Piece on EdNC.org

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Where to begin?

That recent op-ed by Bob Luebke of the Civitas Institute on EdNC.org entitled “Is it time to hit reset on public education in North Carolina?” might be one of the most condescending and intentionally ignorant a piece this public school advocate has read in quite a while.

Yes – intentionally ignorant. Why? Because in an argument that tells me that “a brief history lesson is in order” in what has happened since the 1970’s in public education and literally does not even glean the issues of civil rights, desegregation, and gender inequality and still holds a moral high ground with a condescending tone is being intentionally ignorant.

Forget that the title really has nothing to do with the rest of the argument.

It starts,

Opponents of school choice can be an angry lot. Their list of grievances is long; 

Maybe that should be reworded a bit.

“Opponents of my position (that is enabled with a lot of money from a wealthy benefactor) can be inconveniently tenacious defending underfunded public schools with a list of concerns that I really have no counterarguments to accept my own publications that echo other wealthy conservative think tanks.”

He continues:

Much of the anger of school choice opponents derives from a different understanding of the term “public education.” What do I mean? A brief history lesson is in order.

Luebke seems to fixate on the word “anger.” And then he says he will teach us his own version of revisionist history.

In North Carolina — as in the rest of the United States for that matter — public education means education developed, funded, controlled, and delivered by the government.

That’s what it means. But what it is in NC is education that is developed by non-educators, underfunded, controlled politically, and delivered with fewer resources and support than it was before the Great Recession.

What Luebke is doing is giving a slanted “idealized” version of what public education should be and claims that it hasn’t been achieved. What he is intentionally ignoring is that the reality of public education in North Carolina has more to do with actions by the very people his “thinktank” supports. Actions like:

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • misplaced Bonuses
  • Last in nation in Principal Pay
  • Nebulous Evaluation Tools
  • Push for Merit Pay
  • “Average” Raises that Ignore Veteran Teachers
  • Health Insurance and Benefits Attacked
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE)
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil When Adjusted For Inflation
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Virtual Charter Schools
  • Innovation School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of the Teaching Fellows Program

Luebke then talks about the word “uniform.”

What does uniform mean? Today, North Carolina public schools are required to follow a standard course of study and take the same tests. Schools are financed in much the same way, possessing similar staffing and administrative policies. Of course, this is not to deny differences of degree, but the intent is to make a public-school education uniform; the same in Wilmington as it is in Asheville.

This from the same person who squawked about how school systems spent money for “supplies” when those schools were also trying to finance the resources they needed to help their students.

But it’s this part of Luebke’s op-ed that really shows his “intentional ignorance.”

For a long time, the public school system worked well for many. But about 40 years ago, things started to change. The pressures of urbanization, immigration, economic upheaval, and changing moral norms started to not only challenge the foundations of the common school ideal but also to fracture the consensus that helped to sustain public education.

This is not the time to discuss the cause and impact of the changes. Suffice it to say, as these changes occurred, parents sought out other educational options. 

The “this is not the time to discuss the cause and impact of the changes” part is a cop out. An evasion. “Suffice it to say” a way of avoiding  actually not talking about what this article should have addressed.

Luebke is avoiding talking about the 1970’s, a decade that History.com called,

“a tumultuous time. In some ways, the decade was a continuation of the 1960s. Women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays and lesbians and other marginalized people continued their fight for equality, and many Americans joined the protest against the ongoing war in Vietnam. In other ways, however, the decade was a repudiation of the 1960s. A “New Right” mobilized in defense of political conservatism and traditional family roles, and the behavior of President Richard Nixon undermined many people’s faith in the good intentions of the federal government. By the end of the decade, these divisions and disappointments had set a tone for public life that many would argue is still with us today.”

Is Leubke covertly arguing that marginalized people fighting for rights and equality forced others to seek educational avenues that would not have to deal with these societal shifts and call it the “school choice” movement?

If not, then he needs to offer more clarity. Because brushing aside a chance to “discuss the cause and impact of the changes” of what was happening 40 years ago to spur the school choice movement is an attempt to not even acknowledge it.

Luebke spends the rest of his op-ed talking about how we “drew” and “draw” hard lines between public and private.

When discussing the benefits of educated children, where the child is educated shouldn’t be as important as to why. 

“Where” and “Why?” What about “How” and “With?”

The most important thing is that, whether it be a private school or public, students are being educated.

Alright then, make each institution equally transparent on how “well” each is doing –  like the private religious schools that get voucher money.

Individuals motivated by faith and altruism started many of the first colleges, hospitals, and charities in this country. Do we say that private hospitals, because they are privately financed and managed, produce only private benefits?

Interesting he talks about private hospitals in a state where the State Treasurer literally is making moves that will force all private hospitals to consider all public sector employees “out of network.”

If a well-educated populace creates public benefits, as we are told, it matters not where the children were educated.

What he should have said is “If a well-educated populace from a fully funded public school system creates public benefits.” And what has happened in NC these last few years with voting rights acts, gerrymandering along racial lines, and not fully-funding schools has done nothing more than show how scared those in power really are of a well-educated population.

Private schools create the same social benefits as traditional public schools. Because what happens in private schools is often just as public as what goes on in many public schools, it is wrong to think public education only happens in public schools.

That needs a lot of explaining.

In fact, all of this op-ed needs a lot of explaining.

But for a guy who championed a voucher system that is by far the least transparent in the nation, unregulated charter schools that have shown to be less diverse than traditional public schools, and an educational savings account that lacks proper oversight, it is no surprise that he ends his op-ed with this platitude:

If one of our most important goals is to produce informed and educated citizens who contribute to our society and workforce, our only concern should be finding the best way of doing that. We shouldn’t care whether that involves a public or private school. When our policies recognize these realities, North Carolina will encourage education and that education will be truly public.

There it is: private schools are public schools.

It’s like multiplying both sides of an unequal equation by “0” just to make the look equal.