Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Rules for thee but not for me; vouchers, charters and choice

MrGibbonsReportCardJulian Vasquez Heilig, associate professor, University of Texas, Austin

I am not sure whether Julian Vasquez Heilig wanted readers to laugh or cry when he published his latest brief on voucher research.

Vasquez Heilig sets up his paper by describing the attitudes, beliefs and motivations of voucher supporters. So who does he cite to provide a fair and accurate description of the beliefs of voucher supporters? None other than the National Education Association, the nation’s single largest voucher opponent (this is the actual citation).

To build a case against vouchers, he tries to show consensus among researchers, yet he provides few academic citations. The sources he does cite are over a decade old or inexplicably limited in scope. He even allows a blogger at an advocacy organization to summarize voucher research … twice. Interestingly, that blogger doesn’t have a single citation to back up her own single sentence summation.

NEAprofessorPadding the support for his own argument is bad enough, but Vasquez Heilig ignores whole swaths of voucher research, claiming much of the research was either not published in peer-reviewed academic journals, or was funded by pro-voucher groups.

Of course, Vasquez Heilig publishes this claim in a non-peer-reviewed outlet in the same week he tweets about his NEA Foundation trip to China. It is also worth noting he’s a research fellow for the union-backed National Education Policy Center and, contrary to his accusations of corporate influence corrupting research, lists himself on his resume as a former Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Young Researcher.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Rep. Geraldine Thompson and Bill Sublette

o-POT-MEET-KETTLE-570Charter schools in Orange County, Fla. are increasing racial and economic segregation, or so say state Rep. Geraldine Thompson and Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette.

They make this accusation after finding a handful of charter schools with demographics at odds with the district-wide average. But averages mask extremes on one end or the other, so comparing a single school, or even a handful of schools, to the average of a large district is not only unfair but inappropriate.

According to data from the Florida Department of Education, district schools in Orange County range from 26 percent to 100 percent minority. Charter schools range from 24 percent to 100 percent minority. Not much difference.

The same is true for economic segregation. District schools run from 7 percent free- and reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligible to 100 percent. The charters run from 0 percent to 93 percent.

It is worth noting that district-run schools seem more likely than charters to have extreme concentrations of minority or low-income students. Forty-four district schools in Orange – nearly a quarter of all schools – are 90-percent-plus minority, while 40 schools have a student body that is 100 percent FRL eligible.

Charter schools in Orange are drawing students from local neighborhoods much in the same way as district schools. Rather than pointing fingers at the 19 charters where students voluntarily enroll, Thompson and Sublette might want to scrutinize the 183 district schools where students are zoned.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Interpretations of “separation of church and state”

Interpreting the First Amendment, specifically the part about making “no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” has gotten pretty weird, if not contradictory, in recent years.

A great case of this mangled modern interpretation was recently highlighted by Sharon Otterman’s New York Times article on NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s prekindergarten expansion, which is allowing more pre-k children to attend religious private schools. She writes,

“The biblical story of Noah’s Ark will be taught, without mention of who told Noah to build it. Challah, the Jewish bread eaten on the Sabbath, will be baked, but no blessings said over it. Some crucifixes will be removed, but others left hanging.”

Not ok, ok, ok, not ok, ok, ok, ok?

So kids will be allowed to attend religious schools and receive religious-related instruction, but only if the lesson is “cultural.” Differentiating “cultural” from “religious,” though, is pretty torturous. The new rules are already looking pretty bad. For example, a Jewish school may have a mezuzah on a doorway if it doesn’t have a Star of David on the outside, or if the Star is fairly small.

Rather than writing rule books on how to appropriately decorate “winter holiday conifers,” or regulating the size of hexagrams, we need a more sensible understanding of the Establishment Clause. We also need to let parents decide where to send to their kids – and to make sure there are lots of options, even secular ones.

Grade: Needs Improvement


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  2. Parent and Teacher

    The title of this blog post is appropriate for SUFS and the voucher schools who have resisted implementation of Common Core for students on the state dole who are in private school..

    • Patrick R. Gibbons

      The scholarships are supported by private donations, thus not on the “state dole” as you say. This blog (and even this post) is about keeping people informed about interesting developments in education reform. For example, there are quite a few private schools already rolling out the “Common Core” in the schools.

      As for your comment about the title, I take it you want universal sameness. Do you support full universal choice and fully funding private and charter school options?

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Parent and Teacher

    Students receiving a voucher created by a state law are on the state dole. Period. End of story. We have a constitution in this state. Do you realize that? It calls for a UNIFORM system of free PUBLIC education. Period. End of story.

    • Patrick R. Gibbons

      Yes, and that means equitably funded free schools. It does NOT prohibit the state from creating and funding other options, nor does it require the state to replicate the exact same school model and force all kids to do the exact same thing at the exact same time.