Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Winners, losers, and armchair quarterbacks

Mr. Gibbons' Report Card

Jerusha Conner

Relying on an outdated report to criticize charter schools in New Orleans is bad enough, but Jerusha Conner, an an associate professor of education at Villanova University has this notion that competition between charter schools and public schools will help some students become “winners” and leave others to remain “losers.”

She forgets traditional district schools in a competition-free environment still produce “winners and losers,” as she phrases it. There were plenty of losers in New Orleans public schools before the storm.

New Orleans is beginning to demonstrate reform can lift all boats. There is no guarantee that the strong and positive results can be replicated elsewhere, and legitimate questions remain about governance and inclusion.

Villanova University

Still, the real lesson of New Orleans is that reform is never done. Many of the problems Conner decries are being addressed by more recent innovations, like a universal enrollment system, which are designed to ensure equity.

Also, for the umpteenth time, teachers union leader Albert Shanker did not create the “original vision” for charter schools.

Grade: Needs Improvement

Peter Cook

New Orleans

Peter Cook began teaching high school in New Orleans, Louisiana a year before I began the same adventure in Virginia. His vivid, yet dismal, memories of pre-Katrina New Orleans public education set the scene with decaying school buildings, anarchy in the classrooms, corruption at the central office and the stifling mental oppression from the feeling that it may be impossible to change anything. It makes my own teaching experience feel like a Disney vacation.

Today, the teacher-turned-ed-reformer blogs on the whitewashing of New Orleans education history exposing the errors of critics, academics and conspiracy theorists alike.

Enjoy some of his more recent debunkings here, here and here.

Grade: Satisfactory

Brittany Bronson

Brittany Bronson, an English instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says vouchers won’t fix public schools in Nevada. She may be right about that, but not for the reasons she cites.

Instead of offering school choice via scholarships, Brittany wants Nevada to focus on reducing poverty.

The “fix poverty first” crowd is a tough one. Most are well-meaning people who desire to help those in need. Aside from asking low-income families to wait generations for the problems to end, Bronson’s theory has one other glaring problem: Nevada isn’t a particularly poor state.

It may have relatively low graduation rates and few college graduates, but thanks to healthy tourism and mining industries, the Silver State has below-average poverty rates. Whether examining per-capita, household or family income, data suggests incomes in Nevada are average, not poor while income equality is also slightly above average for U.S. states. The number of minimum wage workers in Nevada is even below the national average (See Table 3).

It’s reasonable to argue low-income people in Nevada need more educational support. For example, the state’s fledgling tax credit scholarship program, which could make the ESA program much stronger for poor families, may not help nearly as many students as it should.

But poverty is not the source of Nevada’s educational woes. States like Florida, have more poverty and outperformed Nevada by a significant margin on national tests. The question isn’t whether we should support the fight against poverty in Nevada and elsewhere. It’s whether the education system should wait before it offers families something different.

Grade: Needs Improvement

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BY Patrick R. Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons is public affairs manager at Step Up for Students and a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. A former teacher, he lived in Las Vegas, Nev., for five years, where he worked as an education writer and researcher. He can be reached at (813) 498.1991 or emailed at Follow Patrick on Twitter: at @PatrickRGibbons and @redefinEDonline.