This week in school choice: Tensions

In some ways, the tensions pushed to the forefront of the education reform conversation over the past week existed 100 years ago, when black families relied on faith-based institutions to educate their children in the segregated South, and educators like Mary McLeod Bethune cobbled together donations from white benefactors to expand opportunities for young African-Americans.

They certainly existed 25 years ago, when a seemingly unlikely alliance of progressive leaders like Polly Williams and conservative Wisconsin Republicans helped create Milwaukee’s pioneering school voucher program.

And they exist in the politically diverse coalitions that, over the past year, have rallied around the nation’s largest private school choice program in Florida, helped save charter schools in Washington State, and enacted a voucher program in Maryland.

For too long, and in too many cases, the people who speak for, lead, and, especially, fund efforts to expand school choice and educational opportunity do not come from the communities that have the most at stake in those efforts (meaning, mostly, low-income people of color). As the cause becomes more of a bona fide movement, that’s starting to change. But people from other backgrounds, including conservative intellectuals and Republican lawmakers remain an essential part of the coalition.

Kathleen Porter-Magee clarifies what that means.

Education reform leaders on the Right and Left cannot claim the mantle of civil rights when it suits us and then reject it when it starts to feel uncomfortable.

For many years, white conservatives gave moral urgency to the push for education reform by adopting the language of civil rights struggles. In 2002, President Bush used called it “the civil rights issue of our time”—a frame that found its way into the keynote addresses and panel discussions of many white-dominated education reform conferences. John McCain used the same frame while accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, calling education “the civil rights issue of the century.” …

I remember first hearing this language coming from fellow white reformers after I left the classroom in 2002, and I remember thinking even then that it sounded hollow. Not because it was wrong—ensuring equity and excellence in education is absolutely an issue of social justice. It’s also an important civil rights issue. But it wasn’t always clear whether that notion was more than just a sound bite.

See also: An open letter to white, conservative education reformers. A long list of names agree the “education reform coalition has a problem.” A progressive’s reflections on the importance of talking to, and understanding, conservatives. Education reform’s existential moment.


South Carolina attempts to cut private nonprofits out of its tax credit scholarship program amid quid-pro-quo concerns.

Why it doesn’t make sense to generalize about charter school performance.

Louisiana’s new governor goes after school vouchers.

New Jersey takes a stab at charter school reform. Louisiana forecloses the possibility of independent charter school authorizers. State superintendent John White on New Orleans charters’ return to local control. A call for charters not to fight closures, and by extension, accountability. Two big school choice names push back on an anti-charter lawsuit in St. Louis.

The difficulty of helping low-performing students find schools that actually work better for them.

New paths to college for Florida students with “unique abilities.”

Inconvenient studies for school vouchers: Negative achievement results, school closures in MilwaukeeThere’s a  positive side to ledger.

Taking educational customization past the normal gatekeepers.

Sure, I’d love to disrupt the traditional education bureaucracy and replace it with a system of high-performing charter schools. That might be doable one day—at least in our major cities and inner-ring suburbs, where student need is greatest, the population is dense, and existing district schools are the least defensible. But in America’s affluent suburbs, exurbs, small towns, and rural areas, I think the “system” is here to stay for the foreseeable future. There’s just not enough appetite in those places for something very different.

What I’m interested in today is how to work around that system and cut out its middle men (and women), such as superintendents and procurement officers. … How can reformers, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists “disintermediate” school districts and provide valuable services to students, parents, or teachers directly? What innovations are already underway, and what others might be pursued in the future?

Mapping school funding inequality.

Quote of the Week

[T]he Court finds no negative effect on the uniformity or efficiency of the State system of public schools due to these choice programs, and indeed, evidence was presented that these school-choice programs are reasonably likely to improve the quality and efficiency of the entire system.

-Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds appraises the impact of charters and vouchers on public education in Florida. (Read more on Florida’s adequacy lawsuit, and the role school choice played in the case, here and here.)

Tweet of the Week

Pro Tip: equity feels like oppression when you’ve had all the power.

It is not. You’re simply, finally having to share.

— Brittany Packnett☔️ (@MsPackyetti) May 26, 2016

This Week in School Choice is redefinED’s weekly roundup of national news related to educational options. On non-holiday weeks, it appears Monday mornings on the blog, but you can sign up here to get it in your inbox. We hope you had a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day, and had a chance to honor those who gave their lives for our country.

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