For decades, school voucher advocates claimed that sending poor kids to private schools with public tax dollars was acceptable because doing so would raise students’ test scores.
However, in the few cases where voucher students are even required to take the same standardized tests as public school students, the results have been dismal.
So why are we spending billions of public tax dollars to send kids to privately run schools?
A 2018 Department of Education evaluation of the Washington, D.C., voucher program found that public school students permitted to attend a private or parochial school at public expense ended up getting worse scores than they had at public school.
Their scores went down 10 points in math and stayed about the same in reading.
These are not the pie in the sky results we were promised when we poured our tax money into private hands.
However, corporate education propaganda site, The 74, published a defense of these results that – frankly – makes some pretty jaw dropping claims.
The article is “More Regulation of D.C. School Vouchers Won’t Help Students. It Will Just Give Families Fewer Choices for Their Kids” by far right Cato Institute think tanker Corey DeAngelis.
In his piece, not only does he call for less accountability for voucher schools, he downplays the importance of standardized test scores.
And he has a point. Test scores aren’t a valid reflection of student learning – but that’s something public school advocates have been saying for decades in response to charter and voucher school cheerleaders like DeAngelis.
Supply side lobbyists have been claiming we need school privatization BECAUSE it will increase test scores. Now that we find this claim is completely bogus, the privatizers are changing their tune.
But that’s not the most shocking irony in DeAngelis article.
Parents don’t really care about the scores, he says. Instead they send their children to voucher schools because… You know what? I’ll let him tell it.
“Families choose schools for their children based on several important factors, including culture, individual attention, and, of course, safety. Research tells us that parents — unsurprisingly — often value these things more than standardized test scores.”
Certainly parents prefer their children have more individual attention. But many private schools have larger class sizes than public schools.
Moreover, reducing class size at all schools would be a more equitable reform than letting some kids enjoy smaller classes if they can just get into the right school.
However, it is his other two claims that sent my racist dog whistle senses tingling.
So parents don’t like the CULTURE of public schools. And they’re afraid public schools aren’t as SAFE.
Hmm. I wonder what culture these parents are objecting to. I wonder why they would think public schools wouldn’t be as safe.
Could it perhaps be fear of black students!?
I don’t want my little Billy to be exposed to all that rap music and kids with sagging pants. I don’t want my little Susie to cower in a class full of thugs and gangstas.
This is racist, stereotypical and just plain wrong about what you’ll actually find in public schools.
But it’s also typical white flight – the impulse behind the charter and voucher school movement in the first place.
Where did the boom for privatized schools come from historically?
It was a reaction to Brown vs. Board. When the US Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional, many white parents rebelled. They didn’t want their kids to go to school with THOSE kids. Hence, Georgia Gov. Herman Talmadge’s aborted plan to close all state schools and issue vouchers to private schools instead.
Hence, the plan that actually did take place in Price Edward County, Virginia, in 1959 where the public schools were closed and all taxpayer money for education was funneled to segregated white academies that would not admit black students. Though the term had yet to be invented, these were proto-“charter schools.” They were publicly funded but privately run. They were housed in privately owned facilities such as churches and the local Moose Lodge.
Hence, various segregationist “freedom of choice” plans in several states that allowed white students to transfer out of desegregated schools. Black students could apply but because of various administrative hurdles were never admitted.
This is the history of so-called school choice. And it is a history that DeAngelis, the 74 and the Cato Institute are willing to bring full circle.
School privatization advocates pretend they’re defending choice, but what choice are they championing?
Pardon me, but I don’t think we should be spending public tax dollars to enable bigots.
If you want to shield your children from the horrors of kids with darker skin, do so on your own dime.
Public money should only be spent on policies that are in the public good – and that’s not segregation. It’s the exact opposite – integration.
Learning how to get along with people who are different than you is an essential skill for good citizens. Understanding that people of different races, ethnicities, religions and cultures are also human is vital if our nation is to survive.
Being exposed to another culture isn’t a bad thing. It’s the definition of the American melting pot.
Our public schools are not perfect. They suffer from targeted disinvestment – especially those situated in urban neighborhoods and those serving larger populations of children of color.
But that is because of the same segregation school privatization lobbyists are empowering. If all students went to the same schools, parents wouldn’t allow this kind of inequity.
But this isn’t the goal of privatization promoters. They don’t care about what’s best for children. They’re looking out for what’s best for the businesses running the privatized schools.
So what have we learned?
School vouchers do not increase test scores.
And when that excuse behind the entire school privatization movement is exposed as nonsense, opportunists have no problem using racism and prejudice to defend their industry.