The original zombie narrative has been re-created and distorted in contemporary U.S. pop culture, as
So what were zombies, originally? The answer lies in the Caribbean. They weren’t endlessly-reproducing, flesh-eating ghouls. Instead, the zombie was the somewhat tragic figure of a human being maintained in a catatonic state – a soulless body – and forced to labour for whoever cast the spell over him or her. In other words, the zombie is – or was – a slave. I always find it troubling that, somewhere along the line, we forgot or refused to acknowledge this and have replaced the suffering slave with the figure of a mindless carnivore – one that reproduces, virus-like, with a bite.
While there is some nuance and variety among the many ways in which U.S. pop culture have manipulated the zombie narrative, central to almost all of those is the zombie as relentless consumer who has risen from the dead and resists being killed permanently.
In that context, school choice is zombie politics because the ideology will not die and its many versions (vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools) are destructive.
A few decades ago, school choice advocacy depended on the appeal of the ideology itself since choice is idealized and fetishized in the U.S.
Once school choice policy began to be implemented, and then over the past 2-3 decades as evidence from how choice has not achieved the promises made, school choice advocacy has depended on constantly shifting the type of choice and the promises.
At the center of the school choice debate is a failure in the U.S. to appreciate the importance of the Commons, how publicly funded institutions are necessary for the free market to work (both economically and ethically).
For example, publicly funded roads and highways are powerful and essential for commerce in the U.S. Many resist toll roads in the U.S., and certainly, the entire economy and way of life in the U.S. would be destroyed if we left roads and highways to the whims of the Invisible Hand.
Two facts remain important now as the election of Donald Trump and the apparent choice for Secretary of Education suggest that the zombie politics of school choice has been rejuvenated:
- The overwhelming evidence for all aspects of school choice show little differences when compared to traditional public schools; some aspects can certainly be categorized as harmful, and any so-called positives are erased when those gains are explained—attrition, comparing apples and oranges, selectivity, inability to scale, etc.
- Idealizing parental choice fails to step back to the bedrock promise of publicly funded institutions: insuring that choice isn’t necessary.
Just as a blow to the head and brain can kill permanently the zombie, evidence and truth should eradicate the zombie politics of school choice. However, Trumplandia is a post-truth country.
None the less, the truth is our only real option so below is a reader to combat the zombie politics of school choice:
Betsy DeVos’ big education idea doesn’t work, Sarah Carr
Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – 2016 Collection, William J. Mathis (NEPC)
School Finance 101, Bruce Baker
School Vouchers Are Not a Cure For Segregation: Part I , Jersey Jazzman
Here are links to all five parts of the series:
Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.
Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.
In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability.
Regardless of motives, the charter initiatives in Oakland and Los Angeles together signal a significant watershed in the growth of a statewide movement that was birthed by California’s Charter Schools Act of 1992 to create classroom laboratories that might develop the dynamic new curricula and teaching methods needed to reinvigorate schools that were failing the state’s most underserved and disadvantaged children.
How that modest experiment in fixing neighborhood public schools could morph in less than 25 years into the replacement of public schools with an unproven parallel system of privately run, taxpayer-funded academies is only half the story of California’s education wars that will be examined in this series, much of which is based on conversations with both sides of the charter school debate. Over the next few days Capital & Main will also look at:
- The influence wielded by libertarian philanthropists who bankroll the 50-50 takeovers.
- How charter schools spend less time and money on students with learning disabilities.
- The lack of charter school transparency and accountability.
- How charter expansion is pushing Oakland’s public school district toward a fateful tipping point.
- The success of less radical yet more effective reforms that get scant media coverage.
- Nine solution takeaways for struggling schools.
(from Failing the Test: A New Series Examines Charter Schools, Bill Raden)
Charters and Access: Here is Evidence, Julian Vasquez Helig
No, Eva, You Can’t Do Whatever You Want, Jersey Jazzman
from Engel, M. (2000). The struggle for control of public education: Market ideology vs. democratic values. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
[I]t is nothing short of disastrous that more than ever before, one antidemocratic system of ideas—market ideology—almost exclusively defines the terms of educational politics and charts the path of education reform.
…[I]deology is important in understanding educational change….Ideology is nonetheless often overlooked or at best misapplied by mainstream social scientists as a factor in politics. This is due in part to the dominance of quantitative methodologies in political science, which leads to the trivialization of the concept into conveniently measurable but irrelevant labels….Market ideology has triumphed over democratic values not because of its superiority as a theory of society but in part because in a capitalist system it has an inherent advantage. (pp. 3, 8-9)
from Callahan, R. E. (1962). Education and the cult of efficiency: A study of the social forces that have shaped the administration of the public schools. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
For while schools everywhere reflect to some extent the culture of which they are a part and respond to forces within that culture, the American public schools, because of the nature of their pattern of organization, support, and control, were especially vulnerable and responded quickly to the strongest social forces. . . .The business influence was exerted upon education in several ways: through newspapers, journals, and books; through speeches at educational meetings; and, more directly, through actions of school boards. It was exerted by laymen, by professional journalists, by businessmen or industrialists either individually or in groups. . ., and finally by educators themselves. Whatever its source, the influence was exerted in the form of suggestions or demands that the schools be organized and operated in a more businesslike way and that more emphasis by placed upon a practical and immediately useful education….
The tragedy itself was fourfold: that educational questions were subordinated to business considerations; that administrators were produced who were not, in any true sense, educators; that a scientific label was put on some very unscientific and dubious methods and practices; and that an anti-intellectual climate, already prevalent, was strengthened. (pp. 1, 5-6, 246)