North Carolina: The Anatomy of How Sham “Research” Becomes Bad Education Policy

First, count on the media: An Orwellian (read: misleading) headline, North Carolina Senate approves funding equality bill.

Add an equally Orwellian lede: “North Carolina senators passed a bill Monday night that would push public schools toward more equitable funding.”

And then stir in the kicker, sham “research” from a bogus university “department”: “North Carolina charter schools receive 83 cents for every dollar traditional public schools receive, according to a study by researchers at the University of Arkansas. Bill proponents say this is unfair.”

The study? Bruce Baker concludes in a review:

The University of Arkansas Center for Education Reform’s report on charter school funding inequities proclaims large and growing inequities between school district and charter school revenues, even after accounting for differences in student needs. But the report displays complete lack of understanding of intergovernmental fiscal relationships, which results in the blatantly erroneous assignment of “revenues” between charters and district schools. A district’s expenditure can be a charter’s revenue, since charter funding is in most states and districts received by pass-through from district funding, and districts often retain responsibility for direct provision of services to charter school students—a reality that the report entirely ignores when applying its resource-comparison framework. In addition, the report suffers from alarmingly vague documentation regarding data sources and methodologies, and it constructs entirely inappropriate comparisons of student population characteristics. Simply put, the findings and conclusions of the study are not valid or useful.

This toxic formula of naive and/or biased media plus the erosion of scholarship into mere think-tank advocacy resulting in Orwellian public policy isn’t unique to NC, but nonetheless, shame on political leadership in NC for allowing yet more bad policy to dismantle public education.

Ten Years After Katrina: Lessons from Charleston, SC

Mention a coastal city notable for both its diverse cultural history and the twin scars of natural disasters as well as the human-made cancers of racism and generational poverty, and most people across the U.S. will think New Orleans, especially now as we confront the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the decade of a city rebuilding itself.

However, South Carolina’s Charleston fits that same complicated and troubling profile.

Charleston also shares with New Orleans the historical failure of public schools to serve poor and black children and families, which has resulted in both cities being the target of wide-scale and often reckless education reform driven mostly by political and ideological forces.

While I have regularly criticized mainstream media for covering education and education reform carelessly, I was genuinely impressed with The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) publishing an extensive and detailed examination of education reform in the large school district serving the city: Left Behind: The unintended consequences of school choice.

This news account and the related data are actually not new for those of us having taught in SC for decades. It takes very little effort to recognize that both traditional public schools (how they are funded, how teachers are assigned, how students are tracked, etc.) and education reform driven by accountability and market forces over the past three decades have not served well vulnerable populations of students, black and high-poverty children.

Charleston is just one example of the Corridor of Shame that has been highlighted in SC for decades, in fact, through the legal system and a widely heralded documentary.

It also isn’t news that the political leadership and even the public in SC have failed to acknowledge the problems of racial and socioeconomic inequity in any real ways that address public policy.

Nonetheless, the P&C‘s Left Behind series is a rare and fertile opportunity to change all that because the coverage does, despite some flaws, present the complicated challenges that face both public education and society, challenges that are inextricable from confronting racism and poverty.

Regretfully, one of the responses to this series is also nothing new—and entirely predictable: a South Carolina Policy Council (SCPC) Op-Ed titled School choice is a solution, not a problem.

First, I must emphasize that reducing the lessons of Charleston public schools to a narrow debate about school choice is a fatal distraction that will never serve students, families, and the community well.

Next, as I have examined on far too many occasions, free market think tanks (and think tanks masquerading as university departments) will never represent accurately school choice because they have committed entirely to one ideological focus that trumps any different or larger goals—such as educational equity for black and poor children.

On the SCPC’s web site, they clearly express their one and only position:

The South Carolina Policy Council was founded in 1986 as an independent, private, non-partisan research organization to promote the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty and responsibility in the state of South Carolina.

The Op-Ed response to Left Behind, then, is peppered with cherry-picking, overstatements, and loaded nods to “gold-standard research,” but the claims are advocacy, and not credible conclusions about either the results or promise of school choice in its many and shifting forms (vouchers, tuition tax credits, public school choice, charter schools).

Having spent more than a year doing a book-length examination of school choice, I regret that the debate remains trapped in ideological and political squabbles while children are in fact left behind.

So what do we know about school choice? (See Bruce Baker, The Shanker Blog, and the National Education Policy Center for extensive reviews of the research on choice and charter schools.)

  • Private, public, and charter schools have about the same range of measurable student outcomes, regardless of the school type and strongly correlated with the socioeconomic status of the child’s home. (See this discussion of “charterness.”)
  • Research on school choice has shown mixed results at best, but even when some choice has shown promise of, for example, raising test scores for black, brown, and poor students, those increased scores are linked to selectivity, attrition, greater funding, and extended school days/years—none of which have anything to do with the consequences of choice and all of which expose those “gains” as false success.
  • School choice, notably charter schools, has been strongly linked with increasing racial and socioeconomic inequity: increased segregation, inequitable disciplinary policies and outcomes.
  • SC advocacy for charter schools as the newest school choice commitment fails to acknowledge that charter schools in the state are overwhelmingly about the same and often worse than comparable public schools (see analysis of 2011 and 2013 data here), and the South Carolina Public Charter School District is among the top four worst districts in the state for racially inequitable discipline with blacks constituting about 19% of the enrollment but over 50% of suspensions/expulsions.

The research on school choice does not support the claims made by SCPC, and the rhetoric is also deeply flawed.

School choice advocates often fall back on “poor children deserve the same choices that rich children enjoy.”

However, several problems exist within this seemingly logical assertion.

The greatest flaw is suggesting that affluent and mostly white affluent children are thriving because of choice is itself a lie, a mask for the reality that the key to their success is their wealth and privilege. Being born into a wealthy family trumps educational attainment, and white privilege trumps educational attainment by blacks (see here and here).

In its most disturbing form, then, school choice advocacy is a distraction from the consequences of racism and poverty, both of which are reflected in and perpetuated by the education system.

Further, arguing that we must see school choice as a solution fails for essential conditions in a democracy.

For example, no one should have to wait for the Invisible Hand of the market so they have access to health care, justice, safety, or education. The great irony is that for the free market to work, a people must first secure the foundations of public institutions.

As Martin Luther King Jr. stressed in 1967: “We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”

A full and robust commitment to public institutions, specifically universal public education, is essential to the concurrent commitment to the free market.The paradox is thus: In order for choice of most kinds to work in a free society, some essential institutions must render choice unnecessary in terms of health care, justice, safety, or education.

As we can witness in New Orleans, the lessons of education and education reform in Charleston are two-fold: (1) historically and currently, traditional public schools have failed/do fail vulnerable populations, specifically black and poor children, and (2) accountability-based and free-market education reform has also not alleviated the burdens of racism and poverty, but has too often exacerbated the devastating consequences of both.

“Education” Journalism’s Hollow Echo Chamber: New Orleans Edition

What’s in a publication’s name? Apparently when the publication’s title includes “Education,” the lesson is “reader beware.”

First, the ever-misleading Education Next trumpets: Good News for New Orleans, concerning the Recovery School District created post-Katrina, which eradicated public schools in the city.

Essentially and uncritically parroting that piece, Education Week proclaims: New Orleans Test Scores Have ‘Shot Up’ 10 Years After Katrina, Report Says.

We have been here before since mainstream media—even the so-called “liberal media”—are prone to whitewashing the story of disaster capitalism in New Orleans education reform. And I have discussed recently the need to have a nuanced and complicated examination of both public and charter schools, inspired by Andre Perry’s impassioned and blunt confrontation of why black parents have embraced charter schools in New Orleans.

So it is in that spirit that I note, Salon (no “Education” in the title, by the way) has run a much better and more complex look at post-Katrina education reform in New Orleans: “Reform” makes broken New Orleans schools worse: Race, charters, testing and the real story of education after Katrina.

Much of Berkshire’s investigation parallels the concerns anticipated by the National Education Policy Center’s press release about claims and research coming out of the 10th anniversary of Katrina, which concludes:

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent reforms, there remain more questions than answers. Even if the reforms implemented under such a hyper-politicized arrangement show some clear gains in student achievement, as seems to be the case, it is important to attend to the serious equity concerns that remain in the system, and to examine other outcomes, beyond test scores. The preliminary evidence, from a combination of news reports and research studies, suggests that the New Orleans reforms disproportionately benefit more advantaged students, relative to the most at-risk and under-served students. In light of these concerns, there is a need for more research that systematically examines whether the reforms have truly altered the structure of opportunities for students who are low-income, of color, English Language Learners, or have disabilities. Given the additional resources and the unique New Orleans experience, there are also questions about how sustainable and replicable the New Orleans model is, even though many cities are adopting similar reforms.

It is also important to ask how much local, democratic oversight the public is willing, or should be willing, to trade for somewhat higher test scores. In New Orleans, as well as in many other cities and states seeking to adopt a “recovery” or “portfolio” model, policymakers should ensure that the temporary turnaround measures do not permanently disenfranchise local actors.

So we are left with two truisms about education publications and education reform: (1) If “Education” is in the publication title, you better do your homework, and (2) if education reform is touted to achieve outcomes that seem too good to be true, then they likely aren’t true.

Check Missionary Zeal among All Education Advocates

Ask several self-proclaimed education advocates their opinions about charter schools, Common Core, and Teach For America, and the responses, to the general public who do not think daily about education reform, are likely baffling since some claim all three of those are necessary commitments for better schools and others claim all three are misguided commitments that are harming not only education and democracy but also our students and teachers.

For several months now, I have been in contact with Sarah Matsui during the publication process of her in-press book on Teach For America, focusing on how TFA impacts corp candidates. As the publication date of Matsui’s book approaches, our conversation has turned to the education reform debate—notably how divisive and thus distracting that debate tends to be in terms of the larger goals of universal public education, social justice, and race, class, and gender equity.

Throughout my career as an educator—over thirty years—and then the more recent decade-plus seeking a public voice for education and equity advocacy, I have struggled with being an outsider in the “both sides” nature of policy debates concerning education.

As one example, I took an immediate stance against Common Core that, obviously, situates me in opposition to Common Core advocates—but my reasons for rejecting Common Core as just another failed commitment to accountability built on standards and high-stakes testing also alienate me from those determined to reject Common Core as uniquely flawed standards (and thus some good standards exist) or as over-reach by the federal government (specifically President Obama).

In other words, I have—with little success—tried to move the critical gaze away from Common Core specifically and toward the larger problem with accountability policy.

Yes, having states back out of Common Core and the connected high-stakes testing contracts is a credible goal, but if those acts simply mean states then embrace yet a different set of standards and high-stakes test, that is not victory at all; in fact, it is proof that we are missing the larger picture showing us the root causes of inequity in both our society and our schools.

Matsui is anticipating the same dilemma for her since her TFA work—nuanced and detailed—will come in the wake of rising criticism of TFA as well as the appearance that political, public, and individual support for the program is waning.

What Matsui and I have been discussing has helped me once again reconsider my own work, my own advocacy in much the same way Andre Perry’s recent commentary has tempered my discourse and goals related to charter schools.

I think advocates for public education as a foundational institution for seeking and insuring our democracy and building equity for all people have an obligation to criticize charter schools, Common Core, and Teach For America, for example, as misguided and often harmful education policy—despite claims that these are all designed to address the same goals of equity.

I think we also have the right to unmask the missionary zeal behind what has come to be called corporate education reform.

However, we cannot remain fixated there, and we must check our own missionary zeal.

Here is where I think reconsidering TFA can be a significant turning point in how we begin to build a movement toward something positive—equitable society, equitable schools—instead of simply calling for this or that reform to be dismantled.

As I noted above about Common Core: Yes, I believe, defunding TFA and eliminating TFA in its original form are important and credible goals, but even if those happen, we cannot be fooled into thinking we have addressed a root cause of the larger problems that face us in society and formal education: race-, class-, and gender-based inequity of opportunity.

Here is the key. How often have we asked: What are the conditions that created the possibility for TFA (or charter schools, or Common Core) to exist in the first place?

If black, brown, and poor children were being served by well-funded schools and taught by experienced and qualified teachers, would TFA have had a problem for which they could offer a solution (regardless of how flawed we believe that solution to be)?

As I worked through the school choice debate, I found myself asking people trapped in the “both sides” frenzy to consider an education system in which choice wasn’t necessary—a school system that genuinely offered all children the sort of education that the affluent already insure for their children.

I concede that it may require a certain amount of missionary zeal to attract the attention of the wider public not often concerned with education and education reform. But as those of us advocating for equity and social justice may now be witnessing a turning point—greater skepticism about accountability, charter schools, and TFA—we must check that missionary zeal so that we do not misrepresent our ultimate goals.

Those goals must be framed in the positives—the lives and schools we are seeking for all children and people—and not mired in the negatives—defeat Common Core, close charter schools, defund TFA—that will likely, if achieved, not produce the outcomes we claim to seek.

Currently, it is a lonely place to say that I have real problems with charter schools, Common Core, and TFA, but that I really think they are not the problem; they are examples of how too many in power have misread the problem, or even ignored the problem.

Can we set aside the “both sides” debate and begin to build a conversation, a conversation open to all voices and to listening so that we can work together toward the difficult and complex goals of equity?

I sit in my home state of South Carolina the day after yet more protests were held in the state capitol of Columbia by the KKK and the New Black Panther Party.

When my daughter, granddaughter, and son-in-law left my house yesterday, my daughter texted that they passed several cars on the highway with Confederate battle flags waving.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “but it bends towards justice”—his nod toward faith.

Life is short, I fear, and that arc is incredibly slow when you are among the living, the very real faces and eyes of the ones you love.

I sit in my home state of South Carolina, and I worry about allowing the removal of a flag from state grounds to become the victory instead of simply a moment on the journey to the victory we all deserve.

And that has forever shaded my eyes as I witness this march toward social justice and educational equity.

“Remember,” cautions Langston Hughes:

The days of bondage—
And remembering—
Do not stand still.

Let us be guided not by the blindness of missionary zeal, but grounded by the long-range focus that leads to action.

On Public Versus Charter: “The Dispute Has Actually Nothing to Do with Education”


Published 54 years ago, Nobody Knows My Name continues to shake any reader willing to listen as James Baldwin bore witness to the region currently—and again, shamefully—in the national spotlight, “the South, which was now undergoing a new convulsion over whether black children had the same rights, or capacities, for education as did the children of white people.”

Baldwin continued—and we could too easily substitute for his “this” as we now witness debates long past their time for resolution:

This is a criminally frivolous dispute, absolutely unworthy of this nation; and it is being carried on, in complete bad faith, by completely uneducated people. (We do not trust educated people and rarely, alas, produce them, for we do not trust the independence of mind which alone makes a genuine education possible.) Educated people, of any color, are so extremely rare that it is unquestionably one of the first tasks of a nation to open all of its schools to all of its citizens. But the dispute has actually nothing to do with education, as some among the eminently uneducated know. It has to do with political power and it has to do with sex. And this is a nation which, most unluckily, knows very little about either. [Baldwin, James (2013-09-17). Nobody Knows My Name (Vintage International) (Kindle Locations 1102-1108). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

The “frivolous” comes not from the great questions that have always and will always confront humanity—how do we educate?—but from the “bad faith” among “uneducated people” who have undeserved privilege and power.

To believe the current education reform debate is not nearly indistinguishable from what Baldwin contested as the U.S. resisted desegregation is to live among the deaf and blind.

For more than three decades now, public education has been held hostage by the most frivolous of frivolous debates: how to design and implement accountability built on standards and high-stakes testing. This adolescent game of “my accountability can beat your accountability” has left public education and the children it should serve battered and bloodied.

From the seemingly endless cycle of new standards and new high-stakes tests (and ways to punish even more groups within our public schools) to the increasingly snarky divisiveness and personal politics of social media, the often cited reasons for all this sound and fury—public schools, the children—are being mis-served; just as a couple terrible examples, public education has re-segregated during the accountability era, and the mislabeled achievement gap among racial groups has remained robust.


“I often find myself scratching my head,” writes Andre Perry, “wondering why so many black folk extol the virtues of public education.”

Perry, 54 years after Baldwin’s challenge to “frivolous dispute,” wades into not only the public versus charter schools debate but also the race and social class biases at the root of whose voices matter and whose voices do not.

Most of the U.S. sits idly by—like audiences watching the newest Avengers movie—while the arrogant and mighty battle, rarely acknowledging the collateral damage (will there ever be a superhero blockbuster film in which all those superheroes use their superpowers to rebuild the infrastructure they destroy?).

Since Marvel’s Civil War is set for film soon, we may be watching the equivalent in fiction of the public versus charter debate, and I think Perry is offering a rare but important plea, as Baldwin did: “the dispute has actually nothing to do with education.”

Perry recognizes “[i]n the education wars,”

black and brown educators who criticize the current wave of reform often find themselves rallying with those who can say that public education in this country works. But let’s be clear, blacks aren’t in a position to root for or celebrate the status quo. Likewise, there has never been a time in which blacks shouldn’t have considered themselves reformers. Yet many have incidentally joined an education “party of no.”

Although eventually (as late as the early 1970s in the South Baldwin examined) public schools were forced to open their doors to all children, Perry stresses “many of us fight for that unfulfilled promise at the expense of student learning”:

Public education should advance society and its individual members simultaneously. But black communities can’t afford to wait for whites to gentrify schools in the name of democracy to get a good education.

And thus, Perry challenges the false dichotomy that has been created by the “education reform [debate that] is too white to do any good“: public schools versus charter schools. In fact, Perry asserts, guided by Frederick Douglass’s “What To The Slave Is The 4th of July?”:

Charter schools make sense for black communities. Charter schools are independent public institutions that are freed from administrative controls of a centralized, area board, but must still meet broad guidelines or requirements of public schools. Through a charter, parents, teachers, and administrative staff primarily can gain freedom from an elected local board that’s incongruent with their values.

To fight the public versus charter war at a pitch that drowns out the voices of those whom “public institutions” should be serving, must be serving is disturbingly frivolous, Perry recognizes.

Of all the education reform debates, this tension has given me the most pause: How can we rectify rejecting “no excuses” charter schools for being racist/classist while many black families choose those very schools?

I am compelled to look again to Baldwin in order to remove the misleading labels (“public,” “charter”) and to hear, as Perry explains:

I like many see a promise that charter schools can deliver, but I also see inequities waving in the faces of black and brown students every day in public schools. Inadequate funding, harsh suspension and expulsion policies, lack of services for students with special needs and culturally irrelevant curricula are durable, standing problems in most takeover districts. I see waste, fraud, and unsavory practices that led cities to decentralize.

“Charter” for Perry represents a new promise, one responsive to the needs of children too long ignored.

So to save this debate from the “frivolous” we must guard against simplistic labels. Regardless of whether the school is “public” or “charter,” the educator’s commitment must be, as Paul Gorski explains, to “take a stand when one of our students is being shortchanged—not standing in front of or standing in place of, but standing next to, standing with low-income[, black and brown] students and families.”

Being for public education or either for or against charter schools proves to be as callous and hollow as superheroes destroying a city to win a war between Good and Evil when we lose sight of foundational promises to achieve race and class equity.


In the years between Baldwin’s and Perry’s commentaries, the promise of public institutions has remained unfulfilled because the question of race in the U.S. has never been fully confronted.

In 2015, presidential candidates expressing racist trash are viable while elected officials, although now in a minority, in South Carolina continue to cling to the Confederate battle flag as they spew whitewashed history and empty slogans as thin veils for racism that works as political capital. In 2015, because a privileged minority controls what counts as civil debate, we haven’t the capacity to denounce the morally reprehensible position that “both sides” deserve equal credibility.

So we are people trapped by trivializing debate and democracy in a moral vacuum.

And again, Baldwin’s “debate” allows us to insert his voice in our moment now:

And yet, it became clear as the debate wore on, that there was something which all black men held in common, something which cut across opposing points of view, and placed in the same context their widely dissimiliar experience. What they held in common was their precarious, their unutterably painful relation to the white world. What they held in common was the necessity to remake the world in their own image, to impose this image on the world, and no longer be controlled by the vision of the world, and of themselves, held by other people. What, in sum, black men held in common was their ache to come into the world as men. And this ache united people who might otherwise have been divided as to what a man should be. [Baldwin, James (2013-09-17). Nobody Knows My Name (Vintage International) (Kindle Locations 346-351). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

From Baldwin’s world of overt racial segregation to Perry’s world of covert racial segregation, then, whether the debate be who we educate or how we educate, the tarnished promise is the consequence of the white illusion:

This illusion owes everything to the great American illusion that our state is a state to be envied by other people: we are powerful, and we are rich. But our power makes us uncomfortable and we handle it very ineptly. The principal effect of our material well-being has been to set the children’s teeth on edge. If we ourselves were not so fond of this illusion, we might understand ourselves and other peoples better than we do, and be enabled to help them understand us. I am very often tempted to believe that this illusion is all that is left of the great dream that was to have become America; whether this is so or not, this illusion certainly prevents us from making America what we say we want it to be. [Baldwin, James (2013-09-17). Nobody Knows My Name (Vintage International) (Kindle Locations 1080-1085). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]


We need “educated people,” as Baldwin explained—not the credentialism of formal schooling, but the education that comes from Freire’s reading and re-reading the world, writing and re-writing the world unmasked of race and class privilege.

Educated people who can state clearly that no black child should have to sit in Robert E. Lee Elementary.

That no black young adult should have to sit in Tillman Hall.

Yes, names matter.

But then, the indignity of honoring “men with wicked histories” must not be compounded by what happens inside those institutions.

No black, brown, or poor child should be walking through the doors of any school only to be treated as criminals, failures, or data.

We need educated people who can admit public, charter, and private schools remain too often institutions of inequity reflecting a country in which a child’s race and social class at birth have a greater bearing on her/his life than the content of her/his character.

We need educated people who can admit symbolism and practices both matter—that two Americas will not be tolerated or obscured by “frivolous dispute[s … that have] nothing to do with education.”

On this there must no longer be debate.

Public Schools Provide Market Pressure for Charter, Private Schools to Improve

Decades of research now reveal that charter and private schools do not produce student achievement superior to existing public schools.

Since politicians and education reformers are fully committed to charter and private schools, we have reason to be optimistic that existing public schools now provide the market pressure necessary for charter and private schools to improve:

  • Public school provide community-based education guaranteed to all students in that community, rendering the need to choose or wait for that choice to create the sort of education children deserve unnecessary.
  • Public schools by law fully serve English language learners, high-poverty students, minority students, and special needs students—those students under-served and even denied access to charter and private schools.
  • Public schools seek and foster experienced and certified teachers.
  • Public schools respond to local control and directly to tax-payers those schools serve.
  • Public schools are committed for decades to the communities they serve.
  • Despite often being underfunded and demonized in the mainstream media, public school students’ achievement is about the same as charter and private school students who attend better funded and highly praised schools.
  • Exceptional public schools should serve as models for the performance of all charter and private schools—without regard for students served and without any review of the data supporting that exceptional status.

In the coming years, we must call for adequate and robust research on the market pressure public schools are creating for improving our stagnant charter and private schools.

Charter Scam Week 2015

It’s Charter Scam Week again, and we can conclude that charter advocacy has revealed itself in the following ways:

  • Charter advocacy cannot be about improving student achievement since charter school consistently have a range of outcomes similar to public and even private schools once student populations are considered.
  • Charter advocacy cannot be concerned about resegregation of schools by race and class since charter schools are significantly segregated.
  • Charter advocacy is a thinly veiled attempt to introduce school choice as “parental choice” despite the U.S. public mostly being against school choice.
  • Charter advocacy is tolerating at best and perpetuating at worst schools for “other people’s children”—a system that subjects minority and high-poverty children to limited learning experiences, extensive test-prep, and authoritarian/abusive disciplinary policies.
  • Charter advocacy chooses to ignore that charters underserve some the most challenging students, ELL and special needs students.
  • Charter advocacy also ignores that nothing about “charterness” distinguishes charter from public schools.
  • Charter advocacy has committed to the (dishonest) “miracle” approach to demonizing public schools, and abandoned the original ideal of charter schools as pockets of experimentation (means and not ends) for the improvement of the public school system.

The problem for charter advocacy is that the evidence is overwhelmingly counter to nearly every claim in favor of charter schools.

Charter Scam Week 2015: A Reader

What, Exactly, Are We Celebrating About Charter Schools?

Conservative Talking Points Wrong for SC Education

Should SC Increase Charter School Investment?

Public School, Charter Choice: More Segregation by Design

Don’t Buy School Choice Week

No Excuses for Advocacy Masquerading as Research

Idealizing, Misreading Impoverished and Minority Parental Choice

NPR Whitewashes Charter Schools and Disaster Capitalism in New Orleans

“Other People’s Children” v. “They’re All Our Children”

The Charter Sham Formula: Billionaires + Flawed “Reports” + Press Release Media = Misled Public

Twitter Truth (and The Onion Gets It Again)

Listening to a Teacher from a “No Excuses” Charter School

Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam

Segregation and Charter Schools: A Reader

Pulling a Greene: Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform [Redux]

Anatomy of Charter School Advocacy

On Children and Kindness: A Principled Rejection of “No Excuses”

It’s Time to Stop Treating Black and Brown Kids Like ‘Other People’s Children’

Racial Segregation Returns to US Schools, 60 Years After the Supreme Court Banned It

Why Charter Schools Are Foolish Investments for States Facing Economic Challenges

The Similarities Between the Charter School Movement and the War on Drugs

Why Sending Your Child to a Charter School Hurts Other Children

“No Excuses” and the Culture of Shame: The Miseducation of Our Nation’s Children

Race to Disgrace

A society is defined by what is tolerated and for whom—and by whom.

In a country with a moral center, or at least a moral free press, this story would be a scathing exposé, spurring public denunciation.

But in the U.S., it is a story about “polarizing methods and superior results”—a gutless mess of misinformation and “fair and balanced” journalism that includes this dispassionate reporting:

At one point, her leadership resident — what the network calls assistant principals — criticized her for not responding strongly enough when a student made a mistake. The leadership resident told her that she should have taken the student’s paper and ripped it up in front of her. Students were not supposed to go to the restroom during practice tests, she said, and she heard a leader from another school praise the dedication of a child who had wet his pants rather than take a break.

What is the common characteristic of students in punitive, test-prep “no excuses” charter schools, like the one above, all across the U.S.?

What is the common characteristic of the teachers found guilty in the Atlanta cheating scandal?

What is the common characteristic of the professional educators fired (and replaced by TFA recruits) after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans?

The answer is the same as, What is the characteristic of who is disproportionately in U.S. prisons? Disproportionately arrested, charged, and convicted of crimes? Disproportionately disciplined in U.S. public and charter schools, expelled as early as pre-K?

The answer: The race to disgrace is black in the U.S.—a country without a moral center, without a moral free press.

Conservative Talking Points Wrong for SC Education

Political science professor Brent Nelsen argues Conservatives should support public school reform. However, this commentary proves to be not credible commitments for needed education reform in South Carolina but a series of unsubstantiated conservative talking points.

After opening by defining conservatism and establishing that conservatives recognize the need for education reform, Nelsen misrepresents significantly a foundational issue facing SC: “The recent Supreme Court decision highlighting the failure of many public schools puts education at the top of the policy agenda.”

The Supreme Court in SC, in fact, finally ruled on a court case made infamous by the documentary Corridor of Shame [1], true, but the ruling addresses inadequate state support for high-poverty communities and their schools:

SC SC Corridor ruling

As Eva Moore reports:

In a narrow 3-2 decision, the court said South Carolina needs to fix the way it funds education….

“As the court pointed out, it’s a fragmented, inefficient, ineffective method of funding,” Epps says. “Historically the General Assembly has played shell games with the funding. It’s inconsistent and extremely inefficient.”…

The school districts themselves bear some blame, according to the court. They’re administration-heavy and should explore consolidation.

But the bulk of the blame lies with the state of South Carolina.

All parties must work together to create a fairer funding model “within a reasonable amount of time,” the court ruled. In the meantime, the court retains jurisdiction in the case.

A fair but complex representation of SC’s need for education reform, then, must address a historical failure by the conservative political leadership of the state to support adequately both high-poverty communities and the schools that serve those children.

Immediately following this glossing of a major issue facing the state, Nelsen makes a disturbing claim:

But conservatives have allowed liberals to monopolize the public education conversation, promoting private and home school options while leaving the debate over public schools to less conservative voices. Not only does this lead to bad policy, it is also bad politics.

SC’s political and cultural history is solidly conservative, leaning toward a Tea Party conservatism that clings to state’s rights. Even when the South was voting Democrat, SC was conservative, and in the recent years, SC politics is dominated by Republicans.

There are in fact no issues in the state of SC “monopolized” by liberals because progressive and liberal voices are nearly absent from politics, the media, or public debate.

However, Nelsen’s opening shot at “liberals” is solid evidence that this commentary is mostly conservative talking points designed to trigger a targeted political base—the tried-and-true straw men of political discourse in SC linked with the more recent straw men of conservative education reform: liberals and unions along with “bad” teachers, “status quo,” “trap[ped] students in failing schools,” and “throw[ing] tax dollars at problems.”

In SC and across the U.S., these are both common refrains and mostly without merit. For example, the union bashing in SC seems misplaced since we are a right-to-work state. Striking out at liberals and unions in SC is boxing with ghosts.

How about, then, the policy recommendations tagged as “conservative”?

High-stakes uses of teacher VAM scores could easily have additional negative consequences for children’s education. These include increased pressure to teach to the test, more competition and less cooperation among the teachers within a school, and resentment or avoidance of students who do not score well. In the most successful schools, teachers work together effectively (Atteberry & Bryk, 2010). If teachers are placed in competition with one another for bonuses or even future employment, their collaborative arrangements for the benefit of individual students as well as the supportive peer and mentoring relationships that help beginning teachers learn to teach better may suffer. (p. 24)

  • Nelsen also endorses increasing support for public charter schools and “expanding the ability of low-income students to attend private schools” (which appears to avoid the how, vouchers, because vouchers are unpopular and discredited). Charter schools are the new school-choice-light for conservatives and market-committed Democrats, but there is a problem with that advocacy, highlighted by SC. Of the 50+ charter schools each year in SC, about 95% of charter schools have student outcomes the same or worse than comparable public schools. As well, in SC and across the U.S., charter schools avoid mandates public schools cannot; charter schools underserve English language learners and special needs students; and charter schools tend to be highly segregated by race and social class. Charter school advocacy is the hollow politics of waving the “parental choice” flag without doing the hard work called for by SC’s Supreme Court—fully funding and supporting the existing public school system that SC has failed.
  • Finally, Nelsen builds to the most troubling conservative option: closing, as Nelsen’s curious word choice identifies, “[p]oor schools” and adopting state take-over practices such as the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD). Setting aside that Nelsen is associating state government take-over as conservative while opening with a nod toward “small government,” endorsing the ASD is deeply flawed. Nelsen claims inaccurately: “The results in Tennessee are impressive so far. Students have posted double-digit gains in math, science and literacy — outpacing improvements in other public schools”—when actually, like charter schools in general, the ASD has not performed much different than public schools, according to a 2014 analysis:

My analysis suggests that ASD schools aren’t doing significantly better in terms of student growth than they were before state takeover. In fact, in many cases the schools’ pre-takeover growth outperformed the ASD. These findings have significant implications for the future of the ASD, how we should move forward with continued takeovers, and for future turn-around efforts in general.

From Tennessee to New Orleans to Los Angeles, claims of successful take-over strategies have been discredited, but those take-overs have resulted mostly in disenfranchised children and communities while providing political capital for advocates.

SC education reform doesn’t need conservative talking points, then. Although as I have argued, fiscally conservative principles do support SC changing course in education reform, but that commitment requires acknowledging the accountability movement has not worked and then taking the Supreme Court’s ruling seriously.

SC has an entrenched poverty problem linked to lingering racial and economic inequity that destroys communities and overburdens the schools designed to serve those communities. Partisan conservative political leadership has created and maintained that status quo, and conservative doubling-down would be yet more remedies as part of the disease.

See Also

The Sad History of State Takeovers of Schools and School Districts, Jan Resseger

Opinion: New Orleans takeover is a model — of what not to do with Georgia schools, J. Celeste Lay

VAM Remedy Part of Inequity Disease

Review [UPDATED]: “How to Evaluate and Retain Effective Teachers” (League of Women Voters of SC)

‘Race to the Top’ for education a flop, report finds, Nirvi Shah

The Fatal Flaw Of Education Reform, Matthew Di Carlo

Value-Added, For The Record, Matthew Di Carlo

Time to End the ASD Fiasco

South Carolina and Education Reform: A Reader

Sorry, Kirp’s Fix Another Flawed Discourse on Ed Reform

What We Know Now (and How It Doesn’t Matter)

NPR Whitewashes Charter Schools and Disaster Capitalism in New Orleans

Preventing Arson Instead of Putting Out Fires

[1] In the original trial, a lawyer for the underfunded school districts used the “Allegory of the River” to confront the state’s failure to address root causes of failing schools; I recommend that allegory and believe the Op-Ed above calls for policies that continue those failures:

_allegory_of_the_river copy