Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What's really behind the curtain of "school choice"?

What's really behind the curtain of "school choice"?:

What's really behind the curtain of "school choice"?

Neighborhood schools activist, linguistics PhD, and CPS mom Katie Gruber of Hyde Park has been getting very annoyed about the ideology of school choice lately. In the context of the CPS funding crisis, her guest post is more relevant than it was a few days ago. Any guesses about how much money CPS spends on charter proliferation? The mayor's ideologically-based priority for charters is suspect especially now, considering that doomsday budget cuts will take away 40% of each child's funding next year. Yet CPS is still planning--currently--right now--charter expansion in the name of "choice." It's time to set costly, dangerous, and failed ideologies aside. Here's Katie Gruber:
The new landscape of social responsibility involves a lot of choosing--choosing which stores to shop in (as in, ones that treat workers fairly) and which food to buy (as in, safe) takes up a lot more brain space today than it did for most of our parents.
There is also lot of talk about choosing the right school for your child. The notion that parents should have the right to choose the best school for their children is pretty powerful at face value. And since one’s choices have come to be seen as an extension of one’s very self, in a culture that prizes individualism, having choices is very, very important. In order to choose something, of course, you need various options to choose from. In order to choose a shampoo, you need more than one bottle of shampoo on the drug store shelf. In order to choose a school, you need multiple options of schools. This is how charter schools are being sold – as choices for parents who deserve to choose which school their children attend.
Offering parents a choice in terms of schools is built on the premise of a market economy for education: the idea is that parents will pull their children from lesser schools and send them to the better ones. In this process, the good schools will expand to meet the growing demand and the bad schools will eventually be forced to close.
There are big problems with this scenario:
• A market system is built on supply and demand. It is built on the premise that some products are more in demand than others. Foolish is the company that turns out 100,000 X’s when Y’s are all the rage. Suppliers must change their products with the whims of market demand. But in education, the demand is unchanging: strong schools. It’s not only parents that want good schools for their children: our society as a whole has a vested interest in the creation of good schools for everyone that stabilize communities and offer opportunities for the future. A market system is fundamentally incompatible with the mission of education.
• In a market-based system, the discrepancy between supply and demand means that winners and losers are woven into the very fabric of the system. For some schools to win, as in, “be successful and attract students from other schools,” means that other schools will lose. This means that actual students and families will win and actual students and families will lose. Lose--as in, not receive a well-rounded education that will give them a lifetime of curiosity and perspective, as well as access to interesting and fulfilling kinds of jobs when they grow up. Lose--as in, be in the schools that teach to the test, cut out recess and the arts, and do not offer after school enrichment programs. These students will not be equipped to succeed in high school and college. With a market-based education system, this is what we are offering to thousands of future tax-paying, voting citizens of our country. In contrast, when we view strong public schools for all as a public good, we understand that fairness in funding and fairness in allocating expertise and resources is necessary.
• Applying a market-based system to education means that there will be a significant element of market-ing in education. If your school is good (or even if it isn’t), you can use marketing to promote your product, I mean, your school. This means that in an economy of massive cuts in education--big class sizes, the slashing of art and music offerings, neither library nor librarian, insufficient social workers, nurses, and college counselors--schools will be spending precious dollars to advertise their wares. If we turn schools into businesses, we will need a Better Business Bureau to stay on top of which businesses are good ones and which are just trying to make a quick buck. When so many schools lack so many resources, it is an extremely poor use of education dollars to spend that money on marketing. I, for one, do not want one penny of my tax dollars spent to market any publicly-funded school.
As parents’ income correlates more and more with academic success, the circumstances of one’s birth become more and more defining variables of the path of one’s life. This is the opposite of the American Dream. The American Dream is that any person who works hard can get ahead; it’s that being born poor does not mean that you have to stay poor. Opportunity and education are even more linked today than they were at the time of Horatio Alger’s rags-to- riches stories. If a quality education is only available to those whose parents have money, we are sidelining millions of children and keeping them out of the game. Out of the game, as in, forced to take low-paying jobs with no benefits, or having no job at all.
The charter school movement is very big business! People are getting rich off of contracts that do not result in better educational outcomes for students. Many charter schools can be selective in the students they admit. Given their selectiveness in terms of their student body, their student outcomes ought to be a lot better than the schools that have to meet the 



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