Letter to Civil Rights and school “choice” advocate (p.s. neoliberals skip this)

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Dear Civil Rights and choice advocate,

I have noticed that some Civil Rights advocates are supporting and leading the school “choice” movement. They are searching for alternatives as our nation has consistently and purposely underserved students of color. As one reformer from Los Angeles told me, Latina/os and African Americans have been forced to attend “f_cked up schools” for decades.

In a recent Twitter exchange with Former California State Sen. Gloria Romero she framed school “choice” as a Civil Rights issue. In another Twitter exchange, Chris Stewart, a pastor from Minn, responded to my Finland post and Chicago school closing post simultaneously by stating, “Finland replaced teachers with candidates from the cognitive elite. CPS can’t.”

Meta question: Why can’t the Chicago Public School (CPS) hire high-quality teachers? Why is the term hard-to-staff schools even a part of our vernacular?

If I only offered you two choices for dinner: A Vegan burger or tofu (all things I love to eat incidentally, but may cause you to recoil). Is that really choice?

Vouchers, parent trigger, charters… why are these the prominent “choices” on the table currently? What do they have in common? What do the Koch brothers, ALEC, Walton Foundation, Broad, Heritage, DFER, Jeb’s FEE, etc. all have as a common denominator?

Is it Civil Rights?

Is it Neoliberalism?… Wikipedia:

Neoliberalism is a political philosophy whose advocates support economic liberalization, free trade and open markets, privatization, deregulation, and decreasing the size of the public sector while increasing the role of the private sector in modern society.

School choice advocates are a motley alliance between those whose primary focus is that want to see greater opportunity for historically underserved students of color (Civil Rights) and those that want to see the state reduce its role in public education and shift the responsibility to the private sector (i.e. Libertarian CEO from Texas Families first).

We have already seen this transition in Chile as they have divested in public education. Click here to see how a national “choice” market has impacted inequality and public schools. There are losers and winners in every market, and guess who loses out in a school system dominated by choice? Chile is a prime example of how a choice magnifies inequality because in a market approach capital rules the day. Students without capital (test scores become capital in addition to $) are denied access in markets. If you go to the grocery market without cash, you will come away empty handed…

So if you are a “choice” proponent interested in Civil Rights (especially for special populations and students of color), these are not going to do it for you: Vouchers, parent trigger, charters. If you are a neoliberal, well… you are in business (no pun intended, okay, there was) with these conceptions of choice.

Choice advocate interested in Civil Rights, please ask yourself this question… Why haven’t the policymakers given our parents and students these choices in their public schools?!

  1. Standards that represent diverse populations The illusion of inclusion: Race and standards
  2. An accountability system that doesn’t stigmatize students who score poorly on only one measure of success— high-stakes tests At-risk student averse: Risk management and accountability 
  3. An accountability system that doesn’t hide students who fall through the cracks while simultaneously claiming fantastic results As good as advertised?: Tracking urban student progress through high school in an environment of accountability
  4. An accountability system that recognizes the unique needs of English Language Learners relative to high-stakes testing Understanding the interaction between high-stakes graduation tests and English language learners
  5. Teachers that have more than five weeks of training. Teach For America: A review of the evidence.
  6. Teachers that have more than 30 hours of “alternative certification” training Alternative certification and Teach For America: The search for high quality teachers. 
  7. Schools that don’t have a 40% attrition rate for their African American students Is choice a panacea? An analysis of black secondary student attrition from KIPP, other private charters and urban districts.
  8. Schools that have vibrant public arts programs From Dewey to No Child Left Behind: The evolution and devolution of public arts education.
  9. Schools that have low student-teacher ratios Inputs and student achievement: An analysis of Latina/o-serving urban elementary schools.
  10. Schools that don’t have to cheat and game the system to make their numbers for NCLB Accountability Texas-style: The progress and learning of urban minority students in a high-stakes testing context.
  11. Schools that are not racially segregated Achieving diversity in the Parents Involved era: Evidence for geographic integration plans in metropolitan school districts.
  12. Schools that utilize innovative disciplinary approaches to stem the “school to prison pipeline”Developing a school-based youth court: A potential alternative to the school to prison pipeline.
  13. Schools that have teachers in every classroom that are teaching in field and have extensive training in classroom management, curriculum development and pedagogy Does teacher preparation matter? Evidence about teacher certification, Teach for America, and teacher effectiveness.

I concluded in my school “choice” week post:

I have been pondering “school choice,” and why it is such a prominent conversation in our time… I believe the reason is simple: Our policymakers have failed to provide what  is necessary for children to succeed in public schools…

Clearly, if you don’t like the choices that you have, you are going to want to choose. Thus, is the lack of choice in your public schools purposeful? Take for example, the Texas Legislature’s cut of $5.4 billion from education, and now they are pushing vouchers, parent trigger, and lifting the charter cap. In Florida, New York, California, really most places, you are seeing similar fiscal cuts and “choice” being peddled as the solution. I often quote Colin Powell’s statement, “If you break it you own it.” In my view, that’s the end goal for public education for neoliberals. They seek to transfer public education from the state budget to the family budget.

Civil Rights choice proponent, please choose your allies wisely…

Very Sincerely Yours,

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig

p.s. Also, refer to the tenants of neoliberal ideology if have you any question why they want you hot the trail of unions as the progenitors of all things wrong with education…

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Categories: African Americans, Charter Schools, Latina/os, Vouchers

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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15 Comments on “Letter to Civil Rights and school “choice” advocate (p.s. neoliberals skip this)”

  1. March 29, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    I would also gently point out that “choice” also insulates policy makers from doing anything about fixing schools. If a parent happens to CHOOSE an inferior school for his or her child, then well, it’s the parent’s fault, not our policy makers. Furthermore, “choice” probably works as a psychological muzzle for some parents, because what parent is going to publicly announce that she or he “made a bad choice” for his/her child???

    Hmmmmmmm.

    • March 29, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

      Bravo. Agreed.

    • March 29, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

      True, poverty is the white elephant in the room that our policy makers conveniently ignore. Plus, teachers have a tendency to be subversive and go off script. Punitive evaluations and elimination of tenure fixed that wagon.

  2. Monty J. Thornburg
    March 30, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    Monty Thornburg, Ph.D. • Sometimes a historical view is needed. The issue of “choice” in American education has its roots in the deepest discussions in our history going back the the pamphlet “Common Sense” (Thomas Payne) who advocated for education vouchers. A hundred years later, after the Civil War, Catholics advocated for them and had them for a short while in large eastern American cities. Many Catholics were killed in riots over Catholic v. “public” Protestant oriented “schooling” around the same time African Americans were loosing all gains in the South because of Jim Crow. In the South and across America, in recent history, the use of “choice” reared an ugly head after successes for desegregation began to take hold, and came about because of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act in the South. At first, “liberals” or “neo-liberals” were for them particularly in large cities where rigid and unmannigible buracracies ran city schools. Governance issues, policy issues, or; government v. “choice” or “privatized” systems are now at center of the discussion. This important Blog is exposing the injustice and inequity of so called choice in a post-modern global educational context. Many well meaning people, particularly those of conservative faith traditions believe from their point of view that public schools are undermining the moral fabric of America, after prayer was taken out of schools by a Supreme Court decision in 1964. They now fight for “choice.” These so called “cultural conservatives” are advocates of home schooling and the like, and for “choice” and while a minority, they have become a powerful voice co-opted by the political right. Their issues may or may not overlap the issues of race, poverty, ethnic and cultural issues; sometimes yes, sometimes no. I believe that these are some of the historical reasons the issues of “choice” is so difficult. Source: Masters Thesis (1986) “The issue of parental choice in American education” University of New Orleans.

  3. dongmei
    April 1, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    love it!

  4. Susan Nogan
    April 2, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    “School choice advocates are a motley alliance between those whose primary focus is that want to see greater opportunity for historically underserved students of color (Civil Rights) and those that want to see the state reduce its role in public education and shift the responsibility to the private sector (i.e. Libertarian CEO from Texas Families first).”

    I’d go further, and suggest that the objective of global neo-liberalism is to reduce the state’s role in education so significantly that public schools become the option of last resort (think public health and public housing), and their role is transformed into factories that employ low-cost moderately skilled educators-in-training, who churn out minimally skilled low-cost labor (why else focus on basic proficiency versus advanced thinking and problem-solving skills?) Too cynical?

    • April 2, 2013 at 10:06 am #

      not at all. I think that is the long-term agenda. Of course, where choice consistently runs into political buzz saws are the white suburbs. So, the back up strategy is to melt funding at the state level. *SIGH!*

    • Monty J. Thornburg
      April 5, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      Too cynical? Not at all, spot on. And, in the South after “desegregation” choice became the instrument to continue segregation.

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