School Choice Spread in The Avocado

Check out the new school choice spread in The Avocado! The Avocado is a monthly newsletter focused on “educating, uniting, and motivating through an open discussion of relevant political and social issues.” I was honored to be interviewed for Issue 3 (April 7, 2017) which takes on education and school choice.

In your opinion, what is the biggest issue the American public school system faces today? And how is this affecting the quality of education available to students on a ground-floor, day-to-day basis?

The worst kept secret in the United States is that we have created a system in which the children of the wealthy receive the most educational opportunities. This inequality is historical and is also readily apparent in every city on the other side of the tracks, highway, river etc. This means that the poor have lesser educational facilities and technology, nutritional opportunities, more police in their schools, less counselors, less experienced and more new teachers etc. The structural inequalities in our system are on purpose and it is the shame of our nation.

It seems that many DeVos supporters actually do understand that vouchers and “school choice” only benefit the upper class, but are simply willing to sacrifice the needs of others for a system that will benefit themselves and their kids. How do we target those people and help them to better understand the ways that a thriving public school system can have widespread benefits?

First, I believe it is important to introduce evidence into our national conversation about school choice to counter the common sloganeering that’s heard. Vouchers, because of their design, allow researchers to the opportunity conduct high-quality, rigorous studies. The latest research on vouchers is actually showing that they either have no appreciable impact on students and some studies are actually finding that they reduce student success. Second, worldwide examples of voucher experiments in Sweden and Chile have enhance social inequity and had dismal results for poor children. Finally, I think it should also be known that vouchers have a sordid racist history because they were used after Brown v. Board for purposes of “all deliberate slowness” in the South to ensure the continued segregation of students.

There are some people in the school choice conversation that can’t be reached with evidence or reason, but as evidenced by the recent Intelligence Squared debate in New York City, if you provide evidence to the public about school choice they readily understand the problems.

You run the education publication Cloaking Inequity—what specifically is your position on and mission in speaking out for public education?

To create more clarity and truth around equity and social justice issue in the public space around charters, Teach For America, vouchers and other important educational policy issues, I created the blog Cloaking Inequity. I named the blog Cloaking Inequity as homage to the concept of camouflage from Critical Race Theory (CRT). The core mission of the blog is to uncloak the inequities are often camouflaged and hidden in education and public policy.  Cloaking Inequity is scholarly, yet accessible and engaging for a variety of stakeholders in the educational policy community. It provides a public platform to release recent book chapters, peer-reviewed articles, and policy reports. Furthermore, instead of only publishing in the traditional journal format, I can provide rapid scholarship to the public via statistical analyses that are relevant for the discourse surrounding hot education reform topics. The blog is also a tool by which I invite colleagues across the nation to contribute critical perspectives in posts examining various timely educational policy issues. I am also able to provide voice to teachers and others who have important educational reform counter-narrative to share. Cloaking Inequity has now reached nearly a million readers from more than 190 countries and is typically ranked one of the top 50 education websites in the world by Teach100.

At one point, Trump hilariously proclaimed that nobody knew health care could be so complicated—in many ways, it seems like the same applies to education; it’s deceivingly complex. What issues might Trump and DeVos encounter in trying to “reform” the American school system?

To this point in his presidency, Trump has only made Americans uncomfortable with his rhetoric and actions— our daily lives haven’t changed much beyond constant text notifications about the most recent Trump gaffe. The exception to this reality is of course immigrants who have been targeted relentlessly in his first month in office. However, if Trump delivers on his campaign promise to spend $20 billion on school choice in the first 100 days of his presidency, he will likely create chaos in public districts nationwide due to the drain on their resources. The financial disruption would directly impact communities nationwide and would likely have considerable political ramifications if implemented at the scale he has promised.

The White House budget office has plans to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities. If this funding is pulled, what is at risk for public schools?

Attacks on the arts is a longstanding Republican tradition that can be tracked back to Reagan and beyond. In fact, in the article From Dewey to No Child Left Behind: The Evolution and Devolution of Public Arts Education, we discussed the Republican focus on testing and standards in Texas-inspired No Child Left Behind also had a negative impact on the arts. Countries around the world, including China, envy the creativity and independence of our students that is fomented by the arts. This is a case of politicians using the strategy “if it ain’t broke, fix it.”

Are there any states leading the way in education reform? If so, what are the ways in which they are doing so and are there any state leaders that are responsible for the progress?
There are many states that have incredible education systems. For example, the research shows that only four countries in the world perform better than Massachusetts in Math and Science. Only five countries in the world perform better than eight other states (Vermont, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Maine, Wisconsin, Montana, New York and New Jersey). In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test – the so-called National Report Card — shows us that the kids of today are smarter than they ever been and the nation’s graduation rates are at an all-time high. We can also tentatively look to Miami Florida for an example of how investments in education positively impact students over the long run in various types of communities (rural, urban, suburban) and for students of different kinds (socio-economic status, immigrants and students of color).

Our public education system deserves credit for making this happen. We’ve made real progress. However, as discussed above, the problem in those states, and across the nation is the severe inequality perpetrated by policymakers on poor students and communities. What we don’t want to do is replicate the failed top-down, anti-democratic policies implemented in places like New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago.

Nine college campuses are self-declared sanctuary campuses, while over two dozen colleges and universities have protest activity in support of becoming a sanctuary school. What are the pros and cons of sanctuary campuses? 

Our American institutions of higher education have the sacred responsibility to foment knowledge and create safe learning spaces for our nation and world. We must not bow to authoritarian pressures that limit these responsibilities.

In many ways, Trump is waging war against the “other”—minorities, immigrants, Muslims, English learners, etc. How do you see this administration’s vision of the American public school system—especially considering DeVos’ lack of knowledge about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Trump’s recent reversal of Obama’s transgender bathroom directive—to be a microcosm of the ableist, white, wealthy narrative being pushed by this new regime?

DeVos is the least qualified US Secretary of Education in the history of the United States. She demonstrated this lack of preparation for the job in “grizzly” detail during her Senate confirmation hearing. The challenge with the attacks on the “other” in society today is the covert approach is a departure from the overt racism, sexism, xenophobia of the past. Even the neo-Nazis that I have seen interviewed recently won’t admit that their views are racist, instead they say they are White Nationalists. It is much more difficult now that hate has gone underground and is instead delivered with eloquence— but is no less insidious.

We have entered an era of Politics of Provocation. Donald Trump and his supporters are always looking for equivocation and excuses for their actions. As a result, people who support the American dream for minorities, immigrants, Muslims, English learners, etc. must be disciplined in their approach to the constant reality show type provocation. In response, the strategy should not be different than the last civil rights movement. I recently visited The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. There is an exhibit in the center where you can sit at a lunch counter and via headphones relive the experience of Jim Crow protestors receiving verbal and physical abuse from segregationists. I only lasted five seconds at the counter before it became too disturbing. However, just as Jim Crow protestors did during the civil rights movement, we must respond to the Politics of Provocation with reason, evidence and love. We must do this because it is the right and moral response to hate.

This interview appeared here first in The Avocado.

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For all of Cloaking Inequity’s post on charters click here.

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One comment

  • Thank you for the work you do! My worry is that “… if Trump delivers on his campaign promise to spend $20 billion on school choice in the first 100 days of his presidency, he will likely create chaos in public districts nationwide due to the drain on their resources.” With vouchers, public school district finances and fiscal planning and management would be subject to even more vagaries than they already are. Chaos is very likely to ensue! Much of the general public only understands that choice sounds good to them, so why not? The nuts and bolts, not so much. The doctrine of ‘my child’ trumps all else. Without a long national discussion as to consequences of large-scale school choice, public ed is a sitting duck. The Trump/DeVos agenda must be slowed down, way down.


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