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GOP Fans False Education Crisis; Privatizers “Choice” Solutions Don’t Work

Governor Dennis Daugaard and his fellow Republicans have had a year to stew over the stinging referendum defeat of their really bad education reform bill. They left the public schools mostly alone this year, saddling our K-12 schools only with an immoral, counter-evidential school gunslinger bill that no one but one misguided private school superintendent seems keen on implementing.

But having caught their breath and facing an election year, might our legislators return to Pierre this winter to take more potshots at public education?

Wage a pre-emptive strike: send your legislators this Slate summary of a couple books that put the lie to the usual Republican/corporate privatizer attacks on our well-performing public education system.

First, Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error challenges the false crisis privatizing "reformers" manufacture to make us think we can't stick with the status quo. The current system, says Ravitch, is working much better than "reformers" must have you believe:

Exhibit A in the sky-is-falling argument is the claim that test scores are plummeting. Ravitch shows that, quite the contrary, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card, have never been higher. (The biggest gains in NAEP scores were recorded before the No Child Left Behind Act, with its fixation on teacher accountability and high-stakes testing, was implemented.) Nor do American students perform as badly as advertised on international exams—in 2011 tests of math and science, only a handful of countries did better. There’s no new dropout problem—students are staying in high school longer, and six-year graduation rates have never been higher [David L. Kirp, "The Wrong Kind of Education Reform," Slate, 2013.09.04].

Even if there were a crisis, the solutions privatizing corporatists propose to raid the public wealth and strangle public schools don't work. Vouchers and charter schools don't perform any better than public schools, say Sarah and Christopher Lubienski in The Public School Advantage:

...[A]s with the supposed crisis in public education, faith that turning education over to the private market can provide the solution doesn’t fit the facts. Perhaps the most startling finding in The Public School Advantage is that the autonomy of private and charter schools—the attribute so prized by the market advocates—may really be getting in the way of their improvement. Rather than taking advantage of their freedom by being creative in how they teach math, many private schools still use an outmoded pedagogy that stresses memorizing formulas, not problem-solving. And instead of using their autonomy to become better, they invest in marketing that’s designed to attract the easiest-to-educate students.

These are generalizations, of course, which don’t describe any particular school, and some charters, like the KIPP and YES Prep schools, are exemplary. But the clear takeaway from the Lubienskis’ research is that choice may actually cause more problems than it solves [Kirp, 2013.09.04].

The idea that these arguments will sway our legislators to protect public education hinges on the assumption that they will spend as much time reading real books and research as they do browsing the buffets the lobbyists lay out for them in Pierre. But one can hope.


  1. Anne Beal 2013.09.07

    my son was president of the senior class, on the Debate Team, in the Drama Club and a member of the National Honor Society. No slouch there. But when he got to USD, he needed remedial math. Apparently, that's not unusual. A lot of our public schools are failing to get the job done.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.09.07

    Anecdotes don't make the general data that say public schools are getting a lot of jobs done. But even if there are problems, the second book mentioned above says that public schools are better equipped to boost your son's math scores than vouchers and charter schools.

  3. Roger Elgersma 2013.09.07

    Ever since Reagan lowered the difficulty for the ACT to make it look like deregulating education had worked, there seems to be a cloak of deceitfulness in the public school system that believes if we just say we are good, that everyone will think that we are. This example of a National Honor Society student needing remedial help is a blatant example of saying we are spectacular and not even being average. This makes it real difficult for the truly good ones to have credibility. Blaming the tests and teaching to the tests is a way to discredit the system that is supposed to show what is good and what was not done well. After all, it is professional educators who write those tests. Do they not understand what education is well enough to write a test.
    Charter schools and private schools such as the Christian schools I attended grow the fastest when the public schools are doing the poorest. I have seen this in many states and even in other countries. There was a Christian school in India with only twenty percent Christian students because the Hindus would rather have their kids educated there than in a bad public school.
    A few years back I heard the school board candidates in Sioux Falls speak at Democratic Forum. The Christian school in town (my cousin was principle at the time) had grown eighty percent in the last five hears and the Catholic school had grown twenty percent. I told the only incumbent that when the other schools grow so fast is when the public schools are doing something wrong. He asked what they were doing wrong. I told him I had not checked and had no idea but that he should check himself. The next year the Christian school only grew by ten students.
    So be as good as you say you are and most people will send their kids to a good school for free rather than sending them to an excellent school for tuition. But then there are some excellent public schools also.

  4. Ben Cerwinske 2013.09.07

    "...instead of using their autonomy to become better, they invest in marketing that’s designed to attract the easiest-to-educate students."

    I thought that was a great point. Private schools are somewhat of a "perfect" stranger. They're generally not as great as they're made out to be by supporters. However, that quote suggests that they do have a better opportunity than public schools to improve themselves. That I agree with.

    Having known people who have successfully used home and private schooling, I can't take a position that would have denied them that opportunity. They would have done fine at public school in Spearfish, but I doubt they would have achieved as much even though Spearfish has excellent schools.

  5. Roger Elgersma 2013.09.07

    There is posibility for either or both good or bad anywhere.

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