Throwback Thursday: New Orleans and the disaster capitalism narrative

Hurricane Katrina. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Hurricane Katrina. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

On the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Canadian activist and author Naomi Klein republished an excerpt from her 2006 national best seller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, claiming free-market acolytes of economist Milton Friedman capitalized on the disaster to radically alter New Orleans’s public education system.

This conspiratorial narrative, and many of the underlying errors, color the education reform debate to this day. It closely tracks the story many reform opponents tell— ignoring heroic efforts to rebuild the city’s schools, dysfunction that existed before the storm, and improvements that have occurred since.

Now, even mainstream media outlets that provide an honest accounting of those improvements sometimes describe the new system as a “free-market” approach to schooling. The reality is much more complicated, and therein lies one of the flaws in the narrative Klein spins. Continue Reading →


Meet the Voucher Left

Despite what the story lines too often suggest, school choice in America has deep roots on the political left, in many camps spanning many decades. Mississippi Freedom Schools, pictured above (the image is from, are part of this broader, richer story, as historian James Forman Jr. and others have rightly noted. Next week, we’ll begin a series of occasional posts re-surfacing this overlooked history.

Despite what the story lines too often suggest, school choice in America has deep roots on the political left, in many camps spanning many decades. Mississippi Freedom Schools, pictured above (the image is from, are part of this broader, richer story, as historian James Forman Jr. and others have rightly noted. Next week, we’ll begin a series of occasional posts re-surfacing this overlooked history.

By critics, by media, and even by many supporters, it’s taken as fact: School choice is politically conservative.

It’s Milton Friedman and free markets, Republicans and privatization. Right wing historically. Right wing philosophically.

Critics repeat it relentlessly. Conservatives repeat it proudly. Reporters repeat it without question.

It has been repeated so long it threatens to replace the truth.

Voucher Left logo snipped

The roots of school choice in America run all along the political spectrum. And to borrow a term progressives might appreciate, the inconvenient truth is school choice has deep roots on the left. Throughout the African-American experience and the epic struggles for educational opportunity. In a bright constellation of liberal academics who pushed their vision of vouchers in the 1960s and ‘70s. In a feisty strain of educational freedom that leans libertarian and left in its distrust of public schools, and continues to thrive today.

This is not to deny the importance of the likes of Friedman in laying the intellectual foundation for the modern movement, or to ignore the leading role Republican lawmakers have played in helping school choice proliferate. But the full story of choice is more colorful and fascinating than the boilerplate lines that cycle through modern media. Black churches and Mississippi Freedom Schools are part of the picture. So is the Great Society and the Poor Children’s Bill of Rights. So is U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and Congressman Leo Ryan, D-Calif., the only member of the U.S. House of Representatives to be assassinated in office.

Perception matters. Perhaps now more than ever. There is no doubt far too many people who consider themselves left/liberal/progressive and identify politically as Democrats do not pause to consider school choice on its merits because they view it as right-wing and Republican (or maybe libertarian). In these polarized times, people have never identified with ideological and party labels so completely, and, I fear, so often made snap judgements based on perceived alignments.

School choice isn’t the only policy realm to suffer from false advertising, but in the case of vouchers, tax credit scholarships and related options, the myths and misperceptions appear particularly egregious. The forgotten history means newcomers to the debate get a fractured glimpse of the principles that have long fueled the movement. And it means critics can more easily cast contemporary supporters on the left as phonies or sellouts, as opposed to what they really are: heirs to a long-standing, progressive tradition.

We at redefinED would like to redouble our efforts to change that. So, beginning today, we’re going to offer a series of occasional posts about the historical roots and present-day fruits of school choice that are decidedly not conservative.

We’re calling it “Voucher Left.”

We hope to offer entries big and small, some by redefinED regulars, some by guests. We may rescue a historical document from the dust bin. We may serve up a profile or podcast. Maybe we’ll reconstruct some fascinating but forgotten moments in the rich history of choice, like what happened in California in the late 1970s when a couple of Berkeley law professors tried to get a revolutionary voucher proposal on the statewide ballot. (Here’s a bit of tragic foreshadowing: But for Jim Jones of the People’s Temple, vouchers today might be considered a liberal conspiracy.)

There is no set schedule for the series. We’ll roll out posts as often as time permits, and as often as we can keep digging up good stuff. Look for the first two right after Labor Day.

In the meantime, a few caveats:

We didn’t coin the term “voucher left.” As far as we can tell, all credit goes to writer (and former fellow at the Center for American Progress) Matthew Miller. In a 1999 piece for The Atlantic, Miller used the term to describe the ‘60s era choice camp that included John E. Coons and Stephen Sugarman, Berkeley law professors who co-founded the American Center for School Choice, which helped put this blog on the map. We thought the term perfect – and just as fitting an umbrella for choice’s other progressive pillars. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Testing, Catholic schools, school choice and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. State Sen. Don Gaetz pledges to pursue changes to state testing policy. The Buzz. More students participate in SAT testing, but just over a third rate college-ready. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach officials say students should be allowed to use the SAT in place of state assessments. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Catholic schools. The Diocese of St. Petersburg draws applicants looking to be its next leader. Gradebook.

Charter schools. Teachers from a shuttered charter school are still owed money.  Pensacola News-Journal.

STEM. A magnet-school student scores at the science fair. Northwest Florida Daily News. Tallahassee-area students travel to math competitions. Tallahassee Democrat.

School choice. Uniforms, new choice programs and other changes are among a suite of reforms the Duval school board will consider over the coming months. Florida Times-Union.

Growth. Lee officials debate how to accommodate growth. Fort Myers News-Press. Manatee’s school population grows by hundreds. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota debates impact fees. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Continue Reading →


Home school advocates and the fight for parental autonomy

A recent article published by ProPublica and Slate scrutinizes, among other things, the role of the Home School Legal Defense Association in pushing back against attempts to place new regulations on home education. Early on, the piece highlights one such battle where the association was successful, as it often is, at defeating such an attempt:

After the story of the emaciated boys appeared in national newspapers, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg was moved to introduce new legislation. “My question was, how does someone fall off the face of the earth so that no one knows they exist? I was told it was because he was homeschooled,” she said.

Her bill, introduced in 2004, would’ve required parents, for the first time, to notify the state that their children were being homeschooled, have them complete the same annual tests as public school students, and submit proof of annual medical tests.

Soon afterward, a small group of homeschooling parents began following Weinberg around the capitol. The barrage of phone calls from homeschooling advocates so jammed her office phone lines that staffers had to use their private cellphones to conduct business. “You would have thought I’d recommended the end of the world as we know it,” said Weinberg. “Our office was besieged.”

Florida has seen its own debates over home school regulations, often brought on similarly by well-intended efforts to protect children from abuse.

Home schooling rules came under scrutiny after the death of Nubia Barahona, whose parents pulled her from public school. The case was unspeakably horrific. But it came amid a major, systemic breakdown in the state’s child-protection system that began while the victims were still in school.

So did the case justify new scrutiny for home schooling, or new regulations? Or was that beside the point?

Continue Reading →


Why colleges invest in dual enrollment

A feature by Miami’s NBC affiliate highlights the popularity of dual enrollment programs. The piece notes Florida International University has partnered with the Miami-Dade school district to offer more college-credit courses to its students.

One note at the end jumps out:

FIU said it’s worth the $17 million the university has invested in the program. Many of the students end up enrolling at FIU, and arrive on campus ready to hit the ground running.

Similar logic drives some of the state’s community colleges to offer dual enrollment courses to private-school students, free of charge. The hope is that by helping students take college courses for free, they can draw academically high-performing high schoolers to enroll at their institutions after they graduate. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Testing, failure factories, Jeb Bush and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. Florida’s testing system is deemed valid, but questions remain. Politico Florida. StateImpact. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Miami HeraldSun-Sentinel. Sentinel School Zone. Palm Beach Post. Fort Myers News-Press. Bradenton Herald. Naples Daily News. Lakeland Ledger. Ocala Star-Banner. Gainesville Sun. Tallahassee DemocratSunshine State News.

Failure factories. The Tampa Bay Times tells the story of dozens of students in resegregated schools.

Jeb Bush. The presidential candidate bashes teachers unions for opposing school choice policies in a Townhall column. The former Florida governor visits a South Florida school. WPLG. WTVJ. WSVN. WFOR.

Growth. Sarasota schools plan to present their growth plans. Sarastota Herald-Tribune.

Social media. Hillsborough sets a new social media policy for student-teacher interaction. Tampa Tribune.

Dual enrollment. Miami-Dade students flock to dual enrollment programs. WTVJ.

Facilities. The official in charge of a Broward school construction bond quits. Sun-Sentinel. An A/C failure leaves Merritt Island students uncomfortable. Florida Today. The Volusia school board looks for ways to finance a new school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Continue Reading →


Charter schools, facilities and fairness

The Orange County School Board wants to build a new school to relieve overcrowding, but it has to jump through local zoning hoops that don’t apply to charter schools in the same way.

The Orlando Sentinel breaks it down.

School leaders had strong neighborhood support for the relief school. But Orange County commissioners turned it down, relying partly on an ordinance drafted about 20 years ago requiring a middle-school campus to be at least 25 acres.

The district’s parcel, originally pegged as an elementary-school site, was a little more than 16 acres.

Despite an outcry from neighbors, neither proposed charter school is likely to face the same scrutiny from the county.

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, testing, Twitter and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A troubled Broward charter school closes a week into the school year. Sun-Sentinel. A Pasco charter school takes heat over a contract change. Gradebook. Orange County officials debate charter school zoning rules. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing. Educators await the results of state tests as a validity study is expected today. Tampa Tribune. The state Board of Education chair casts doubt on the idea of national tests. Orlando Sentinel School Zone.

Growth. Manatee schools expect to add 1,000 students, but not in the schools with the most available space. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Digital learning. A Catholic school switches to digital textbooks. Ocala Star-Banner.

Social media. Did the Palm Beach school district have a little too much fun in some tweets about potential school closures? Palm Beach Post.

Community schools. Brevard plans to create an elementary school with wraparound services. Florida Today.

Discipline. Escambia groups discuss the school-to-prison pipeline. Pensacola News-Journal.

Transportation. Palm Beach bus problems remain unresolved. Palm Beach Post. One route is changed after a lawsuit is threatened. Palm Beach Post. Manatee officials hope to see most transportation issues dealt with. Bradenton Herald. A bus incident leaves students with minor injuries. Leesburg Daily Commercial.

Continue Reading →