If this fairly characterized the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Act, then, indeed, the law needs to be immediately repealed or amended. But what Stephanie offers by way of proof is essentially a grandmother who currently teaches three children in her rural Thomasville home.
That private school was described in an NC Policy Watch report that included the woman’s embrace of the A Beka Christian curriculum. A Beka Book, along with Bob Jones University Press, publishes textbooks with a focus on fundamentalist Protestant religious views. The companies, which publish dozens of different textbooks, have come under criticism in Louisiana, California and Florida over the last decade for selected portions of their textbooks.
Whether the woman will ever teach an actual scholarship student in North Carolina, or whether any of her current charges are learning, is immaterial if the point is merely to paint with a broad, condemning brush. That’s unfortunate because, Mencimer’s distortions aside, the issue of public oversight of scholarship schools is a legitimate one.
What constitutes appropriate regulation and curriculum? With traditional public school education, the state provides extensive control over teachers, curriculum, pedagogical methods and lesson plans, and it measures student achievement by a standardized test. Most publicly supported learning options in private schools impose much less in the way of regulation, in part because the point of education alternatives is to be different. Regulating them in precisely the same way defeats that purpose.
So these private scholarship schools are owed some freedom, and the fair question is how much. Their students will be tested to gauge their progress, but do they need to adhere to square footage requirements for classrooms or specific curriculum dictates in math? In devising the right type and amount of regulation on scholarship schools, we also can’t forget that one of the most powerful forms of accountability is the parental choice itself. No parent is forced to take a scholarship and, more importantly, any parent can leave any school that he or she thinks is not serving his or her child.
I don’t have all the answers myself, but this is the informed debate we should be having.
In the meantime, I do know students in North Carolina’s voucher system will be tested. And they won’t be forced to attend schools that use A Beka textbooks and might teach young-earth creationism.
Grade: Needs Improvement
King County Superior Court – Washington
Before a single charter school opened up in Washington, the new law that paved the way for charters was under assault from a lawsuit seeking to dismantle it. Despite the heavily funded opposition, charter schools came out on top.
Just last week, a King County Superior Court Judge ruled charter schools in the state of Washington to be constitutional. Interestingly, the court ruled that charter schools were not “common schools” since they were not under the control of voters. As a result, charter schools in Washington won’t have access to capital funds (as in most states). Given the very low turnout in school board elections (and that many voters who do participate aren’t parents but insiders with a vested interest in keeping out school choice) I question the idea that elections automatically equal accountability in education.
The decision will likely be appealed, sending the case to the state Supreme Court. But this is still a win for charter schools.
Roger Freeman, Littleton Elementary School District
In a recent op-ed for the Arizona Capital Times, a guy named Roger Freeman had this to say about school choice: “Choice is here to stay. To this end, none of us should be concerned about school choice when the focus is on what is best for each and every student.”
Freeman isn’t corporate shill for privatized education. No, he’s the president of Arizona School Administrators, Inc. and superintendent of the Littleton Elementary School District in Avondale (a suburb of Phoenix). Yes, he’s yet another public school official advocating for school choice.
Freeman recognizes that parents like and need choices. He also argues that school districts need to promote their own school choice offerings and focus on the results (the student outcomes) instead of the process (that nasty public vs. private debate).