Michelle Rhee clarifies her position on vouchers, tax-credited scholarships and education savings accounts in this interview with Sean Cavanagh at Education Week. To sum up: She thinks they should be limited to low-income students. And there needs to be transparency and accountability. “It has to be a heavily regulated industry,” she told Cavanagh. “I believe in accountability across the board. If you’re going to be having a publicly funded voucher program, then kids have to be taking standardized tests. We have to be measuring whether kids are academically better off in this private school with this voucher than they would be going to their failing neighborhood school. If they’re not, they shouldn’t get the voucher. … I’m about choice only if it results in better outcomes and opportunities for kids.” Full post here.
John Kirtley, chairman of Step Up for Students and one of the hosts here at redefinED, offered some thoughts on parental choice and parental empowerment over at Fordham’s Board’s Eye View blog today. Here’s a taste:
Parents must be truly empowered, however. They can’t just be empowered to choose charters, as some reformers believe. In most states, there is a surprisingly large inventory of private schools that are already serving low-income children. In some of these places there are few charters—sometimes (but not always) because the district is slow to authorize them. In Duval County, Florida, for instance, the district has only thirteen charters despite its large size (over 150,000 students). And not all of them serve low-income children. By contrast, there are over 100 private schools in the county that serve low-income children under the state’s tax credit scholarship program.
redefinED roundup: Voucher plan advances in Alaska, Florida Virtual School gets more scrutiny and more
Alaska: Voucher bill gains ground in the legislature. (Alaska Dispatch)
Florida: Florida Virtual School, a national model, comes under more scrutiny for its effectiveness. (Education Week.)
Indiana: Indiana Supreme Court agrees to hear voucher case. (Associated Press) More competition from school choice means school districts must step up marketing, a columnist argues. (Lafayette Journal & Courier) All-boys charter school coming to Indianapolis. (Indianapolis Star)
Minnesota: Big money being poured into school reform campaigns. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Over at the Education Next blog, Rick Hess has an interview with Liz Fagen, the superintendent of Douglas County schools in Colorado. We’ve written about Douglas County before because it’s the district where, amazingly enough, the school board voted in a voucher program last year (though it’s now tied up in court). The Hess interview is worth a read not only because it points out other ways Douglas County is pushing the envelope, but because of the contrast Fagen offers to other suburban superintendents.
Douglas isn’t too different from, say, Seminole County in Florida. Douglas is a well-to-do district on the outskirts of Denver. Seminole is an affluent district outside Orlando. Both have about 60,000 students. Both have good reputations. Both have plenty of satisfied parents.
But when it comes to attitudes about school choice, the districts are night and day.
redefinED roundup: parent trigger shot down in Florida, Blaine Amendment complications in Missouri and more
Florida: A parent trigger bill goes down on a dramatic 20-20 vote in the state senate. The same body quietly approves an expansion of the state’s tax credit scholarship for low-income students.
Washington, D.C.: President Obama and Republican governors have found a lot of common ground on education, but private school vouchers are a major exception. (Associated Press)
Illinois: Chicago Public Schools chief says he supports public dollars “following” students to private schools, but a spokeswoman says he was not recommending that the state adopt vouchers. (Chicago Tribune)
Louisiana: U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu credits Gov. Bobby Jindal for tackling education reform, but says his voucher proposal goes too far. (New Orleans Times-Picayune) The proposal would have limited impact, maybe 2,000 students the first year, state education officials say. (New Orleans Times Picayune)
Tennessee: Poll finds a majority of residents oppose private school vouchers. (The Tennessean)
Missouri: “Blaine Amendment” causing complications for special needs students in religious schools. (Kansas City Star)
Four prominent elected Democrats in Colorado – Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, Denver Mayor Mike Hancock, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and state senator Michael Johnston – felt strongly enough about the power of school choice to pen an op-ed this week for The Hill’s Congress blog. Here’s a taste:
In Colorado, school choice has appropriately always enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans. Nationally, choice has too often been divisive, with some Republicans using choice as a wedge issue to deconstruct the Federal role in education, while other Democrats have resisted change in any form in an attempt to preserve the status quo. But in Colorado, the emergence of elected Democrats independent from legacy policies and willing to form broad coalitions has reframed the debate on education reform.
School choice appeals to the best instincts of both political parties. It allows Democrats to adhere to their core principals of equality and opportunity – so that a student’s zip code does not determine the quality of their education. It allows Republicans to introduce moderate – and managed – market dynamics and the beginnings of limited competition in the public school sector.
by Doug Tuthill and Adam Emerson
Since the late 1800s, we have defined public education as being synonymous with school districts, but given the increasingly diverse delivery models that now comprise public education this traditional definition is no longer appropriate. We best define public education today as publicly funded learning options that are publicly regulated to achieve a set of democratic values and aspirations — most notably greater equity and excellence.
Ironically some school districts do not seem to meet this modern definition of public education. Consider, for example, the “gated” school districts in some suburbs. Recent redefinED posts about Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to allow cross-district school choice has drawn responses from suburban parents who say they want to keep their district boundaries fortified. “I chose to buy a home where I did because of the good schools,” one parent wrote here. “The children, for the most part, come from homes where the parents are professionals and value education. My concern is that parents who do not share these values will still take advantage of our schools. The problems of the Detroit public schools will become our problems.”
Convictions like these have become institutionalized by Michigan school boards, primarily in wealthy districts, opposed to Snyder’s proposal. The Grosse Pointe school board, just to name one, has now passed a resolution calling for the governor and the Legislature to respect the local community’s authority:
The citizens of the Grosse Pointe Public School System have chosen to make personal sacrifices, including but not limited to investing in premium housing stock … The Board of Education of the Grosse Pointe Public School System has never chosen to participate in the Schools of Choice program in large part to protect and respect these incremental investments made by our citizens to directly benefit our students …
Additionally, the Grosse Pointe Woods City Council followed suit with its own resolution, during which Mayor Robert Novitke said, “You can imagine what it’s going to do to your property values, your quality of life in this community.” And state Rep. Tim Bledsoe, a Democrat from Grosse Pointe, wrote in the community’s newspaper that, “We have for decades taxed ourselves more in order to provide the highest quality education for our children. To now have non-residents take advantage of our many years of investment simply by winning a lottery is outrageous.”
We respect a parent’s desire to do what’s best for her child, but the education system parents and school leaders here want to perpetuate is antithetical to equal educational opportunity and therefore is not truly public education, even though it’s a publicly funded school district.
As the Grosse Pointe school board correctly notes, neither it nor 10 other Michigan districts have chosen to participate in the state’s voluntary Schools of Choice program. They also happen to be among the wealthiest districts that border the City of Detroit and spend the most per pupil.
Political monopolies will always deliver superior services to those with the greatest political power, which is why public education should not be a politically managed monopoly. We don’t begrudge parents using their personal wealth to provide their children with the best education possible, but we support a public education system that ensures all parents, regardless of income or political status, will have access to the learning options they need to properly educate their children. Public education will never meet its obligations to our democracy if it can only be delivered through school districts.
by Doug Tuthill and Adam Emerson
Thirty-nine years ago, author and activist Jonathan Kozol reflected on an enterprise that began when a dozen parents of the children he taught in Boston convened in his kitchen to plan their own school outside the traditional public education system. “We were very much aware of doing something different and, as we believed, unprecedented in this city and this nation,” Kozol wrote in Free Schools. As he joins perhaps thousands of others for the Save Our Schools rally Saturday in Washington, D.C., Kozol is taking part in a protest that appears so philosophically distant from these older observations that they appear to be written by a different person.
Public education remains as over-regulated as when Free Schools was published in 1972, so we sympathize with Kozol and the other marchers who say more government regulation is not the answer. But we don’t think the solution ends with the plea, “Send us more money and leave us alone.” Educators spending public funds should be publicly accountable, but instead of more government regulation, public education needs more teacher and parent empowerment.
That kind of empowerment once inspired Kozol’s ambitions as an educator, but unfortunately he and the others who will gather on Saturday oppose parental choice. They prefer a command and control structure that centralizes power in the hands of school boards because they can’t conceive of a public education system that’s not a government-owned monopoly. But prior to the 1840s public education was a decentralized system consisting of what today we’d call publicly funded vouchers and charter schools. The systemic disempowerment of teachers and parents did not begin in earnest until the mid-nineteenth century and wasn’t completed until the mid-twentieth century.
People — teachers, students and parents — are public education’s greatest resource. We need an education system that utilizes their assets and maximizes their effectiveness. This can best occur in a well regulated system that empowers educators, both individually and collectively, to create more diverse learning options, and empowers parents to match their children with the learning options that best meet their needs.
Saturday’s event will be steeped in irony. A group of anti-corporate “progressives” will rally to conserve a 150-year old command and control corporate structure that disempowers them and their students. Unfortunately these well intentioned education activists aren’t educated enough about the history of public education to know this is what they’re doing.