Folks who really, really hate public education …

Curmudgucation (aka retired Pennsylvania schoolteacher Peter Greene) hits the nail smack-dab on the head in just about every column he writes, so it behooves you to subscribe to his blog feed.

Today he shows how there are folks (like Betsy Devos, the Koch brother(s), and Bill Barr) who really, really hate the very idea of public education, and of government in general, and want to destroy both. I am reprinting the entire thing this time. But, again, you should read him daily, instead of reading my pitiful contributions.

Scorched Earth Education Policy (Charters, Watch Your Flank)

Posted: 16 Oct 2019 01:45 PM PDT

This is you should ignore the old admonition to not read the comments.

I converse with plenty of folks that I disagree with, both in the ed policy world and outside of it, and those conversations are largely civil, which sometimes distracts me from the fact that there are people out there who hate, hate, hate public education (“government schools”) and the teachers who work there  (“union thugs”).

I meet them, some days, on Twitter. On Facebook, there are groups that sprung up in the days of “Let’s all get together and fight Common Core” that are now dominated by folks who rail daily against teachers and unions and public schools and how we should just burn it all down until there’s nothing left but homeschooling and church schools (Christian ones, of course).

Of course, these days, you don’t have to dig so deep to find these virulently anti-public-ed folks. Here’s the Attorney General of the Freakin’ United States of America, declaring that our country is under assault in an “organized destruction” of the foundational values of our society (by which he means the Judeo-Christian ones). And “ground zero” of the assault is US public schools. Attorney General Barr, the head law enforcement official of the United States of America has called out public schools as everything just short of “enemies of the people.”

Meanwhile, the author of a new book about the Koch political empire tells us that what the Kochs want from public education is simple– they want it to go away. Talking to Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider at the Have You Heard podcast, Christopher Leonard summed it up like this:

Here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view.

So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody. Now, whether you agree with that or not as the big question, but we cannot have any doubt, there’s going to be a lot of glossy marketing materials about opportunity, innovation, efficiency. At its core though the network seeks to dismantle the public education system because they see it as destructive. So that is what’s the actual aim of this group. And don’t let them tell you anything different.

Barr’s opinion is not exactly unique in the current administration where the State Department front page featured a speech from Secretary Pompeo about Christian leadership. And it’s no secret that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is long focused on “kingdom gains.” The government-run school system needs to be broken up, and a privatized system, built mostly of church-run schools, should be put in its place.

These are not fringe positions. There are plenty of people out there who agree with the Kochs or the theocrats or both, cognitive dissonance be damned.

With that in mind, I wonder if some reformsters aren’t making the same mistake that Common Core supporters made.

Common Core fans like Jeb Bush thought they just had to worry about those damned liberals and lefties. They were shocked and surprised by the uproar on the right (an uproar so huge that progressive core opponents occasionally had to jump up and down and holler “Us too!”) that they never quite recovered; they couldn’t quite shift to their right flank fast enough.

Charter proponents have likewise focused on their left flank. They carefully cultivated alliances with card-carrying Democrats, ginned up DFER, and even now, keep trying to sell the idea that Real Democrats like charters. They are insistent that charters be called “public” charters because, doggonit, they are, too, public schools.

I’m wondering if they might not live to regret that. I wonder if they’re not concentrating on the wrong flank.

The scorched earth crowd is not interested in tweaking public education. Folks like DeVos see charters as a nice stepping stone to the true goal, but no more. This, incidentally, is not really news. Charter fans stepped up to oppose DeVos’s nomination, and charter fans are about the only group that DeVos attempted to make nice with when she took the office. But that truce seems unlikely to last.

The scorched earth crowd represents an alliance much like that which birthed the Tea Party– religious conservatives and libertarian-ish money righties. While that’s a hard alliance to hold together, on the matter of public schools, they’re in agreement (even if it doesn’t entirely make sense)– public schools need to go. People are attached to them, so it’s not possible to attack them head on. Some patience and rhetorical flourish is necessary. DeVos’s “Education Freedom” proposal is a fine example– it’s about vouchers, not charters, and she’s been quite clear that it’s money that can be spent many ways, not just in a “school.”

I don’t find it at all difficult to imagine a future in which the scorched earth folks work to take down charter schools right along with the public system (the one that charters insist they’re part of). If I were a scorched earth person, my plan would be first to split the funding stream into several streams (public this way, vouchers over there) and then just slowly pinch off the public stream. The techniques that we’ve already seen work just fine– starve the schools, create a measure to show that they’re failing, use their failure as justification for starving them further.

Charters, meanwhile, have been flipping through a stack of index cards looking for a justification that will work. They don’t get superior academic results. They don’t close the achievement gap. They don’t create competition that makes everyone improve. These days they’ve settled on the argument that choice is the right thing to do in and of itself, but that argument serves vouchers far better than charters, which scorched earth folks can paint as just an appendage of those same damned gummint schools (hell, some of those charter teachers have even unionized).

And Espinoza v. Montana is on the Supreme Court docket, a case that would shatter the wall between church and state in education. Why send a kid to a charter when you can go straight to a church school. That would become one more charter problem– why would voucher fans stick with voucher lite when they can get the real thing?

Ultimately, scorched earth ed policy would involve choking the revenue stream for everybody, because one of the things they hate about public education is those damned taxes. In one version of the scorched earth education future, there are just tax credits– wealthy patrons support their educational vendor of choice instead of paying taxes, and everyone else just scrapes by. As traditional tax revenue is choked off, charters get caught in the same vice as public school, with too little money to serve underserved communities. That’s okay with the DeVos’s and Kochs and other folks who, at heart, disagree with the notion of elevating the Lessers. Society works better when everyone accepts their proper place (that either God or economics have called them to) and all these socialist attempts to help people rise above their station are both expensive and against natural law. If some people end up getting little or no real education in this system, well, that’s just too bad– they shouldn’t have chosen to be poor and powerless.

I’ve called charters the daylight savings time of ed reform, like trying to reposition on too-small blanket on a too-large bed, arguing about who gets covered instead of shopping for a bigger blanket. But the scorched earth folks approach is “I’ll buy a blanket for my kids and you buy one for yours. We’ll just use our personal resources and you use yours and we’ll just keep that thieving, interfering gummint out of it. Good luck, and enjoy your freedom!”

Charter schools would end up on the wrong side of all of this if they fail to watch their right flanks. And all of the US suffers if the scorched earth education crowd manages any level of what they call success. But do not underestimate them; they are out there, and they are pissed.

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