“It actually sounds quite…equitable.” Not.

(A reposted 2018 post)

A reader of my now defunct Education and Freedom blog once took issue with my expressed concerns about school choice and voucher policies:

“I just don’t see school choice creating a segregation or social class issue. In fact, it puts quality schools within reach of everyone—not just the wealthy who can afford private schools, and opens the door for everyone to become part of a school community that blends their local demographics.  Hmmm…it actually sounds quite…equitable,” she wrote, and I responded …

It does sound equitable, doesn’t it? But let’s look at numbers in Philadelphia County where there are about 70,000 kids in deep poverty, the vast majority of whom are in the School District of Philadelphia. There are 214 private, K-12 schools in Philly, most of which are religiously affiliated, which serve approximately 48,000 students; unfortunately, the average acceptance rate (the percentage of applicants actually accepted) at those schools is 62%, which means each school is ‘full.’ It also means it is likely that the acceptance rates of what are perceived to be ‘quality schools’ are higher than the average (i.e., they are harder to get into), and the admission process for all schools, even public charter schools, requires access to and literacy with technology, something that is unlikely for a family with an income of $12,000 or less per year. The bottom line is: your scenario may ‘sound quite … equitable’ to you; however, it is anything but equitable.

There are millions of kids denied access to a solid education in the USA because, frankly, the collective actions of the powerful in our society indicate they, as a group, do not give a damn about kids who are not their kids. Too many of the rich and powerful love vouchers and charters et al because both contribute to social/economic/racial segregation, which means a system where their children get to go to schools where almost all (if not all) of the other kids look and/or act like their kids.

If you are poor in America, the sound of inequity is deafening.

The solution to this latter day, inequitable segregation is a big ask: create public schools everywhere that train and hold teachers accountable for applying what the research has proven, time and time again, works with all students. If every public school provided a quality education for all the students in its catchment area, there would be no moral reason for the advantaged to put their kids in charter schools or to use Welfare State vouchers to help pay for private school tuitions, but instead of caring enough to demand an answer to the ‘big ask,’ the advantaged exploit charter and voucher policies that help perpetuate race and economic class segregation across the USA.

The above assertion is regularly supported by the real estate preferences—expressed by the advantaged among us—for public school districts across the country that are well funded and have high expectations for all of their students. My strong statement is proven by the fact that in such districts (like the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District in Pennsylvania) where the number of students that are enrolled in charters is low (as is the percentage of black and Latinx kids and of kids receiving free lunches) even though, I hypothesize, it is possible that a large portion of teachers in such districts are not fully implementing research-based practices. Such a reality in instructional practice would prove crushing for disadvantaged kids, but advantaged kids actually learn despite teachers’ obsolete practices. These strong assertions on my part are based upon my non-scientific sample of one obtained during over four decades’ service in Public Education, where I have had opportunities to observe and work with hundreds of teachers. That experience allows me to further assert that the majority of teachers I have encountered—during numerous professional development experiences—have believed their own non-scientific samples of one regarding instructional practices to have more value than, say, the meta-analysis done by Marzano et al that involved over 4000 pieces of juried research.

“Another example: in training nearly 2000 teachers and administrators across Pennsylvania, I discovered virtually none had heard of Self-Determination Theory, which is deeply researched and accepted by education professionals in nearly every developed country in the world accept for the USA (according to my correspondence with one of the founders of SDT, Edward Deci). American teachers, in contrast, are still practicing Skinnerian psychology and treating kids like pigeons with the result that American teachers and administrators (and parents) have atta-boyed, gold-starred, candy-barred, and student-of-the-weeked the intrinsic motivation to learn out of virtually every American kid by the time they reach the fifth grade.”

“Oh, and I’ve spent over forty years as a teacher, administrator, and bureaucrat, with the greatest portion of those years working with and on behalf of disadvantaged kids. I have done my best as an individual to address what you have suggested, but unfortunately, there are millions of Americans—many of whom claim to be Christians but who would not recognize a truly charitable and compassionate opportunity if it smacked them in the face—who just don’t give a damn about the poor, and trying to move a critical mass of Americans to engage in compassionate action in support of disadvantaged kids turns out to be as productive as Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills. If I sound frustrated, I am. Turning around in my seventies and looking back and seeing the universal failure of education to create a sophisticated, critical thinking populace—which has resulted in the dysfunctional political atmosphere that has been poisoning our democracy—will do that to you.

“Which means: someone much younger and smarter than me is going to have to keep tilting at those windmills.

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