by Chris Stewart

If you ask partisans, gay weddings and charter schools are among the biggest threats to America’s most cherished institutions; marriage and education.

But don’t worry. True believers are fighting back.

In Kentucky a county clerk has refused to grant marriage licenses to legally eligible gay Americans. She says doing so would offend her Christian beliefs. She has no moral choice but to use her position as a State worker to deny gay people their rightful pursuit of happiness.

You’ve heard of her by now. Kim Davis is her name. She is the county clerk who is the subject of gleeful celebration by conservative people who support her right to discriminate against a much maligned minority.

She is also the target for barbarous ridicule from liberal people always eager to exert their intellectual superiority.

It’s that latter group I want to focus on because they so often get away with smug indignation without ever confronting their illiberal contributions to the oppression of my people. Hillbilly-shaming is an easy shitzengiggles drinking game for them because it’s widely assumed that rural conservative people lack table manners, and urban liberals are refined gentle people. Those of us living in northern “progressive” encampments might tell a different story.

Children of a new plantation

What about these teacher unionists and their allies in Washington state who have worked so hard to get a supreme court ruling that bans charter schools?

They’re having an Eye of The Tiger moment and taking a victory lap on social media. And they’re conveniently framing the issue as workers and citizens uniting to stop evil corporate billionaires from “privatizing” public education. That just never gets old. I swear white liberals could torch all the planets rainforests and eat a years worth of processed food without recycling and never raise an eyebrow if only it can somehow be blamed on the demonic super-rich.

But such simple stories don’t work for all of us. The one group that isn’t cheering is the low-income people of color who are desperately seeking an alternative to public schools that aren’t working for them.

While these teacher unionists upbraid folks like Davis for using her government job to force anti-gay religious views on the public, there is no equal chastising of the liberal anti-choice efforts. How does the Washington Education Association spend $4 million of public money to stop low-income families from accessing promising schools and not get called out for the hypocrisy of their endless talk about social justice unionism?

Since when is it part of the liberal religion to stop people of color from accessing opportunity? When did championing powerful middle-class bureaucracies become a strategy for assisting the poor and racially marginalized?

Sure, charter schools offend the petty union-first religiosity of white liberal fundamentalism. Yes, they think the whole world would be better if we public-ized everything (because that worked so well with housing projects). But maybe they should check their privilege for five minutes and realize traditional public schools are not working for us they way they work for white middle class liberals.

The People, remember them?

The issue here isn’t really about teachers, unionists, judges, billionaires, or corporatists. If you are a struggling parent with valid suspicions that you’re not the favored constiuency of public schools, the time will come to do something different for the kids you love.

In Washington state, like the rest of America, that means parents of color – specifically black and brown – will be facing different educational prospects than whites and will need choices.

Consider these results in Washington:

  • In 3rd-grade reading, white and Asian/Pacific Islander students outperformed African American, Latino, and Native American students by 20-26 percentage points on the 2009-10 state exam.
  • On the 2009 Math NAEP exam, 4th-grade proficiency rates for African American, Latino, and Native American students were half those of white and Asian/Pacific Islander students. The gap widened to nearly a third on the 8th grade exam.
  • On-time graduation rates in Washington State average 73.5 percent overall but range by subgroup from 82 percent and 76 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander and white students respectively to 63 percent and 53 percent for Latino and Native American students.
  • African American and Native American students are over represented in special education programs, while low-income students and students of color are underrepresented in Advanced Placement and highly capable classes.

You might roll your eyes and say you’ve heard that story before. You’ll say charter schools are not the answer. Embedded in that response is the slippery notion that you know better than the people. Sure, you’re white and educated, but you’re liberal and that means you’re supposed to at least pretend there is some wisdom and intelligent life in poor communities of color.

On that note, the people don’t agree with you.

In a 2015 PDK poll 64% of Americans favored charter schools. Another recent poll conducted by Brilliant Corners Research found 72% of black parents favored charter schools.

Then there is this EdNext poll from 2013….

Responses to 2013 EdNext Poll
As you  may know, many states permit the formation of charter schools, which are publicly funded but are not managed by the local school board. These schools are expected to meet promised objectives, but are exempt from many state regulations. Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools?
    Public Teachers Parents African Americans Hispanics
Completely Support 18% 20% 17% 19% 21%
Somewhat Support 33% 21% 32% 34% 33%
Somewhat Oppose 18% 23% 19% 16% 18%
Completely Oppose 8% 25% 7% 9% 4%
Neither               Support nor Oppose 24% 12% 26% 23% 24%

These polls and others illustrate a rift between teacher unionists and the browning public they serve.

So what do you do if the public, especially those with a real vest interest in gaining access to new schooling options, disagree with your fundamentalist world view?

Finance a judicial fiat?

Teacher unionist are exceedingly skilled at pursuing their narrow interests. Their main strategy has always been to focus first on appealing to their main constituency (other whites who routinely express satisfaction with their own school options). That’s easy in Washington state because it is whiter than America with only 4% black residents, and teachers there are whiter than America too with only about 2% of them black.

That should explain a lot. I mean, who would really care if a bunch of zealous white liberals pulled a Kim Davis on us?


If you want to find the true religion on charter schools, read this…

The Seattle Times – “The Washington Supreme Court should reconsider its ruling that charter school law is unconstitutional

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.



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