Stop me if I’ve told you this story before.

A guy from seemingly meager beginnings gets a prized ticket into one of America’s most amazing private schools. He does well. So well that he translates his good fortune into a bachelor’s degree from a solid state college, and an advanced degree from an even better college. Then something strange happens. Somewhere in his development he decides that affording other young people (especially the poor) the same educational advantage that he benefited from is wrongheaded policy.

He wonders “what about all the kids that get left behind?”

Maybe that’s his survivor’s guilt kicking in.

Maybe it’s his university professors who pray to the gods of labor and imbue undergrads with one commandment: thou shalt have no school that is not unionized.

Maybe expressing love for all-things-public becomes his social penance, his class conscious way of achieving facile solidarity with those pitiable souls who still think Budweiser is beer.

Yes, you’ve heard this story before. It’s common.

For whatever reason, there are a lot of people who have been empowered by school choice, only to turn their backs on extending the same opportunities to others.

Today this story is about Morgan Showalter, a special education teacher and teachers’ union lobbyist in Baltimore who wrote a piece connecting school choice to the ancient evil known as “segregation.”

It jumped into my Twitter feed via Randy Weingarten from the American Federation of Teachers.

Take a look…

At the very moment it popped up I was speaking to a graduate class on public policy about charter schools and segregation. I was telling these grad students about the unintended consequences of integration (loss of black control over the education of black children), the popularity and success of charter schools with marginalized communities (black people support them in high numbers), and the culturally affirming environments ethnic communities have found through school choice.

Shortly after this class I read Mr. Showalter’s piece. It’s duplicity was astounding.

After framing school choice as a Donald Trump policy item, Showalter admits his privileged education was helpful.

He says…

I, too, know the possibilities that a privileged education can bring. When I received a scholarship to attend high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy, my life also shifted acutely. By attending that renowned boarding school, I left behind situational poverty, sickness, food stamps and welfare, as my family continued living in a two-room shack in the Northern Michigan woods, without electricity or running water.

That declaration is the last rational point he makes. Union double speak and spin takes over from there.

He continues….

School choice once promised an egalitarian mix of urban and suburban students of all races in one building, but in reality usually meant segregation, with black students confined to certain city schools and whites allowed a means of escape from them. Today school choice often means using public funds to support privatized charter schools of varying quality that usually are not unionized. Today choice means using public funds to provide vouchers to private schools that are allowed by law to discriminate.

Unpack all of that.

First, “public funds” is leftist code for “taxpayer money,” as in “my tax money shouldn’t go to people who don’t want to work, but want to buy lobster tails and steak with their food stamps.”

As in, “my tax money shouldn’t get welfare moms a section 8 voucher for a condo in the neighborhood I work hard to afford.”

Government cheese and public housing for them all. Because I pay taxes, I should say what choices those people have. And, they definitely should not have the choices I’ve enjoyed. Not on the “public” dime anyway.

If your progressive and reading this, you’re probably chaffing. You likely support poor people having a choice in food or housing, just not something far more important like where their kids go to school. Even if they can’t read, at least they won’t be hungry or homeless.

Because that makes sense.

Second, there is the artful way the word “privatized” is placed before “charter schools.” That’s a sly language trick. It’s meant to liken charter schools to private schools, which are bad, because….damn it, I’m not sure why private school graduates equate “private” with bad.

In fact, charter schools are now and have always been one of many variants of public schools (i.e. magnets, pilots, self-governing, alternative, etc.). Yet, like food stamps and Section 8, they use public funds to provide families with a wider variety of choices in essential services.

Third, there is Mr. Showalter’s fog about charter schools being of “varying quality.” It’s true, but only by half. The natural state of public schools overall is one of uneven quality, yet, charter schools, especially urban ones serving low-income students, produce better results.

Here’s what the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools say about the matter:

Sixteen academic studies have been published on charter school performance since 2010, four national studies and 12 regional studies from throughout the country. Fifteen of the 16 found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional school peers. One study found mixed results. The most recent of those studies, by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, found that charter schools do a better job teaching low income students, minority students, and students who are still learning English than traditional schools.

In some cities charter schools wipe the floor with district schools. For example, Boston students “ended up with over 200 days more learning than their district peers.” Sadly, success breeds contempt. Unions are spending millions to stop Massachusetts from increasing the number of high-performing charter schools by a mere twelve more.

Finally, there is the claim that ideologues like Weingarten and Showalter would always lead with if their blood flowed with truth serum: schools of choice most often are not unionized.

Let’s be straight, that is what motivates every single bit of political activity against choice and charters. Fewer students in unionized schools means fewer unionized teachers, which means less membership dues for unions.

Union leaders, especially those like Randi Weingarten who are paid $500k in total compensation, frown upon that sort of thing. It’s bad for business, and there is no better business than harvesting poor kids for their per pupil allotment of “public funds.”

I suspect that’s why her tweet, and Mr. Showalter’s article, ended up in my feed today.

Sadly their story ends without a single viable solution

Mr. Showalter attempts (but fails) to offer one as follows:

Instead of publicly funded inequitable plans of escape for a few, let us focus on researched-based solutions that have the ability to benefit the greatest numbers while transforming our communities. These include meeting the needs of the whole child, community schools and resources to combat trauma. Let us stop ignoring the links between socio-economic status and academic success and instead work to create real, sustainable opportunities for everyone to succeed.

I’ll let you unpack that focus-tested campaign language for yourself. I’ve had all the utter bullshit one man can stand in a day.

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.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here