Elizabeth Warren wants to batten down the hatches but unlike a ship captain who feels a duty to protect his passengers from an impending storm, Warren’s mission is to prevent them from escaping to safety—well, at least the poor ones. In her just released education plan, she isn’t throwing educational lifeboats to anybody who can’t pay—as far as she’s concerned, all children whose parents lack the means to move to a better school district or pay for private school should stay in their zip code assigned school—and she maintains that position even if the child is miserable, not learning to read, and being passed along the grades anyway. Diplomas can be meaningless as long as a neighborhood school hands them out.
Warren’s allegiance is not to students or parents—it is to a hundred year old system that is highly dysfunctional and was never designed to educate all children in the first place. She used to fully understand that a zip code based system of schooling was fundamentally unfair—she supported the idea of an all voucher system of schooling in 2003. It wasn’t until she ran for political office as a Democrat that she quickly took her place among the countless office seekers sucking up to the teachers’ unions instead of actually helping families zoned to chronically underperforming and unsafe schools.
Progressives, like Elizabeth Warren, love to say that they want to level the playing field, focus on equity and ensure that the poor—and even the middle class—are granted access to more of what the rich already have. But that empty rhetoric is really just a punch in the gut to parents when they realize that Warren does not support them having any agency when it comes to their children’s education. Her goal is to take away their freedom and ensure that there will be no self determination for poor families when it comes to the education of their children.
Like so many white progressives, Warren thinks she knows better than the parents actually in the fight to get their children into a school that is better for them. In her education plan, she goes straight for the jugular on the topic of parent choice— and she implies that the choices for which black and brown parents are lining up are somehow misguided or uninformed. She makes it abundantly clear that she is comfortable stripping parents of their agency, without ever knowing a single detail about why their child needs a different school environment. She ignores the bright child who needs more of a challenge, is bored in school, and whose local school admits there is nothing more they can do for her. She ignores the student ridiculed by classmates for his sexual identity who credits a tax credit scholarship with saving his life. She ignores the student so brutalized by bullies in his neighborhood school that he doesn’t want to live. She ignores the parents who literally started their own school because they were so desperate to get their dyslexic children the reading instruction they couldn’t find in the public school system. She ignores the Providence father who refuses to send his son into the same school system that failed him three decades ago. She ignores the child with special needs who finally finds a school that works for him because of a school choice program. And she brazenly dismisses the fact that only 10 percent of 8th grade black boys are proficient in reading.
The Warren plan also reflects the ire Warren now feels about standardized testing—so perhaps she doesn’t care that only 10 percent of black boys in 8th grade read at grade level because a test provides us with that information. Maybe Warren thinks the data is mistaken and that it’s purely coincidence that 85 percent of juvenile offenders are functionally illiterate and 70 percent of adult inmates can’t read above a 4th grade level. Her antipathy towards testing is scary news for many parents since she promises not to allow testing outcomes to be a significant factor in the closing of a school or the firing of a teacher. It’s one thing to say that even if 90 percent of students can’t read or do math on grade level, the school is staying open and the teachers are staying in place. It is quite another thing to say that any parent who would like to opt out of that school and into a different option will not have the freedom to do so. That is authoritarian, not progressive.
Warren’s promise to curtail charter schools and eliminate private school choice programs is evidence that she has chosen to ignore the people on whom she focuses most of her rhetoric. She’ll say the deck is stacked against poor parents and tell them that the system is rigged and then force them to send their children into that very system of which she speaks.
And she’ll do it all with her signature jog and wave, comfortable in the knowledge that her granddaughter will still get to attend her trendy private school with a price tag of $39,700 while other people’s children languish in schools they did not choose and do not like.
An earlier version of this post with the title Elizabeth Warren Doesn’t Trust Parents (Unless They Have Money) ran on the Project Forever Free blog here.