The Problem with 'School Choice' Week: What's Behind the Bright Yellow Banner

“School choice” will be celebrated this week at thousands of events across the country, with speakers talking about empowered parents and educational excellence.  It will probably be a public relations bonanza for the “school choice” movement.  But here’s the problem: the bright yellow banner of National School Choice Week is designed to distract attention from the least appealing and most dangerous aspects of that movement -- anti-government ideologues, privatization profiteers, and religious fundamentalists eager to get their hands on public education dollars.

Let’s back up a bit.

Education policy is a vast, complicated, and hotly contested arena. Terms like “education reform” and “school choice” sound good, but they are so broad as to be almost meaningless. They can be applied to genuine efforts to strengthen teaching and educational opportunity as well as cynical schemes to destroy public employee unions and dismantle public education altogether.

In particular, “school choice” encompasses a huge array of education policies, from public school charter and magnet schools to taxpayer-funded for-profit cyberschools and homeschooling.  Even a seemingly specific term like “charter schools” cloaks a more complex reality that ranges from innovation labs co-located in public schools to for-profit chain operations.  

If you believe that public education is an important democratic institution, and you think education policy should be aimed at giving every child the opportunity to attend a quality public school, these policies don’t all look alike. They don’t all have the same impact on public schools, or the same levels of public accountability.

But the folks at National School Choice Week would like you not to think about that.  Here’s Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, in a January 2 column:

To individual parents – “school choice” is not just about charter schools, or private schools, or traditional public or magnet schools, or online learning and homeschooling. It’s about having a choice of all of these options, being able to make a choice, and selecting the learning environments that are right for their individual children. When school choice organizations work together, the collective messaging of these partnerships and this broad, familiar definition of school choice resonates with families.

He acknowledges that people have different ideas about what school choice means: “It goes without saying that a charter school association and a private school choice group might not agree on every policy issue, or that a homeschooling organization and a magnet school consortium will not always find common ground,” he says, but we can all come together on “the basics.”

The problem with this “collective messaging” approach is that it hides the anti-public-education agenda of some “reformers.” Celebrating “school choice” across the board lends credibility to organizations pushing for destructive policies that are not at all popular with the American public. In spite of decades of right-wing-funded attacks on public education, for example, Americans oppose privatization plans  like vouchers that transfer public education funds to private schools.

Self-proclaimed reformers often dismiss concerns about privatization as a “red herring.” But you can’t embrace the Milton Friedman Foundation as a partner and then pretend that privatization is only an imaginary threat dreamed up by teachers unions.  Friedman has an explicit goal of getting rid of public schools altogether; they see programs like vouchers for poor kids as a tactical stepping stone toward that ultimate goal.

Others view the huge amount of money we collectively spend on educating children as a source of cash. One of the sponsors of National School Choice Week is K12, a member of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council and a company the New York Times has described as “the biggest player in the online-school business,” one “that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload, and lowering standards.”  In September 2013, a hedge fund manager betting that the company’s model was unsustainable said that “K 12’s aggressive student recruitment has led to dismal academic results by students and sky-high dropout rates, in some cases more than 50% annually.” And yet Executive Chairman Nathaniel Davis was paid more than $9.5 million last year; Morningstar reports that K12’s compensation to top executives went from 8.89 million in 2011 to 10.89 million in 2012 to 21.37 million in 2013. According to Sourcewatch, $730.0 million of the $848.2 million K12 earned last year came from its “managed public schools” – in other words, taxpayers.

For-profit schools that are doing a lousy job can be protected by the huge amounts of money they spend lobbying in state legislatures. A November 2011 investigation by Lee Fang for The Nation reported that White Hat Management, which runs both traditional and virtual charter schools, had become Ohio’s second-largest GOP donor; the company’s success rate under No Child Left Behind was 2 percent, compared to 54.9% for traditional schools and 30 percent for “virtual schools” run by nonprofits.

Publicly funded vouchers to pay for private schools have been rejected each time they have come before voters, and there is scant evidence that the voucher programs that are operational produce better academic outcomes.  But they are still a cherished goal of anti-government ideologues and operators of for-profit and religious schools.  One of the biggest “school choice” advocates among the country’s governors is Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who has embarked on a grand privatization plan grounded in school vouchers, many of which have been used to send students to religious schools with questionable curricula and substandard academic achievement.  Data released by the state in November indicated that almost half of the vouchers were being used at schools that scored a D or F on the state’s rating scale.

There are unquestionably well-intentioned people in the education reform movement, some of whom will be participating in National School Choice Week activities. There are people of all political persuasions eager to find ways to give students a better education, and that includes teachers, administrators, and school board members – people who are collectively dismissed as “the blob” by some “reformers.”

People of good faith can and do disagree about the best way to strengthen teaching, hold schools accountable, reduce the devastating impact of poverty, and more.  But people who are genuinely seeking ways to strengthen public education and make schools better for all children should think twice about making common cause with organizations who see public education as something to be dismantled, and with companies whose bottom line is measured not in student achievement but in the profit margins demanded by their investors.

Right Wing Round-Up - 1/27/14

Right Wing Leftovers - 1/27/14

  • It seems that Greta Van Susteren just realized that Erick Erickson "is a real jerk and is really lousy at being a spokesperson for his views."
  • Shortly after returning to Congress from his stint in rehab following a drug bust, Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) has resigned from Congress.
  • Speaking of resignations, RNC member Dave Agema is refusing to do so over his history of bigoted statements.
  • Former Republican Sen. John Warner endorsed his Democratic successor, Mark Warner, over his Republican challenger Ed Gillespie.
  • Matt Barber says "it’s time for the left to begin honoring the true beliefs, work, life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr." We think it's time for Barber to start honoring the true beliefs of Jerry Falwell given that Falwell is the foundation of Barber's current career.

Conservatives Lash Out At 'Sick,' 'Despicable' & 'Disgusting' Grammy Awards

Anti-gay commentators were none too pleased with last night’s performance of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” at the Grammy Awards, which included a ceremony where thirty-four couples — including same-sex couples — were married. Unsurprisingly, many claimed that the show was evil and mean to anti-gay activists.

Here are five of the angriest anti-gay reactions to last night’s show:

5. Grammys Make Me Want To Vomit, Send Us To Hell

Conservative commentator Erik Rush admitted he didn’t actually watch the Grammy Awards last night, but still observed that the “Same Love” performance “makes you want to vomit.”

Rush said the performance was led by “a disgusting pack of subverts” who want America “shepherded down the path to Hell.”

4. Boycott Grammy Sponsors

Serial hoaxer/right-wing activist Jim Garrow insisted the people involved with the Grammys must repent for turning the event into “an excuse for some to dress up and celebrate their own perversity.”

Garrow also called on his Facebook followers to boycott companies that sponsored the Grammy’s, but didn’t name names: “Pick your sponsor and boycott them. It is the only language that they understand and will bow to. Profit.”

3. Grammys Are ‘Sick’

Fox News pundit Todd Starnes lashed out at the “sick” Grammy Awards on Twitter, accusing the event of “mocking marriage” and “cramming a social agenda down our throats.” “This was not about marriage,” he wrote. “This was about bashing god and the church.”

A very-non-self-aware Starnes said he found the performance “bigoted,” of course.

2. Rush Limbaugh Sad

Rush Limbaugh insists that no one watches the “horrible” and “despicable” Grammy Awards anyway…but he is still really, really upset about it: “Nobody watches, but because they have not strayed from the liberal path, they are still loved and adored and praised.”

1. Gays Run The World

Texas-based radio host Lynn Woolley reacted to the awards show in a post titled Gay Agenda takes over Grammys, writing that the “celebration of perversity” proves that “homosexuals have taken over the country.” Woolley added that he thinks being gay is just a fad: “I’ll bet it fades out with time as more and more men realize that women are pretty dang special.”

I don’t know these people, but — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” gay anthem became the theme song for 33 newlyweds with Queen Latifah officiating the marriages. As the network, CBS was complicit in this celebration of perversity. WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHERE THIS COUNTY GOES FROM HERE? Homosexuals have taken over the country and I’m just curious to see what they do next. I guess they want a gay president. Maybe a gay Pope. (!)

I dunno. I didn’t see the gay stuff, but I got bored quickly by the crap that now passes as music and I decided to pop in a disk and watch an episode of THE MENTALIST. I love The Mentalist as it is all about logic. The Grammy Awards were all about perversion. So what can we do?

I suppose that a few years from now, same sex “marriage” will be as common as divorce is now. I’ll bet it fades out with time as more and more men realize that women are pretty dang special. I guess we’ll see. I wonder what Patrick Jane would say?

It's Not Just Dave Agema: 5 RNC Committee Members Who Have Pushed Anti-Gay Bigotry

With GOP leaders calling for Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema to resign over his latest anti-gay outbursts, we were surprised that Agema’s views would really be that shocking in a party that, as former GOProud leader Jimmy LaSalvia puts it, has a wide “tolerance for bigotry.”

Republicans like RNC chairman Reince Priebus may think by denouncing Agema’s rhetoric they are putting distance between the GOP and extremists. But at the end of the day, the party’s platform embraces the extreme anti-LGBT agenda that Agema represents, opposing not just marriage equality but also civil unions, fair employment practices, non-discrimination policies, hate crimes laws and LGBT-inclusive foreign policy.

And Agema isn’t the only RNC member who has been quite open about his anti-gay bigotry. In fact, it wasn’t very hard at all to put together a short, and by no means an exhaustive, compilation of RNC members who have made anti-gay claims similar to Agema’s.

5. Tamara Scott (Iowa)

Scott, a Concerned Women for America leader and National Republican Committee member, has alleged that the legalization of gay marriage hurt her state’s economy. She also worried that marriage equality will pave the way man-Eiffel Tower marriage.

4. Steve Scheffler (Iowa)

Scheffler got his start as the head of the Christian Coalition’s Iowa chapter (which is now the Iowa Faith and Family Coalition chapter). Under his leadership, the group falsely linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claimed that gay men typically don’t live past the age of 47.

After he became a GOP committeeman, Schleffler blocked openly gay candidate Fred Karger from joining a presidential debate, saying that Karger belonged to the “radical homosexual community” which seeks “to harass supporters of REAL marriage.” He warned against a movement in Republican circles to push the party to support gay rights, arguing that such a move would “literally destroy the Republican Party.”

When Iowa legalized same-sex marriage, Schleffler tried to repeal marriage equality and warned that his state would become “the homosexual capital of the Midwest” and dangerous for kids. “We Iowans want this state to be a good, safe environment for our kids. You ask the average person in the street whether they support gay marriage, and they’ll say no,” he wrote.

3. Bill Armistead (Alabama)

Armistead, the Alabama GOP chairman, tried last year to purge a young Republican activist from the state GOP steering committee after she criticized the party’s hardline stance again marriage equality.

When the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, Armistead accused the government of “hijacking marriage.” “Whether by a constitutional amendment or other means, US taxpayers should not be forced by their government to reward those who choose to engage in activity that had been banned in 35 states,” he said. “Alabama’s state law banning gay marriage will prevent these benefits from being extended in Alabama, but our tax dollars will still go to support a lifestyle that we fundamentally disagree with.”

Armistead also claimed same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and charged that acceptance of gay people is a “sad testament to where we are as a nation,” warning that tolerance of LGBT people puts “America on a slippery slope.”

2. Debbie Joslin (Alaska)

Alaska Republican committeewoman Debbie Joslin led her state’s campaign to bar same-sex marriage and benefits as the state’s Eagle Forum leader.

Joslin also fought a proposal to require schools to adopt LGBT-inclusive policies, warning that increased tolerance would “foster confusion in the minds of our children.” In addition, she denounced openly gay members of the Boy Scouts, whom she claimed were not “healthy role models.”

1. Ada Fisher (North Carolina)

Fisher, a National Republican Committee member from North Carolina, expressed outrage when President Obama and former President Clinton endorsed marriage equality, suggesting that it showed a lack of respect for…straight people: “OK, now I’m confessing to a poorly kept secret — I am a heterosexual black female who loves men and has achieved some modicum of success. So, now will President Obama, Bill Clinton and others give me a call for coming out and openly expressing my sexual preference?”

Fisher also suggested that gay marriage harms the black community by destabilizing the relationships closeted gay men have with women. “The psychological side of my brain is disturbed by the further negative impact of changing gender roles in undermining already fragile black families…black men in the closet are coming out or remaining on the down-low, which may be perceived as another blow to viable relationships with these men at the expense of black women.”

 

Sponsor Of South Dakota Anti-Gay Bill Warns Gay Rights Taking Us 'Down The Road of Iran'

The sponsor of a South Dakota bill that would allow businesses to deny services to same-sex weddings or any others that violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs,” told the Associated Press today that gay rights are taking the United States “down the road of Iran.”

Rep. Steve Hickey, Republican of Sioux Falls, is one of two primary sponsors of a bill that would allow any person or business to “decline to provide certain wedding services or goods due to the free exercise of religion.”

Hickey told the AP that “religious rights need to continue to trump gay rights” in order to prevent the country from “heading down the road to Iran,” an odd argument since Iran is a theocracy in which gay people can face flogging or the death penalty.

Hickey, pastor of a Sioux Falls church, said a court ruling legalizing gay marriage in South Dakota might expose him to lawsuits or prosecution because he believes in traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

“Religious rights need to continue to trump gay rights. Otherwise, we’re heading down the road of Iran, where it’s convert or die, be quiet or die,” Hickey said. “If we want to talk about church and state, this is a bill that keeps the state out of my church.”

The bill is clearly aimed at LGBT people, but its wording is ambiguous, potentially opening the door for many other kinds of discrimination as well.

In an interview with the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Hickey seemed to oppose provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibit private businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, saying, “Let the market bear it out. If there’s some racist group, they can boycott it.” He also claimed that he would support allowing businesses to deny wedding services to Christians.

South Dakota does not currently allow same-sex marriage, but the bill covers receptions and other “wedding services or goods.” UCLA law professor Eugene Voloch pointed out to the Argus Leader that South Dakota doesn’t have a law preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, so people in the state “are already free to discriminate, even much more broadly, based on sexual orientation.”

State Sen. Angie Buhl O’Donnell noted to the Argus Leader that clergy are already protected from participating in wedding ceremonies to which they have religious objections. She called Hickey’s bill “mean-spirited.”

West: 'The Left Tries To Win The Women's Vote By Talking From The Waist Down'

On Friday, Allen West spoke with Steve Malzberg where he defended Mike Huckabee's recent comment by declaring that "the Left tries to win the women's vote by talking from the waist down" while Republicans seek to reach the hearts and minds of female voters.

Asserting that Democrats want the government to be "the sugar daddy" and replace men, West said Democrats have been "caught guilty as always" and are responding by attacking Huckabee. He then went on to claim that the Left remains utterly silent when women like Malala Yousafzai are abused and attacked by the Taliban before declaring that "I'm going to be very blunt: the Left tries to win the women's vote by talking from the waist down":

FAIR: Immigration Reform Leads To 'Tyranny'

Panicking about possible immigration legislation in the House, the communications director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is warning that any steps towards reforming the immigration system will lead to “tyranny.”

Bob Dane, the chief spokesman for the Nativist group, told Sandy Rios of the American Family Association last week that immigration reform will “split” the GOP, and as a result collapse the multi-party system of government and the system of checks and balances.

“If they split over this GOP bill you’ve got a one-party system in America and that’s one step closer to tyranny,” Dane said.

Of course, you could argue that it is groups like FAIR that are “splitting the GOP” by pressuring lawmakers to embrace unpopular positions on immigration reform.

If the Republicans in fact endorse this amnesty bill and I expect they will and we’re going to fight hard against it, they’re going to face another type of retreat, the one they’re coming out of with their amnesty principles, they’re going to be facing the retreat of disillusioned conservative voters starting to look for other options. We don’t want that. If the GOP splits — if the GOP needs party unity, at any point, it’s right now, but if they split over this GOP bill you’ve got a one-party system in America and that’s one step closer to tyranny. You always need checks and balances, not only within the framework for the government itself but a two-party system is vitally important for democracy.

Barber & Staver: Obama 'Doesn't Like America' And Is Working To Weaken It

On today's "Faith and Freedom" radio broadcast, Matt Barber and Mat Staver asserted that President Obama was siding with terrorist Muslim nations against Israel and intentionally weakening the United States because he hates America.

Bizarrely, Barber criticized Obama for cozying up to nations that "attack ... homosexuals," which is a bid odd given that Barber openly advocates for the passage of anti-gay laws here in America while Staver, who is part of a new effort to increase civility, has no qualms about declaring that Obama simply doesn't like America:

Barber: Time and time again, he has show through his actions that Barack Hussein Obama, that his sympathies lie with these Muslim nations, many of them terrorist nations. It boggles the mind when it is clearly not in the best interest of the United States, not in the best interest of Israel or the national security of either of these two western countries, the democratic hubs of the world, frankly, in terms of freedom. Yet this president seems to consistently align himself with these nations that attack, for instance, homosexuals, women, that repress women, that keep little girls from having education, these Islamic nations that seek to destroy America and Israel. I can't figure it out.

Staver: Well, I think he doesn't like America and he doesn't like the Judeo-Christian values that founded America and are the foundation of America. So, with his foreign policy, he is really pulling back America and weakening America.

D'Souza Producer: 'I've Never Had The Occasion To Fear My Government…Until Now'

When conservative writer and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was indicted last week on campaign finance charges, we suppose we should have known that it was only a matter of time before D’Souza’s supporters claimed that he was politically targeted by a vengeful Obama administration.

Conservative columnist Rachel Alexander promptly declared that the Obama administration had “criminalize[d] dissent.” Laura Ingraham claimed, “This indictment is the kind of thing that we’re kind of accustomed to seeing come out of a place like China” and speculated that the president is ultimately interested in “putting us all in reeducation camps.” Meanwhile, D’Souza’s fellow anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencercompared the administration to European fascists in the 1930s. Matt Drudge and the Daily Caller also joined the pile-on.

Gerald Molen, the co-producer of D’Souza’s film, “2016: Obama’s America,” also weighed in, telling the Hollywood Reporter that the administration is “criminalizing dissent” and that D’Souza’s indictment “should send shivers down the spines of all freedom-loving Americans.”

On the Steve Malzberg show Friday, Molen elaborated on his theory, telling Malzberg that D’Souza is a “great American” and citing the debunked IRS-targeting scandal to claim that the Obama administration is cracking down on dissent. “I’ve never had the occasion to think that I had to fear my government, I’ve never had the thought that I had to have a reason to look over my shoulder until now.”

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