I’ve spent the last semester grousing about the various deficiencies of my current undergraduate class–they’re disinterested in the world around them, they can’t write a coherent or grammatical sentence and they clearly have no idea how research differs from stream-of-consciousness-essay.
Fairness, however, impels me to note that my graduate students continue to teach me a lot.
What prompted this post were statistics contained in a student’s paper. She chose to analyze Indiana’s aggressive school privatization efforts. (For clarity’s sake, I should note here that charter schools are public schools, and thus not the focus of her analysis.)
Opponents of school privatization have emphasized the financial benefits to private contractors, and the connections of those contractors to officials in positions to enrich them. Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels worked tirelessly for policies that–surprise!–benefitted donors and cronies; several large corporations that actively lobby for school privatization have an obvious financial interest in that outcome. That being the case, it isn’t unreasonable to conclude that corporate profit motives are helping to drive this particular policy approach, and many observers have leveled that claim.
My student’s paper suggested a different set of motivations. She noted that the rhetoric of school choice in Indiana focuses heavily on the right of parents to send their children to a private, religious school. (She reports that public arguments elsewhere have revolved far more around educational quality.) She then goes on to share some illuminating numbers.
The Indiana Department of Education publishes enrollment data of accredited non-public schools (only accredited non-public schools are eligible to receive the Choice Scholarship funds), and according to the list of accredited non-public schools for the year 2013, 95.01% of these schools are religiously affiliated, or 310 schools out of 326 (IDOE, 2013). Of the sixteen schools that are not religiously affiliated, two are military high schools, five are alternative high schools for at-risk and troubled youth, and four are for children with special needs or disabilities (IDOE, 2013). Of the 310 religiously affiliated accredited schools in Indiana in 2013, only five are not affiliated with some denomination of Christianity (three are Islamic private schools and two are Hebrew private schools) (IDOE, 2003). For parents looking to pull their children out of public schools in favor of private schools, these eleven schools are likely too specialized to be considered a choice for any child who does not fit into the mission of those schools. The five remaining non-religious private schools are college preparatory schools, three of which are located in the Indianapolis metropolitan area and the other two in Evansville.
Apparently, the real “choice” parents are being given is between a private religious education and a public secular one (provided by a school system increasingly starved for funds).
Whether that is the “choice” privatization proponents really want to offer is an open–and interesting– question.