When Will We Learn?

We Americans believe in magic bullets, in bumper-sticker solutions to complex problems.


Need to spur job creation? Pass “Right to Work” (for less) laws. Want to address poverty? Make the lives of poor people intolerable, so they’ll take one of those (non-existent) jobs. Want to make government more efficient? Outsource government functions to unaccountable for-profit vendors.

Are our public schools struggling? Let’s take their resources and create a parallel system.

How is that working out?

 A story that appeared at Forbes in late 2013 foretold a lot of what would emerge in 2014. That post “Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City” brought to light for the first time in a mainstream source the financial rewards that were being mined from charter schools. As author Addison Wiggin explained, a mixture of tax incentives, government programs, and Wall St. investors eager to make money were coming together to deliver a charter school bonanza – especially if the charter operation could “escape scrutiny” behind the veil of being privately held or if the charter operation could mix its business in “with other ventures that have nothing to do with education.”

As 2014 began, more stories about charter schools scandals continued to drip out from local press outlets – a chain of charter schools teaching creationism, a charter school closing abruptly for mysterious reasons, a charter high school operating as a for-profit “basketball factory,” recruiting players from around the world while delivering a sub-par education.

Here and there, stories emerged: a charter school trying to open up inside the walls of a gated community while a closed one continued to get over $2 million in taxpayer funds. Stories about charter operators being found guilty of embezzling thousands of taxpayer dollars turned into other stories about operators stealing even more thousands of dollars, which turned into even more stories about operators stealing over a million dollars.

Does all of this prove that Charter schools are a bad idea? Absolutely not. Many charters are doing exactly what they were established to do–trying new and innovative education models, focusing on particular or at-risk populations, or otherwise offering creative alternatives from which public systems can borrow.

What it does mean is that there is no quick and easy “fix” for what ails education. No panacea.

The mere fact that a school is not part of the traditional public school system is not evidence that it is a good school, or even an acceptable one. Just as there are great public schools, there are great charter schools, but charter schools are not magic bullets. Charters and (especially) voucher programs require careful supervision and oversight–and they aren’t getting that oversight, because Americans think we can outsource all our civic responsibilities.

We can’t.

At some point, that hated government must exercise responsibility.


  1. Many years ago I read a bumper sticker that cracked me up; “Private bumper sticker, please do not read”. This is a good description of the GOP today…and not at all funny as we often learn after the fact what they have passed through the Legislature by including unpublished vital issues in major bills. This is especially true regarding education. I include those student loans as part of education as they cannot be avoided by those seeking to learn.

    The current financial condition in IPS regarding charter schools and vouchers has no easy solution; it is filled with losers today in IPS and any changes can only result in more, if different, losers. Stopping the vouchers, cutting back on the current recipients will enhance the IPS budget and benefit students but is unfair to remove voucher students and students from charter schools they currently attend. PLEASE, do not any of you try to tell me that the parents of voucher students receive the IPS money – they do NOT. That money, our tax dollars, goes into the private school and remains there for that school year even if the student leaves for any reason. I have fought that response repeatedly. Also; do parents of voucher students in religious based schools realize their children are required to participate in religious studies although they are not required to pray? This is brainwashing of our youth and is totally against the 1st Amendment contrary to the GOP ignoring separation of church and state and arguing otherwise probably due to the freedom of speech issue.

    When Will We Learn? We already have most of the facts we need but refuse to “believe our lying eyes” and have unerringly joined the Republican herd of sheep following the Judas goat into oblivion and ultimate destruction. Again I will state; it was NOT the Republican voters who won the election on November 4th, it was the Democrats and Independents who did NOT vote who elected those who will take over come this Thursday, January 1, 2015.

  2. Let’s face it, the overwhelming majority of us are not capitalists. We are workers. We don’t care who owns the tools that we use to work, all of us or a few of us. We work because we can, because we need to, and because we take pride in our ability to.

    Owning stock is only a part of the illusion that capitalists propagate in order to maintain our labor by making us feel like one of them. Owning stock, for the vast majority of us, is merely betting with other workers on the race between capitalists. When we win or lose what’s at stake is the wealth of other workers, not the wealth of capitalists. They, like the horses, do well no matter who wins and loses. As there are few losing capitalists in an expanding economy, trading equities has traditionally been in America more lucrative than saving in banks (owned by capitalists).

    So we are instructed that capitalism is good and socialism is bad by those who use capitalism to gather more resources than their labor produces by taking a share of the value produced by many workers (who they pay as little as possible while selling the value that they create back to them for as much as possible).

    So is capitalism or socialism good or bad? The answer is reflected in our collective choice in the design of our economy. No to all. Both systems work in the situations that they are best at. Either system could work, under democracy, adequately. For an optimum economy the mix needs to be optimum.

    Education. For all, paid for by all, benefiting all. Seems probably best when all own the means. But, capitalists among us wonder, is education another pathway to more than my earned share?

    Thus is born for profit, or, for more wealth distribution up at least, schools be they private, for profit, or charter. Not inherently superior in any way, but workable and another potentially lucrative path for the capitalists among us.

    No problem in a democracy. Another huge mistake in an oligarchy.

  3. We should NEVER spend one dime for private school from the public treasury. Just wrong. I started school in a 3 story building that housed the entire school system. We mixed with others. Rich kids next to poorer kids. We all learned together. And I think it worked just fine. I am grateful that my education started in that building. Oh… There was a Catholic school that was fine too but the public did NOT pay for it.

  4. First of all, THANK YOU for touching on a topic dealing with what has to be the worst train wreck in public policy in our nearly 200 year state history, often oxymoronically referred to as “public education reform” (sorry, I attended the school of “any word can be an adverb”). It’s actually a well-organized national campaign to privatize public education as a means of improving education outcomes. Fair enough. It’s not like SOME public schools, and even entire public school systems couldn’t do with some significant improvement.

    But so far at least, there is scant evidence that it has improved anything except the bottom lines of a burgeoning number of for-profit businesses, such as charter school operators, education real-estate investment trusts, education curriculum, textbook and testing companies (Pearson and McGraw Hill being the big 2), and of course, the tens of THOUSANDS of so-called consultants who are awarded contracts by the many well-heeled foundations (Gates Foundation being the largest) pushing this agenda and also by school corporations desperately trying to jump through the hoops their legislatures (and the US DOE) have dumped on them.

    I could write a river as to why this is all misguided, destructive, and just plain wrong, but instead will suggest you read a couple of very recent posts below, the first, and surprisingly, in your very own Indy Star, by Professor John Staver at Purdue University, who has recently co-authored a book summarizing his research on the topic of school choice:

    The second was cited as a “best of” article on Bill Moyers page and is written by Diane Ravitch, a noted (and notorious) critic of the education privatization movement, of which she was originally a pioneer.

    In my last reply to one of your posts I mentioned dogma and how hard it is to dislodge once it has been beaten into the recesses of our brains by our politicians and a compliant media. Whether it’s charter schools, private schools, vouchers, or home-schooling (don’t get me started) doesn’t really matter. What matters are the basic tenets that spawned the whole movement and still sustains it. And the primary tenet of the public education reform movement that is taken as Gospel carved in stone is that “school choice will created better educational outcomes for all”.

    And it’s not only NOT true. It’s a lie, especially the “for all” part.

    Just like WMD’s in Iraq.

    But like you asked, when will we learn?

  5. Bad officials are elected by good citizens…who don’t vote.

    When will we learn? Our education about what we failed to do in 2014 begins on January 1, 2015. Troubled times ahead. Buckle up!

  6. We are not educated to vote. The importance is not stressed in school. We are taught that there are three branches of Govt. Actually, we have four. If parents don’t know, how can they teach?

Comments are closed.