Well, Give Them Points For Honesty

Readers of this blog may be tired of hearing my periodic rants about the GOP’s war on public education. If so, they need to skip today’s meditation.

I have my own suspicions about the real reasons for their animus. As political scientists and educators have repeatedly pointed out, public schools are constitutive of a public; in a rapidly diversifying population, public education is one of the few remaining “street corners” where differences in background, religion and ethnicity can be honored under an over-riding philosophy of governance. Public schools are where we can at least make a stab at attaining e pluribus unum–out of the many, one.

That lofty goal is what the war on public education is really about.

Granted, some of the GOP’s privatizers see voucher programs as a way of killing off the hated teachers’ union, and others evidently just despise anything government does–convinced by arguments from ALEC and the Koch’s network that the private sector does absolutely everything better than government, despite decades of research confirming that voucher schools fail to improve educational outcomes.

But at its base, the war on public schooling is a war on the way most of us understand America’s Constitutional philosophy and aspirations.

Living up to those aspirations requires knowing about the country’s past successes and failures. It requires civics education that emphasizes an important element of citizenship–the American principle that the law should treat citizens based upon their behavior and not their skin color or religion.

Those principles– and others that flow from them–are currently considered “woke” by America’s White Christian Nationalists. That’s the real basis of their attacks on the institutions supporting them, and sometimes, in unguarded moments, they admit it.

The New Republic recently reported on “School Choice Week.”

It’s National School Choice Week, that annual right-wing P.R. campaign to defund public schools that pretends to really just care about the children. But this year’s NSCW comes with a twist: Amid conservatives’ outcry over history lessons on race and LGBTQ rights and awareness in schools, some proponents of the “educational freedom” movement are pitching it as an antidote to the supposed indoctrination of students by leftie teachers and administrators.

In an interview on Tuesday with Fox News host Harris Faulkner, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott framed “school choice” as a way for parents to give their children a proper education free of woke lessons. “ABC, not CRT—it’s that simple,” said Scott, referring to “critical race theory.” “We need to teach the basics of education. We don’t need to teach people that, because of the color of your skin, you’re an oppressor or a victim.” (Scott introduced a resolution on Monday to officially recognize National School Choice Week. He was joined by many Republican senators, including Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Rick Scott—and a lone Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.)

The Educational Freedom Institute, and the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation argue that “school choice” can “help level the playing field” in the struggle between “conservative families” and “progressive teachers” who want to “proselytize” in the classroom

Attacks on public education are getting a second wind from reactionary resistance to  the progress of Black, Brown and female Americans.

“Families should not be stuck in an education system that actively undermines parental rights and ideologically grooms children,” argued Kaylee McGhee, a deputy editor at the Washington Examiner, on Monday. “They deserve the freedom to yank their students out of a school that disrespects their values and send them to one that better fits their needs.”

But McGhee gave the game away later in her piece—that “school choice” is really about forcing school districts to align with right-wing ideas of education, or otherwise wither away from a lack of resources.

Ironically, the great majority of people who embrace Ms. McGhee’s “values” are largely rural–and  as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, most rural areas are too thinly populated to support private or religious alternatives to those “woke” public schools. In their zeal to fight accurate history instruction that they inaccurately label CRT, and to ban books of which they disapprove, GOP lawmakers are draining resources from existing schools in rural areas–rural folks only option other than home schooling.

As the linked article notes, what’s missing in these diatribes from McGhee, Scott, and others is any actual concern for the nation’s children– the 90% of students who remain in public schools whose funds are being diverted in the name of  “educational freedom” as well as the children whose parents believed the marketing and put their kids in a fly-by-night voucher school that went out of business.

This fight has never been about the quality of education. At least now, some voucher proponents are admitting it.


  1. School Choice is nothing more than a marketing catch phrase for racism. The ALEC inspired concept was forced on Indiana by Mitch Daniels who once said that education was only for the “ones” that deserved it. And we all know the “ones” mean white children. Indiana denies millions to public schools to fund private school vouchers for wealthy white people that do not want their children to be educated with people of color, LGBTQ, or anyone that they do not perceive as a true American.

    I began my teaching career at IPS in 1978, went on to other areas, but retired from teaching at IPS in 2018 The difference in those 40 years was the presence of school choice groups like the Mind Trust which was created to destroy public education, not make it better.

    As long as we have the misinformed legislators that are ignorant about Education and the basic theory of Public Education that was formed by John Dewey in his book Democracy and Education, our public schools will deteriorate. And that is the goal of politicians like Mitch Daniels that started it and House Speaker Todd Huston that continues it along with many others that want to divide us by priviatizing education.

    If anyone wants to find out the effect of “Choice” and vouchers, please read the blog by Dr. Phil Downs, former Superintendent of NW Allen County Schools, and his calculation of the Voucher Effect; https://drphildowns.com/index.php/2023/01/05/voucher-impact-2021-2022/

  2. Well, bless Mitch Daniels stone cold racist heart
    Also according to him the birder us wide open.
    No it’s not Mitchy

  3. Corrected comment:
    Well, bless Mitch Daniels’ stone cold racist heart
    Also according to him the border is wide open.
    No it’s not, Mitchy

  4. Conservatives are now jumping on ramping up western civ courses and civics in schools. I fear that these civics courses will not be the kind that Sheila has been promoting for years. I fear populist propaganda.

  5. This is from a Indy Star Editorial piece, the author is Christopher Lubienski, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Evaluation and Policy Analysis at Indiana University.

    While it might seem that choice and competition would then improve educational outcomes for students, the evidence tells quite a different story. A study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame found Indiana students using vouchers were not benefitting, but instead falling behind academically. This is not an isolated finding, but a consensus in the research. Indeed, every study of statewide voucher programs has found large negative impacts on learning, and no academic advantages. Similar studies — including some by pro-voucher organizations — in other states also find large, negative impacts on students. And the scale of these negative impacts is eye-opening. Louisiana’s voucher students saw relative learning losses in math that were more than twice as large as those caused by Hurricane Katrina. Ohio students using vouchers fell behind at levels almost double the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Here is a link to full article, sorry if it is behind a paywall;

  6. What the opponents of teaching what has always been taught do not realize is that by putting their kids in schools that underperform nationally, they are ensuring that those kids will not be successful in the future. And if those people and their kids live in mostly rural areas, the economics of those areas will deteriorate even more than today.

    It is sad that so many people don’t want their kids to be as undereducated as they are.

  7. What percentage of our nation’s leaders grew up in public education which was segregated from east to west and north to south? What percentage grew up in the proverbial silver-spoon-in-the-mouth, what percentage grew up in middle-American neighborhoods and what percentage grew up on farms and in the country? Segregation has never been confined to being a school attendance issue but has been and remains a way of life in all areas. We will never reach Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.s dream of being known by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. The right of all children to receive quality education has never been reached, in fact it has never been the goal, and is now getting further and further from that even being a consideration. “We the People” are vastly segregated and moving closer to a caste system which is part of the private and religious school curriculum (think Betsy DeVos) and our public education tax dollars are being used to assure the divisiveness will not only continue but will escalate.

    The definition of the word “voucher” is “segregate” which also defines “Christianity” today. How do I know; the GOP tells me so.

    “This fight has never been about the quality of education. At least now, some voucher proponents are admitting it.”

  8. You’re not alone, Indiana. In Florida (where else?) the House Speaker has labeled Universal School Choice as HB1, indicating it is his top priority. I guess in the red states, the only people who don’t get a choice are pregnant women. He also has proposed “Constitutional Carry.” Sadly, that doesn’t mean that every citizen is required to carry a copy of the Constitution, rather that the only part of the Constitution they care about, Amendment II, is about to be misused again. This time to promote all citizens carrying guns. God help us!

  9. I am a reader, here, who does not tire of your emphasis on the value of public education.
    What may be needed to properly respond to the right’s propaganda about voucher programs
    would be to set up a charter school named “The George Orwell institute.” of course, the message
    would be lost on those who have never heard of, or been allowed to read, 1984.
    The wonderful, shiny, and pure “American Exceptionalism” that the right would teach fits in well with the
    recent rash of mass shootings that the right “rightly” ignores, as Mr. DeSantis wants to make it
    still easier for Floridians to openly carry.

  10. After spending the first 74 years of my life living in neighborhoods where I, a White person, was in the majority, I am spending the rest of my life living in a neighborhood where I am definitely in the minority. Every day I am amazed at the difference in how I am treated relative to how the “others” were treated in my former neighborhoods. Will we ever learn?

  11. Just this morning…”After heavy criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board released on Wednesday an official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies — stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives.

    The College Board purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum.

    And it added something new: “Black conservatism” is now offered as an idea for a research project.”

    At the risk of being shot at here…why do we need identify “studies” curricula that further divides us when we desperately need to be a community of all? Whether literature or history or art – why not just melt the pot as if we are all humanity…aren’t we still?

  12. I just tried to purchase a copy of “The Life of Rosa Parks” by Kathleen Conners (temporarily out of stock – I’ll be back) because this book was banned in 2 counties in Florida. Teachers who use this book or even have this book in their classrooms are facing a possible FIVE YEAR prison sentence!!
    Meanwhile, “universal carry” is likely to pass in the Sunshine State which means goodbye permits and training requirements.

    Happy Black History Month!! Celebrate it while you still can.

  13. I think what we should do is to divide Indiana up into zones and tell students wanting to go to the state’s public universities – Indiana University, Purdue University, Ball State, Indiana State, IUPUI – that they can only attend the public university in the zone where they live. And any grants from government or government backed loans…well those can only be used at public universities/colleges in the state. No using those grants/loans at private colleges and universities. Doing so diverts resources from the the state’s public schools of higher learning!

    Of course, this is a ridiculous suggestion. Yet that is exactly what people on here advocate for K-12 education. Those who say school choice would be preserved have to realize that without charter schools and vouchers, financially strapped parents have zero options for their children besides what might be a failing local public school. The notion that we can just pour yet more money into these neighborhood public schools and they’d suddenly be providing better education has been proven wrong time and time again. We’ve actually increased spending on K-12 schools far above the inflation rate for decades and the schools have not gotten better and in many cases they’ve gotten worse.

    Now middle class and poorer students have choices for their children, an opportunity for a better future, and people on here want to deprive them of that? With all due respect, there seems there is a bit of elitism being espoused here.

    Dan, studies show that students who transfer from traditional public schools to charter schools or private schools via vouchers are students who were underperforming their traditional school peers. (Which is probably why their parents moved them.) It takes a few years for those students to catch up. Many studies simply lump those new non-traditional school students into these studies which make it look like those non-traditional schools are underperforming. But if you look at the transferring students after a few years at the charter and private schools, they will have caught up to their traditional public school peers. Add a couple more years and those transferring students are blowing away the students they left behind in public schools.

  14. Teresa,

    Vouchers and the option to attend a charter schools has allowed more students of color to attend those schools – not less. “Wealthy white parents” were already sending their kids to private school. . The option of vouchers and charter schools isn’t helping them…it’s helping parents in the middle and working classes have better educational options for their children. Many of those parents are people of color.

    What you may not know is that many people on the far right are adamantly opposed to vouchers. The reason why is that vouchers open private schools up to MORE integration, not less. As a racist acquaintance of mine, who was a conservative education activist (she passed away a few years ago), explained, “Vouchers will result in black kids sitting next to white kids in classrooms. I do not want that.”

    As far as charter schools go, they have a higher percentage of minority enrollment than traditional public schools. From a Ball State study: “The majority of charter schools in Indiana have high minority enrollment, often exceeding 60%,and high enrollment of students living in poverty, with nearly half of the total charter school enrollment meeting the criteria to qualify for free or reduced lunch.”

  15. “It requires civics education that emphasizes an important element of citizenship–the American principle that the law should treat citizens based upon their behavior and not their skin color or religion.”
    The most obvious basis for treatment currently applied is wealth.
    Looking at the city of Indianapolis, the fees required for entry into so many “public” venues, Eagle Creek Park being only one example, plus the Zoo, the Children’s Museum to name just a few others, means that those without money seldom if ever get entry. The Museum of Art has a parking fee besides entry fee. The Eiteljorg and the Indiana State Museum have entry fees as well as parking fees. All of those venues remain out of the reach of the most of the poor, especially kids, unless they attend as part of a school sponsored field trip which also may require a modest fee. Even that modest fee may be out of reach for a family in crisis.
    Even with “free” days offered to the general public, transportation and the time needed by working parents/guardians are limited. Taking a personal day may not be an option for working parents, especially in lower level jobs.
    The result is that we have a city where money buys access to education, art and entertainment. And guess who controls that access. It is definitely not the poor and other minorities. The General Assembly, housed in the city, makes sure that it stays that way.

  16. Paul — I see where you’re coming from. As a founder of the first charter school in South Carolina (1999) we were under state and local school board regs. We were held to a strict racial makeup – 51%/49% (even though several schools in the district were very racially skewed). We were required to provide special ed to any student who qualified and we were required to administer annual state testing in the spring. Our reason for starting the school was the district was changing to a Computer Assisted Instruction curriculum which broke down subjects into single factoids that needed to taught and regurgitated via a computer. A group pf us teachers wanted to teach holistically and so we started our charter school.

    I don’t support vouchers or charter schools that don’t meet state requirements or follow federal mandates for separation of church and state, and discrimination laws. As a graduate of 12 years of Catholic school, my parents paid for that religiously-based education, as they should have. It is not the state’s place to fund specific religious institutions.

  17. JD – great post today on two important issues: 1. Access per your note and 2. The “wild” thought that we should consider wealth “the great divider” in our country. I encourage you and other readers to read about “baby bonds” which are ethnic/race “free”, but proportionally aid the needy.

  18. Paul the Apologist is full of propaganda this morning. Instead of studying state charters and voucher schools, Ball State manages its school system thanks to trickery at the statehouse and Muncie.

    BSU has over five years of data about what has happened locally under their management. I have a 2017 video of community leaders talking about “students” leaving the city schools to attend county schools. Since Ball State produced the video and the Ball Brothers Trust Fund baby paid for it, and it was polished with a fine tooth comb.

    The parents before 2017 were moving their kids from city schools to county schools, and that pattern has continued regardless of Ball State’s “fantastic leadership.”

    I’ve started to seek current data from both county and city schools. The county tells me they have no idea who is transferring into their rural schools. The city, managed by Ball State, hasn’t responded.

    If you want to see a Gestapo in the modern day, come visit a Muncie Community School Board meeting. The lawyer running it would make Himmler proud.

    Conservatives like Paul the Apologist support government a la carte. The whole propaganda arm of ALEC and Koch’s network is “free choice” while we are learning the real reasons are SEGREGATION and RESOURCE CONTROL, specifically the latter. Take money from urban schools and move that money into the districts they control. Since minorities don’t have the money or transportation to make those decisions, they are stuck in school districts being drained of resources.

    Racists like Mitch are also convinced of eugenics research from the 40s stating that educating blacks isn’t worth the cost. Times have changed, but Mitch hasn’t. I doubt Charles Koch has changed much, either. 😉

    Bravo to Teresa for the opening post!

  19. The evidence is strong – as more and more voucher programs expand, public education is slowly dying and our democracy is paying the price. The “professional class” is sending more of their kids to private schools. (See Minneapolis, NYC, Wake County NC.) “Home schooling” is growing in minority communities. Right-leaning parents have their religious academies.

    Where will kids share ideas, get to know “others” and learn to think?

  20. Back in the 40’s, I started school in a rural, township school. I would not wish that experience on anyone. Lack of resources meant we had two grades in each room up through grade 8. We got the material for each grade twice. (My class had 11 students. The class ahead of me had 7 students.) In my opinion, the teachers could have benefitted from taking some classes in child development. The women teachers regularly would humiliate students and seemed to think this was acceptable behavior. I wonder now if these teachers even had teaching licenses. We learn what we are taught, and I quickly learned to absolutely hate school. I was not the only one, by any means.

    Consolidation of schools was a blessing for countless students. The townships fought consolidation because it meant less power for the township trustees and loss of the local school basketball team. We might ponder these events from 80 years ago and perhaps apply them to the current arguments about charter schools. With charter schools, who loses power? I won’t address basketball teams since we already know the little guy can still win (Milan vs Muncie Central, 1954).

  21. Paul O:
    You have made some very specific claims about what happens to kids after several years in a “choice” school. Please show us the data to back up these claims.

  22. We parents didn’t like our local pop 5000 school so we pestered the local school board by attending every meeting en masse for a year until they caved and gave us money for a teacher and classroom. We supplied school books, paper etc. Worked for four years.
    Port Townsend WA 1976-80. I moved. The teacher wrote a book on it. Kids loved it, kids also tested very high. Many went on to college, very independent.

    Nowadays, I’d just use the internet and skip college.

    Not much imagination here about education, just gnawin’ the same old bones.

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