You know you’ve made it when the Koch Brothers are funding a critique of your work.
Most of the time I just toil in obscurity.
I sit behind my computer furiously pounding away at the keys sending my little blog entries out onto the Interwebs never expecting much of a reply.
Sure I get fervent wishes for my death.
And the occasional racist diatribe that only tangentially has anything to do with what I wrote.
But a response from a conservative Web magazine funded by the world’s most famous billionaire brothers!?
I guess this is what the big time feels like!
The article appeared in The Federalist, an Internet publication mostly known for anti-LGBT diatribes and climate change denial. But I had the audacity to write something called “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice.”
I had to be taken down.
And they had just the person to do it – far right religious author Mary C. Tillotson.
You may remember her from such hard hitting pieces as “How Praying a Novena Helped Me Process This Election,” “Sometimes, Holiness is Boring,” and “Why It’s Idiotic to Blame Christians for the Orlando Attack.”
This week her article is called “Top 10 Reasons HuffPo Doesn’t Get School Choice.”
Which is kinda’ wrong from the get-go.
Yes, I published my article in the Huffington Post, but it is not exactly indicative of the editorial slant of that publication. Sure, HuffPo leans left, but it routinely published articles that are extremely favorable to school choice. Heck! Michelle Rhee is a freakin’ contributor!
So I don’t think it’s fair to blame HuffPo for my ideas on school choice. A better title might have been “Top 10 Reasons Singer Doesn’t Get School Choice,” but who the Heck is Singer and why should anyone care!?
Then she gives a quick summary of how my whole piece is just plain wrong: “Steven Singer of The Huffington Post would have you believe that when parents have more choices, they have fewer choices.”
That’s like writing “Steven Singer of Consumer Reports would have you believe buying a used car means you may not be able to get anywhere.”
I stand by that statement. They’re both scams, Mary. The perpetrators of school choice want to convince you to choose a school that gives you fewer choices than public schools do. Just like a used car salesmen may try to convince you to buy a clunker that won’t get you from point A to B.
Claim 1: ‘Voucher programs almost never provide students with full tuition.’
She says I’m wrong because I’m right. She basically admits most vouchers won’t pay the full tuition but that it’s still a help.
Okay. But parents have already paid for a full K-12 public school education that they will not have to supplement at all. That’s a much better value.
Moreover, Mary, you pretend that the cost of the voucher is going to pay for at least 2/3 of private school tuition. This isn’t true. Most of Donald Trump’s kids went to the Hill School in Pennsylvania for more than $55,000 a year. A thousand or two isn’t going to help much.
But Mary disagrees. Most rich folks aren’t eligible for voucher programs, she says, so the hyper elite academies are off the table.
It’s true that most vouchers are given to poor students, but that’s only temporary. The goal is to increase them to middle and upper class students. It’s the first thing they do after initially limiting vouchers to the poor. And she knows this. She’s read Milton Friedman, the conservative nutjob who thought up this scheme to destroy public schools. “The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system…” he said. How? “Privately conducted schools… can develop exclusively white schools, exclusively colored schools and mixed schools,” Friedman wrote.
What a brave new world you’re defending, Mary!
Claim 2: Choice schools don’t have to accept everyone.
She writes, “Singer would have you believe that charter schools and private schools receiving voucher money are cherry-picking the best students to stoke their egos and stats. This isn’t true, and even if it were, it would still provide more choices.”
Um. Okay. So you admit this could be true but it doesn’t matter. Choice is all that matters. Very telling.
Then she goes on to talk about schools that actually do pick their own students, and she argues that it’s okay.
It’s not, Mary. Schools that accept tax dollars should have to accept all students. Otherwise, you’re just guessing that somewhere out there is a school for all kids, but you’re doing nothing to ensure this is true.
Children and families from places destroyed by vouchers and underfunding of public schools such as Detroit have been complaining of this very thing. They go from school to school never able to find one that meets their needs. It’s not that this is a failure of the system either – this IS the system working properly! This IS school choice – a system that only ensures choice but never quality or excellence. It is predicated on the semi-religious belief that the market will take care of everything.
It doesn’t. Ask Dannah Wilson about it.
Claim 3: Charter schools are notorious for kicking out hard-to-teach students.
She acknowledges the point and then changes the subject. She says there are great charters out there like KIPP. Yes, KIPP – a system that does exactly what I just said it does! Look at the huge numbers of students KIPP schools kick out. Look at the very few who make it to graduation. This is a terrible model for your school. I guess Mary lives in a universe of alternative facts where terrible equals great.
I’m kind of embarrassed for you. Let’s just move on, shall we?
Claim 4: Choice schools actually give parents less choice than traditional public schools.
Mary says that every parent should have the right to vote with their feet? Why? I’m not sure. Maybe this explains her position:
“Singer writes, “If you don’t like what your public school is doing, you can organize, vote for new leadership or even take a leadership role, yourself.” But seriously, who has time for that? Some people, yes, but not the single mom working two jobs to make ends meet. It’s a lot easier—and a lot faster, which matters in the life of a child—to enroll a child in a different school than to slog through the political process.”
So it’s a lot easier to have fewer options? Mary, you just argued AGAINST choice. You just said choice is too much work. No one has time for choice? Make up your mind.
That is ridiculous. But moreover it’s untrue. Do you really believe parents have the time to go shopping for new schools every week? That single mom doesn’t have time to go to board meetings but she has the time to enter these charter school lotteries and hope her kids get in? And if they don’t, she has time to trudge across town to another school and when it closes suddenly, she has time to start the process all over again? And again? THIS is the time saving process!? When she could actually be building something as part of her community?
Claim 5: Charter schools don’t perform better than traditional public schools.
She just says both can be good or bad. This sidesteps exactly how bad charter schools can be. Charter operators can take all the money and run. Charters can close without warning. Cyber charters have been found to actually provide less education in math and reading than not going to school at all.
Traditional public schools can struggle, and when they do it’s almost always because they’re underfunded. Yet, they NEVER provide an education that is as bad as the worst charter schools. And most traditional public schools do the best they can with what they have. The problem is strategic disinvestment. We could make almost every traditional public school excellent if we just funded them fairly. But unfortunately billionaires like the Kochs are paying for people like Mary to convince us otherwise.
Claim 6: Charters and vouchers increase segregation.
She basically offers a defense of white parents who want their kids schooled separately from black ones. That’s just choice, baby, and choice is always good.
No, it’s not. We’ve seen that it is better for everyone if children are educated with diverse people. It helps them understand people unlike themselves. It builds a more tolerant and just America.
Yes, our traditional public schools have become more segregated because of the way district lines are drawn. But that doesn’t mean we should double down on segregation. It means we should fight to reverse it.
Then she tells a fairytale about Obama attacking choice schools in Louisiana. He CREATED that system! He was a booster of the all-charter system! He was not an enemy of school choice. Corporate Democrats are not the enemy of school choice! They love it! They are the allies of your own corporate masters, Mary. Do some research.
Claim 7: Charter and voucher schools take away funding from traditional schools.
She basically agrees with me and then says public schools should find a way to deal with it. That’s what private schools do.
But public schools can’t operate like private schools and they shouldn’t for many of the reasons already enumerated here. They accept everyone. They don’t intentionally segregate. Etc.
Moreover, instability is a terrible basis for a school. You want to ensure it will be there for children when they need it. You don’t want schools competing with each other for resources like businesses. Most businesses fail. You don’t want that for schools. You need them to succeed. That means artificially ensuring their success with a steady, reliable stream of funding just like you give to the military. You wouldn’t suggest the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines compete for funding. Why do that to our public schools?
Claim 8: Funding a variety of schools would be wasteful and expensive.
She says I’m thinking “bureaucratically, considering ‘school systems’ instead of the actual children who are the reason schools exist in the first place.”
Uh, these systems serve children. You need to be able to run them FOR THOSE STUDENTS.
Claim 9: School choice distracts from the real problems: poverty and funding equity.
She agrees that poverty is important. Then she pulls the old “throwing money at problems is a terrible idea” card. Public schools just need to find ways to cut costs. They spend too much. Blah, blah, blah.
She ignores the facts. Public schools spend dramatically different sums on students depending on whether they’re rich or poor. We need equitable school funding. That means spending more on poor children and not complaining about “throwing money” at the problem. No one complains about that at the rich schools where they spend so much more than the poor schools. No one calls it “throwing money” when it’s your own child. That’s “investing in children.” It’s only when it’s THOSE kids that it’s “throwing money” at the problem. It betrays a class conscious prejudice against the poor and – most likely – children of color.
She then goes on to complain about the increase in administrative costs at public schools. This is laughable! Charter schools spend so much more on administrative costs than traditional public schools! A study by Michigan State University and the University of Utah found that charter schools spend on average $774 more per student on administration and $1,140 less on instruction than do traditional public schools.
And then she talks about student achievement not increasing at public schools. Actually, it depends on how you measure it. Standardized testing is a poor measure of achievement. And when you adjust for poverty, our schools are some of the best in the world.
Claim 10: School choice is supported by billionaires, not the grassroots.
Here she just talks about all the events planned during school choice week.
Mary, these are attended by private and parochial schools during the school day. The staff is literally paid to be there. The school children are literally forced to be there because their schools are closed and they are bused in to these events.
That’s not grassroots. That’s the definition of astroturf.
Do some people support school choice? Yes. Less than 10 percent of America’s students attend these schools. But the overwhelming majority of Americans support public schools.
Mary goes on about all the people applying for vouchers but she ignores a much more pertinent fact. Whenever school vouchers have been put to a referendum, voters have always turned it down. This despite who-knows-how-many-millions of dollars in advertising and propaganda to influence voters to support it!
No matter what the position, you can find someone to support it. But the majority of school choice proponents are billionaires and corporatists trying to fool regular people into doing what’s not it their own best interests.
Just ask your editors at the Federalist, Mary. You and your article are a case in point.
But thank you so much for critiquing my article. I’m just a public school teacher. I so rarely get corporate employees writing responses to my work.
Frankly, I didn’t find your piece very convincing, but what do I know? I’m a union thug with an advanced degree, a masters and a national certification. I don’t represent Trump’s America like you do.
I just represent the majority who may one day wake up and take it all back.