In what must count as another new low in American discourse, the school voucher industry is striking back against claims that their products lead to greater segregation of students.
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), had the audacity to voice the truth:
To which school privatization mouthpieces quickly countered with the truth:
“If vouchers are the polite cousins of segregation, then most urban school districts are segregation’s direct descendants. The vast majority of our urban public school districts are segregated because of white flight and neighborhood neglect.”
This was from a statement by Kevin Chavous, founding board member of the American Federation for Children, the school privatization advocacy group that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used to lead.
So there you have it.
A nation of more than 325 million people, with a more than 241-year history reduced to – I Know You Are But What Am I?
The sad fact is that they’re both right.
School vouchers do lead to increased segregation (and so do charter schools, by the way, the method preferred by corporate Democrats). But many traditional public schools are, in fact, deeply segregated both racially and economically.
Does that mean that both systems – privatized and public – are equally at fault? Does it mean that both somehow get a pass for reprehensible behavior?
No and no.
First, we must explain why segregation is bad.
Peter Cunningham, former assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the Education Department under Obama, wagged his finger at Weingarten on the privatization propaganda Website, the 74.
He called out Weingarten’s hypocrisy, which takes some cojones for a man who only last year pondered aloud and in public whether segregation was really such a bad thing.
He had this to say last September:
“Maybe the fight’s not worth it. It’s a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it’s been a long fight, we’ve had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. It’s a good question.”
Funny, isn’t it?
He calls out Weingarten because of public school segregation but defends charter schools because their segregation is somehow just swell.
Keep in mind. Cunningham is the executive director of the Education Post, a well-funded charter school public relations firm that packages its advertisements, propaganda and apologias as journalism. And he’s not about to poop where he eats.
So, yes, Mr. Cunningham, segregation is worth fighting.
When you have schools made up mostly of minority and/or economically disadvantaged students, it makes it easier to provide fewer resources and less funding to those children while sending the lion’s share to the white and wealthy.
That’s why in Brown v. Board the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “Separate but Equal” – because when races are kept separate, their schools are rarely equal.
This game of excusing one system based on the deficiencies of the other is pure sophistry.
You can’t defend voucher and charter schools from being segregated by reference to public school segregation. Nor can you ignore public school segregation by reference to the same at privatized schools.
They’re both bad, and they both need fixing.
To be fair, Weingarten seems to tacitly admit this about public schools.
She acknowledges the disinvestment in public education, how public schools have been systemically undermined by politicians and lobbyists, many of them advocating for privatized schools, so that they could use this disinvestment as an excuse for their own for-profit education schemes.
“…no amount of facts or evidence will sway voucher proponents from their agenda to starve public schools to the breaking point, then criticize their deficiencies and let the market handle the rest, all in the name of choice,” she said in a statement.
The fact of the matter is this: public schools have become more segregated not because teachers or administrators want it, but because of local, state and federal law; a series of subsequent Supreme Court decisions allowing it within district boundaries; the continuation of racist redlining in the loan and insurance industry; and the xenophobia of wealthy and middle class whites who prefer their kids be educated separately from those they consider undesirable.
These policies could be changed. The system could be fixed. All it would take is the will to do it.
Charter and vouchers schools, on the other hand, will never solve the problem of segregation, because they have turned that problem into a “solution.”
Schools serving poor and minority students aren’t getting the proper resources. So they propose further segregating them.
That’s a terrible idea. It’s like escaping from a leaky cruise ship by jumping into a leaky lifeboat. You’ll sink in both, but the lifeboat will sink quicker.
Yes, our public schools are segregated by race and class and therefore poor and minority students receive inequitable funding and resources. Charters and vouchers cannot possibly remedy that. They will always make it worse. Only a robust and integrated public school system can be truly equitable. A system that deifies choice cannot combat racism if it is freely chosen.
We must also acknowledge that many of the problems of systemic disinvestment are caused by those who want to privatize in the first place.
We have let the wolf write our education policy. It should be no shock that his solution isn’t to build more houses of bricks but to process our little piggies into bacon.
Full disclosure: I am no fan of Weingarten.
I recently called for both her and National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia to voluntarily step down because of undemocratic practices and mismanagement in both teachers unions.
However, I’ll stand up for her when she’s right, and in this instance, she is.
If anything, maybe she should have included charter schools in her criticism. I laid into her in June for writing an op-ed with Jonah Edelman, an anti-union activist, specifically praising charter schools over vouchers.
But I get it. Now that some charter school teachers have unionized and joined the AFT, she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Frankly, it makes her ineffective in speaking out on this matter. I have nothing against charter school teachers. I know, personally, several very good educators who work at charter schools. In this job market, sometimes you have to take what you can get. However, the sad fact of the matter is that by their very structure, charter schools are inferior to public schools. They are less democratic, less transparent, less accountable and more easily subject to fraud and abuse of children. That’s not to say all charters are guilty of this, but just by being a charter school and being subject to the deregulated rules governing them, they are more susceptible to these errors than their traditional public school brethren.
But, of course, the same can be said of voucher schools. It’s just that you can’t criticize one privatization scheme without also criticizing the other.
Perhaps the biggest mistake Weingarten made was in glossing over the worst abuses of public schools. If she was going to call out the segregation at voucher schools, she also should have explicitly called it out at public schools.
But that’s something even our first black President Barack Obama refused to do. You’d think he’d make that a priority for his administration, but instead he favored the same school privatization schemes that just made it worse.
Currently, you’ll find no political party that actively champions integration. Democrats will give it more lip service than Republicans, but both parties either ignore it in practice or actively work against it.
The only use they have for it is as a club with which to hit the other side when issues like this come up.
No, YOU’RE segregated!
And so we are all lead over the cliff by partisans and fools.