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Curmudgucation: Choice v. Social Justice and Equity

One more sign that the pre-Trump alliance between choicers and social justice folks has completely blown up.

Jason Bedrick is a school choice guy at the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, with a bit of EdChoice (The Friedman Foundation) in his past. I have a soft spot for him because he was once a New Hampshire legislator (so was my grandmother), and it's possible to have a civil exchange with him on line, but I'd bet we've never agreed on anything.

In this recent piece, he argues against DEI and wokeness, which is to be expected. He also rails against the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which is a bit more interesting.

Charter school authorizers are the folks who decide whether a charter school gets to exist or not. When charter boosters of the pre-Trump era argued that the deal was that charters would get autonomy in return for accountability, part of the accountability picture was supposed to be authorizers, who would make sure that a charter school delivered on its promise and decide if they could open, expand, or get shut down.. 

In "Charter Schools Must Avoid the DEI Blunder," Bedrick suggests that NASCA is a bunch of bossy lefties. To set that up, he starts by going full MAGA

A key reason many parents are fleeing the traditional public system is the concern that schools are indoctrinating students in radical “woke” ideology. Parents are watching as the left-wing ideologies clothed in the mantra of diversity, equity, and inclusion spread like wildfire across America's schools.

That's doing a lot of work. Are many parents fleeing? Do we have some reason to believe that those fleeing parents are freaking out about wokey stuff? Is DEI both a sneaky costume for wokey stuff and also a wildfire? But all of that is just a stepping stone to his main point, which is that a "prominent organization is working overtime" to force public [sic] charter schools to get all wokey. 

That organization is NACSA, the "publicly subsidized kingmaker in the charter school world." "Publicly subsidized" is an odd elbow to throw, since charters and vouchers and all the school choice options out there are publicly subsidized, but it seems to be aimed at painting NACSA with the same MAGA red brush used on the public school system.

NACSA believes that it is the true “expert” in determining what’s best for children, so it favors a regulatory approach that prioritizes its own judgment over parents' in deciding when charters should be opened, expanded, or closed.

NACSA has a "technocratic agenda" and DEI is an "integral part." And in states where that technocratic approach holds sway, NACSA favors "stronger adherence to liberal politics." 

Compelling schools of choice to adopt DEI principles is a bad policy on its merits. Parents, rather than “experts,” should be entrusted to determine what is best for their children.

This again. Of course, parents should be involved, but becoming a parent does not make one virtuous and wise. And it's unfortunate that in picking apart DEI policies, Bedrick focuses on race-related items.

Bedrick argues that ESA-style vouchers are better because they have even less oversight and accountability and are, in a phrase popular in the movement, permissionless (aka with accountability to nobody). It's a tell that we are in the Very Libertarian wing of choicer thought. 

There's more, most of it familiar, but it was his finish that really caught my attention.

A NACSA director once tweeted , “School choice for school choice’s sake is completely misguided … social justice and equity are the GOAL not some political tactic.” NACSA’s insistence on technocracy and DEI demonstrate why choice for choice’s sake must, in fact, be the goal.

It's one more explicit display of the fault line along which the great bipartisan pre-Trumpian choicer partnership fell apart. The left-tilted side of that deal was convinced that choice was a good thing, or at least tolerable, because it could deliver better education to students "trapped" in struggling public schools. But for the right-tilted side, that was never the point, not even a consideration. Choice for choice sake. Freedom and liberty. And if the taxpayer's money and students' time was wasted on a marketplace full of crappy schools--oh, well. 

Choice was--and is--the key value. Meaning an individual's choice. Meaning choice from among whatever few or many options that individual might have. Meaning your choices (or lack of them) are not my problem, and it's certainly not my responsibility to make more choices available to you. 

The most conventional explanation is that the alliance fell apart because, with Obama out and Trump in, an alliance with neoliberal Democrats was no longer necessary for folks on the right, and no longer tolerable for folks on the left who were not willing touch anything with MAGA smell on it (some on the right also balked, for about fifteen minutes. 

But nice direct, clear pieces like this one from Bedrick are a reminder of how far apart those two sides really were, and how much of a strain it was for them to ever team up in the first place.


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Peter Greene

Peter Greene has been a high school English teacher in Northwest Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He blogs at Curmudgucation. ...