Skip to main content

Curmudgucation: School Choice Is Not the Goal

Well, Jay Greene told us what he was going to do. Back in February, in his gig as Defund Public Education Guy at the Heritage Foundation, Greene published "Time for the school choice movement to embrace the culture wars." And he's been giving it a big sloppy hug ever since. At the same time, he's part of the choice movement that is revealing it isn't really interested in choice at all.

In a piece for Fox News, Greene and his colleague Ian Kingsbury (Educational Freedom Institute) offer some really half-assed "research" to show that there's a "disconnect" between rural Texas teachers and rural Texas ("Progressive teachers vs conservative families: School choice can help level the playing field"). 

Let me break down how hard they reached to prop up their point.

They dug up 1,400 contributions by checking school district employees against zip codes with fewer than 500 people per square mile. Then they determined that 90.2% of those contributions were made in support of Democratic candidates. But hey-- Greg Abbott won re-election with 80.7% of the vote. So there you have it-- rural teachers are out of touch with rural parents.

Here are some things they don't look at. How many of those school district employees are teachers? How many teachers are there total in those areas-- are the 1,400 contributions out of 100,000 employees? How did things go in elections other than Abbott's gubernatorial race? 

Nor do they offer a theory about what exactly is happening. Are a bunch of progressive teachers being airlifted into rural areas as part of some socialist assault on rural areas? Or do rural teachers go to teach in rural areas for the same reasons that other folks go to live in rural areas?

They don't mention that teachers are remarkably non-monolithic, as witnessed, for instance, by the huge number of NEA members who voted for Donald Trump. They do mention that rural areas of Texas has been staunch in their opposition to school choice, particularly the vouchers that Greene and Kingsbury are pushing in this article. 

And push they will. Having manufactured their point, they move to the sell.

A teacher who is an active supporter of Democrats could be a perfectly fine teacher of the children of active supporters of Republicans in the same way that the children of Baptists could receive a quality education in a Catholic school. But we don’t compel Baptists to send their children to Catholic schools nor should we compel conservative, rural Texans to send their children to public schools dominated by progressives.

Which is a heck of a leap--should we just assume that everyone who believes something is automatically trying to impose that belief on everyone they encounter? And then this

Rural superintendents have been blocking the expansion of school choice in Texas by whispering in their state legislators’ ears that doing so might jeopardize jobs in the local public schools. But it is unclear why rural legislators should heed these concerns given that rural educators may be undermining the values of their constituents and donating to their political opponents.

Choice is not the point. 

I spotted this piece on Twitter because choicer Corey DeAngelis was using it as part of his reply to Elon Musk's tweet of "The woke mind virus is defeated or nothing else matters." 

Select quotes from the article that he chose to use in that conversation include "All that school choice would do is shift some of the jobs from public schools dominated by Democrats to other schools whose values would be more likely to align with those of parents in those areas" and also "There is no reason to trap rural families in schools dominated by people with sharply different values and priorities." This is thin-sliced baloney (first, Greene and Kingsbury proved nothing and second, do these rural districts not have elected school boards?) but it points us at the real idea here, as does one other response to Musk.

In other words, the goal for these folks is not choice. It's to replace the current public school system with a private one that's aligned with the Proper Values, to wipe out any and all school systems that teach The Wrong Values. 

There are folks in the choice world who believe that choice is in and of itself a virtue. There are people who believe we should have woke schools and conservative schools etc etc etc. But these are not those people.

I have long argued that people do not really want choice, that they just want to get what they want. 

We are seeing repeatedly that choice is not what some folks who nominally support choice actually want. Choicers have campaigned against LGBTQ charters. Patron choice saint Ron DeSantis is not in Florida fighting for every parents' right to have whatever school they want, but to Stop WOKE and CRT wherever it appears. The Libertarians of Croydon, NH, actually trashed a functioning school choice system because they wanted lower taxes. We are seeing repeatedly that choice-loving folks like Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education don't want choice for everybody--they just want schools to reflect their values. The book banners do not campaign for libraries where everyone can get the books they want, but libraries where people can only get the books the banners approve of.

Hell, we've now got an entire legal theory that argues that the Framers didn't really want liberty and democracy--they wanted a government that was based on the Right Values.

I will say, again, that this is not all school choice fans. Education policy makes strange bedfellows (remember back when that wacky Common Core united people who love public education and people who hate it). But right now this is a big chunk of the school choice crowd clamoring for an end to schools that teach things they don't approve of. We don't really need choice, reads the subtext. We just need one system that teaches the things we want it to teach. 

This is not a system that would serve anyone but a select few. It's not democratically owned and operated public education in a pluralistic society, and it's not actual school choice, either. It's just another version of the conservative-ish christianist call to "take back our schools" and make them all ours again (and keep us from having to pay taxes to fund schools for Those People). This is not a system that would uphold any of the ideals of American education. 

This blog post has been shared by permission from the author.
Readers wishing to comment on the content are encouraged to do so via the link to the original post.
Find the original post here:

The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

Peter Greene

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