The Paradox of School Choice, Charters, Vouchers and the Destruction of the Free Market

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I recently viewed an intelligent discussion from education analyst Jay Greene about Common Core.  It’s a message that must be communicated but with a few shortcomings. Here’s the video:

While Greene speaks to business leaders in a language they can understand, his analysis falls short of the mark in two ways: 1) That national standards should even be part of the discussion at all, and 2) that choice and charter schools are liberty-free market choices, even though his speech was to commemorate the father of “free choice” Milton Friedman. I’ll explain.

On the first point: The speaker makes a great – and accurate – argument that standards and performance have no correlation.  We have proved that with over 30 years of outcomes-based, performance-based, standards-based education.  Those of us who were on the national stage during the restructuring years of 1989-1994 arguing against these reforms predicted this failed “outcome” of its own.

Many continue to presume that national standards should even be the focus of the debate at all.   It matters not whether a standard is good, better or best – or terrible, awful and horrible.  The discussion ought to focus on whether government at any level has either the legal or moral authority to work in collusion with unelected private foundations and corporations to standardize anything in the first place.

On the second point: It is understandable that Greene would address the idea of liberty and defend charter schools and public school choice in the same breath. Friedman would be proud.

However, I’m among the school of thought that Friedman was flawed in his theory. Example: School choice is one of the many reasons we have lost local control – liberty – on the neighborhood level.

Because of open enrollment (school choice), the local tax base (property) has been removed. As a result, equalization of funding (redistribution of the wealth) is the law in Utah and other states, bumping up local control to the USOE and empowering the federal level further that so generously sends us 9% of Utah’s education funding. That small percentage has the miraculous effect of controlling 100% of the decisions through Title I (disadvantaged), Title II (higher ed teacher training), Title IX (sex discrimination) and equity regulations.

Follow the money and you will find the control – and often the corruption.

Equalization began over 30 years ago with the Edgewood case the mid-1980’s in Texas where I lived. The Edgewood school district complained that it simply was not fair that rich neighborhoods were given more funding than the poor, rural districts.

What they neglected to understand was that Friedman’s advocacy for foreign free trade agreements were killing off the rural areas with lowered wages and lost jobs and forcing the consolidation of the population in urban areas because agriculture could no longer compete with third world wages.

In addition, Greene contends that even though a charter school receives government funding and is bound to the regulations, the privately-operated school should in some grey areas have liberty to do as it wishes.

If that is so, why then have charter schools not made any difference in education, the politicizing of the curriculum, the assessments, and the numbers of students graduating? While charter schools may have some perks such as smaller class sizes and a different approach to education, such as a math and science curriculum, all are aligning to common core. This should raise a red flag that charter schools have not solved the problem of loss of local control.

I have spent many years following the money. If there is corruption, it can typically be traced to the money source.  Such is the case with Common Core and the Gates Foundation and before that Carnegie Foundation.

But that’s not even the main focus of what’s fundamentally wrong with charters.  Charters are government-subsidized.  How is THAT free market? It’s not PRIVATE and that’s where the free market resides. Government is not the free market.

A big surprise was that the icon of free enterprise education – Hillsdale College – has recently joined other organizations that profess to be “conservative” – in the National School Choice movement and is promoting charter schools nationally.

What happened there? I thought Hillsdale was a Constitutional, free enterprise advocate. Hillsdale ought to know that the truly independent private secondary schools cannot compete with FREE. In virtually every state where charter schools have been organized, private schools have gone under or they are forced to seek a charter themselves.

Follow the money, my friends. This unfair competitive advantage results in bringing ALL schools under the control of the federal government as well as the standards they are forcing through the back door of lobbyist groups and private non-profits and corporations. The CCSSO and the NGA, the regional labs and all the other outsourced entities through which they work along with the private corporation and non-profit funding coupled with federal dollars does not result in local control. What it does is provide a convenient back door through which the US Dept. of Ed can technically report it is not controlling the standards, curriculum and assessments, but it actually is.

This is very disappointing to hear from Hillsdale, one of the last bastions of free enterprise.

For thirty years, we have observed charter schools. The result is that private and parochial schools have been closing down or are forced to take the subsidies themselves, bringing them under union and government regulations.

Something I’m using that gives pause to these “free market” entrepreneurs: So how is your charter school a free market idea? (They typically say it gives public school parents a “choice.”)

How does your school encourage the private sector to remain free of government control? (That’s typically a concept that had never occurred to them.)

How do the private, independent schools that are struggling to remain FREE of government control compete with your FREE school that is receiving public money? (Another doozey.)

Do you know what the statistics are, showing how many private schools have gone under? (Do they really care?)

And how does your “educational choice” school remain clear of federal regulations and standards, assessments and curriculum when all students must enter college through the same gate that Common Core now owns through its standards creator David Coleman who is now also the President of the monopolistic College Board aligning the ACT and SAT to the dumbed down goals of a centrally–managed workforce? (An unintended consequence never anticipated.)

Another question I’m also asking: What legal or moral authority does a business owner have to ask me, the taxpayer, to fund the training of the company’s laborers? Shouldn’t these factory owners be responsible for their own in-house apprenticeships? When did the purpose of education become centrally-managed voc ed – which is education for slaves, according to CS Lewis?

This is precisely how the state took over religious schools in France.  It’s happening here in Utah as well.  In Arizona, many private schools have gone under since charters were embraced.

I’ve been communicating with schools within the Catholic Diocese in Utah, and they are terribly concerned they will lose more of their schools if the charter school movement continues to grow.  One has already shut down.  How does a private school compete with FREE?

While there is a dearth of information on this topic in part because it is almost heresy to oppose a charter school these days. Here are some great links to prove this point:

This is what’s happened in Dayton, Ohio. Catholic schools have been harmed as well.

Of course there are additional reasons for the decline of private schools, but the charter is not helping. “’And charter schools,’ says Father Ronald Nuzzi, director of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) leadership program at Notre Dame, ‘are one of the biggest threats to Catholic schools in the inner city, hands down. How do you compete with an alternative that doesn’t cost anything?’”

This article shows both the gains and losses.

President Obama supports charter schools as well.  That ought to be comforting.

The NEA has a very qualified policy supporting a charter school, and the narrow restrictions involved reflect the socialist democratic view of opposing any school that undermines the one size fits all publicly funded government school.

If tax payer dollars are used for charters, and big private corporation money is used as well, and the charter school board is unelected, that is taxation without representation. That is what is happening in Utah.

The parallel is happening in medicine as well.  Eventually no private insurance plan will be able to compete with the FREE medicaid plan and as the state exchanges fail, we will be brought to our knees to demand the single payer.

In addition Greene comments on the existing national test – NAEP – and the results we already have to compare students and schools. He is correct that there is no correlation between the standards and the results. What he neglects to mention is that NAEP is in itself a violation of federal law. It was implemented in 1967, but the federal code states that any control over curriculum is prohibited by law. Is there anyone that would deny the test controls the curriculum?

20 USC § 1232a. Prohibition against Federal control of education

“No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.”

Private-Public Partnerships

This is a curious law. What it does not address is at the core of what is going wrong in education, as mentioned above: the collusion of the unelected private sector with the public. That’s how the federal government is getting around directly influencing the national standards and assessments, which then drive the curriculum.

Two private, non-profit lobbying groups – The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association – aligned with and assisted another private entity Achieve, Inc – all receiving federal and Gates funding – to create the Common Core Standards, conveniently but deceptively calling the standards “state-led” because the CCSSO and NGA are represented by governors and state officers. This is how the federal government is circumventing the law.

The Conservative Paradox

One of our concerns in my national network is with the many conservative groups that profess “choice” and liberty and the free market, while they support the concepts of “school choice” “charter schools” and “vouchers” – each with over 30 years of experience showing they are KILLING the free market, the private sector.

We’ve watched the evolution of the old Empower America – a group of moderates in the GOP that banded together under the guise of “conservative” to remove the social/moral planks from the GOP in the mid-1990s.  They were the Bill Bennett’s, Dick Armey’s and Jack Kemps of the era.

Jack Kemp came to Utah and shook his finger in my face because he knew I was on the front lines fighting to keep those planks in place.  That group morphed into what is now called FreedomWorks.  Even though we love the young FW representative in Utah who is a regional director, it’s no secret that many conservatives oppose several of FW’s policies – school choice, charters and vouchers being some of them.   Immigration and free trade are two others, which does not surprise due to its close association with the US Chamber.

I have talked to FW representatives in DC about these differences over the past 4 years.  I knew Club for Growth and FW would never get behind a candidate such as myself.  I contacted FW again recently to plead with them to get on the right page on the educations issues.

Will conservative organizations and coalitions wake up in time to restore the public schools and take the real steps necessary to restore local control and parental rights?

The success so far is that all across this nation, enough parents have joined together to make a big noise to oppose the nationalization of standards and assessments, which also nationalize the curriculum.

What happens next is the question. Let’s hope the cure is not worse than the symptom.