Rob Schofield’s screed against school choice has roiled many advocates working to expand educational opportunity.
Where to begin? Well, how about with the author’s lofty premise: parents are suckers.
According to Schofield, charter schools, vouchers, and education savings accounts, are only attractive because they offer the allure of something better. Sooner or later the shine wears off and word gets out that such programs are no better than the programs that parents and students left behind.
Such thinking raises some big and important questions: If parents are being duped, why do the number of students in charter schools and the opportunity scholarship continue to grow? Why are parental satisfaction levels in charter schools and voucher programs so high? If school choice is a sham, why do students return to their schools in such high percentages? Why do so many charter schools continue to have long waiting lists? Why do teachers look for employment in charter and private schools when they know they can earn more in traditional public schools? It’s a premise that lacks evidence.
Schofield says choice is undermining our “threadbare and neglected public school system.” Really? For starters let’s recognize charter schools are public schools. They educate students at about 70 percent of the cost of educating a student in traditional public schools. Charter schools don’t undermine or siphon funds from the public-school system. North Carolina public schools spent almost $64 billion on K-12 traditional public schools in the last five years, provided teachers with five consecutive pay raises – soon to be six – and raised the average teacher salary from approximately $47,800 to almost $54,000. That’s a lot of neglect.
Schofield talks about the privatization of the public schools. Yet, he never defines privatization. Schofield paints with a broad brush, but since when is all privatization or private influence in schools bad? Never mind that public schools seem to be working with private companies all the time. They receive gifts and purchase goods and services from private entities and companies. I hadn’t noticed any columns by Scofield criticizing schools or district for accepting gifts from private foundations of for large contracts with such companies as Google, Apple, IBM or Pearson Publishing. Schools and school districts receive gifts, purchase goods and services from companies that offer what they need, and the companies aim to make money. Last time I checked that was still legal.
School choice opponents insist it’s time to call a halt to choice programs because such programs lead to segregation in the public schools. This point has been endlessly debated. Remember: charter schools are frequently located near failing public schools, which are often located in already segregated neighborhoods. Charters don’t cause segregation; they do however mirror patterns of existing segregation in the surrounding community. Does anyone really think support for charter schools among blacks would be so strong if the schools encouraged segregation?
A recent report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute reviewed elementary schools in North Carolina –both traditional and charter schools — found the schools serve the same proportions of black students, but charter schools have about 35 percent more black teachers. Contrary to what Schofield and other anti-school choice advocates will tell you, the research on charters and segregation is far from settled (see here, here and here).
Schofield ends his article by saying “there is simply no indication that either the state’s children or education systems are better off as a result of the experiment.” It’s a stunning statement whose arrogance is matched by its total disregard for existing data on charter school performance, studies on voucher programs as well as the opinions of teachers, parents and students involved in these programs. Worse yet, Schofield’s sentiments convey the notion prevalent among progressives that accountability comes only in one form. When all is said and done, parental accountability is nice, but it doesn’t really count. Nothing could be more wrong. Accountability matters, but it comes in many forms – parents being one of them. Parents also vote with their feet. It’s a fact that still evades school choice opponents — to its detriment.
Schofield’s criticism of school choice is not tethered to reality. He eagerly tramples over parental rights to prop up a system that fails too many. In the process, Schofield and others never ask the question; why parents choose to leave the public schools? Its absence is conspicuous and telling.
So, what is Schofield saying? The one-size-fits all model of public education is good for everyone and parents shouldn’t have the right to decide where their child is educated. Choice is a scam that hurts the public schools, besides parents can’t be trusted. You want out of the current system? If you have money, you can buy your way out of the current system. If not, you’re stuck. Progressives like Schofield who assert students should attend the school they are assigned to, essentially argue educational freedom is dependent on income.
It’s not a happy message. The health of the public education system trumps any right parents have to educate a child as they see fit. It’s not a message embraced by most North Carolinians. When asked if money was not a factor, and they could send their child to any school, 28 percent of respondents said they would choose traditional public schools; 69 percent of parents said they would send their child to a charter, private, home or other school. Approximately, 1 in 5 K-12 students in North Carolina attends a school of choice. Clearly public policy does not reflect public sentiment.
Schofield and his progressive friends want to put an end to school choice. He talks past parents to protect a bureaucratic educational system; yet never asks why parents leave. The public schools are fine for some, but the truth is they fail or are ill-suited for many children.
Let Rob Schofield argue the merits of closing off educational options for parents. Let him also argue that parents are suckers. The facts say otherwise. Schofield should stop ignoring them and understand why school choice works and why parents want it.
The original version of this article has been edited and updated with additional information.