"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dick Morris and School Choice Week Presentation in St. Louis. Beam Me Up, Scotty

Americans For Prosperity hosted a panel discussion on School Choice last night at Loyola Academy, a private Jesuit school for inner city young men. School Choice is blitzing the nation with the message "shining a spotlight on effective education options for every child."  The St. Louis panel touched on those options.

The panel consisted of Dick Morris (political strategist and commentator), Dana Loesch (Radio host and CNN commentator), Mike Podgursky (Professor of Economics University of Missouri) and Robbyn Wahby (Executive Assistant to STL Mayor Francis Slay).  The panel discussed educational topics such as:
  • charter schools
  • vouchers to private/parochial schools
  • the effect of teacher unions on public education
  • the rising cost of funding to schools with negligible rise in test scores
  • the reasons schools are failing
  • data to determine failing schools
  • the falling population in the city residential areas and how it affects the STL city public schools 
Podursky nailed it when he gave some of the reasons public schools are failing:
  • there is a lot of regulatory crust
  • no innovations and no free market
  • different kids have different needs and one specific school cannot meet all the needs of all the kids
  • schools are tied too heavily to standardized testing
As he was talking, I thought, "How is sending students to charter schools (schools supported by taxpayers dollars and under the same government mandates) freeing them from the regulations, lack of innovation, teaching to a student's need vs the system, and reducing the testing?"

THAT question was NEVER answered.  This is the problem with the School Choice movement in general and in Missouri with the funding of charter schools.  It never addresses the underlying fact that the government is still providing the blueprint and the rules and regulations for what the children are learning.  The money is being transferred to "free markets" (which conservatives love) but the system is still controlled by the government.  That's not really free market, is it?  That's not really an authentic choice for parents, is it?

Dick Morris stated, "Choice is where you send your child to school and the money follows the child." He outlined why this is a revolution in education and gave his reasons why this choice movement is needed:
  • In the 1960's and 70's the "Rankings of the States" was released by the NEA.  The states began to fund education more heavily: test scores did not change
  • In the 1980's, states were pushed to upgrade the curriculum and standards and demand better testing: results did not change
  • In the 1990's, NCLB was instituted focusing on which schools were failing and concentrating efforts to increase testing scores: no uptake occurred
Based on this dismal track record, Morris believes we need to be creative and provide options for education: school choice.

This really was an alternate universe I found myself in last night in St. Louis.  Morris stated, and apparently believes, education needs to be creative and innovative and released from NCLB type mandates. Amazingly, the subject of Race to the Top mandates (and those "mandates formerly known as RTTT" implemented in states which didn't receive RTTT money) and Common Core standards was never mentioned by Morris.  What the school choice advocates are advocating just doesn't make sense.  State educational providers are operating under NCLB on steroids and Morris is stating that you can choose your publicly funded school and it's a true choice in education?  How are more federal governmental mandates allowing more local control?  Is it that these folks just don't get it, or is it they just don't care?  Is the idea of "we have to do SOMETHING overrides a thoughtful approach to educational problems?"

Morris may have answered my last question.  He said, "We will never have the political will to close the failing schools.  We're just going to close the empty ones".  There it is.  Through choice, most parents will take their kids out of traditional public schools. The remaining public  schools are going to be populated with the kids who aren't motivated or who have undiagnosed disabilities, whose parents are disengaged from the education process and for whom an alternative school has not yet been opened.  Morris believes, in a free market, some group will step forward and bring those kids into their alternative school, and the now empty public school will be closed.

Morris may be correct, that we are seeing an education revolution, but it is on the delivery of education, not the education itself.  What kind of choice is this being foisted on and paid for by taxpayers?  Free Market or more of the same governmental control?  

What IS the magic bullet and allure of charter schools that allegedly makes them so much better in terms of education in the eyes of School Choice advocates?  Is it the delivery and school expectations from the charters that apparently doesn't exist in the traditional public schools? If it is, why aren't we pushing for those things from our public schools now?  It's not true free market competition since standards and assessments are still controlled by government regulations.  So what is it?

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