(Guest post by Greg Forster)
I don’t know about you, but I really dug the Year of School Choice. Let’s have another one! OCPA carries my latest:
There is no wrong time to do the right thing. But 2022 is also shaping up to provide unique opportunities to those who waited long for justice. Parents and voters are making their support clear. The excuse that we can’t do the right thing because it’s too politically difficult, while never especially savory, has now become positively untenable. If not now, when?
This year, 18 states enacted or expanded 30 programs. And there’s no reason to think the momentum is spent. On the contrary, the major factors that made 2021 a banner year are still going strong:
The pandemic is one reason so many new and expanded school choice programs were enacted in 2021. Starting when the pandemic hit in early 2020, the government school monopoly consistently ignored the wishes of parents and the best interests of children in order to do whatever served the whims of the system’s various political constituencies. The bottomless selfishness of the educational special interests, like teacher and staff unions, competed for public opprobrium with the spineless impotence and disarray of the school boards and other governing authorities whose job it was to rein the special interests in.
A sharp increase in polarization over the teaching of history and civics in 2020 also set the stage for school choice to begin triumphing in 2021. Large numbers of parents lost confidence that the government school monopoly could be trusted to teach the classic liberal principles that undergird our social order committed to universal human rights and constitutional democracy under the rule of law. Contributing factors included a sudden new prominence of extreme illiberal ideologies, and the willingness of mainstream institutions to airbrush away, or even to justify openly, violent lawlessness. (When you do it, it’s a “riot” or an “insurrection,” but when I do it, it’s a “fiery but mostly peaceful protest” or an “autonomous zone.”)
As the nation was debating COVID masks, for millions of Americans it was a different kind of mask that came off the government school monopoly. Parents were not exactly naïve about the government school monopoly going in; Americans had fewer illusions about the system at the start of 2020 than in 1980 or even in 2000. But from the sudden and sharp turn in public opinion during the year, it seems they hadn’t yet realized how bad things were.
Capitalize on the momentum of this blog post by letting me know what you think!
Greg, I think your conclusion is right, that the main obstacle to widening school choice is “the bottomless selfishness of the educational special interests”. Professor Richard Elmore, in his book “I used to think . . . And now I think . . . “, 2011, expressed rather concisely how self-interest predominates in the field of education:
“I used to think that public institutions embodied the collective values of society. And now I think that they embody the interests of the people who work in them. I blanch visibly when I hear educators say, ‘We’re in it for the kids.’ This phrase is a monument of self-deception, and, if I could, I would eradicate it from the professional discourse of educators. Public schools, and the institutions that surround them, surely rank among the most self-interested institutions in American society. Local boards function as platforms and training beds for aspiring politicians. Superintendents jockey for their next job while they’re barely ensconced in their current one. Unions defend personnel practices that work in a calculated and intentional way against the interests of children in classrooms. School administrators and teachers engage in practices that deliberately exclude students from access to learning in order to make their work more manageable and make their schools look good. All of these behaviors are engaged in by people who routinely say, ‘We’re in it for the kids.’ The explanation for these behaviors is not that the individuals are unusually immoral, corrupt, or venal; the explanation is that they are people acting according to their interests.”
Good to see the school choice movement making headway.
Obviously this is not true of everyone in the system, or even most of them. It is the organized interest groups, not the people on whose behalf they pretend to act, who are the main problem.
Thanks for your encouraging words!