Trump and School Choice

December 14, 2016

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I was grateful to be included in this Washington Post article on Trump and school choice yesterday. My post on Trump’s racism and illiberalism gets a mention, but the Post is right that another division is also important:

Free-market purists believe that parents know best, that they can choose the best schools for their children without intervention, something that could force poor-quality schools to close. On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that intensive oversight and regulation are necessary to ensure that the schools from which parents are choosing are high-quality.

As long as Mike is taking his lumps out in the wild, wild west of Arizona, maybe he could rethink which side of this unavoidable civil war – unavoidable because opponents of parent choice have made it so – he really wants to be on.

Another point: I don’t blame the Post for describing advocates of parent choice as “free-market purists” while describing opponents of parent choice more neutrally. It is we in the parent choice camp who have chosen to make deep investments in “free market” ideological rhetoric. Everything we’re saying about markets is in fact true, but it’s a bad idea for us to make “markets” and “competition” the main points in favor of choice.

This was one of the main arguments of my recent series on “the next accountability.” As I wrote at the end of the series:

Markets and competition as drivers of efficiency and performance are important. But they do not provide the moral norms and narratives needed to inform the next accountability. The best case for universal school choice does not center on them. These should be secondary, not primary themes.

We should develop ways of articulating these principles as the basis of the next accountability:

  • The purpose of education is to help children develop the knowledge, skills and virtues they need to live a good life—achieving and appreciating the true, good and beautiful—and to live as good citizens of a community where we disagree about what is good.
  • To cultivate these, we need teachers who are wise professionals (possessing the qualities they seek to instill, and guided by an independent professional ethic) and schools that are free communities (where shared purpose, not the arbitrary dictates of distant authorities, shape a shared life).
  • Teachers and schools can educate the individual student for free pursuit of the good life as he or she sees it, and also for good citizenship and respect for others’ rights in a diverse community, because of what we share in common as human beings and as fellow Americans.
  • Teachers and schools should be held accountable to do this by parents and local communities—the more local the better—because they are in the closest moral and social connection to schools, and can therefore hold them accountable in ways that support their social fabric rather than disrupting it.

Is this too much to ask of a highly polarized education reform movement, strongly committed to moral narratives that center on either markets or test scores? I’m looking forward to finding out.


School Choice’s Time for Choosing

November 24, 2016

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“This is wheeeeeeere the party ends…”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The most realistic thing about fairy tales is this: You don’t realize you’re making a titanic moral choice that will determine whether you triumph or die until the moment after you have made the choice.

Betsy DeVos will likely make a very good education secretary if 1) she can prevent her department from sabotaging her and 2) she focuses on choice and puts Common Core and all associated initiatives to rest. #2 is highly likely given what was said during the campaign. #1 is always something of a crapshoot. Being a conservative cabinet secretary is an inherently dangerous undertaking.

But I’m less interested in her choices and more interested in the choices of the school choice movement.

Trump will be president. All of us who work on policy issues have to live in a world where Trump is president. It’s not necessarily a good idea for every decent person to shun him; that means government will be run by scoundrels like Trump.

Every movement needs its Vaclav Klauses as well as its Vaclav Havels – people who are willing to hold their noses and work for a corrupt regime. You simply can’t get anything done otherwise, because there are no non-corrupt regimes.

Milton went to Chile and advised Pinochet. When challenged, he said: “I gave him good advice.”

But if they forget to hold their noses, if they think the regime is good, the movement dies. And they will forget if no one plays Vaclav Havel and goes to jail for telling the truth about the regime.

My biggest fear is that the school choice issue will become tied to Trump. It can never be said too many times: Donald Trump is a notorious racist who discriminates against blacks in his businesses, said a judge of Mexican ancestry couldn’t judge him impartially, constantly flirted with the alt-right, and refused, three times, to repuidate the KKK when first asked to do so. (Just in case this is unclear, the KKK is a criminal organization that murders people and exists to make war on the US government in the name of white nationalism. If Trump wants to learn more about it, he can ask his attorney general, who had a Klan leader executed.)

We in the school choice movement have spent a generation building bridges between the conservatives and libertarians traditionally associated with the issue and progressives and ethnic minority communities. We can’t afford to throw all that away.

But in the last few years the Common Core disaster has polarized the education reform movement. CC progressives (not identical with choice-friendly progressives, although there’s overlap) have declared war on conservatives, denouncing us as racist for the crime of not being progressives.

So far that hasn’t had much effect on the choice wing of the movement’s relationships with minority communities. But we choice people increasingly feel outcast, despised, wronged by those whom we had regarded as friends and allies, but who turned on us the moment they found it expedient to do so.

The temptation will be to say “F all these progressives who stabbed us in the back for Common Core, and who now tell us we’re racist solely because we’re not left-wing extremists. Let’s go all in with someone who won’t tell us we’re evil for being conservative.”

And of course that will be the death of us. Because then we really will have turned a blind eye to racism.

We should keep the focus where it belongs: on the states. If we’re offered a big federal push to impose choice on the states, we should say “thanks, but no thanks.” On the merits, yes, and for other reasons, too.

As someone once said on this issue, you can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.

We can work with Trump (on, for example, choice in DC and other federal jurisdictions) the same way we might work with any bad person who holds office. But with the demonization of conservatives in the movement and the big opportunities for choice that Trump will soon likely be offering us, the temptation will be to forget what we spent the last generation saying: That school choice will die if it doesn’t build a trans-partisan, trans-ethnic coalition.


Understanding Bigotry

November 23, 2016

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I am deeply impressed by, but feel the need to add something to, Neal’s very gutsy column on trying to understand what appears to be bigotry.

Neal is right that what appears to be merely bigotry is often at least mixed with other, less objectionable concerns; and sometimes what appears to be bigotry may not be bigotry at all. As Neal points out, American Protestant responses to Roman Catholic immigration were at least partly colored by the knowledge that Catholic/Protestant differences had led to extended warfare in Europe, and usually the only viable path to peace had been to separate the two populations.

I would apply this in our own day by saying that populations that appear bigoted are often just low-information voters who have tuned out the dinosaur media completely (and with very good reason!) and thus have never been told that Donald Trump is a notorious racist who discriminates against blacks in his businesses, said a judge of Mexican ancestry couldn’t judge him impartially, constantly flirted with the alt-right, and refused, three times, to repuidate the KKK when first asked to do so. They simply don’t know these things because the news sources they trust (Fox, Rush) have decided not to tell them.

In light of this, I think the following also needs to be said:

  1. The more aggressive we are in repudiating real bigotry, the more credibility we will have to discuss what may or may not be real bigotry. If more conservative and GOP leaders had done the right thing during the election and repudiated Trump as beyond the pale and unsupportable regardless of all other factors because of his shameless racism, it might be possible now to get a hearing for the case that many or even most low-information Trump voters don’t know he’s racist. I’m not optimistic about that now. It may be true – I think it probably is true – but no one will buy it.
  2. There is a heavy reckoning awaiting the conservative and GOP leaders who chose to turn a blind eye to what Trump really is, and the right-wing news sources that chose not to tell their audiences.
  3. In an email, Neal says “a lot of Americans used to fear my religion.” What does he mean, “used to”?

The For-Profit Boogieman

November 4, 2015

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Check it out, he’s even GREEN! What more proof do you need?

(Guest Post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective carries my column on the blob’s hypocritical allergy to profit in education:

A typical post from the blog of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) provides a window into this mindset. Posted near Christmas, it darkly warns that instead of Santa, a “sinister sleigh” was approaching Oklahoma, “being pulled by those whose intent is to devalue public education and then turn education into for-profit businesses…Alas, their motives are far from good. The bottom line for them is profit. Profit made at the expense of our children’s education.”

The great irony is that this educational blob is itself dependent upon profit in numerous ways. It’s a story as old as history: “It’s different when we do it.” In fact, the problem is not the existence of profit, but how the profit is made and who – government or parents – has the authority to decide when it’s being made at the expense of education.

I go over the various ways in which the teacher and staff unions are dependent on profit, culminating with this:

My favorite example comes from education labor reporter Mike Antonucci. He pointed out that teacher-union conventions – where rhetoric about the evils of profit is always abundant – are in fact a big business. Any large gathering of people is an advertising opportunity, and the unions have never been in the least shy about monetizing that opportunity. Try to reserve an exhibit booth at the next big union convention by paying only what it costs to provide the booth; if they turn you down, ask them how they justify such profiteering!

As always, your comments are welcome!


Huckabee Sinks to a New Low (Yes, It’s Possible)

March 6, 2015

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over on Hang Together, I declare shenanigans. Everybody grab a broom!


Welcome to Weimar!

November 14, 2014

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s been a while since we had a post on union goons shutting down debate by force. It happened again yesterday at AEI.

In other news, the central bank has spent years flooding the economy with cheap money, and fascist imagery is now cool and transgressive.

Willkommen . . . bienvenue . . . welcome!


Responding to the President on Choice Media

February 24, 2014

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Recently, the president claimed that “every study” shows voucher programs aren’t highly effective. Choice Media has posted a short clip in which a legend in the field (Paul Peterson), the leader of voucher research conducted by the president’s own department of education (Pat Wolf), and a modest chorus in the background (yours truly) contest the president’s claim.