Two Guys Walk into a Party….

Larry Sand

Debunking teacher union talking points about school choice.

Okay, so you’re at a cocktail party sipping brandy, and some rabid teacher union supporter starts mouthing off about Trump, DeVos, the evils of vouchers and, at the same time, waxing ecstatic about the glories of our traditional zip-code monopoly education system (Z MES). Now, you might wonder how you could be so “lucky” as to wind up at the same wingding with an unhinged unionista, but, whatever, you’re both there.

Your provocateur is on a serious rant, verbally assaulting any form of school privatization. You suggest that maybe the real reason teachers unions don’t like vouchers, education savings accounts, etc. is simply because it takes a chunk out of their bottom line. He gets huffy and in holier-than-thou mode starts blathering about “tha children.” Maintaining your cool, you advise him that he is certainly entitled to his opinion, but making “stuff” up to bolster his case won’t fly with you.

The unionista then confidently cites the National Education Association website which includes comments about recent victories over educational freedom in several states, including Iowa, Texas and Arkansas. You counter that the Arkansas statehouse is busy reworking its education savings account legislation, however. And you also point out that NEA acknowledges the introduction of new parent-power bills in 10 states. In fact one of them, Arizona, just expanded its ESA law so that all students will be eligible for the program (though there is still a 30,000 student limitation.)

He becomes more petulant and tries to disparage privatization by referring to vouchers and other forms of parental choice as “destructive and misguided schemes.” He confidently quotes NEA president Lily Eskelsen García, who claims that voucher programs and other methods of escaping the Big Guv-Big Union blob are nothing more than attempts to “experiment with our children’s education without any evidence of real, lasting positive results.”

Suppressing a world-class eye roll, you respond that the statement suggests that our public education system has “real, lasting positive results” on our students. You acknowledge that, indeed, for some kids it does, but add, “What about the 62 percent of students nationwide who enter college unprepared, many of whom will never graduate and have accumulated a mountain of debt in the process? And if high school dropouts are included in the mix that 62 percent number rises considerably. ‘Unreal’ and ‘barely existent’ would be more accurate terms.’” Then you politely ask how privatization could possibly make things worse.

Long pause….

Your interlocutor begins to grumble and insists that we must “invest more in public education.” You smile coyly and inform him that we have tripled our education spending since 1970 (in constant dollars) and things haven’t improved a bit. “Don’t you think $3.5 trillion a year is enough to spend on education? How much more would we need to ‘invest’ to right the ship?”

Blood pressure elevating, the unionista simply says, “MORE!” and then plays the accountability card. He says that private schools have autonomy. You nod agreeably, but then he adds, “We need government to be in control to ensure that standards are met.” You gently remind him that real accountability is when educators are answerable “to the people most affected by their performance.” Then you ask, “Wouldn’t you rather be in charge of your kid’s education instead of some government hack you’ve never met?”

Realizing that others have picked up on your conversation, he is visibly flummoxed and blurts out his ace-in-the-hole argument that “vouchers fund discrimination,” and proceeds to cite a recent study from the Century Foundation which found that “voucher programs actually increase racial segregation!”

Here you make him choke on the canary he just swallowed by pointing out that the so-called study was mostly speculative and direct him to EdChoice researcher Greg Forster who has been studying this issue for years. Forster found that while public schools are growing more segregated, there have been “10 studies using valid empirical methods to examine school choice and racial segregation in schools. Nine of those studies find school choice moves students into less racially segregated classrooms. The remaining study finds school choice has no visible effect on racial segregation.” Not one of them finds choice increases racial segregation.”

As he quickly finishes his drink and grabs another from a passing waiter, you invite him to debunk Forster’s research…although no one has been able to do that to date. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out and you toss in that not only does private education do a better job, it typically does so for a lot less money than our government run schools.

It is now time for the inevitable invectives. He refers to you as alt-right, a Koch-funded DeVos supporter and a Nazi. You smile, knowing that your job is done. You have another shot of VSOP and hope that maybe, just maybe, you have planted a seed.

But don’t count on it.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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