Casting Pearls Before Caputo

By Larry Sand
February 19, 2019

Conflating regulation with accountability, teacher union leaders continue their deceptive talking points.

While it’s up for grabs who originated the saying, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,” Alex Caputo-Pearl is certainly one of its modern-day avatars. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, the United Teachers of Los Angeles leader spit out all the hackneyed anti-school choice lies typically mouthed by teacher union leaders.

Aside from the standard boo-hooing about not spending enough taxpayer money on education, his central theme is denigrating school “privatization.” He claims that private schools have less “accountability” than the “essential civic institution of public education.”

Caputo-Pearl is hardly alone in chanting the anti-privatization mantra. The National Education Association website proclaims that “too often there is little to no public accountability, fiscal transparency, or maintenance of civil rights protections for students in privatized programs.”

A four-Pinocchio statement! In fact, it is the government-run unionized schools that are not accountable. What Caputo-Pearl, NEA, et al. really mean when they say “accountability” is “regulation.” As education policy authority James Shuls points out, “regulation is a cheap substitute for accountability.” The main losers in a highly regulated system where no one pays the price for failure are the parents who are forced to send their kids to zip-code-mandated schools.

For a school – or any entity – to be really accountable, it must achieve its goals and satisfy its customers. And if the mission isn’t accomplished and the customers – in this case parents – aren’t happy, they should be able to shop elsewhere. Yes, the free market works, even in education. As researchers Corey DeAngelis and Will Flanders point out, schools of choice are more likely to be held directly accountable to the market than public schools because “they must attract their customers, receive funding based on the demand of their services and must shut down when facing sustained financial losses.”

It also seems that many parents are coming to realize that the government-run school down the street is not the best fit for their kid. An EdChoice survey released in December, 2018 revealed that 40 percent of current and former school parents said they would send their child to a private school if given a choice, while just 36 percent would select a public district school.

Another survey, released by the American Federation for Children, found similar results. The data collected by Beck Research, “a Democratic polling firm,” showed that 67 percent of voters support school choice. Of particular interest is the fact that even a majority – 56 percent – of Democrats favor choice. This is important because teacher unionistas typically paint choicers as Koch Brother-loving, right-wing, greedy, religious kooks. However if more Democrats were to vocally back greater school choice, the government-school monopoly would be in trouble. This is not a big stretch. As Florida’s Step Up For Students director of policy Ron Matus writes, “there are deep roots on the left for private-school choice, in both African-American and alternative school communities.”

The importance of bipartisan support for choice came to the fore most recently in the Sunshine State, where Republican Ron DeSantis defeated Andrew Gillum, a Democrat – who would have tried to eliminate Florida’s popular tax credit scholarship program if he was elected. It was a very close race, and as The James Madison Institute’s William Mattox writes, about 100,000 African-American women unexpectedly chose DeSantis over the black Democratic candidate, as did 44 percent of Hispanics. In a close election, “school choice moms” and Hispanics apparently gave the Republican the victory. And now, DeSantis and the Florida state legislature are moving to expand the program.

In closing, I have two questions for Mr. Caputo-Pearl and any other union apologist who cares to respond:

  1. Most union leaders praise Pell grants. These federal dollars, which go to needy college students, can be used to attend private colleges, including religious schools like Notre Dameand Brigham Young. On a K-12 level, giving parents choices – vouchers, education savings accounts, etc. – is your worst nightmare. Why is the private option perfectly okay for college students, but not high schoolers?
  1. Why is it that teachers send their own kids to private schools in greater numbers than the general populace? According to a survey released in 2016, Education Next found “No less than 20 percent of teachers with school age children, but only 13 percent of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school.”

Perhaps before you blather on about the horrors of privatization, you should answer these questions. But then again, maybe perpetuating a big lie is the only weapon you have.

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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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